Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Eva Silverfine
Comfortably my mother sat down at the piano and opened the book that laid on the music rest. Comfortably she began to play the music, page by page. As always her fingers landed a bit heavily on the keys, but still, as always, I admired her facility at sight-reading music. After playing several pieces, she played the opening refrain of Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante Défunte.
The notes resonated deep within me. I knew the music well. It was the piece with which I had auditioned to the High School of Music and Art in New York City. My music teacher chose it. I played the french horn, an instrument that required a good ear, technical skill, and self-confidence. The piece was difficult; it started on an almost full-measure high D. The technical difficulty mixed with my nervousness led to my playing a broken D at the audition. I could barely complete the first refrain. My judges were sympathetic; they suggested I instead play some scales. For reasons of which I've never been sure, I was accepted.
When my mother finished the piece I said, "Do you remember my practicing that on the horn?"
"No," she replied.
How could she not remember, I wondered. How could she not remember? I practiced every day, just as she had taught me to do from the time she began to teach me the piano. My obedience to that lesson made me the music teacher's model student.
Where had she been while I was practicing? Gone. I played Pavane the year my mother was in the process of leaving us, the year she was revisiting her own adolescence. Even when she was at home, playing a pop tune over and over on the piano, she was focused on her inner turmoil and her life outside our home. So she did not hear me play Pavane nor did she hear my band perform in the spring. Nor was she there to see my dance recital or to see me play the lead in the junior high school play. I did these things because I loved dance and music and I loved to perform—loves that my mother had engendered in me. She moved out by the end of the school year.
The summer after she left I spent three weeks on a bicycle trip through Maine. I traveled with nine other adolescents and an "adult" barely out of college. We were all out of our accustomed context of friends and family, and a social hierarchy was quickly established. Falling somewhere in the middle, I was unaccustomed to the unkindness of some of my peers. I was exposed on that trip, vulnerable. The erosion of self-confidence gathers momentum.
One day, speeding down a hill, I narrowly missed hitting gravel. In fright I cried out, "Mommy!", a cry that would escape me, with embarrassment, well into my adulthood. Then I thought, "I don't have a ‘mommy' anymore."
A high, mournful D starts a refrain that I could not play but that still can play my soul. Childhood was over that summer. Défunte.
From growing up beside the el train in Brooklyn, N.Y., to residing one mile down a gravel road in Central Texas with her husband, two sons, and a variable number of chickens, Eva Silverfine made a home in several different urban to rural landscapes. Her formal education is in ecology, and for the last fifteen years she's supported her writing habit working as a technical editor of books and articles on biological topics.
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