Andy sprinted across the lawn of the university nearly gasping for breath. He was horribly late and he knew it but still he ran in some vain hope that it would make a difference. He gripped the unwieldy guitar case in his left hand, occasionally scuffing it along the grass, cursing himself every time he did so.
This was the Conservatory where Andy studied classical guitar under the tutelage of some of the finest practitioners of the art in Chicago - if not the country. It was the one thing of value to Andy. He had been admitted to this institution on a scholarship, having shown a prodigious talent for the instrument throughout his senior years at high school. For someone considered under privileged, Andy's talent was described as a revelation by one of his former teachers. He had been encouraged to go as far as he could with his 'gift'.
But, as with other facets if his life right now, Andy's place at the Conservatory was under threat. He had missed a crucial exam on Monday just gone - because of the hospital - because of the overdose. It was not the first time. He'd missed both exams and important tutorial sessions in the past for similar reasons. One too many hours at the raves, one too many drinks, one too many illicit substances.
As he ran, Andy's mind was - yet again - working through possible scenarios to bullshit his way out of this mess. But he knew that, this time, the situation would be dire. His lecturer, Veldtman, would be fuming.
As he leapt up a flight of stairs, the painful twinge of a stitch tugged ferociously at his lower right side and he had to stop before he doubled over.
Andy was a mess.
He hadn't showered this morning when the realization of his predicament had hit him. He reeked of stale marijuana smoke and sex. His hair was greasy, his complexion - a mess of acne and what he thought was a developing cold sore. His clothes - the same ones he had worn yesterday - were rumpled and in dire need of a launder. As he approached the doors to the lecture theater he pulled his beanie down a little further and checked his under arms. The cheap deodorant was simply that - cheap.
Thankfully, as he snapped open the door and stepped inside he was confronted by a welcoming darkness - the class was in the middle of watching a documentary film. Andy found an empty line of seats at the very back of the amphitheater and huddled in there praying that she hadn't noticed him but knowing instinctively that she had.
She - was Sorrel Veldtman. A diminutive, if somewhat earth-motherish Jew, Veldtman had been both Andy's lecturer and tutor for the past two years and was one of the few people he held in any sort of high regard. Veldtman had been a master of the classical guitar for more than forty years, having brought her talent from a coastal village near Tel Aviv to the concert halls of both New York and Chicago. It was rumored that she had recorded with Jose Feliciano though Andy had never been able to confirm this. Veldtman was a master of flamenco, a discipline Andy himself aspired to. She was tall, gypsy like - noted for her loud head scarves and her deeply lined face that was at once harsh but also quite stunning.
The documentary film ended and the lights came up in the amphitheater. Veldtman clapped her hands together to rouse the handful of "dozers" before her then stepped out from behind her lectern to address the audience.
"So," her voice snapped. "The Spanish Masters...an introductory film to give you a beginning point for the remainder of this semester. We shall be studying their history, their influence upon the modern discipline and you will be required to master some of the basic pieces"
Veldtman paused to allow her students to absorb her words. She scanned the auditorium, noticing the new arrival at the back. Her eyes narrowed and then she nodded.
"That will be all for now"
Immediately the auditorium became a buzz as students got to their feet and began filing out. Andy sat in his seat, unconsciously biting at his finger nails and tapping his foot incessantly, rhythmically. He studied Veldtman, trying to gauge her mood at this moment. Despite his talent Veldtman did not suffer fools at all.
He knew she'd be pissed.
He got to his feet, losing his nerve suddenly, and he tried to lose himself in a group of students who filed passed him.
Andy's jaw locked painfully and he knew right then that the ceiling was going to fall. A few of his student colleagues regarded him with what amounted to thinly veiled disgust as he shuffled past them, down the central aisle of stairs. By the time he was three or four steps from the bottom, the auditorium was quiet again.
Veldtman was placing some notes in a folder before reaching for an over sized handbag.
"You missed my examination...again" she hissed menacingly.
Andy stopped where he stood as though he had turned to stone as she pierced him with a malevolent stare.
"What's your pitiful excuse this time?"
Andy opened his mouth to speak. The pre-rehearsed explanations circled around in his mind but suddenly, they all seemed pathetic. He simply shook his head. His shoulders slumped.
"You were warned Mr. DeVries...formally, that if you missed another assessment task...the consequences would be dire for you"
Andy simply nodded an acknowledgement. Defeat washed over him and he knew this was it. He was going to be dumped from the Conservatory.
Veldtman began pacing back and forth, arms folded defiantly.
"The decision rests with me now. After discussing it with the faculty head they have given me the final say...and I say I would dump you..."
As she had with class minutes before, Veldtman let the impact of her words hang in the air between them to knife through him like shards of glass. For his part Andy felt as if he might throw up.
Veldtman grimaced, pursed her lips forcing air to whistle through her teeth.
"I am aware, however, that you were in hospital on Monday..."
Again, a theatrical pause.
"And that things were touch and go for you DeVries"
For the most fleeting of moments, Veldtman's icy facade cracked, her shoulders relaxed slightly and she seemed to offer some sympathy through her eyes towards him.
"I am not interested in the circumstances of your hospitalization nor the reasons why you failed to attend on Monday"
Andy (stupidly) prepared to stammer a reply but Veldtman brushed him away brusquely.
"You have an hour!" she declared turning abruptly on her heel to begin gathering up her books. "You will be here ready to sit and you will take my exam...We shall see what you are capable of"
And with that Veldtman strode from the room leaving Andy frozen where he stood, trying to force his beleaguered mind to prevent him from descending into wholesale panic.
Outside the lecture theatre Veldtman stopped before a man - an aging hippie character with wild silver hair, a salt and pepper beard and a pair of gold rimmed glasses whose bridge was held together with a band aid. He regarded her with a questioning look.
Veldtman sighed annoyed and rubbed her brow.
"I...I couldn't do it" she said scratchily.
Casper was not surprised. His satisfied smile said it all. He clucked as though he had won a wager.
Veldtman considered slapping him but she restrained herself.
"I have given him an hour. He will sit the theoretical component this afternoon and that will decide his fate"
"I knew you wouldn't cut him loose" Casper persisted with his self indulgent 'I told you so'. "The faculty are going to be pissed"
Veldtman's eyes narrowed then and she fixed an intense stare that bored right into Casper.
"Do you honestly think that you could live with yourself knowing that you had denied a talent as potent as his?"
Casper opened his mouth to respond, stammered silently as he tried to answer. He knew he couldn't though.
"Casper I have not heard anyone elicit a more beautiful sound from the strings of a guitar as I have from that young man. He is a troubled, soul, I'll grant you...but he has a gift such as I have never witnessed in anyone..."
She paused momentarily.
"I know there is good in him...I am praying that the guitar will bring it out. I will not abandon that talent so long as it's in him"
"He's a fuck up Sorrel" Casper sighed. "I think you should cut him as soon as possible and stop denying the inevitable"
With that Casper turned on his heel and sauntered away.
* * *
Andy clicked open the door of the apartment and hung his ruck-sack on the hook just inside. He leaned the guitar case up against the wall just below it.
Andy felt sick to his stomach - and not just because of the secondhand take-out he had subjected himself to on the journey home. He knew had blown the exam badly...he knew it. In the fallout from the weekend he had completely forgotten his study - which wasn't anything new - but he usually made at least some sort of effort to cram in the lead up to an exam.
Veldtman always seemed to cut him some slack and he took advantage of that whenever he could. And that was the problem...he took advantage.
The apartment was empty. Beck was working - again but Andy was relieved to have the place to himself. He checked the answering machine. There were two messages from Cassandra to call him. He deleted them right away. He didn't want to talk to her right now. He went to the bedroom and stripped off his jacket, pullover and shirt in one effort and tossed them in the laundry basket in the corner. He considered lighting a joint but decided against it. He was - perhaps uncharacteristically - sick of drugs.
Looking down at the floor beside the bed Andy dropped to his knees and felt under the bed until his fingers brushed across the top of a hard metal object there. He pulled out the small locked box and fished a key out of his pocket. Opening the box Andy looked down upon a serious wad of folded bills inside - his "earnings". Though he hadn't counted it lately, Andy estimated that there was about three to four thousand dollars there. A considerable amount. He shook his head as he considered his ill gotten gains but then paid it no mind as he quickly locked the box again and shoved it back underneath the bed.
He decided upon showering - his odor was appalling.
Andy knew that - where the guitar was concerned - Veldtman considered him somewhat of a wunderkind. He was seriously good at it and combined with the grades he had achieved so far in his studies Andy had the potential to top his class. But he was arrogant, undisciplined and lazy. He had come to rely too heavily upon his raw talent to get him through. Today, he realized he could no longer charm his way through an exam or an assessment task.
It was probably too late anyhow. He knew that - more likely than not - he was fucked. At that moment a wave of sadness rolled over him and he felt himself on the verge of tears once again. The thought of losing his place at The Conservatory…it was a prospect too much to bare. It really was the only thing of value to him.
"Jesus" he whispered.
It was good to be clean again Andy thought as he stepped out of the shower and took the towel from the rail. He dried his hair off first then his body. As he stood up he caught sight of himself in the mirror...
...He recoiled at what he saw there. He heart thumped loudly in his ears and - inexplicably - he felt an overwhelming surge of panic. Suddenly, he was afraid to look in the mirror.
His emotions threatened to spin out of control...
Slowly, Andy turned back to the glass and looked at what he saw there. A gaunt individual. His cheeks were sallow and his cheek bones were too prominent – he looked anorexic. The skin was pocked with a recent explosion of acne and was a pasty white. His hair - stringy and overly long in the front, a try-hard attempt at facial hair. He looked dusgusting.
In his mind a voice, foreign in accent and tone, spoke to Andy.
This isn't what I'm supposed to look like...
Andy couldn't look away now even though he was repulsed by what he saw - a drug addicted 25 year old, with a shitty attitude and a predilection for self destruction. In that moment Andy was over come by a wave of self loathing so potent, he almost wanted to smash the mirror.
Is this where I'm supposed to be now...?
Again that foreign voice, strange in his mind…yet familiar, knocked him off balance and maddened him more.
‘Who was that,’ he thought to himself.
Finally he turned away and went to his bedroom. It still stank of stale air - of perspiration and smoke Andy screwed his nose up at It wasn't something that would usually have bothered him but somehow, now, it did. Despite the cold outside, he immediately unlocked the window and opened it slightly to allow the crummy air in his room to escape.
Andy lay on the bed and pulled the blanket up around him.
He lay there feeling as though he did not belong in this city, in this life, in this body...
Copyright © 2009 Dean Mayes