Excerpt from Buried in Quilts:

After the Fall

The next evening, Bud's chairs were back in some semblance of order, and the acoustics were greatly improved.

In the midst of the hammering, Joan had despaired that the ballroom's polished wooden floors and walls would be much too "live," jumbling the notes that ricocheted off them. Now the quilts hanging along the walls and from the balcony overhead were making all the difference. The Copland "Hoedown" had a rollicking clarity, and not even the fanfare was too loud.

Enjoying it, Joan looked through the open doors into a room now hung with row upon colorful row, like laundry lines gone wild.

Rebecca had prepared her for quantity, but the variety astonished her. here, muted tones blended subtly. There, colors rioted. And over there, shadings tricked her eyes into seeing three dimensions where there were only two. Traditional geometric and floral patterns rubbed shoulders with abstractions that might have been painted by Mondrian or Kandinsky.

On the wall nearest her, rosy brown lovers hung intimately entwined in overstuffed embrace. Looking closely, Joan saw that this oddity was really a double sleeping bag. The lovers' soft-sculpture heads would pillow those of the sleepers, who might blush to see a photograph of the resulting effect--if anybody blushed anymore. She nudged John Hocking with her left elbow.

"Look at that one." The fanfare ended in the middle of her sentence. She dropped her voice.

"Wild, isn't it?" he murmured, reaching out to stroke a bare bottom. "Any relation?"

Joan stared. But his face wore only its usual cheerful expression. He leaned back to let her read the neatly printed label basted to one corner.



AFTER THE FALL

REBECCA SPENCER $2000

And she'd been trying to picture Rebecca piecing little squares! She should have known better. Was the price possible?

Maybe she can't bear to part with it, Joan thought. But if she's really pulling in that kind of money, I can quit worrying about her. She said something about designing a line . . .

"You all right?" It was John.

"Oh . . . sorry." She came back. "I'm fine. I didn't exactly expect this." She grinned at him. "Rebecca's my daughter."

"I thought maybe." Now he was laughing.

"I wonder if this is the only thing she entered." She was suddenly wild to know.

"Go ahead. I'll cover for you in the Ives."

"The Ives, oh . . . " She'd forgotten. "There goes my last chance at it. I promised Alex I'd set up the trumpeter on the balcony." She was already loosening her bow. "You can cover for me Saturday, too."

While Alex rehashed the fanfare with the brasses, Joan tucked her viola into its case, under the old blue velvet blanket. I suppose I could ask Rebecca to quilt me a new one, she thought, feeling the bare threads in the worn spot over the bridge. If I could afford her.

She started up the curving stairway to the balcony.

"Joan!" Alex bellowed.

"Right here."

"Are you ready for the 'Unanswered Question'?"

"Sure. Come on up, Eddie."

All joints, ears, and Adam's apple, Eddie bounded up the stairs.

"Do you think he'll sound better on top, or halfway down the stairs?"

"As far away as possible. But where he can see me. I can't do this on Sunday." Alex was craning her short neck.

"Let's try around here," Joan said, and Eddie followed her around the balcony until they were looking directly at Alex from over the trumpet section. The violas and Rebecca's sleeping bag were invisible under the stairs at the left.

Alex nodded, held a finger to her lips, and pointed at the concertmaster, who stood up to beat a steady four for the strings. Almost inaudible chords--whispers--rose to the balcony. Alex pointed to Eddie.

Raising his silver trumpet, he played five haunting notes--Ives's "question." Eddie had a clear, sweet tone even a violist could love. Joan was sorry when Alex broke the spell.

"Too close. Eddie, you should be coming from a mile away. Can't you back up?"

They were already backed against the wall, hung with quilts. Joan knew that the closed doors all around the balcony hid rooms filled with others.

"In there?" Eddie asked, pointing to the nearest door.

"Try it," came from below.

It opened easily, and Eddie disappeared. Softer now, the plaintive trumpet question floated out over the balcony.

"Perfect!" Alex cried.

Eddie came to the door. "I can't hear a thing in there," he complained. "And I can't see you. How will I get my cue?"

"Easy," said Alex, unfazed by details now that she had the sound she wanted. "Joan, you cue him."

"I don't know, Alex," Joan said, dubious.

"Nothing to it," Alex promised. "Come on, try. We don't have all night."

Eddie rolled his eyes and disappeared again into the darkness. Joan heard a crash and a muttered curse.

"Are you all right?" she called into the darkness.

"Not if I bent my trumpet. Where the hell are the lights?"

Reassured, she felt for the switch and flooded the room with light. On the far side Eddie was scrambling to his feet near a limestone fireplace with a Franklin stove extending into the room, the precious trumpet safe in one outstretched hand. But Joan groaned at the devastation around him. And she recognized the brilliant Double Wedding Ring quilt now hanging along one side wall. This was the Ellett room. She sighed.

"Mary Sue Ellett will have a duck fit."

"Huh?" Clearly, Eddie was oblivious to the quilts crumpled on the floor.

"It's all right, Eddie. You couldn't help it. I would've grabbed them, too, if I'd gone down like that."

Seeing them at last, he shook his head.

"I didn't grab anything."

"Don't worry. I'll deal with Mary Sue. Come on. We'd better do the Ives before Alex skins us alive." She picked up the old-fashioned sadiron that must have tripped him and set it on the walnut mantelpiece.

The rest of the piece went well. Joan relayed cues to Eddie as if she'd been conducting all her life. Leaving the strings to the concertmaster, Alex beat a contrasting rhythm for the quartet of flutes, whose last notes tumbled all over each other--no "answer" at all.

Hearing the Ives from between the trumpet and the strings and flutes sent chills down Joan's spine.

And to think the composer spent his life as an insurance salesman.

At last Alex was satisfied and declared a break. From the balcony, Joan made a couple of routine announcements, ending with a reminder.

"We don't play until Sunday. Between now and then there'll be judging and lectures. We'll be held responsible for any mess they find in the morning. So please take a look around your seat before you leave today."

Down below, the chatter started. At her elbow, Eddie said, "I really didn't grab those covers, but I'll help you put 'em back."

"Thanks, Eddie." No point in arguing. She only hoped they weren't damaged. She'd never hear the end of it from Mary Sue as it was.

While Eddie laid his trumpet safely on the mantelpiece, Joan studied the quilts that were still hanging. She had hoped for something simple, like clothespins. But she should have remembered. The Elletts had hung Edna's quilts on poles by the same method she'd seen used downstairs, but in spite of his protests, it was clear that their basting stitches had yielded to Eddie's weight. This was no quick-fix job.

Eddie was right about one thing. He could at least help pick up the fallen quilts before they got any dirtier. But he was just standing there, holding one corner of the nearest one and staring down at the floor.

"Eddie? Are you okay?"

He looked a little green around the gills.

Then she saw it, too.

A foot protruding from a green polyester pant leg. And, when she threw back the quilt, a plastic bag clinging to a square face, the color drained from it.

This isn't happening, Joan thought. It's not real.

She stooped to confirm what she already knew. Touching that foot was like touching a dressed fryer in the supermarket. Chicken under nylon.

"She's cold." Joan felt as sick as Eddie looked. "And stiff."

"That--that was here the whole time?" he croaked.

Joan nodded. "Go across the street and get the police, Eddie."

Eddie bolted for the stairway.

Joan sat down on the floor. She wouldn't have to call Mary Sue, after all.

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