Music in the Fall by Jane Beal

Posted: May 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Molly could hear someone playing the bells as she slipped out of the October rain and into the downtown conservatory where her quartet met to practice music. The sound of the bells reminded her of medieval cathedrals in the south of France, but she hadn’t been there in over a year. Chicago had become her whole, silver-gray world. Now winter was coming, and Molly was not happy about it. She shook her head to push away the thought, and the bells gradually fell silent as she shrugged off her raincoat and hung it up on a peg by the door.

Molly headed down the hall, one hand gripping the handle of her black violin case while the other pulled back the scarf covering her hair.  She passed by a long, antique mirror hanging  horizontally on the wall without noticing herself. But her dark hair, now loose around her face, made her skin look whiter than it was. She had little diamonds in her ears, and these matched the raindrops still shining on her eyelashes. Then she blinked her blue eyes, and the drops fell down on her gray sweater and disappeared.

As she walked, Molly could hear her black flats clicking lightly and rhythmically against the hardwood floor. Her feet were their own tiny percussion section—like two snare drums, each echoing the other. She could hear the swishing of her black skirt, too, like the breath a flutist breathes in and out as she plays. She was acutely aware of the sound. She wished she could come and go silently, like a shadow, without being noticed—even by herself. But her ears were open.

Molly reached the door to the practice room. She stretched out her hand, rested it on the knob, and turned it. The metal parts of the knob clicked as they disconnected from the lock, the door creaked as it swung inward, and she went inside.

The chairs were already set up:  four upright, dark wooden chairs with crimson upholstery arranged in a half-circle. Otherwise, the room was empty—it appeared that she was the first to arrive. Molly went to the closet to take out the music stands and set them up.  When the stands were in place, she took out her sheet music and let her eyes skim over the notes on the page, remembering the part she planned to play.

The rain began to come down harder against the windows of the practice room. Distracted, Molly looked up and frowned. The others were already late, and if the rain turned icy, they would be later still.

Molly went and stood by the windows, crossing her arms under her breasts.  The clouds outside were very dark, and the rain was dripping from every branch and leaf of the trees in the conservatory garden. As she looked out, Molly found herself focusing on the nearest oak tree, and the little garden bench it overshadowed. For a split second, she thought of Paris and another little bench under a different tree beside a park path in the summertime.

It seemed to Molly then that she saw a man come out of the trees and sit down on the bench under the oak. She went inwardly still. It was as if a player had plucked one string on his guitar and the sound was yet vibrating in the air.

He could not be there, but he was.

She reached out her hand and touched the window-pane.  She wanted to touch him, and even more, she wanted to hear him—his voice, his breathing, the softest sound of his hand gently caressing her face. But she heard nothing. There was no music at all—only silence. So it could not be him.

Molly blinked, and the bench was empty again.

She shook herself a little.

She felt chilled and uncomfortable. The muscles in her chest were tightening, as they had been doing too often lately, and she didn’t like it. Molly turned away from the window and went to her instrument case, lying on the floor where she had laid it beside her chair, and she opened it and took out her violin.

It was beautiful.

She brought the instrument to her shoulder and rested her chin against the base. The violin was touching her face, a familiar feeling, and one she had long known. First she plucked the strings, making a light, quick sound to match the sound of the rain, and then she lifted her bow and let it glide across the strings.

She could play for him.

The man outside might appear or disappear, his shadow might be invisible in the rain, but Molly could remember how he listened to her.

The violinist closed her eyes and began to play low notes—long, low notes that sounded, at first, like a night-owl calling from far away. Her song was slow. But then lightning flashed across the sky, and it startled her, so that her bow skidded across the strings. She did not stop at the interruption, but let it become a part of the song she was making—a part of her—playing through the sound of rain in search of a melody line.

When the thunder rolled down from heaven like an angry tympani, Molly felt the pace of her heart quicken, and her song quickened with it. She played with a power that came from deep inside her soul. She let the violin grow loud. The fingers of her left hand pressed hard against the strings as the bow burned against the fingers of her right.

She played and played.

Time was passing.

Her hands began to ache.

This is my passion, she thought.

The ache became deep pain.

This is my body, she thought, broken for you.

The words echoing through her thoughts brought back an unbidden image of a priest in the Cathedral of Notre Dame elevating the host before a carved statue of Christ crucified on the cross.

But it was no small cross she saw suddenly in her soul now. It was as if she were standing before that ancient symbol of rugged wood, wood that might have been shaped into an instrument of music instead of torture, and she heard with her inner ear the ragged breath of the man upon it almost sobbing for air. Her violin made the sound of wind blowing around them, a sound like women weeping, the sound of sudden tears that come from a grief that cannot be denied.

Molly paused in her playing. She was disconcerted, eyes squeezed tight, as if she could shut out an inward vision with outward effort.

Lightning flashed fiercely in the conservatory garden. Thunder cracked immediately, sharp and loud, as if it were a living being. Molly’s closed eyes flew open.

She could barely see because it was so dark. Night, she realized, had fallen while she played. Her hands were trembling. Yet she felt a profound stillness, a stillness that made even her indrawn breaths seem loud, and she knew that the stillness was inside of her because outside of the building, the rain was still falling.

Someone knocked tentatively on the door.

Molly’s violin sagged against her shoulder. Then quickly, feeling embarrassed, she walked to the switch and flipped on the light.  She stood there, blinking in the brightness with violin in one hand and bow in the other, as the janitor opened the door.

She knew him, Carl, an elderly Black man who worked the night-shift at the conservatory.

“Molly?” he asked.

“Yes?” she replied and couldn’t help wondering, as she did whenever he spoke, whether Carl sang tenor in a gospel choir.

“Madeleine just called the office,” he said, “and says she can’t leave the house because of the storm.”

“Cellists,” Molly said, laughing a little. “It’s only rain!”

“Yes, but it’s freezing rain,” Carl said.  “Madeleine told me she already called the others.”

“So none of them are coming,” Molly said, dully, still blinking.

“Madeleine said they would all be here next week,” Carl said.

Was he trying to console her?

“Next week,” Molly echoed.

“I know everyone will be glad to see you then,” Carl said. “We missed you around here   . . . when you were gone. We were so sorry for your loss.”

Molly nodded and looked down at the floor. His compassion made her feel her pain.  What could she say? She had heard it all, and she had said everything she could think to say in response. Now there was only music. There was nothing else inside of her.

“I think you play very beautifully,” Carl added as he was turning away. “I could hear you playing down the hall. I always love to hear that Irish fiddle.”

Molly thanked him in a whisper, forcing words from a mouth that didn’t want to speak, trying to make up for the fact that she couldn’t look him in the eye.

“Well, then,” Carl said, “I’ll see you again next week. I’ll look forward to hearing you.  There’s a special grace in the sound of music.”

Carl went out, closing the door behind him.

Seeing that he was gone, and no one else was coming, Molly went to her case and put her violin away. She packed up her music and stowed the music stands back in the closet. She pushed first one chair and then another to the wall, but then she recalled that they had already been set up when she first came in. So she didn’t move anything else. She simply left two chairs still in the half-circle, sitting side-by-side.

As she left the conservatory, she remembered riding in a train in France with the one she loved, looking out the window, and seeing fields of sunflowers that went on forever.

Sunflowers

Jane Beal, PhD is a professor at Colorado Christian University where she teaches literature and creative writing. She writes poetry, fiction, literary criticism, young adult fantasy, and creative non-fiction. Her work appears in The Avocet Review, BirthWorks, Cantos, The Illinois Audobon Society Magazine, Integrité, Main Street Rag, Midwifery Today, Nota Bene, The Oklahoma Review, Orbit du Novo, The Penwood Review, A Prairie Journal, Priscilla Papers, The Pub, Qasida, Ruminate, shufPoetry, Squat: A Birth Journal, and anthologies such as Closer to God, Call: A Celebration of Black Literature and The Live Poets of Alexandria Anthology. She is the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, including Sanctuary (Finishing Line Press, 2008) and The Roots of Apples (Lulu Press, 2012), as well as a short story collection, Eight Stories from Undiscovered Countries. Her research on medieval translation theory and practice appears in her academic monograph, John Trevisa and the English Polychronicon (ACMRS & Brepols, 2012), and she is the editor of Illuminating Moses: A History of Reception from Exodus to the Renaissance (Brill, forthcoming 2013) and co-editor of Translating the Past: Essays on Medieval Literature (ACMRS, 2012). Hers is the voice of Songs from the Secret Life (Shiloh Studio of Sound, 2009), a CD of her poetry read aloud. She serves the greater Denver area as doula, childbirth educator and lactation consultant; she is also a student midwife with Mercy in Action. In her free time, she enjoys bird-watching, music-making, and nature-walking in Colorado. To learn more, please visit sanctuarypoet.net.

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