O Shenandoah! Dirt Road Journal

O Shenandoah! Dirt Road Journal

clowns"Playing The Hardest Song"

"Too bad Jeremy isn't here. He loves to hear you play."

Viva had planned it this way. She watched her hands carefully on the keyboard, felt the muscles along her spine grab as she missed a breath.

"Yeah, that client's a mess. He'll be in Salt Lake another week, at least."

"Hey, get up! You're not supposed to entertain at your own party anyway."

Sitting down on the bench, Ted jostled against her.

"Move! I'm gonna play the most beautiful 'Bye, suckers, the hell with Chicago' song you ever heard."

Viva laughed and slid aside, leaning forward slightly against the piano.

"Go ahead. Make my day."

Soon surrounded by the notes of "Pastoral," Viva drifted back, smiling at her friends, interspersing their conversation now and then with light-hearted comments, seeing and hearing them through a mist. At the center, clear, a part of her, willing her together, was Jeremy.

- - - -

"Should we invite Viva and Lenny?" Charene asked.

"Sure, why not?" Jeremy concentrated on untangling the third set of lights.

"I didn't know if she was in Charleston again or not."


"You haven't been there in over a year..."

"It's hers now. I've got Houston."

"Right." Charene felt puzzled. "Why don't you work together anymore?"

"I don't know. Too many encampments. Too few soldiers. We do in the office."

"Don't use that green set. It's got a short or something."

"Do you want 'em wound around or straight up and down this year?" Jeremy stood, holding up a strand of tiny golden poinsettia bulbs.

"Up and down. Aunt Mary's sick and of course Matthew died. Rena's divorced again. Fred and Georgia are separating. I sort of dread the annual toll at these family gatherings. It's dreary."

"Jason'll be here. And Freda."

"My babies. Having babies." Charene frowned. "Wait! Don't put that green set up. I've got another gold one here somewhere."

Jeremy walked to the stereo. "Andy Williams?"


- - - -

"You're gonna love this place." Jeremy settled back into the rental car's leather seat as they pushed up Route 81 from Weyers Cave, rounding truckers and vacationers from further south, humming through the silences to music from a classical radio station. "You've got a studio cabin. Deck. Trees. Flowers. Chipmunks. I'll be at the Ridgeway Inn nearby."

He was right, Viva noted later. I love it. Every evening, after work, after dinner at the Inn, he wound the rental up into the rolling Massanutten, watching as she unlocked the door. Waving, Viva would turn and fall onto the king-sized bed, exhausted, entranced by her view through the cabin's floor-to-ceiling windows. Lights in profusion from the small country town below blinked like lightening bugs, stretched through the purple-black gourd of the valley, calmed the tensions of the day with the sureties of homespun nights. Viva swirled and sipped on a glass of rose, falling slowly, deeply into a sedative peace of earthly and sky-borne stars.

"We need a tourist day," Jeremy announced as she opened the car door one morning. "Kazan's okay. I called. How about a tour of the national forest?"

"We did that."

"No, the parts along the river."

"Mmmmm." Viva sank against the headrest and closed her eyes.

Deserted, the tree-encircled horseshoe-shaped picnic area had no marker off the dirt road. They took off their shoes and walked down the boat landing, sitting against the riverbank, dangling their toes in glistening water. As she watched the sun-caught arc of a fisherman's cast, Jeremy lay back on cool cedar planks, pulled by an undercurrent as strong as the river's.

"I know the end of this," Viva prayed. "I don't want to begin."

"You don't know the end," he promised, reaching for her hand.

- - - -

"Hey, Viva," Lenny called. "Where are you? Great news!"

He threw his briefcase on the couch, headed for the kitchen and a beer.

"What?" Viva turned from the stove, still stirring the soup with a wooden spoon out of the corner of her eye.

"They're transferring me. To a place you like. More money. Better job."

Viva started. "Where?"

"Winchester, Virginia."

Silence enveloped the room and wound around Viva. "When?"

"This month. Now. Soon."

She turned back to the soup. "I can't... I'm in the middle of something."

"When it's done. You'll fly down on the weekends. Find us a house."

Stirring, "I... "

"You'll love it. Out in the country. Good schools. Fresh air. Mountains." Lenny turned her around, folded his arms down over her waist. Bending into her hair, he spoke soothingly, softly. "It'll be all right. You'll get used to it."

I won't, Viva thought. I won't ever get used to this.

- - - -

As she walked through her office door, Jeremy turned the corner and stopped, staring at the lamp in Viva's hand, the books balanced into the crook of her arm.

"What are you doing?" he asked in surprise.

Startled, Viva looked down, steeling her will, then up slowly, pausing at his arms, his shoulders, wondering why there's always one different part of a man you particularly love, want to touch. Fixing Jeremy to her mind, she looked fully, openly into his eyes. Remember me.

"I'm playing the hardest song I know," she said, smiling.

Viva winked and squeezed his arm as she passed, walking toward the lobby, out onto the parking lot for a last drive through Chicago, into the maze of O'Hare.

notes Viva's Song

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Original material O Shenandoah! Country Rag April, 1996. All rights reserved.