Eirica Johnstone: Dear Mr Stewart, I've had a look at your website. I love your music. Please do send me your piano pieces and I will perform them on my recital in January. I look forward to hearing from you. Do write. Yours, Eirica
Was that too forward? “Yours” was an Americanism. How would he take that? I meant it. Damn, that was too keen. He’d receive my message the moment he walked in the door.
I must have jumped every time an email came in for the next 24 hours, then 36. Finally, on Monday afternoon came his reply.
Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, Delighted you are interested. Have posted out the score. Let me know what you think. Arlen
I had to reply right away.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, I can't wait. Looking forward to trying it out. It was lovely meeting you.
The score arrived on Wednesday.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, It's here and I've already tried it out. I'm definitely putting it on my programme in January. May I come see you about it? Eirica Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, Seeing you might be a little awkward. Maybe at the university? Arlen Eirica Johnstone: At the university is fine with me. Love, Eirica
Was that too forward? On second thought, I wanted more privacy.
Eirica Johnstone: Actually, is there somewhere in York we can meet? Trains to York go through Dunrig, but Leeds trains don't. I have to go through Glasgow, and that adds an hour to my journey each way. Can we do it soon, like the last Saturday in November? That's half term here. Eirica Arlen Stewart: Eirica, I'm surprised you will be ready to see me so soon, but York will be on half term, too, so I can probably secure a space there to meet. I assume we will need a piano. Just hop on a No. 4 bus and get off on the first campus stop. Arlen
I had hoped that he would pick me up by car, but at least he agreed to meet with me. I was concerned about the brevity of his messages. Was he not interested in me? Perhaps there was someone else. Sinead?
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, I'll arrive at York around noon and will take the first bus to campus. I don't know how long that takes. On another matter, may I ask you a personal question? What did you think of Sinead? I noticed you with her quite a lot. Eirica Arlen Stewart: Eirica, I'm not certain who you mean. A Eirica Johnstone: She was the pretty Irish harpist at the conference. E Arlen Stewart: I'm not sure I met her, actually. Why do you ask? A Eirica Johnstone: She was often sitting near you in the back row. I thought, well, maybe you knew her. E Arlen Stewart: Oh, her! She reminded my of someone, that's all. I hardly said a word to her. Why do you ask? A Eirica Johnstone: I thought maybe she was your type. E Arlen Stewart: My type? I'm not sure what my type really is. She looked a little like a girlfriend I had at university. That's all. Nothing more than that. Did she ask about me or something? A Eirica Johnstone: No, it was just my observation. I hope you don't think I'm being too forward by asking what you think of me. Objectively speaking, you know. I'm not trying to tear you away from your wife or anything. E
His reply took a couple of days to reach me.
Arlen Stewart: I'm not sure I should answer that. You're a nice girl. Pretty. Perhaps more my type than your friend Sinead. You seem very honest and open. I like that. A Eirica Johnstone: Dear Arlen, Thanks for your kind and candid reply. I confess, I've always had a thing about about composers. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. Love, Eirica
Now that was too much, and another few days passed before his reply. Meanwhile, I practised his pieces with a religious zeal, desiring so deeply to impress him when I played for him. His music touched the core of my being, and I emerged at the end of my long hours of practice with an almost sexual high.
Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, I'm not sure what you mean about a “thing” about composers. Should I be worried? Arlen
Yes, I had definitely gone too far. In an attempt to open him up, I had obliquely confessed my like for him. Saying that, he still replied to my message, and more importantly hadn’t cancelled our meeting tomorrow. Having openly documented my feelings about him in almost hourly tweets over the past two weeks, I asked my followers what to do. A large number of them advocated coming clean with my feelings. Arlen had applauded my honesty. Others told me to back out. He was married, it would only end with someone being hurt, probably me.
I wanted him for his sperm, not his love.
Did I really tweet that? Of course, I wanted his love, but I wanted to make babies with him even more. He solved all my problems: my desire of older men, the need to procreate, and the urge to retain my freedom. I would absolve him from all responsibility to my children.
I wanted more than one from him. That was a revelation that I had only just come to terms with, but how would I achieve that without his knowledge? While choosing the date for my recital, I had been careful to calculate the likelihood of being fertile while he was here. I would get pregnant and disappear for a year, meanwhile planting a seed for our next rendezvous. I would ask him to write a new piece for me. He composed slowly, so a year or more without seeing him seemed likely.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, by a “thing,” I meant that I've always felt closer to composers than other people. Unlike you, I can only recreate your masterpiece, but you fashion it yourself from your own being. To me, composers are the next step up on the evolutionary ladder: creators and great thinkers. I wish I could be like you. Eirica.
That successfully met my followers half-way. Without telling him that I adored him in particular, I revealed my innermost thoughts on his type. I didn’t expect a reply before I set off on my journey, but my iPhone signalled a new message.
Arlen Stewart: Eirica, without your gifts, a composer is nothing. Thinking can only be realized though action. I'll meet you at the concert hall around 1pm. See you then. Arlen
Action. That was what he wanted, so I resolved to give it to him.
My fans twittered in unison. Be careful! Not too soon. But it wasn’t too soon. The time was now. Over recent weeks my following had ballooned from 1000 to 30,000, all latching on to my every tweet.
@ClanGoddess87: I'm pulling into the station now. Will be with him in an hour. @ClanGoddess87: Just pulled up to the bus stop. He's standing at the hall waiting for me. I know he's up for it.
Stepping off the bus, I panicked. Had I over-dressed? Under-dressed? Would he even notice? When would I make my move? Conservatively, I had chosen the same purple blouse as I had worn when he first met me. One of my Facebook friends had told me I looked sexy in it, following that with another proposal of marriage. He was too young for me. I had always thought it de-emphasized my bosom while bloating my hips. Maybe that was what Arlen liked.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said, shaking his hand.
“You’re early, actually. I just met with a couple of students and came outside to wait for you in case you couldn’t find the place. You wouldn’t be the first person to get lost on this campus.”
For two hours we sat in one of the classrooms working through his piece. I didn’t play my best as he hovered over my shoulder. I could feel the warmth of his breath as he pointed to passages that he wanted me to play differently. He smelled clean, as though he had just taken a shower. No cologne, just the clean smell of masculinity … of semen. Maybe I imagined the latter, but there was something sexual about his odour.
“I was wondering,” he asked as we packed up at the end of the session, “would you be interested in playing my piano concerto if I can arrange a performance?”
That was almost too much for my tender heart to handle. “Yes!” I gulped, too loudly, as if I had just climaxed. Truly, I was on the verge of it. A light brush on my thighs would have sent me into ecstasy. I wanted him. I needed him. “As long as I can fit it into my schedule,” I added, trying not to sound over-eager. I anticipated a pregnancy to plan around.
“I have a few conductors interested,” he replied, “but it always takes some convincing, and programming such a big piece with an unknown soloist is risky.”
“Are you sure you want me?” I asked. “You haven’t exactly heard me at my best.”
“I want you. I’ve listened to the clips on your website.”
He’d thought about me more than I’d guessed. I hadn’t even given him the URL. “Well, I’d really like to play it. I love what I’ve heard of your music.”
Time for my gambit. “Is there any chance you could give me a lift back to the station. I hadn’t thought of bringing an umbrella.” It had started raining while we had our session.
He thought for a moment. “I guess so.”
Halfway to the station he broke our awkward silence. “What’s it like living in a castle?”
How did he know? My website, of course. “It’s quiet at night after the staff leaves for the day in season. That’s why I usually live on campus.”
“You have a staff?” He sounded surprised.
“Only for the visitor centre. They hardly come into the residence at all out of season. I’m all alone there.”
“You allow visitors?”
“About a third of the castle is an ancient ruin, surrounded by 100 acres of pasture and woodland. The estate also owns the freehold to the village and a couple surrounding farms. There are a couple well-preserved bedrooms there for the old Laird, and a room reserved for the king, although no furniture survives. The residence is a nineteenth-century renovation, with modern conveniences added by my mother while I was a child.”
“You must get lonely kicking about on your own.”
“I’ve got the ghosts to keep me company.” Too many to count.
“Every 900-year-old castle has ghosts.”
“So are you the Laird?” he asked.
“If I bear a son, he will be. I’m just the Lady.”
“Lady Eirica? Should I bow before you?”
“Nobody does. It’s just an inherited title with no seat in the Lords or anything. I just have the obligation to bear an heir at some point. How do you know so much about me?”
“Your website. You should probably have one for the visitor centre, though.”
“There is one, but it isn’t kept up well. I don’t have any control over it.”
“Did you set up your own site? It’s very slick.”
“Well, I don’t have much to do other than practise, write my dissertation and proliferate my web presence.”
“So you’re on Facebook and all that?”
“It keeps me sane. I don’t have much other contact outside of Uni.”
“Well, here we are,” he announced as we pulled into the station.
“Thanks for the lift,” I replied as he stopped the car. “I really enjoyed finally getting to know you a little.”
I reached over to give him a kiss on the cheek as close to his lips as possible, lingering as long as I dared. I revelled in the warmth of his cleanly-shaven cheek. Did he notice that I steadied myself, putting my hand on his thigh. How long did it last? One, two, three seconds? An eternity?
Certainly not long enough. Did he hear me sigh? Did he close his eyes?
“You should come visit the castle,” I whispered. Did I really? Then louder, “It’s a wonderful place. You should bring your wife. There are plenty of things to see and do. I’ve got a number of spare rooms. Stay as long as you’d like.”
“I’ll think about it.”
That was too forward, but did I really invite his wife? I wanted him and only him for a weekend or a week of lovemaking. “The offer is always open. If you want, you can stay there when you come up to the concert. I’m sure Hamish will want you to give a seminar on the Friday before my recital. I’ll talk to him about it.”
I cringed waiting for his response. “I’ll see what my schedule is like.” No commitment.
Talk dirty to me! Wow, did I just think that? I wanted him to tear my clothes off, not caring that we were in the middle of a busy drop-off lane. Reluctantly, I picked up my rucksack and stepped out of the car. “See you soon!” I waved.
Did he notice that I had brought an overnight bag with a change of clothes? Did he notice the burgundy pair of silk knickers that had wrapped itself around the score of his piece? He couldn’t know where I intended to stay the night. Maybe he thought York wasn’t my only destination.
Could you hear me sigh?
@ClanGoddess87: I met a great new man today!
Soon, the flood of questions came back. Who was he? How did I meet him? I sometimes wondered if I had more online friends on Twitter and Facebook than real, flesh and blood companions.
Growing up in a wee Scottish castle didn’t engender closeness with the neighbours, and that wasn’t helped by being the heiress of an outcast line in the Johnstone clan. We weren’t rich either. The income from tours of the public areas of the castle barely covered the cost of upkeep and the estate staff. The bulk of the work was provided by the many volunteers from the surrounding village. “Surrounding” meaning a mile and a half away. The paid staff were twice my age, while the average of the volunteers was around 75.
My mother, who died just as I began at the University of Glasgow, had married young to a distant clan cousin. My father was sixty when I was born. Ordinarily, I would have been expected to marry within the clan, but there were few left around my age, and I couldn’t bear them. In my lineage, that wouldn’t have been a problem, since the women invariably married much older men. Now, all the elders cared about was an heir, which I was happy to provide if I found the right man. I wasn’t even required to marry him.
Since my mother’s death, I have spent only the weekends at the castle, preferring to spend my week in my digs at Uni. I found a few friends there, but the men either were too keen to attach themselves to the owner of a castle or dismissive of me as clan heiress, a fact that leaked out in my first days of university. Sheila Johnstone of the main branch outed me, successfully quashing the competition.
After graduation, I continued at Glasgow, hoping for a Ph.D in music, while remaining within driving distance of Dunrig Castle, overlooking the Clyde. My few gigs in the city paid for the flat, where I was close enough to practise on the pianos at Uni.
For some extra cash, I agreed to help at a small music analysis conference in the department. Most of the papers were flat and uninteresting, so I amused myself with my iPhone at the registration desk, tweeting to my ever-growing following, mostly in America. Completely ignored by my colleagues, I received weekly marriage proposals from heritage-mad Americans. If I was going to marry, I wanted to fall deeply, head-over-heels in love, something which by the age of 24, I despaired would never happen.
I wasn’t exactly ugly, but I would never claim to be pretty, just thin with a little more on my hips than I would like, and a little less on my chest. With mahogany hair and brown eyes, I didn’t project as the typical Scot, and I usually hid my tartan as underwear. As heiress, I was expected to wear it in public at all times.
“Do you think you could point me to the café?” he had asked. I couldn’t identify his accent – possibly English, or more likely American or Canadian. Whatever it was, he had an English intonation, probably from having lived in England for a long time. He reminded me of my father when I was quite young. He didn’t make it past my tenth birthday, but he was tall and proud, yet shy, perhaps too shy. My mother had explained that he had married late because of that shyness, but like her mother, she had always had her eye on older men. Hence, our branch of the family was severely matriarchal.
“It’s out that door, bear to the right, and look for the sign for the Brasserie near the archway,” I replied, sounding as cheery and Scottish as I could. Like many of the “upper-class” Scots, I was raised with an English accent, but in public I tried my best to sound Scots. An Edinburgh accent was easier than Glaswegian, so I opted for that, but it telegraphed my otherness.
Ten minutes later, he was back. “I’m afraid I couldn’t find it.”
Bored and underutilized, I answered, “I’ll show you the way.”
“Thank you so much,” he replied.
Halfway there, I broke an awkward silence, asking, “Are you giving a paper?”
“No. My wife wanted to visit Glasgow, and when she heard about this conference, she found a reason to drag me along. I’m not really an analyst.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a composer. Are you in the Music Department here?” he asked, finally showing some initiative.
In that brief exchange, I had decided I liked him. I liked him a lot. I fancied him, in fact. “I’m a post-grad pianist,” I replied. “What kind of music do you write?”
“Instrumental, mostly. I’m very slow, however, so I don’t have a huge works list.”
“Anything for piano? I play a lot of contemporary stuff when I can, and I’m putting a recital programme together now.”
“A few pieces.”
At that point, we arrived at the Brasserie. “This is the place,” I announced.
“Thanks,” he replied. “I’ll see you later.”
I didn’t want to leave him, but it would seem awkward, and I needed to return to my post.
I met a great new man today!
What was it about him? He was shy, quiet, and had come contrary to his own volition. He was also married. Like my father, he was blond with a little grey on his severely balding head, tall and awkward, not physically awkward, just socially. We had that in common.
“He’s a composer,” I tweeted.
“Is he famous?” my following asked. I hadn’t even read his name tag.
“No. Probably not,” I tweeted. I didn’t want to divulge how little I knew him, nor that in a quarter of an hour, he had become my obsession. I looked through the list of delegates, ticking the names of those who were giving papers, narrowing the field to six who weren’t. Two of those, I knew by sight, so he was one of four that remained, all from English universities.
When he returned a half hour later, his coat obscured my view of his name tag. He waved as he passed, slipping quietly into the back row of a session, discussing some arcane theoretical analysis. At one particularly mind-numbing proposition by the speaker, he glanced at me and rolled his eyes. I fought the urge to go and sit next to him as had the other volunteer who had joined the audience. Someone had to sit at the desk, and it allowed me to discreetly thumb my iPhone.
“What’s he like? Is he a hunky Scot?” asked USclanHunter.
“He’s a kind and thoughtful man,” I tweeted, “Not a Scot, but tall and wiry. Could have some Scots blood, though.”
After the paper, he disappeared into the toilets. Again, I was tempted to plant myself near his place in the back row, but the next paper promised to be worse: Row formation and ascendancy in the works of Babbitt.
Ugh! Too much mathematics.
Minutes later he was back in his seat, thumbing a pencil and doodling on a pad of manuscript paper. He glanced towards me, smiled and redirected his gaze towards Sinead, an Irish third-year undergraduate, staring at her for several minutes as if mesmerized. Like me, she was tall and thin, with long straight chestnut hair and hazel eyes. She had long elegant fingers, perfect for strumming languid glissandi on her harp.
Prettier than me. I was out of luck.
Again, he looked back at me and smiled. Was he embarrassed? I’d caught him eyeing a pretty young woman. Impetuously, I snapped a picture of him with my phone. He chuckled, feigning disapproval.
“Eirica?” Oops! I’d been caught by Hamish McCreedy, the director of the conference.
“Yes?” I replied, turning innocently towards him on the other side of the desk.
“I’ve got to chair the next session. Would you mind taking some more pictures?”
“Sure, why not?” I answered, taking his fancy camera from him.
“Maybe you can upload them onto my laptop later. I’m not that great with technology, and I have to make sure the delegates can find the restaurant for dinner.” I hadn’t been invited to the formal dinner, unfortunately. Only the students in the analysis seminar had, but none had bothered to come to the conference.
I decided that I could take some photos for myself, too. After asking Sinead to look after the desk, I slipped up the aisle towards the front of the hall. I shot a few obligatory photos of the speaker, the audience, and then my man, deep in thought, ignoring the speaker altogether. He wrote something down and glanced back at Sinead.
At the break, he sipped a cup of tea while another delegate rattled on about something inane. Not on tea duty, I milled around and snapped a few more pictures. The other delegate said something to Sinead as he caught her walking past. While she explained something to him, my friend watched on, more interested in her, perhaps than the other delegate, a loud American who had delivered a paper earlier in the day. My friend asked her something, to which she nodded in my direction.
Instead of my friend, the American made his way towards me. “I hear you have played the Boulez Second Sonata,” he said, reaching out to shake my hand. My friend had taken the opportunity to disappear back into the lecture hall.
“Yes,” I replied, “last year.”
“I wonder if you would be interested in looking at this piece of mine?” he asked, producing a score from his briefcase.
I looked at his name tag: George Coulter, Yale University. “Sure,” I replied taking the score. “I’m not sure when I’ll have time. I’ve got a recital coming up.”
“Maybe you’ll consider performing it.”
“I’ve already picked the programme,” I lied. “It’s an all British affair, I’m afraid.”
“Take your time,” he said. “It’s very difficult, and I’m told you are the only person around here that could even consider it.”
“Perhaps,” I shrugged. There were others who could play it, but they were consumed by romantic composers, like Chopin, Liszt or Alkan. He was trying to butter me up.
“Let me know if you decide to play it. I’ll come out for the performance. I was hoping to visit again next summer, if you find anything appropriate.”
“I’ll have a look at it, but I won’t guarantee anything.”
A captive, I listened to him prattle on and on about the theory of his music, asking what composers I liked, and if I had played so-and-so’s music – I hadn’t heard of him. Soon, I was rescued by a greying American woman, who asked him something about the dinner. I stood by politely as they spoke for a few moments, then indicated that I was obliged to take a few more pictures. I took one of the pair of them, and then fled back to the hall.
My friend was back in his seat, texting a message to someone before slipping his phone into his pocket. I took the opportunity to snap another picture of him. He moved like a ballet dancer, every motion finished to the tips of his fingers, even as his eyes followed Sinead back into the hall.
Sitting at the registration desk, I looked back through Hamish’s pictures, finding one of me giving directions to my friend. I would save that one for myself. In the meantime, I took a look at the one on my iPhone. Perfect! It caught his relaxed grace with a hint of a smile. I posted it to my Facebook page, so my friends could see him.
“I think I’m in love,” I twittered. I don’t know why I posted that. I wasn’t in love. This was an infatuation, and since he was married, he could only ever be a sperm donor for me. I didn’t want to marry anyway, but I would gladly take him as a lover.
About halfway through the next session, he received a text, packed up and left. The next morning, he arrived after the first session, waving a subtle hello to me before taking his seat. I had downloaded eleven pictures of him from Hamish’s camera and posted them all. I limited my personal comments about him to Twitter, where I could remain anonymous.
Although Sinead sat two seats away from my friend, there was no interaction between them. She was too close for all but the odd glance. At the lunch break, however, he walked straight over to me and handed me his business card. “I don’t ordinarily push my music on people, but you can listen to a couple of excerpts on my website, and if you are interested, I’ll send you a score. I’ve got a long set of piano pieces and a piano concerto that has never been played. I hope you don’t mind. You expressed interest yesterday, and I … well … that set me thinking …” he trailed off, looking embarrassed.
Arlen Stewart from Leeds University. Now I had a name for him. “That’s okay,” I said, holding out my hand. “I’m Eirica Johnstone, by the way.”
“I know,” he smiled. “I read your name tag,” he chuckled.
“Are you from around here?” he asked, clumsily making conversation.
“My family is from Dunrig, down on the Clyde, not far away. I live on campus during the week, though.” That wasn’t what he was asking. “Do you live in Leeds?”
“York, actually. I’m only at the university one day a week.”
“Are you … American?” I asked, not wanting to let him go so quickly.
“Yes, I grew up in Chicago, but I’ve lived here for a long time.”
“If you’ll forgive me, I’m sorry I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you.”
“I’m not surprised,” he shrugged. “I’m better known in the States, but not particularly well known anywhere. I teach, mostly.”
“Here, let me give you my email. That way you can …” Too forward. Damn.
“No,” he interrupted. “If you like my work, contact me, but … you know … professors befriending students … that’s not …”
“I don’t mind …”
“You don’t know anything about me,” he interrupted again. “Check me out, and then we’ll see. You can’t be too careful these days.”
If it was an obsession before, now it had grown to trust … and desire … mostly desire.
“I wouldn’t want to get an irate phone call from your parents.”
“No chance of that. Both are dead,” I replied bluntly.
“Anyway,” he said, trying to divert the conversation. “I have to sneak out during the next session, so I thought I’d speak to you now.”
“Do you fancy some lunch,” I asked, desperate for more time with him.
“I’m meeting my wife. I’m not sure she’d understand.”
“Well if I don’t see you before you go, have a safe trip home.”
I did see him, but his wife had joined him, so all he did was nod when he left. Although he continued to stare at Sinead during the session, he again instigated no contact with her. I’d won.
During the late session, I looked at his website. He had a few well-formed works listed and some excerpts from the piano piece. I loved it. I think.