Conversational Music

April 10, 2008
By Angelou Dalys-Fine, Pointe-Claire, ZZ

It’s just my mum and I, alone in our tiny cramped apartment, ever since my sixth birthday. Dad left for reasons my mum couldn’t figure out, and my parents haven’t talked since. It isn’t like my dad‘s a scumbag, like he doesn’t come around; he comes every month to go for a drive.

Most people would have wondered why my parents split up, since mum was so good at talking and my dad was so good at listening. I guess what most people hadn’t noticed and what mum still doesn’t notice was that mum talked about things my dad didn’t want to hear and dad listened to things mum wouldn’t want to listen to. Really, their relationship was doomed from the start. They just have a different way of communicating, both ways so different from one another that my parents eventually couldn’t understand each other, and my dad couldn’t pretend to understand anymore.

Anyways, back to living with my mum. We live in this four room apartment, on the fifth floor of a 12 story building. It has one bathroom (no windows). Under the filth you could make out (barely) pink tiles, and a pale green toilet sitting in the right corner, a small three by three foot shower shoved into the far left.
Like the rest of the house, the stench in the bathroom is covered up with my father’s old cologne which he left behind and which after he left my mother dripped around the house every two or three weeks, apparently only to get rid of the preexisting stench. Of course he didn’t know she did this, he hasn’t been back in the apartment since he left.Still I do wonder, if he did come back, would he notice his smell? Would he take a whiff of the stuffy apartment air and realize what his insane family had done? Or had he forgotten the smell of the cologne, had he forgotten his smell? Had he moved onto a new smell?

The other rooms are a tiny kitchen with a yellowed old fridge half the size of a normal one with a huge microwave on top and a garbage pail in the corner beside the small rusted sink.
There is also of course our bedroom .The room has two wrinkled and overused mattresses (stained with sweat from the many unbearably hot and restless summer nights we both spent staring out the window wondering if, and for mum, when he would ever come back) taking up almost the entire floor space, but it leaves enough room for a tall dark wooden wardrobe, perhaps the only thing of beauty, says me, in the apartment, to fit at the foot of my mattress. It’s an antique that my dad had found in the dumpster outside our building years before he left. It had enough drawers to fit two people’s clothes, but mum took up most of the drawers, generously leaving me the one on bottom.

Last, at the back of our apartment, we have a nice sitting room, the most spacious room in the whole place, and also the nicest looking, the nicest furnished. It has a long richly red couch along the back wall and a matching comfy chair against the right. In the middle of the carpeted room sits a long heavy wooden table (with countless scratches, I don’t think you could fit your thumb into a space on that table and not be hiding a scratch) and on that table lies tons of old newspapers and magazines and right in the dead-center of the table sits an old record player, one of those really old ones, probably one of the first (probably the only thing of beauty, says mum, in the whole apartment), which was passed down to my mum by her mum’s mum. I have to admit the record player is beautiful, but also evil. Not ‘cause it keeps my mum happy, but because it plays almost 24/7 stopping only to change discs and plays only, and I’m talking exclusively: Opera.
Opera music because it makes my mum happy and because my mum believes it makes me smart and because it makes her occupied. But maybe worse than all this is that it inspires my mum with ‘great conversation ideas’, and she’ll call me in to the sitting room and crank up the record player and tell me to sit on the couch beside her (which of course I have to do if I want money for the movies that weekend, so I sit) and we’ll listen to the ‘conversational music’ and have inspired conversations, which of course my mum always picks, not because I let her pick (though I do, I let her pick) but because she’s the one who’s inspired by the music, who has the inspired idea for conversation. So we sit there usually after our micro waved dinners and she’ll wave her arms in big excited movements, and she’ll talk about the stars or the planets (almost like she’s stoned, but she’s not, mum doesn’t do drugs, she doesn’t drink either, she’s just excited) or most times she just asks me questions, so many questions “How come you don’t talk to me about school” or “How come you don’t bring your friends over” (but she knows the reason for that last one). It sounds like she’s nagging, but she’s not nagging, she’s genuinely concerned, and if not concerned then genuinely curious. At the end of our long conversations (though it’s more like a monologue, mom talking like she does, and the way I listen like I do, I never liked talking, more liked to listen) she’ll be so happy or so tired or I’ll remind her, unconsciously, of my father, that abruptly she’ll ask herself a question, but she can’t handle the question, so she’ll pretend she’s asking me,
“Oh, Anne, why did your father leave us?”
and she asks it in such a dreamy quiet tone and that’s when the conversation always ends, when her shoulders finally slouch back down to their usual position and I collect our dinner plates and I turn down the record player to background music (I don’t want to turn it off, the way it would upset her) and I’ll tell her it’s time for bed, and without a word she slips away into our bedroom and tries to sleep off the question.

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