The Rhythm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   I was so very desperate. I had losteverything to misfortune and unemployment when the Depressionbegan. I knew what it was to see hard times - the hardest oftimes.

I searched day after day in the newspaper forany kind of job. So many I could not do, and so many weremiles away. But finally, when I spent my last 15¢ on theCharleston Post I found an almost unbelievable ad. It was tinyand read:

COMPANION WANTED

$12 a week

Nodetails, no special qualifications. Twelve dollars a week setsuch visions of square meals and new suits spinning in my mindthat I thought little of what I was possibly getting into.Instead, I quickly contacted the residence listed in thead.

It was an old house with an elaborate veranda andsteepled Victorian turret. It was a faint lavender, nestledtightly among the neighboring homes some miles outside ofCharleston. The small front yard was thriving but hadn't beentended to in some time. I would soon find out why. I knewnothing, standing in the street, looking up at the ominoushouse. I climbed the steps and reached for thebuzzer.

Through the frosted glass in the massive frontdoor, I watched a young lady make her way to the door. Shepulled it open and, with a smile, offered her hand. I said,with a slight bow, "Lyman Wilcox."

"Yes,Mr. Wilcox," she said, without mentioning her name. Sheturned and I followed. She guided me through the rooms, everylast one of which seemed to yearn for inhabitants. Indeed,each room was decomposing from disuse. The living room wascaked with dust, yellowed from decades of open windows, andfull of monstrous furniture - even a cherrywood grandpiano.

The young woman stopped beside the doorway."Well, then, Mr. Wilcox, I believe you know everything'splace. I shall stop by every Tuesday to see how things aregetting on. And oh, yes," she said, as she began toleave, "She's upstairs."

"Who?" Iasked, puzzled.

"Why, your business, Mr.Wilcox," she replied. "Ms. Helen Cheshire is in herroom at the top of those stairs," she said, pointing upthe grand staircase.

"Thank you, uh ...Miss," I replied.

"You're welcome, Mr.Wilcox. Good-bye." Then she hurried out the door. I wouldseldom see her, only a few times during the comingmonths.

Not knowing what to do, I called up the stairs,"Ms. Cheshire?" After waiting a few moments, therewas no reply. "Ms. Cheshire!" I yelled a littlelouder. Still no reply. I took the liberty of venturing up tosee what had become of "mybusiness."

Upstairs I found a long, dim corridorlit only by a window in a room at the end. This, I felt, washer room. I crept past old daguerreotypes, paintings andphotographs.

Finally, I came to the threshold of theroom at the end. The door was half open. I softly rapped.Still no reply. I pushed open the door and steppedinside.

The entire room was awash with light from threearched windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. Againstthe left wall was an enormous canopy bed that sagged fromoveruse and disrepair. The other walls were lined with dresserafter dresser after dresser. But the most intriguing part ofthe entire room was the old woman who had positioned herwheelchair in front of the center window. She was gray asstone and sat slumped. Her clothes, torn and disheveled, hungloosely from her limbs. Upon her gray head was an enormous hatfull of drooping plumes and exotic feathers. She simply satand stared out the window.

"Why are youhere?" she suddenly called out in a strong and noblevoice.

"Could you hear me then, ma'am? Fromdownstairs, I mean?"

"Of course, Mr.Wilcox," she sharply replied. After this, there was along silence.

"Ma'am?" I finallyasked.

"Yes?" she replied. And then she addedquickly, "What is your answer Mr.Wilcox?"

"Pardon me, Ms. Cheshire," Isaid, "But to what are youreferring?"

"To my question," sheanswered. "Why are you here?"

I stood behindher, confounded. Did she not know I had been hired? "Ibelieve, Ms. Cheshire, that I was hired to ... to look afteryou." She wheeled deftly to face me. Her face was as greyas her hair and her eyes burned like coals, not with an angryglare, but tremendous burden and discontent. Her mouth openedand one word escaped, "Leave."

I knew notwhat to do, so I turned and left.

I sat staring atthe piano in the living room, wondering whether I dared totouch it. I certainly had reason to; in younger and betterdays, I had studied extensively and could play quite arepertoire. At last, feeling I should do something to earn aday's pay, I resolved to play. I dusted off the bench and tooka seat. The keys were yellowed and cracked but stillfunctional. The first thing that came to mind was Mozart'sTurkish Rondo. I began, softly, not having an ounce of courageagainst the owner of the coals above me. I struck the octavesand chords of two hundred years of antiquity and made thepiano sing as it had probably never sung. Soft, though, wasthe reverberation. Soft, that is, until I heardit.

Directly above me, however faint and muffled, wasthe unmistakable beat of a tapping foot. Beat by beat, measureby measure, she stomped the notes. With such acceptance, Istruck the keys with the most empowering force I could musterand, above, the tapping foot gave up its humility and beatlouder also. Together we performed a rondo the likes of whichmay never have been rendered before. But, Mozart's genius soonran short, and we both ceased.

After such a phenomenon,the silence seemed horrible. And so, as fast as my memory andfingers would allow, I struck up a Hungarian Rhapsody anddrove both foot and fingers into a frantic rush oftempo.

Such was the routine that would carry on for thenext month. I saw little of Ms. Cheshire. Day after day, Icame and played and filled the house with music. It was myonly form of communication with her. When I played waltzes,she beat meter in three; when I performed meter in four, shebeat four per measure. I played Chopin and Liszt and poundedout scherzos and sonatas and pieces of every kind until Iquite ran out of memory and used my wages to purchasemusic.

By now, I was well off and did not worry aboutmy finances. I received my pay every Tuesday from the youngwoman, whose name turned out to be Adrondaire.

On astormy August day I came in with seven new pieces, enough totake me well into the afternoon at which time I was relievedof my duty. I often, however, stayed longer to finish aconcerto or play an encore to a piece to which the foot hadtapped particularly energetically.

I sat down at thegrand piano and soon the melody of Handel's Sarabande filledthe house. Long, grand chords floated from the piano, waftinginto Ms. Cheshire's room. The foot, as if awakened fromslumber, began beating.

We carried on long past noon.Outside, the storm raged with unusual fury. As I played louderto overcome the thunder, the foot stomped until the ceilingbegan to vibrate.

Soon, I was swept up in the dimnessof the room and the swelling, rolling drone of Beethoven's FurElise. Sweet and somber came the sound now, but I hardlynoticed, for it seemed to fill me and slowly I sank into akind of subconscious whirlwind of the notes and the beat ofthe foot. My heart beat faster, my fingers sped on. Such wasmy rage when I completed the piece, only to embark on atremendous rendition of the great March Funebre.

It wasthen that I reached my most powerful performance. I poundedthe keys until the piano shook and the house quaked andvibrated, not with the sounds of thunder, but with the soundof my music ... and of the tapping of the foot. Amidst thefury of a dozen mad strings echoing throughout the house, Icould distinctly hear the steady, loud thump of her foot uponthe floor. Womp! Womp! It pounded with the tremendous chordsof my enraged fingers. Womp! Womp! It beat the time andthundered in my ears until it fell into rhythm with the verybeating of my heart. And then I could not take it anylonger!

Suddenly, I leapt up and struck the piano witha fist that wreaked hideous chords, fading to silence. Ibolted up the stairs to the old lady's door. I burst in andfound her sobbing by the window streaked with rain. Rushingacross the room, I seized her by the arms and cried out,"In God's name! Tell me what has happened toyou!"

She spoke not a word but stared at me withquivering lips and tears in her eyes. I had no mercy."Tell me!" I shrieked. "Tell me what hashappened to you to make you act this way!"

Herface hardened. She turned to look out the window as ifcollecting her thoughts. "I simply do not care," shesaid in a trembling voice.

"What?" I cried."Give me a reason, Ms. Cheshire!"

Staringstraight at me, the coals burning without control, she said,"I do not care." Then she added, "I have notcared for a very long time."

Exhausted, I releasedmy grip and collapsed into a nearby chair. "Everyday," I muttered, "I have come and played foryou."

"But for what, Mr. Wilcox?" sheasked, leaning forward. "For what reason do you comehere?"

Quickly, I answered, "I come here formoney." And added, "And to understandyou."

"To understand me?" she asked."Well, then, Mr. Wilcox, you shall know me. You shallknow all about me and yourself - and the world when I'mthrough." She turned her fiery glare from me to looksomewhere far off. Then she began.

"Why do we dothe things we do, Mr. Wilcox? Is it because we expect to getsomewhere and achieve something? But where are we going andwhat are we achieving? Why do we care, Mr. Wilcox? Is itbecause we hope to change something? But what do we reallychange?

"A very long time ago, I realized therewere too many things to care about. There were people to feedand lives to be saved and friends to make happy and morals totend and masses to go to. But where did it get me? It caved inon me, Mr. Wilcox. I was an outward force pushing the wallsfrom around me until they came crashing in, and that's when Irealized two things: because there were so many, many things,it was hardly worth caring about even a small portion of them,and that because caring did not have permanent results, it waspurposeless.

"How much could I care, Mr. Wilcox?How much could I take? It is like a government with so manyfrivolous laws that it becomes pointless to follow even one ofthem. And so it was with me. I ceased to care, ceased to do,ceased to be. And here I am. And I ask you, Mr. Wilcox, whymust we care?"

I sat there, searching for ananswer. Reaching to the burning core of my soul, I pulled outthe simplest answer I could possiblyproduce.

"Because we are," I said,"Because you and I exist, we must care. It is ourduty."

Then I added, "It is like the pianomusic I have played. Though the notes are meaningless andrandom in themselves, when put to a beat, they make sense.Though there are times of sound and times of rest, theunderlying rhythm drives onward. It is, I tell you, the rhythmof our soul's existence that makes sense out of caring. Weexist, Ms. Cheshire, to satisfy the world and, in turn, theworld exists to satisfy us. Exist, Ms. Cheshire, and you areresponsible for the most awful and most spectacularresponsibility in all of creation - living."

Shesat there, slumped and apparently defeated. But then I saw thecoals spring up and a new fire burn in her eyes. A fire ofdelight and meaning. The sun burst through the windows,filling the room with light. "Yes," she said simply."I ... I do believe you're right."

Then,slowly, a smile spread across both our faces. In my heart, Ifelt a sudden urge. I leapt up and ran to the piano. It seemedto glow. I began pounding out with renewed force a triumphantTurkish Rondo. And, as the sun cleared away the clouds, Ibelted out the chords and heard, however faint, the beating ofa foot.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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