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8.9.07

À mon chevet: Old School (pp. 57-58)

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Just then some of the boys started to sing, and others chimed in, the masters and their wives looking on tenderly. When I first arrived here I had tried not to gape whenever a bunch of boys suddenly gave voice like this, on the bus coming home from a game, in a sound-swelling stone hallway. It was like being in a movie of some Viennese operetta where everybody in the hotel lobby bursts into song, the doorman in his field marshall's coat chiming in with a comical solo. Now I too knew the songs, and quickened to those moments when we leaned together, watching one another for cues, and joined our voices.

The singers began to gather around the fireplace. Mr. Rice gave way and drifted back toward the other masters, but Mrs. Ramsey stayed with us and was soon surrounded by the chorus we'd become. She swayed to the music, laughing softly at a witty stanza, closing her eyes at a romantic line. She didn't so much listen to the songs as receive them, as if we were serenading her. And indeed we were. She was a woman alone among us, eyes shining, color high, a pretty woman made beautiful by tribute of song. We could see our power to charm her and make her beautiful, and this gave boldness to our voices. All the poetry of the night, the agitating nearness of this young woman, the heat of the clove-scented room and the knowledge of the cold outside -- all this was somehow to be heard in the songs we addressed to her. It was exciting and not quite proper, stirring and in some way illicit. It was a kind of ravishing. When one of the masters called a halt to it after several numbers -- only as an afterthought pleading the lateness of the hour -- we broke off as if coming out of a trance, hardly knowing where we were.

-- Tobias Wolff, Old School, "Frost" (2003)

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