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A Secret Chord
Thinking back on it, no one could remember exactly where the ??piano had come from. Frankly no one cared. It was there when they moved into the house, the only object left from the previous owners. To the girl, it had always seemed slightly magical. Though she could not play, she often sat on the bench and spread her fingers out on the ivory keys, imagining the worlds she could create if she only knew how. And the more things started to fall apart, the more the girl wished and wished that she could create the music that could piece her world together again.
The girl had been looking for the piano book. Mama had hidden it again. She was searching through drawers and under floorboards, in cabinets and high on shelves. It was nowhere. Finally, she approached Mama’s bedroom cautiously. She was not allowed inside. It was Daddy’s bedroom too, t??hough he was not always home to sleep in it. Still, if she was found here there would be trouble. Her mind screamed caution but her feet had other ideas and carried her through the doorway. Her eyes scanned the unfamiliar room, heart pounding. Head down, she walked to the bed and looked under the pillows. No piano book.
What she did find was a little silver metronome, used to keep time as one played. She picked it up and fiddled with the mechanism, making it tick peridocially.
No sooner had her pale fingers closed tightly around it, then she heard the click and turn of a lock and key, quickly followed by the stomp, stomp, stomp of heavy boots on the stairs, and the lighter pat pat pat of a softer pair of feet. Frozen in fear, eyes wide, she couldn’t move an inch until the footsteps were right outside.
The bed. She dove under, watching two pairs of feet advance as the door was pushed open. It’s just Mama, she told herself, eyeing the familiar black pumps. Just Daddy and Mama.
???He will be nice to her today.
He’s in a good mood today.
He’s not going to hit her.
Not even going to touch her at all. He’s not going to-
And then the screaming started.
It was always the same. Mama would scream and scream at first. She would kick and bite and hit. But Daddy was stronger. Then she would give up, right about . . . now. And then the silence would start. And from under the bed, the girl saw nothing and heard it all, eyes squeezed shut, clutching the rusted metronome, mind filled with nothing but the horrible silence. When he was done, Daddy would leave again, or maybe take a nap because he was tired now. Mama would be a mess on the floor. The girl wanted to help her but she couldn’t move. She could only stay curled up, as bruised as if Daddy had been hitting her instead.
It had started when Summer died. Summer was Mama’s second child, a beautiful baby girl, a collection of tiny fingers and toes, as warm and carefree as the season which she was named for. As soon as she co??uld speak, she learned to sing, and sang with a voice so beautiful and clear it brought tears to one’s eyes and the birds stopped mid-song to listen. But even more than singing, Summer loved to play the piano. Day and night, rich pure music would pour out of the piano room, magic flowing from plump little fingers, barely bigger than the keys themselves. And in the evenings, the family would sit and listen, lost in a song, not able to imagine that this wouldn’t last.
But Summer had taken sick, and after a f??ew weeks in bed, she fell asleep for longer and longer periods of time, and one day, stopped waking up altogether. The girl never questioned why Summer had to leave. Mama said it was because of pnumonia; a word that the girl could hardly pronounce, let alone understand. Daddy always blamed Mama. Then Daddy left, winter came, and the piano was no longer played. When Daddy finally came back, he was not the same, and then Mama wasn’t either.
The girl had always wanted to play piano like Summer did. She wanted to bring the whole family into the piano room and weave their world back together with a few notes. But she coul???d not find the piano book. And she could not help her mother for she could not speak. The last word the girl had said was goodbye. She had whispered it to Summer when she knew it was time. And after that, she went silent, just like her Mama.
And then had come the day when Mama decided enough was enough. Daddy was gone for a very long time, and when he came back, he was more angry then ever. The girl had curled up on the piano bench playing music in her mind. Upstairs the banging grew louder, so she used it as a metronome and made her music louder too. But it was not just one song. It went on for hours, it was a symphony, an opera, and the girl, exhausted, kept playing in her head so she could not hear the silence in between the beats. When Daddy was finished Mama didn’t move for a day. When the girl finally looked at her, she could not see her Mama, just a mass of bruises and cuts. And when Mama finally looked in the mirror, and saw herself, she decided it was time to leave.
The girl remembered that day ??specifically because it had been warmer than usual. It was nearing the end of winter. Droplets of sweat trickled down the girl’s back as Mama made her slip into dress after dress, so she could carry them all. Next came the tiny brown suitcase and their few possessions. They waited for night to fall and Daddy still did not come home. So the girl had grabbed her Mama’s hand and squeezed it tight, clutching the metronome safely in her pocket. And they had picked up their things and made their way to the door, hope??è beginning to bloom deep inside. Too late.
Just as Mama had put her hand on the doorknob to run outside, it twisted in her grasp and swung open from the other side. Daddy stood in the doorway, blocking their escape route. Faster than she knew what was happening, the girl was yanked away form the door. Mama was pulling her away, deep inside the house. She had dropped the suitcase and it had burst open and out of the corner of her eye, the girl saw the piano book. Without thinking, she let go of Mama’s hand and ran back to grab it. But this time Daddy saw her and as the girl ran back to her Mama, he was after her and running, running, catching up. But where was Mama? She had disappeared. The girl ran blindly, down hallways, through doorways, deeper, deeper, faster, faster. And when she found herself in the piano room, Daddy was no longer behind her. She had escaped. But now, far off in the hous??Ûe, the girl heard the silence, and her stomach dropped. She sank to her knees beside the piano and tried to let the tears come. They would not.
Far off in her mind, the piano begins to play. The yelling starts and she leans back, closing her eyes, a crooked smile breaking apart her lips as she conducts the symphony.The metronome is clutched in her perfect fist, keeping time: tick . . . tock . . . tick . . . tock. The banging starts. Intensifies. The symphony reaches its peak: tick, tock, tick, tock. Harder. Faster. Ticktockticktockticktock. Her eyes squeeze shut. Her legs ache to move, to run, to help her mother. Her mind remains calm. Don’t disobey Daddy. You heard what he said; it was Mama’s fault Summer had to leave. Slowly, the girl swings her legs over the bench and spreads her fingers on the keys. As the metronome swings and blurs, keeping time. She begins to play. A simple tune, from a distant memory, played with precision and accuracy, as if she had been playing all her life.