Mrs. Musician, Irish through and through, her short silvery gray hair adorned with a just-picked pink rose, espies Mr. Musician at the far end of their bountiful garden—a quarter acre of vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit trees, and berry bushes surrounding a deep pond—an urban Eden they share with tortoises, frogs, fish, and a robust population of songbirds and lizards.
A handsome man with brilliant green eyes, his wiry hair mostly gray now, Mr. Musician is on his knees, thinning baby carrots. He and Mrs. Musician have become excellent gardeners since they retired from performing seven years ago—carrots, garlic, potatoes, apples, and raspberries their especial specialties.
“Darling,” calls Mrs. Musician, wishing her husband wouldn’t wear his good black corduroy slacks when he mucks about in the dirt, “there’s someone named Murdoch here to see us. Says we know him. He looks familiar, though not pleasantly so, if you catch my drift.”
“Of course we know him,” says Mr. Musician, his accent vaguely Latvian on this fine sunny morning. “And though we are unanimous in declaring him a wonderful person, we wish he would go away.”
“Shall we tell him we’re unavailable?” she asks, her Irish accent shifting in the direction of Mr. Musician’s vaguely Latvian. “He seems harried though entirely bald.” She giggles. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”
“Bald? Murdoch is bald? Gads. The red-haired giant sans locks. Time flies. Or he shaved his head. In any case… Murdoch.”
“Oh that Murdoch,” sys Mrs. Musician, who knew all along who Murdoch was. Is. “Of course. If we imagine red locks on the hairless dome, the Murdoch we used to know comes clear to us now.”
Mr. Musician sighs. He was so enjoying mucking about in the dirt, and now he can only think of Murdoch. “Tell him we’ll be in shortly. We’ll have coffee in the study. He drinks his black. I’ll take a splash of something white in mine.”
“We thought we were off coffee,” she says, frowning at her husband. “Didn’t we agree it makes us jittery and impatient?”
“That was before we had coffee with Murdoch,” says Mr. Musician, rising nimbly. “Thereafter we’re back on.”
“But we haven’t had coffee with Murdoch yet,” says Mrs. Musician, half-annoyed and half-amused by Mr. Musician’s tendency to comingle the present with the future. “And why should we go back on when we were so glad to be off?”
“Dear,” he says, suddenly beside her, though how he traversed twenty yards in a twinkling is beyond her, “we need the bitters.”
She thinks about this. No. She feels about this, and her feelings agree with Mr. Musician. “I’m not sure we have fresh beans. We haven’t had coffee in years.”
“Your prescient son Maxwell brought fresh beans yesterday,” says Mr. Musician, embracing his pleasantly plump wife. “We smell divine. What is that scent?”
“Mint,” she says, blushing attractively. “With a touch of cloves. We washed our hair this morning with mint-with-a-touch-of-cloves shampoo.”
“Poo, indeed,” says Mr. Musician, nibbling on Mrs. Musician’s delectable earlobe. “When we’re done with Murdoch, we’ll to bed. Yes?”
“Rogue,” she says, her voice dropping an octave. “We thought we’d never ask.”
Mr. Musician is a head taller than Mrs. Musician and most people would say he is slender rather than skinny. Size is tricky, though. For instance, Murdoch is a huge fellow, twice as big as Mr. Musician, yet were you to come upon Mr. Musician and Murdoch in Mr. Musician’s study you would feel certain that Mr. Musician was several times larger than Murdoch, which is also true, and that’s what we mean about size being tricky.
The Musicians have been married for thirty-eight years. Mrs. Musician was twenty-nine when they wed and she is soon to be sixty-eight. Mr. Musician is older than his wife, though how much older no one knows, not even Mr. Musician. Age can be as tricky as size. Nine out of nine people would surmise that Mr. and Mrs. Musician are the same age, which they are, though in strictly chronological geologic time they are years apart.
Mr. Musician’s spacious study sports a pale turquoise ceiling suspended fourteen-feet above a dark pecan floor. A gargantuan window looks out on a terra cotta terrazzo overhung by a massive oak tree, the silver-gray trunk of which resembles an abstract sculpture of a life-sized elephant.
Preceded by the scent of mint-with-a-touch-of-cloves shampoo, Mrs. Musician carries a large wooden tray into the study, the tray bearing three enormous white mugs brimming with coffee. She finds Mr. Musician in his black tuxedo, white shirt, burgundy bowtie, and green flip-flops, standing at the gargantuan window gazing out at the massive trunk of the overhanging oak. Is her husband, Mrs. Musician wonders, gazing at the oak or at the puffy white clouds in the cerulean sky? Or has the question posed to him just now by Murdoch thrown him into such a dense thicket of thought that he is seeing nothing?
What an attractive man thinks Mrs. Musician, smiling as she imagines gamboling with Mr. Musician as soon as they dispense with Murdoch. Mrs. Musician is wearing a billowy white blouse, a floor-length black skirt, red sandals, and a rhinestone tiara.
Murdoch, huge and round and bald with a huge round face and a huge round nose and huge brown eyes, is wearing a burgundy turtleneck tucked into baggy brown trousers, his high-top tennis shoes red, his wonderfully round cheeks beaded with sweat. He sits sideways in a wooden throne of an armchair, tapping his right knee with the fingers of his right hand while chewing earnestly on the fingernails of his left hand. He does seem harried, though his face is blank.
“Coffee,” says Mrs. Musician, stating the obvious.
Murdoch takes one of the mugs in his huge round hands and gulps the scalding brew as a man dying of thirst would gulp a cup of cold water. “Delicious,” he says, returning the empty mug to the tray. “May I have another?”
“Please,” says Mrs. Musician, smiling perfunctorily. “I brought two for you and one for Mr. Musician.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” says Murdoch, chuckling as he takes hold of a second brimming mug. “Delicious. Italian? French? Hawaiian? Colombian?”
“The bag was labeled Etruscan Gold,” says Mrs. Musician, frowning in alarm as Murdoch downs the second mug in one prodigious gulp. “A gift from our son.”
“Maurice or Maxwell?” asks Murdoch, eyeing the last loaded mug. “May I?”
“Maxwell,” says Mrs. Musician, nodding acquiescence. “I’ll make another pot.”
“Did you say coffee?” says Mr. Musician, turning away from the window, a bewildered look on his angular face, his accent distinctly Cockney.
“Be just a minute, darling,” says Mrs. Musician, arching a telling eyebrow as Murdoch returns the third empty mug to the once-promising tray. “Demand got the better of supply.”
“Allow me to assist you,” says Mr. Musician, following his wife to the kitchen. “We’ll be right back, Murdoch. View of the oak especially elephantine this morning.”
“Is it?” says Murdoch, moving to the window. “I’d love some coffee. If it’s not too much of a bother.”
“Do you know what he just asked me?” whispers Mr. Musician, catching up to his wife as they cross the threshold into their lovely kitchen—late morning sunlight slanting through seven south-facing windows imparting a poignant ambience to the room of many blues.
“What is the secret of life?” she guesses, filling the grinder with golden brown coffee beans. “Were the three wise men really kings or wandering minstrels?”
“Guess again,” says Mr. Musician, popping one of the golden beans into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully.
“Why are the rich so greedy?” She spoons the grind into the steel filter and ignites a flame beneath the rotund little boiler, their coffee-making machine an ancient Italian contraption designed for making espresso over an open fire. “Is there life after death, the soul imperishable?”
“You’re getting warmer,” says Mr. Musician, popping a few more beans into his mouth. “Hints of chocolate.”
Mrs. Musician sighs, for she knows very well what Murdoch asked of them—Murdoch’s coming foretold in a vivid dream. “Can anyone be truly free if another is enslaved?”
Mr. Musician nods. “And?”
“Will we return to the fray?” says Mrs. Musician, kissing her husband’s cheek.
“That is the question,” says Mr. Musician, nodding solemnly. “Exactement.”