Mother plays piano. It’s a dark night. She plays all the saddest pieces. Tchaikovsky seems to break her piano apart with fervency. Debussy’s sad, tinkling moonlight images rise. She plays each night, hands striking the keys with desperation and fervor; each note resounding, implicating.
Mother looks beautiful. A pianist in a lavender dress. She plays with the lights off. She loves the shadows.
“Music is the antidote to everything,” she says, feigning her old smile. “One way to be happy. A thousand ways to be miserable. You know I wanted to be a pianist, but your father never let me. With piano, you don’t have to hide so much.”
“I’m miserable too,” I say, trying, wanting to be miserable for Mother because she looks so very, very alone. Of course, my life seems just right at this point. I have good grades. I’m well-liked. But to tell Mother that would be like a dagger. “Misery loves company.”
She laughs, motions for me to join her. Tells me about her favorite piece, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique.
“Pathetique,” she says, leaning in closer, as if to share a secret. “I like the definition of it as passionate and emotional. I can’t help but think of pathetic things. I love you, of course, Nicky, but I do wonder what it would be like to go on tour. To see unpredictable things, places.”
“You play so beautifully,” I say. I don’t know how to respond.
She smiles, a worn smile.
“Well, at least I have an audience,” she says. “No Carnegie Hall for Mama, though. I’d like to touch hearts.”
“It’s not too late.” I don’t know what else to say. She married, had my sister Nancy and me. Then Dad left. And now she’s getting older, even if she’s only thirty-nine.
Sitting there, I conjure it. I imagine the things she can’t have. Her piano career reduced to nightly serenades in this house, vast and dark. I imagine her playing in a grand hall, people moved by her notes. She is vast and beyond the boundaries of motherhood.
Darkness expands by the minute. Darker, and darker still. Mother plays. The notes grow more fervent, but will anyone else hear them? Or will the notes linger here, like gathering dust?
I don’t dare think of it.