Benaroya Symphony Hall had a simple but grand layout. The floor had three large rectangular seating sections separated by wide aisles and two lanes flanking their sides. Above these were three levels of seats sloping down the walls in terrace-style boxes. It was in the second level’s leftmost terrace that Blue and Elly were sitting. Blue, however, was shifting out of his seat to leave, as the choir continued with a chorus of “Messiah” in synchrony. Despite Elly’s pleas, Blue could not sit through any more Handel.
He stood now, leaning against a bicycle rail outside of the concert hall, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the intermission. Now and then the bum at the street corner reeking of gin and feces came along to heckle passerby strangers for a dollar or a spare smoke. Lighted wreaths were fitted onto the streetlights, and a sharp coldness was in the air. Last minute shoppers were hurrying out of stores with colorfully wrapped parcels in their arms, and store owners were locking up for the night.
It was Christmas Eve.
Inside the glass doors and large window panes enclosing the concert hall, a large pine tree adorned with white lights and gold and silver orbs sparkled like a crystal monster. To the left, a fully stocked bar with various wines and champagnes was being fussed over by a smart-looking bartender wearing a silk vest and a golden name pin—Dominic, it read. He was picking up champagne flutes and polishing them with a white cloth. Now and then he lifted his head and said something to the ushers keeping the auditorium doorway, perhaps something about Christmas plans with the wife, or package deals on airfare, or perhaps about Handel, or about wine.
Whatever they were talking about, Blue knew it couldn’t have been meaningful. He looked over to the street corner and noticed the bum was watching the men inside as well, studying them with a strange look in his eyes. Behind the bum’s dull gaze, there seemed to be a hint of longing. Blue watched him thoughtfully, imagining the bum projecting himself into Dominic’s place, picturing his life take on a dignified color from behind a glass barrier—a man on the street watching an unrealized version of himself stand erect with his hands neatly folded behind his back, making small talk about his children with the usher, whom he would see at the New Year’s party. He watches himself smile, and make jokes, and it doesn’t occur to him that he should consider for a moment how he has a job, and a silk vest with a golden name pin, and neat posture and proper diction.
Blue watched the bum sway, and then grasp a parking meter to steady himself. The bum reached into his jacket, pulled out his remaining gin, and guzzled it down.
Blue took a final drag on his cigarette before flicking the butt into the gutter and checking his watch—8:25. Inside the glass panes, the ushers opened the auditorium doors and audience members poured out to stretch their legs, drink wine and chitchat during the intermission. The waiting room was quickly filled with longtime symphony patrons from families with old money, young yuppie couples in elegant suits and evening dresses, and a few assorted clusters of university students. Dominic and the ushers faded into the background, and were all but forgotten by the mostly affluent crowd. And then there was Elly, in her navy blue dress and black stockings, looking left and right for her hopeless brother.
She spotted him finally, outside looking in, with a disturbed look on his face, as if he had never seen her or the concert hall before.
9 Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.