She couldn’t go home; not yet, anyway; not without an emotional buffer zone. Discovering her grandmother’s letter inside the old dictionary on her shelf at the office, had left her floating between two worlds; the now, and the then at the start of World War I. She remembered the letter vaguely, but hadn’t read it in a long time. She’d glanced at it quickly right after her grandmother died, but either the pain of the moment was too sharp or her curiosity about the past too weak, because she’d put it away for safe keeping in the dictionary left to her as a remembrance of their lessons together. And today, it had dropped in her lap when she was looking up a word in a contract at work.
Now she found herself stopped on her way from the office in front of the beautiful mansion housing the Music Library. Watching people going in and out through massive oak doors, memories of her grandmother rushed back into her head. She’d spent many quiet, happy hours inside the library as a child, so it seemed the perfect place to regroup now. She moved up the marble steps, grateful for their gentle slope that increased her growing sense of calm. The risers were only two inches high, assuring a gradual assent; even the curved edges of each step added to the sense of a smooth, gentle transition to another world. No harsh boundaries here.
Inside the lovely turn-of-the-century landmark, she stopped at the reference room to take stock of its inhabitants before entering. She also felt it only polite to impose her presence on those inside slowly and silently. She recognized the man hunched over his papers by the window. He was always there. A young Asian girl at the big center table, surely a student, was surrounded by books and scores climbing over each other in haphazard order. There was only one empty chair, and an elegant, elderly man with a short, neatly trimmed white goatee, sat in the chair to the left of it. He reminded her of a Castilian voice coach she’d had once; formal without stiffness; classic without stuffiness. Something about him reminded her of her grandmother; an expectation of cultural civility from another time.
She moved to the table, set her bag down quietly under the empty chair, and lowered herself into it with as little disturbance as possible. She eyed the book sitting in front of her, undoubtedly forgotten when her chair’s last tenant moved on. The red hardcover with gilt lettering marked the Deluxe Edition of the Book of 101 Opera Librettos. She knew it well. Her grandmother had given her one on her tenth birthday. It was the first adult book she’d ever owned and was meant to make a point about expanding communication with music. She didn’t use it for reference anymore because she never got to the opera, but it still retained its sentimental value as a bridge to the past.
The stylish man on her left saw her interest in the collection, and smiled approval before returning to his history text. She lifted the heavy cover and found the first page for the opera Carmen quickly. Remembering the book was ordered alphabetically by composer, George Bizet’s lyric drama stood out almost at the front of the roster. Her grandmother had taken great pains to explain Carmen’s commitment to live life on her own terms to a doubtful ten year old granddaughter. Originally convinced the opera was about an evil woman doing bad things, it had taken the little girl a long time to understand. She looked down at the page now and saw Carmen’s familiar aria on love. The words jumped out at her.
“…you wait for it no longer-and there it is. All around you, quickly, quickly, it comes, it goes, then it returns-you think you can hold it, it evades you. You think to evade it, it holds you fast. Love!”