“Doctor Sixsmith.” The young man stopped drumming on his thigh to stand up and shake Sixsmith’s hand. “Thank you so much for seeing me.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Sixsmith replied, “though I am a bit mystified. Your letter requesting this meeting wasn’t entirely clear. You’re an Oxford man, but you wanted to interview me about Caius College?”
“I’m sorry, sir; let me begin at the beginning. I’m a research fellow with the Oxford University Faculty of Music. My original area of study was Sir Edward Elgar’s later days until I came upon a mention of his visiting Vyvyan Ayrs and meeting a Robert Frobisher in 1931. Sir Edward was apparently quite impressed; I became intrigued because I’d come across other, very brief mentions of Frobisher.” Sixsmith raised his eyebrows.
At ease once he’d started, the interviewer warmed to his subject. “I was able to track down a copy of the ‘Cloud Atlas Sextet for Symphony’ and I found it a unique, utterly enthralling piece of music. It’s funny, isn’t it, how you can believe you’re firmly headed in one direction, and then all of a sudden you find yourself veering off on some other path entirely?”
Sixsmith smiled. “Yes, I’ve had that experience.”
“I met with some people at Caius College and they mentioned you. And Frobisher’s sisters spoke of you quite specifically as the one person I should talk to. Have I got it all wrong?”
“No, you’ve not gotten it wrong at all. “ Sixsmith paused, leaning back in his chair. “It’s unusual, that's all. I’ve often been interviewed about my own work; this is the first time..."
"But you were his closest friend."
"Yes, you could say that I was."
“Please tell me, then.” The interview moved his chair closer, and opened his notebook. “I want to know everything.”
Little chance of that, Sixsmith thought.
“How did you and Frobisher meet?”
“We lived in the same court at Caius College. He was reading music and philosophy; my work was in experimental physics. There was no good reason for us to become friends, really; I was a scholarship student, a tailor’s son, and he was from a very highly placed family. Still, we managed to find some common ground, and eventually became quite close. “
When he opened the door, he was startled to find a young man going through his wardrobe. Sixsmith’s clothes were tossed all over the floor.
Sixsmith started. “What the devil - “
The stranger was holding one of Sixsmith’s waistcoats against his torso, smiling at his reflection in the mirror. The man turned to him.
“Oh, hello,” he said. “I need something spiffy for a soiree tonight. I’d noticed you have such nice things - your clothing allowance must be enormous! - so I thought I’d borrow something. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course I mind. Who do you think you are, just walking in here, and, and, taking things - “
“I’m not stealing it; I plan to return it. Some day. And the name’s Frobisher, Robert Frobisher.” He tossed the waistcoat onto the bed, stepped closer, and reached up to remove Sixsmith’s glasses.
“What a lovely face you have,” Frobisher murmured. He and Sixsmith stared at each other for a long moment. Sixsmith swallowed. Frobisher tucked the glasses back over Sixsmith’s ears, then moved to pick up the waistcoat.
Just before he reached the door, Frobisher turned and said, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
When Sixsmith awoke the next morning, Frobisher was curled next to him.
“He was continually inspired by everything he saw and heard. It could have been dancers in a cafe, or wind in the trees, or a bit of birdsong. He was forever stopping to jot things down. It made for very, I’ll say, leisurely, travel.“ Sixsmith eyes softened at the memory.
Those luxurious moments in bed, after the morning’s lovemaking. Hearing the birds outside, the scent of jasmine drifting in through the window. The touch of his hand hand stroking my hip, soft as a whisper, and then a quicker, more rhythmical touch, as if -
Sixsmith rolled over. "Tell me, " he said, "please tell me you are NOT playing music on my thigh."
Frobisher shook that great mop of hair from his eyes. "It was just an idea, a melody that popped into my head, I want to - " He reached across Sixsmith's body toward the nightstand.
"Oh, no, you don't - " Sixsmith said, rolling Frobisher to pin his body underneath his own.
"No, wait, Sixsmith, I must - " Frobisher wriggled free, grabbing for pen and paper, but the paper slipped to the floor. Undaunted, Frobisher lay on his side, took the pen and began jotting notes on the smooth skin of Sixsmith's belly.
Sixsmith sputtered in protest, but soon gave up. He shook his head. "Frobisher, you are simply the maddest - "
"Sssh, don't move, you'll smear the ink."
"The maddest man - “
"Indeed. The maddest, and the greatest, musical genius you’ll ever love. Hush now, just for a moment, let me finish this."
Sixsmith lay still, watching Frobisher as he lost himself in the music, nodding his head to the sound only he could hear. The scratchings of the pen tickled. Sixsmith distracted himself by studying Frobisher’s hands.
They were extraordinarily beautiful - the ink-stained fingers long and expressive, the wrists strong and flexible. Sixsmith had never imagined such things as could be done with fingers, with lips and tongue and teeth. He had never imagined such things as he and Frobisher did together.
At last Frobisher lay the pen on the nightstand. He blew softly on Sixsmith’s belly to dry the ink, and murmured, “I’ll transcribe it later.” Then he began to lick his way up Sixsmiths’ body, from thigh to belly to chest, flicking his tongue over Sixsmith’s nipples, nuzzling his throat.
“My music will carry the taste of your skin,” he whispered.
Sixsmith arched up and ground his body against Frobisher’s, kissing him breathless.
Sixsmith smiled. “I haven’t much of an ear for music, though I have great respect for the mathematics involved. Whenever he’d play something for me, I got to the point of just smiling and nodding. He was used to it, though; his works were always called ‘very modern’, which, I’m sure you understand, wasn’t really considered a compliment at the time.”
The interviewer laughed, as he continued scribbling madly at his notes.
“As to the rest, with his family...you’d be better off to find a psycho-analyst to speak to about that. There was an older brother, Adrian, who was killed at Passchendaele; from the time Frobisher was a very young lad it was clear that they were as different as chalk and cheese. He hardly knew his brother, really, and to always have someone held up as an example, as if one is being molded to replace the one that was lost...”
“Yes, I can imagine how painful that must have been, and how it might have lead to Frobisher’s, ah, emotional instability.”
“Aren’t all creative geniuses a bit unstable? He was brilliant, mercurial, impulsive. In another family, that spark might have been carefully nurtured to its dazzling, fullest expression. But he was quite bitterly estranged from his family, and had to survive by his wits.”
He survived by his actions as a liar, a thief, and a whore. He was like a firely, ‘a brief flicker in the night; gone quick, but they burn so bright.’ He was the love of my life.
“You were the one who saved the ‘Cloud Atlas Sextet’ manuscript after Frobisher’s death, and arranged for it to be published?”
“Yes, I did. He...one of his last acts was to send me the original manuscripts. His family had not been supportive of his work, and he did not want it to fall into their hands. He asked me to have it printed, and provided a list of people, musicians, conductors, critics. Persons of influence in the musical world.” Sixsmith’s voice was dry. “I had never known him to be that well-organized before. He was always ingenious, quick-witted, able to think on his feet. For him to have made such thorough arrangements“- Sixsmith shook his head - “was very surprising, really.”
“Only five hundred original pressings, I understand.”
“Yes, they were done in Holland, before the War. Kesselring arranged it, quite generously, I thought. I was surprised, after everything Frobisher had said about him in his letters, but - “
The interviewer let out a small gasp, and put down his pen. His eyes were wide. “You have letters?” he whispered in awe. “From Frobisher? Could I possibly- “
Sixsmith went very still. He loves him, he thought. He fell in love with him through the music alone. How pleased Frobisher would be. “I’m very sorry,” he replied softly. “The letters are intensely personal, and they shall remain - personal.”
“Of course. Forgive me - terribly,terribly rude of me to even ask, “ the interviewer replied, abashed. One more question, if you don’t mind. What do you think of the ‘Cloud Atlas Sextet’?
“I’m afraid I’m lacking in the proper vocabulary that should be used to describe it, but if I had to, I would say that I find it...tremendously hopeful. ” I listen to it every night, and every night I hear his voice. ‘There’s another world, Sixsmith, and I’ll be waiting for you there.’”