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Into the Great Wide Open(Kevin Canty)


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  They sat through the first half of the concert tentatively, restlessly, like children at a recital. Kenny folded his hands in his lap. Junie twisted her program into origami knots, into constituent fibers. Kenny started to itch and sweat in his good wool sweater, the one he got from his mother for Christmas two years before. The secret language of clothes: this present was sane, it didn't require explanation, she had shopped for it herself and mailed it herself and it arrived from Baltimore with two days to spare. It was the last time he had let himself hope for her. This feeling of good-bye was at odds with the music--a string quartet--at least at first. It seemed determined to be spry, to make the music leap and shimmer. An Appalachian brook in spring sunshine, clattering over boulders. Outside was four inches of snow on the ground, more predicted on the way that night.

They were in the east court of the museum, a colonnaded square that rose forty or fifty feet to a glass dome. Rubber trees and elephant-ears surrounded a fountain in the center of the court, usually playful, shut off for the concert. They sat on industrial metal folding chairs in concentric semicircles, no more than thirty in the audience. The threat of snow must have kept them home; there were twice as many empty chairs as people.

The tickets were a gift from Junie's father, of course. He subscribed to everything and never went. A man of unpredictable generosity. He gave Kenny a bottle of wine once, for helping to rake the leaves in the yard, that turned out--after he and Junie had drank it--to be worth forty or fifty dollars. It was good wine, Kenny thought, maybe not great, a little too much like iodine. Further proof that he didn't know anything.

Something offhand, indifferent about the feeling in the courtyard; like the quartet was playing to the empty chairs, and not to the few bodies scattered between them. Fuck Vivaldi, Kenny thought. He thought of a record that Wentworth had called Sounds of the Dragstrip, about forty-five minutes of burnouts, blowups, and wrecks. And what was Junie thinking? Maybe she liked Vivaldi, maybe this frantic paper-shredding was just her way of listening. (Later, looking back, he keeps trying to talk to himself, like he could break through the glass of ten years between them and shout to his younger self be kind, be kind...) And then they started the last piece before the intermission, something by Bach, and Junie sat still and paid attention. This told Kenny to listen, and he did, and this matched the feeling of the place exactly: the island of warmth and intelligence and all the cold black night pressing down against the dome. Human intelligence, he thought, concentrated... There was no sense of making pictures, of Moorish castles. Kenny liked the mathematics of it; the music chimed with his own sadness. The empty seats confirmed the feeling: intelligence, beauty laid out for anyone who chose to come and listen. And almost nobody came.
 
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Excerpted from Into the Great Wide Open by Kevin Canty. Copyright © 1996 Kevin Canty. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.