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January 15, 2011 / coalstovesinkguest

Concert at Coal Stove Sink

It was a warm Sunday morning in the spring of 2010.  G fed us up on very good eggs hollandaise, thank you, then led us to the cabin.  We were a large crowd for a small cabin, eight of us, our hosts, the boys, Gilda and I, and Maddie McKelway and her father.  A ninth presence, ominous and scowling, the Steinway grand on which G’s grandfather had practiced for his boyhood debut at Carnegie hall towered in the middle of the room.

Maddie, a friend of the family, a fellow student at school with the boys, and the daughter of a very nervous father, was to play pieces from her recent piano recital.  The little cabin fell very quiet as she sat down at the giant seeming Steinway.  Would it grow stubborn, tighten up its keys and strings?  Would Maddie grow cold, stiff, frightened?    I could hear here father’s nerves ticking.  I could hear the tiny mouse in the wall nibbling his tiny breakfast.  Of weed seed?  Of wood mites?  Of the rust on nails?  What do they nibble on?  I could hear the small breathes of all the assembled crowd.  I could hear his nerves ticking.

The silence before serious music in serious concert halls has about it a cough or sneeze making facility.  Is pre-music silence even louder in even smaller venues such as the cabin?  It was silent in the cabin.  For Maddie’s sake, please, may no one sneeze, cough or make other unauthorized bodily noises. May the mouse remain mouse-quiet.  May lightening not strike nor thunder roll.  May her father’s nerves quiet down.

Maddie was calm.  Maddie was at peace.  She was all youth, beauty and charm.  She was not nervous.

As we all know from our lifelong intimate studies of the brain, it is a big thing.  It’s bigger than from here to Awxiphaniz.  I’ve always liked words with A’s, X’s and Z’s in them together.  I like syzygy.  I wish my name were Axel.  The brain is big and it rambles.  It’s like a giant sponge in that it has millions of holes in it.  In each of these holes, or chambers, there are throngs of little people yelling at each other in as many different languages as there are people.  In other chambers little people rehearse the things that might trip us up, such as coughs and sneezes in small concert halls where pretty girls are about to play Scarlatti and Beethoven, Grieg and Pieczonka, Grenados and Debussy.  In other brain chambers are little mice practicing their squeaks.  And all manner of noises are being practiced all over the terrain of the brain.  May they not erupt this morning.   May Maddie have peace.

The Steinway relaxes and spreads welcoming arms.  Maddie plays.  She plays very well indeed, fistfuls of fingery notes that would make a father nervous.  She is, or appears to be, all serenely confident.  She is all lovely, lovely and makes all present oldsters hanker for the days of their youth.

Then Gilda coughs.  She cannot help it.  Up goes the hand across the mouth, up springs the good lady and rushes out the door, red in the face, embarrassed.Maddie does not flinch.  Her father does not panic.  All is well, Maddie plays on, her recital is a great success, and all the assembled crowd, and the Steinway, have had a nice morning.  The eggs hollandaise rest peacefully in us.  Gilda returns quiet and forgiven.

Thank you, Maddie.

Decades down the road, when the little mouse in the wall is sleeping the long sleep in a nutshell half, when the boys are in Rome, or Paris, or Silicon Valley, or New York making computers that are half the size of a mote of dust and twice as powerful as the sun, when a wizened A and a wizened G, she in a long shawl trimmed in lace made by that little lace maker in the cathedral square in Salamanca, he in a halo of white hair and dentures that slip and gurgle, their hands held out to the bright warmth of remembered days, then perhaps, if they listen with inward ears as they sit in the sweet darkness that is forever descending, they will hear flow out from the cabin walls and floors and ceiling all the notes of all the instruments that have every been played in the cabin, and there among them will float up Maddie’s Bach and Debussy, and the small squeak of the small mouse which A and G had not heard before.

Ken Allen

One Comment

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  1. coalstovesinkguest / Jan 15 2011 7:31 pm

    Here are the selections from Maddie’s concert

    1. Sonata in D Minor, Scarlatti
    2. Sonata in G Major, Beethoven
    3. Nocturne, Grieg
    4. Tarantella, Pieczonka
    5. Spanish Dance, Grenados
    6. En Bateau, Debussy

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