Mrs. Ruzicka Goes Solo

By Elisa Pulido

Mrs. Ruzicka’s seat in an orchestra box to the far right of the concert hall allows her to look directly into the face of the concertmaster.  She thought she had fallen in love with him during Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 in D, but now that the orchestra has begun Dvorak’s Serenade for strings, she is sure of it.  The grace of his bow splits her chest like a surgeon’s knife.  Mrs. Ruzicka lifts her heart out of her chest cavity, raises it over her head and offers it to the concertmaster.  The concertmaster seems oblivious to her generosity, so she puts it back feeling ashamed and a little rejected.

The Scherzo boosts her confidence slightly, but during the Larghetto, she feels an exquisite pain across the top of her right breast.  She almost cries out, but covers her mouth with her own hand. With the other hand, she removes a palm-sized flashlight from her evening bag, the one she uses to read programs in the dark, and uses it now to peer at her right breast.  A deep gash runs across the top of it, an inch above the scooped neckline of her black velvet concert gown.  The wound isn’t bleeding much. She has a strong inclination to look inside her breast, but the thought of doing so makes her feel faint.  She looks accusingly at the concertmaster, but he apparently doesn’t see her and if he did, it isn’t likely he would take any responsibility for the injury.

Toward the end of the movement, Mrs. Ruzicka overcomes enough of her queasiness to glance down at her breast again.  The incision is still there.  With the aid of her flashlight, she spreads the sides of the wound apart and looks inside. To her horror, she finds a dense tangle of black-capped mushrooms.  Where did they come from?  She had endured a mammogram two weeks earlier and had received a clean bill of breast health.  Obviously, these mushroom were not visible to the radiologist.  She begins to comb through her life and her behavior for unresolved conflicts, personality flaws, sins of omission or commission.  Unsure as she is of the mushrooms’ origins, Mrs. Ruzicka knows they will have to be removed, but she hardly had the courage to look at them, and can in no way bring herself to touch one.

Mrs. Ruzicka wishes the Larghetto weren’t so slow, but, she reasons, that’s the way larghettos are.   She is hoping for an early intermission, so she can go to the ladies’ room and consider her options.  She decides she is, in actuality, lucky to be listening to only a larghetto and not a full-blown largo.  Owing, perhaps, to the searing sadness of the music, it’s minor key, or the pain in her breast, Mrs. Ruzicka suddenly loses consciousness of the concert master, the conductor, the musicians, the concert hall, her pressing need for an intermission, and finds herself moving across a frosty svelte.  At first, she thinks she is in the company of dislocated Jewish peasants grieving the loss of their hearths, their lace curtains, their fields and livestock.  They are struggling to transport an ailing grandfather, not likely to survive the next few hours, but then she thinks she can see a Cherokee woman a few yards off the other side of the road, supported by other women as she gives birth.  Next, she passes a Mormon elder in a threadbare coat chopping a child-sized grave in the frozen clay of the Iowan plains.  And, despite these scenes of suffering, children play a clapping game only a short distance away, and a little farther along a small dog begs for a scratch.  Mrs. Ruzicka wonders how a Czech with a short, grizzled beard has managed to give voice to the sufferings of the world’s displaced peoples and she begins to weep.

During the final movement of the Serenade, the tempo quickens considerably and the key changes back into major.  It is at the moment of the tempo change, that Mrs. Ruzicka musters enough courage to reach into her breast and pull out a long, black mushroom with stringy roots.  The next one, also black, is squat with a globe-like cap.  As the tempo of the music speeds, she pulls faster.  There are mushrooms of all shapes and sizes. At first she is unsure where to put them, but she pushes several handfuls under the empty seats in front of her, seats paid for by Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Honeywell, who are skiing in Aspen.  She tucks at least two dozen between the up-turned seat and seatback her husband has failed to occupy.  She drops several handfuls into the empty row behind her, which is occupied on rare occasions by the Titleist clan, who, just yesterday, spontaneously set sail in their yacht for the Galapagos.  Mrs. Ruzicka worries that perhaps she has never had a breast at all, only a receptacle for decay.  Perhaps her husband is aware of this, and therefore keeps his distance.  Maybe her daughter knows; she had, after all, attempted to nurse her when she was an infant.  Perhaps this is why she never comes to visit.

At last the mushrooms are removed.  Mrs. Ruzicka worries that her breast will sag or scar, but as soon as the mushrooms are removed, it heals, leaving no visible evidence of her ordeal.  She feels incredibly relieved, somehow light and joyous and begins to wonder if her right breast still matches her left breast, but the moment her mind makes a movement toward her other breast, her strength leaves her and she lacks the courage to look at it.  She knows, without looking, the same ghastly operation will have to be performed on the left breast, but cannot look or even contemplate making any sort of effort toward this end.  She is wondering if she will find the courage before the end of the concert.  There are, after all, other concerts and other days.  She glances down at the program and notices Smetana’s The Moldau listed a little further on.  Perhaps when she is safely inside Smetana’s little boat, bouncing over the gleaming swell of the Vltava, perhaps then.  Mrs. Ruzicka decides to trust the program.  After all, it has carried her this far.

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About Elisa Pulido

Elisa Pulido's writing has appeared in River Styx, The Ledge, Another Chicago Magazine, Margie, The North American Review and RHINO in the US and in Interchange and The New Welsh Review in the UK. In 2004, she helped found the Casa Romantica Reading Series in San Clemente, California. In 2007 she was made an honorary member of Academi Cardiff, the national literary society of Wales. She is currently doing coursework for a PhD in Religious Studies at Claremont Graduate University. You can find her her poem "Trogloditophobia" online by clicking here and "Elko County" at by clicking here.

One Comment

  1. Sade Reed
    Posted August 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    This is really interesting; it took a completely unexpected turn! And the strange mushrooms, definitely wince-inducing. I feel like I’m missing something, because I’m not a familiar with the music or the history of the composer, but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the story.

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