The following is an excerpt from a short story that was inspired by a photo I took of a friend:
As I returned to the studio with a new bottle and fresh glass I heard the record player spin a familiar frenetic piano percussively repeating a single minor chord as a bass melody chased it like a wicked wind from below:
Wer reitet so spät…
“Der Erlkönig,” I said as I poured each other a glass. “Curious choice for this hour and this weather. Let’s hope we’re not tempting fate. Cheers! To music: long may she live.”
“Cheers!,” Gabriel returned and we clinked glasses. We followed the custom to look into each others eyes while we took the first sip. “I hope you don’t mind my choice, but I have recently been studying the work of Goethe.”
“Ah yes, the poet of this thrilling Lied.” Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! “Do you mind if I smoke? I know it’s a habit that’s fallen out of favor with your generation.”
“I don’t mind, as long as I may also have one.”
“And you continue to amaze.”
In the sparsely lit studio I could still see a rush of color to his face. “Karl says I have an old soul.”
“So, that’s why he sent you to me!” I handed Gabriel a cigarette. I lit his cigarette and he took a hearty lung-full, leaned back into his chair, lifted his head to the ceiling and let out a slow grateful exhale, like he was giving thanks to God for such vice. “Why Goethe?,” I asked.
“Faust. I believe humanity has sold its soul for destructive advancement.”
“Have you read Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus?
“No, but I just finished reading his Tod in Venedig. It’s in my coat pocket.”
“I’ll tell you what. I will lend you a copy of Doktor Faustus if you lend me your copy of Tod in Venedig.”
Gabriel put out his hand. “Deal.” We shook on it.
In seinem Armen das Kind war tot.