The eight-hour trip was not to be taken for granted at Pyotr’s age. He stopped the horses twice—once in Peshki, then in Khiki—stretching his legs, snacking on balyk for lunch.
Entering the city, crisp orange maple leaves crackled under hoof and wheel; scents of Moscow in the fall triggered memories of a legendary timeline, a pleasant if subdued wave of nostalgia: from early piano lessons, to the premiere of his first symphony, to his homecoming performance from the most recent European tour. His heart was in stride with the carriage and in harmony with the season and he would sit and dine with these friends, whatever they had in mind, so mysterious and important that he “must come at once,” said the telegram from Ivan.
His lightness of mood was dashed by a heavy-hearted embrace from each of the three other members of the gathering, then a quiet dinner turned mute by Ivan’s reluctant explanation. Plates were collected all around Pyotr Tchaikovsky; there was a motion as to whether he wanted his place cleared but food had no more appeal to him than the well-formed serving girl retrieving his plate.
He cleared his throat with his own words, just loud enough to carry across the table to Ivan: “What do you mean?”
“Regarding Sacha Olegovich…son of Oleg Orlov…nephew of Prince Orlov.”
“What do you mean by saying it’s known?”
“It’s that simple,” Ivan assured Pyotr. “Sacha’s time with you in Paris, Frankfurt the whole affair. Sacha was a favorite…formerly he was a favorite, and he was too young and stupid not to tell at least one friend. It is impossible that his family will let it be.”
Hanging above the table was a rock crystal and aquamarine chandelier. He stared as if examining it—the rest of the party did the same.
What did they have in mind? A plan for his escape—a place for him to live in hiding the rest of his life? The air seemed thick, his chest was folding up inside itself—a sensation he recalled from childhood at the onset of his mother’s illness.
Ivan produced one hermetically sealed, palm-sized vial of clear liquid. He passed it to young Fyodor, who tried to pass it to his right, but there was no response. After waiting, sighing, looking around the room for help, offering it again, Fyodor placed it in Pyotr’s palm, who stared vacantly while his fingers refused to take hold.
Fyodor affectionately closed the great composer’s large fist around the item with both of his own smaller and more delicate hands and said, “In your own time. Take it back to Klin—finish off any notes, any loose ends.”
Ivan slammed the table with both fists in a sudden declaration of triumph; tears swelled in his eyes and fell. It seemed he might have had no part in this plan for their friend, a plan they referred to as a gentleman’s suicide:
“And…the name Tchaikovsky…will bring glory to Mother Russia…forever!”
“Navsegda!” echoed everyone at the table but the guest of honor.
Barnaby Hazen is an author originally from Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Anti-heroin Chic, Jerry Jazz Musician, and claimed two awards for full-length fiction. He lives with his wife, Sarah, in Taos, New Mexico.