There was no question about it, Harry Fredder knew he must act. For his own peace of mind, for the sake of his wife and for the general wellbeing of the universe, Gammie had to go.
For a long time the thought of doing away with his mother-in-law had only been a vague wish lurking in a dark corner of his mind. She had, after all, not always been so impossible. She had been a great help to him and Martha in the early days of their marriage. Their children had loved her, in fact it was Charles who had named her Gammie with his first spoken word. As a toddler, Linda had been her devoted follower and confidant. Gammie and Gramps had always been available as baby sitters and had taken the children off on long vacations to their summer place in the hills north of San Francisco.
But Linda and Charles had grown up and gone off to college and careers. Gramps had suddenly died leaving Gammie with a far smaller inheritance than she had expected.
Harry had done well at the brokerage firm where he worked. When they downsized, he was offered a golden handshake that left him with an ample portfolio, enough so he and Martha could live out a comfortable retirement. They hoped at last to have the time to do all they had planned to do, free from the responsibilities of family and career. In particular they looked forward to indulging Harry’s great passion, grand opera. For starters, they would take the famous Fifteen in Six in Two Tour, a trip that promised its members the opportunity to attend performances in fifteen different opera houses in six different countries, all in just two months.
But just as he and Martha thought they had reached this moment of peace in their lives, Gammie came to be more and more on their hands. She lived just a plaintive phone call away down the Peninsula in Menlo Park. She came for visits on any excuse and stayed with them forever.
She was never directly insulting to Harry. But she spoke of everyone else with vast disparagement, shredding away at all her old friends with endless bitterness. She saw the world growing steadily younger and richer as she plotted her course to a pauper’s grave.
What worried Harry the most was the change he saw come over his wife in Gammie’s presence. Martha’s whole being seemed to shrivel under her mother’s constant stream of abuse at her friends, enemies or anyone else who might wander into her sights. Yet Martha worried about her mother. She felt they simply could not leave Gammie without emotional support for two whole months.
So the dream opera trip was postponed and then postponed again. Harry’s only chance to indulge in his passion was on the rare occasions when an opera company of merit came to San Francisco. So when the Vitalia Opera Festival Company, famed throughout Italy and the rest of Europe for their Mozart interpretations, came on tour, he purchased two orchestra seats for Don Giovanni. As Gammie had invited herself up for the weekend, he had purchased a ticket for her as well.
From the opening bar of the overture, the real world dropped away from Harry. He became one with the soaring richness of the music, the echoing voices of the singers. His delight came to full blossom in the first act, as Leporello sang, to Mozart’s laughing orchestration, the Catalog Aria, that marvelous listing of Giovanni’s conquests. Harry closed his eyes and drank in the lilting words “cento in Francia, in Turchia novantuna, ma in Ispagna son già mille e tre! Mille e tre! Mille e tre!”
Then, over the sweetness of the music and Leporello’s solid bass, he heard Gammie’s loud whispered demand of Martha. “Is this song a list of that rotter’s seductions?” Harry felt the whisper was clearly heard at least three rows both front and back.
“Yes,” Martha whispered back, “but this is a comic scene. Just enjoy it for the music.”
“I certainly will not. There is nothing funny about philandering. I am going to leave.”
They could not leave Gammie alone out on the street. So, when the Leporello’s aria came to a close, they departed midst the muttered comments of a disrupted audience. As they walked up the aisle to the exit, Harry heard behind him the recitative preceding Giovanni’s and Zerlina’s duet, which Harry considered the most beautiful duet in all of opera. As the door to the lobby closed behind him, faintly came the orchestra’s opening bars and his mind filled in the words. “La ci darem la mano, la mi dirai di si …” Then they were out on the dark street where the only music was the sound of passing traffic punctuated by the voice of a distant siren.