His wife was next door when he was killed. A blow to the head; bloody marble bust nearby. Neighbours heard Mahler 8.
The Mahler was nothing new. He used it to block out the voices. In point of fact, it was just the one voice he wanted blocked, his wife’s. He found it took the Symphony of a Thousand to drown out the Nagging of One. (So why, on this day, was it playing when she was not in the house?)
No, theirs was not a happy marriage. It had not been for some time. Neither of them could say with any certainty how and when their differences had first arisen. It was the accumulation of a thousand tiny rankling grievances on each side that had led to a state of perpetual, mutual disappointment.
That so many of their grievances were, in themselves, insignificant, only made matters worse. There is nothing more guaranteed to nurture resentment than the dim awareness that one is not being entirely fair.
Had either of them voiced their complaints against the other, they might have seen them for what they were: laughable. And the resulting laughter might have led to some kind of reconciliation, all their resentments floating away in a bubble of hilarity. Perhaps it was embarrassment that prevented them from voicing their complaints.
Besides, every resentment stands for another. The wife who complains of her husband’s snoring is really saying that he has never satisfied her in bed. The husband who complains that his wife isn’t interested in sex any more is railing against the spiritual emptiness of the universe.
In their case, strip away the peripheral niggles and you would see that everything came down to one kernel of hostility, to which they both clung for different reasons, and from opposite sides. It was all about music. To be more specific, Mahler.
He was a passionate admirer of Mahler’s No. 8. She claimed it left her cold.
One resentment stood for another. In the degree to which he loved that piece of music she saw how little he loved her. Her refusal to be moved by what he held to be the one work of human creation that expressed his soul became the husband’s old lament, my wife doesn’t understand me. Of course, he did not stop to ask himself whether he understood her.
He liked to play the Mahler at full volume, naturally. The Bose sound system meant there was no distortion. Significantly, however, he never played the Mahler when she was not in the house. It was undoubtedly a hostile act, designed to antagonise her more than to soothe him.
So, again, why was this day different?
For one thing, it was his birthday. And it seemed that the occasion had led to an unexpected rapprochement. The first move came from her. Perhaps it was a sign of how desperate he was for reconciliation that he accepted it without hesitation and without an inkling of suspicion. With joy, in fact.
But of course, the manner in which she made her move was calculated to disarm him completely. In hindsight, it seems she knew where to strike. Clearly she understood that his greatest passion was also his greatest weakness.
She gave him a marble bust of Mahler as a present. There were no touching speeches, no embrace, not even a grudging peck on the cheek. Just a certain shamefaced gruffness on her part. And bewildered happiness on his. Perhaps she did understand him, after all.
She was very precise about where the bust should be placed: on the shelf behind his desk. It would be directly over his head when he was working, as she knew he would be that morning.
There are all kinds of deceptions involved in a marriage, including self-deceptions. Some are minor; others, not so. The second greatest deception that she perpetrated on her husband was that she pretended to be an utter technophobe. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He did not know that she had attended a series of night school courses on various aspects of computer, communications and information technologies, as well as a weekend seminar on Acoustical Engineering. He had blithely assumed she was having an affair.
The greatest deception she had perpetrated on him was connected to the second greatest. And it was simply this: she was plotting to murder him.
She knew very well that his Bose sound system was Bluetooth compatible. But she pretended not to know where the ON button was. She’d covered Bluetooth wireless technology in several of her courses. But she always referred to it as Greentooth. She knew what frequency of sound would cause the shelf above his head to vibrate enough to cause a heavy object placed on it to shift: 311.127 Hz. And she knew that 311.127 Hz was approximately the frequency of the E♭ above middle C, a note that occurs with some regularity in Mahler’s 8th.
Her strategies of misdirection were successful.
The new marble bust was given pride of place on the shelf. She told him she was going next door for an hour so that he could work in peace. (He failed to register her sly reference to his habit of only playing Mahler when she was at home; a minor self-deception on his part.)
While the neighbour was in the kitchen making the coffee, it was a simple matter of sending a signal from her mobile phone to activate the Bluetooth-compatible Bose at full volume.
Next door, when the music blasted out, he was startled but not dismayed. It seemed somehow appropriate on this day when his wife had for the first time acknowledged the great passion of his life that he should accept this unexpected bonus, and sit back and wallow in the emotional magnificence of his favourite piece of music. In many ways, it was, for him, the perfect way to go.