Anna and the Gypsy Queen
I had always been curious about string quartets, and my chance came when I got to McGill, which had a
chamber music society. But my all-Canadian housemates discouraged me: "All those violins--it's a bunch of
cats howling. We're going to the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game. C'mon, Yank--we'll teach you about hockey."
They were good guys, so I went along. They knew how broke I was, so they always paid for the tickets, and
anyway, they had convinced me that it was shameful for someone from Boston to be so ignorant of hockey.
My chance came the next year, when I was under the spell of the Polish Goddess, who was very much into
chamber music. After all, in her virgin's room in Toronto, she had a Guarneri Quartet poster on the wall,
along with the Albert Camus, and the autographed Alan Ginsburg. Typical Canadian teenager.
Anna invited me to the concert in her usual politic fashion. "Stephen, you're a rather somber person at heart, so I think you'll enjoy the Schubert 'Death and the Maiden' quartet that they're doing tonight at Lewis Hall.
Also, there’s the trio in B flat major, which I know you'll love. And it's a free concert, so I won't have to wound your male vanity by paying for the tickets." It was no piece of cake loving this woman.
I grumbled, but the fact that Anna was the original She Who Must Be Obeyed, and also my desire to go
anyway, got me up and moving. We had spent a wonderful afternoon in bed, doing what young lovers do,
and I had been looking forward to a dinner of Anna's delicious cooking, and then some more of the same
afterwards. But Anna was calling the shots in this relationship.
Another reason for grumbling was that we were still in the we-can-never-be-seen-together phase of our liaison.
Anna was convinced that if anyone were to find out that we were an item, a firestorm of gossip would ensue.
Apart from, "So fucking what?" I pointed out that McGill, like any university, was a small town, and eventually everything gets out. But this was not enough for the Goddess, so we traveled everywhere separately.
I left her apartment first, Anna second; we found our ways, separately of course, to the venue. When I got
there, Anna was seated; I took a chair in the row behind hers, to the right, so that I could watch her face while
she listened, and maybe shoot her a tiny smile if she happened to look my way. This was very annoying--why
couldn't I sit next to her and hold her hand? Or maybe sit behind her and try to cop a feel? But that would
have gotten me an embarrassing public slap or kick. Anna was very serious about her hyper-discretion.
As I had hoped, the music was wonderful. 'Death and the Maiden' may be somber, but it's a gorgeous piece
of music. I contented myself with grooving on the Schubert and gazing on my beloved, who finally turned her head enough to see me and send me the briefest of smirks. God, she was beautiful!
At intermission, I wanted to thank Anna for bringing me to Schubert, but we had to act like strangers. Since
we were sharing a statistics class, I felt that I was not going too far in saying a brief "Hi," and got the same in
return. For the music, I had to put up with more of this foolishness.
None of this would have been particularly remarkable, except for the intermission incident: I found myself
cornered by the infamous Elaine. Even I, dense as I was, could tell she was coming on to me. She was kind
of slutty, in an ultra-hippy way: she wore her hair very long, with large hoop earrings, and walked about in
flowered skirts, low-cut blouses and no bra, and had a habit of bending over at every opportunity in order to
flash her treasures. She smelled strongly of patchouli oil and incense, perhaps in an attempt to promote
herself as an exotic. To enhance that Gypsy image, she smoked obscure brands of cigarettes, like Gitanes
and Balkan Sobranies. I imagine she went through her college years in a state of great disappointment with the
fact that most people weren’t impressed. Being the nice guy I was, I felt sorry for her.
Poor Elaine--she was very pretty, but she tried too hard, and carried an aura of such vindictive nastiness that
it was difficult to find her attractive at all. It didn't help her case that I had Anna to compare her to.
There were usually a few guys hovering around her, with their tongues out, hoping to get lucky and tonight was no exception. She blew in off the street with her entourage just as the concert was about to begin, and made a big deal of the seating arrangements. I watched Anna carefully as Elaine made her tour of the room, and as I expected, her jaw tightened and her upper lip curled. After checking out the audience for likely targets, Elaine started batting her lashes at me. That was when I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t shoo her
At intermission, clutching my plastic cup of awful Canadian wine, I was backed into a corner by the Gypsy
Queen, who was making every effort to push her chest into mine and appear enticing. I expected her to grab
my crotch. But I played along for a bit, while stealing covert glances at Anna. And my little ploy had worked!
Anna was glaring at us, while at the same time trying to project her aura of Miss Cool as Ice. This was
delicious, and though I felt guilty using another person to make someone jealous, Elaine was so terminally silly
that I couldn't care. She was starting to hint that I should come home with her when I decided I had had enough. I spotted David Roberts across the room and excused myself to go have a word.
Poor David! Madly in love with Anna, knowing he'd never get more than a polite hello from her. He wasn't a bad guy, just clueless and unfortunately not concerned with his usually unwashed hair. As Anna was, along with everything else, Miss Squeaky Clean of 1968 (at that point, she was taking three showers a day), David
was doomed just for the hair. On the bright side, it was David who had given Anna the sobriquet Wicked
Witch of Warsaw, a title which amused even her. But he was harmless and sweet, and Anna wasn’t mean to
him, the way she could be to the fools who came on to her. So while I was pumping David for some
important sociology info (he had read every word Max Weber had ever written, and often saved me the trouble of wading through it), I checked Anna out. Still cool and still pointedly ignoring my glance.
I went through the second half of the performance loving the music, but at the same time beginning to grow
nervous about the blonde. We had made no official commitment (it was late October, and Anna was still
keeping the terms of our relationship vague), and neither one of us had any right to get shirty about a little
flirting. I knew perfectly well that I was going to fall in love with Anna, but nothing had been said.
After the concert, Anna followed me down the stairs and outside. She began walking beside me, violating Rule Number One. "So, Stephen, do you find that woman attractive?" Aha.
"Who? Elaine? No, not really. She tries too hard to be someone she isn't--a siren or something, but she's
actually pathetic. And she's also nasty and mean spirited. If she's not satisfied with someone's performance in bed, she noises it all over the university. A real ball buster."
"A simple 'witch' would do, Stephen." Oooh.
"Yeah, I suppose so, but why are we wasting time talking about this poor person?"
"Why? Why? Because I was very concerned. I had good reason to worry that you'd fall into the clutches of that little...slut and have to waste your time getting rid of her. You do deserve much better than that, Stephen."
I was enjoying this immensely. A woman jealous over me? That was a first. "Better? You mean...someone like
you, eh?" A long pause.
"Well...yes...at least to begin with. I'm sure there are a few other women as nice as I waiting for you out there."
"No one's as nice as you, Anna." I would have loved to be able to see her face, but it was dark.
"I'm glad you think so, Stephen, but you're going to have to prove it."
And I did.
But the truth is I was more tempted by Elaine than I wanted to admit, even to myself.