The Fading Note
Ruth arrives at the opera hall and forgets why she's there.
She scans the crowded lobby. She spots her family: her son and daughter-in-law and young grandson, sitting at a table before a window overlooking Main Street. Tyler and Gina are talking, cupping glasses of red wine in their hands. Sam is sitting sideways in his chair, stroking his tie, paying no attention to his parents.
A young man in a blue dress shirt steps in front of Ruth.
“May I take your coat, ma'am?”
“Your coat, ma'am.” He reaches out, palm open to her.
Ruth touches her shoulder. Her fingertip grazes the wool fabric. Then she closes her eyes: the fabric means winter, which means November, which means . . .
It is Tyler's birthday, and they are celebrating at the opera.
She opens her eyes, and the concierge is still there, staring at her.
“Of course,” she says to him, handing over her coat. Then she has another thought.
“Can you tell me which way to the ladies’ room?”
The concierge points down a hallway. Ruth finds the bathroom, and checks her appearance in the mirror. She roots out lipstick from her purse and touches up her lips.
Once back in the lobby, she spots her family by the window again. Then she crosses the room, weaving among the other patrons, trying to keep her balance over the dizzying floor pattern.
Sam sees her first.
He runs over and hugs her hard, cutting off her breath.
Suddenly, Gina is beside them, hand on Ruth’s back.
“Sam, go easy on your grandma, okay?” Gina’s face softens into a smile. Ruth feels a flash of irritation.
“It’s just a hug. I can handle a hug from my grandson.” She touches Sam’s cheek, avoiding Gina’s eyes.
Tyler walks up to them.
“Mom! I was starting to worry,” he says, kissing Ruth’s cheek. “Was the taxi late?”
She blinks at him.
Gina’s head turns to Tyler. Then Ruth remembers.
“The taxi was on time, but I wasn’t.”
“Next time,” says Gina, “we’ll pick you up.”
Ruth doesn’t say anything, just nods. Her eyes fall on Gina’s necklace. A silver chain with a beautiful amethyst in the center. It looks familiar to Ruth, but she can’t place it. It must be something she’s seen Gina wear before. A gift from Tyler most likely.
“Happy birthday, son!” she says, pulling Tyler in for a tight hug.
“I'm glad we're together tonight,” he says. As they pull away, his eyes shine.
Suddenly, lights overhead flicker on and off. Ruth looks around, confused.
“Sam,” says Gina, “why don't you escort your grandma?”
“C'mon, Grandma,” says Sam, grasping her arm. They move toward the theater entrance. He's such a sweet boy, she thinks. It's not common for a boy to like the opera. He's so mature for a ten-year-old. Or is he eleven?
As they walk down the aisle, the slanted angle of the floor startles her. She tightens her grip on Sam.
The four of them sit in a center row, on the aisle. Once Ruth settles in her seat, Gina leans across Tyler and touches Ruth’s arm.
“We chose aisle seats so you can easily get out if you need to use the ladies’ room,” Gina says.
“That's sweet,” says Ruth, and she turns her head away and sneers.
Honestly, she thinks, she acts like she’s my mother.
Then, the lights dim until the theater is dark. Ruth listens to the easy breathing of the people around her. She isn't sure what to expect. She's never been to the opera before. She's never even heard of the name on her program: Don Giovanni. Ruth wonders how Tyler came to like this kind of music.
Tyler leans into Ruth.
“I think you’ll like this opera more than the last one, Mom.”
Her eyes widen. The last one?
The lights come on again, softer than before, and the orchestra begins to play. Men and women in lavish costumes walk on stage. They open their mouths, and a sound so exquisite engulfs Ruth that she almost can’t believe it’s human. She burrows into her cushioned seat, and time softly fades away, behind the curtain of her mind. She’s left with the present: the singing, the instruments.
About halfway through the show, her breath quickens and she grips the leather armrests. She falls out of her trance.
In the bathroom, before the show. She left something there. Something valuable.
She squeezes Tyler’s shoulder.
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
Tyler looks at Ruth, then the stage, and starts to get up.
“It's okay, I'll go with her,” whispers Gina, on the edge of her seat.
Ruth pops to her feet. She feels Gina's hand on her arm but brushes it off. She glides up the aisle in a manner that surprises her. Gina trails behind.
At the bathroom, Ruth pushes hard on the door. It swings back and knocks Gina.
“Whoa, take it easy, dear,” says Gina, sweetly, as if she’s amused.
Ruth hurries to the counter. Her hands grope the surface, setting off a faucet and dousing the sleeve of her silk blouse. The wetness seeps up her arm. She keeps searching.
“I swear I left it here!” she says. She steps back from the counter and looks around the room, her pupils bouncing back and forth.
“What is going on, Ruth?” Gina’s voice wavers. Ruth glances at Gina in the mirror, and then she sees it. Around Gina's neck.
“My necklace!” exclaims Ruth. She turns to Gina and picks the tiny amethyst away from her chest, caressing it. The stone feels smooth and familiar. Gina takes Ruth's hands.
“Ruth . . . you gave this to me when Tyler and I married. Can you remember?”
Ruth squints at Gina, her lips parted.
And then she remembers.
The memory returns in a sequence of images: The rehearsal dinner at the hotel lobby. Stepping out to the garden patio with Gina. Admiring the blooming magnolias, their favorite flower. Giving Gina the necklace, telling her how special it was. How it had belonged to Ruth’s mother, and her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. And now, it would belong to Gina.
Ruth never had a daughter. Just Tyler—and he would’ve given the necklace to Gina. But no. It was Ruth's to give. She gave the necklace to Gina because she loved her. She knew that Gina would care for it and pass it on to her own daughter or daughter-in-law one day, after Ruth is gone.
After my mind is gone.
Blood pounds in Ruth’s ears. Her legs wobble. She reaches for the wall to steady herself.
“I got you, Ruth,” says Gina, hooking her arm around Ruth's. This time, Ruth accepts her help.
They bend down to the floor until they sit, their backs against the wall. Ruth's chest rises and falls.
“I should go get help,” Gina says.
“No,” says Ruth, her hand on her forehead. She smiles at Gina. “I just need to sit.”
The marble floor is cold. She notices how clean it is, how it shines under the ceiling light. These thoughts help to calm her. She sucks air through her nose, slow and steady.
She imagines her mind as an hourglass—the tiny granules dropping in spite of her—and wonders how much time she has left.
“Tell me what happened before the necklace,” Ruth says. “Tell me about how you and Tyler got engaged.”
Gina begins talking. She describes the surprise and joy she felt on that day on the Mississippi. Tyler had asked her to make a wish to the river. She wished into the water, and when she asked Tyler what he wished, he got down on one knee. Ruth was the first one they called to share the news.
In the background, Ruth hears a faint chorus of violins. She frowns, confused. Then the sound grows louder, bringing her memory back. She focuses on the music while Gina keeps talking.
Ruth thinks of her son and grandson still sitting in their seats. She imagines Tyler checking his watch, wondering what's happened to them. She wonders if Sam will love the opera as his father does. Ruth will ask Sam about the performance when it's over. She will ask him more than once. The time will come when she will ask Gina about tonight, too.
Ruth leans her head against the wall. She will enjoy the music, the moment—one she knows won’t last.
About the Author: Stephanie Amargi is a fiction writer and freelance editor living in Eugene, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Foundling Review, Vector Magazine, Dogzplot, and other places on the web.