Picturing the Music

I picture Tal waking up, it’s still too early; she will turn the corner of the living room when the sun is out – it’s been two years since she has been allowed such luxury. In my mind I see her walking, still drowsy, into the living room. She manages a smile with unevenly opened eyes, a gray sweatshirt hanging sideways exposes her left shoulder; baggy cotton pants with polka dots hang down to her bare feet. On her way to wash her face she takes a detour through the piano. She sits in front of it, slouched; puts her hands on the keys, looking down at her knees, its very quite. Two spiders rush from her wrists to the far edges of the keys; the music explodes through the house, then subsides as the spiders walk more slowly back towards the center of the piano, as if content that they had awakened the keys as far as the ends of the keys. She looks down at them as they hover back and forth over central accords, as if saying ‘you are mine to control’, and sends then rushing again, pulls them back towards each other and bounces them on all ten legs, left right and over each other, before she lets them rest. Her great grandmother watches from the bookshelf as she plays her own piano. She was in her fifties when the picture was taken. She is wearing a black dress with white polka dots and a white collar. Her arms are bare and full. The tan of her skin is in contrast with her great granddaughter’s paler shoulder.

I envision Tal as she raises her head and looks at the books of notes stacked on the left corner of the piano. I know it’s only a gesture; she will not drag herself through the pile before she is fully awake, still she acknowledges it – as if to say ‘I will get to you when the day is older.’ She turns to the notes in front of her, straitens her back taking a deep breath and plays. She holds her hands above the keys, the fingering technique the pride and joy of music teachers, fingers swooping down on the octaves from above. She throws herself into the music, following it with her body, neck and head. Grandma sits still, her head raised, you can see her playing, the same long fingers, her composure is more reserved, the passion is restrained but the music is just as strong, and clear. She played for thirty five more years after the picture was taken. When she could hardly walk, she asked to be wheeled to the piano, and continued to play. She did not live to see her great grandchildren playing. Tal awakens as she plays. Now she stops, half turns on the piano bench, throws me a smile, rises slowly, acting out morning aches and pains, and continues her journey to the bathroom. The bench in front of the piano is empty; I smile when I think how the boys would do anything to keep it that way. Alas, poor creatures have to play for their food. Like condemned men they step to the gallows of their great grandmother’s notes. They do not hesitate, with well practiced moves they set their phones to vibrate-mode and place them on the seat cushion under them. They sit quickly, thinking that grandma doesn’t see them. They play only what they have to, waiting for comforting SMS buzzes from between their legs to break the monotony of the practice. They play quite well, well enough to drop girls’ jaws – sufficient mediocrity as far as they are concerned. I can see grandma smiling to herself, allowing them to get away with it, knowing that too much pressure will make them hate the music.

When grandma stopped playing people we did not know came to pay their final respects. ‘How did you know her?’ ‘We didn’t, we only knew her playing coming from the window…we came to say thank you for the music.’ The notes and the music remain with us. Grandma sees her great granddaughter thank her everyday.

The sun is higher now; Tal walks into the living room…