Tina was making a massacre of poor, deaf Beethoven, starting and restarting, fidgeting,
not even bothering with the pedals. Catherine took a sip of her tea and tapped
on the top of her white baby grand, the cue for Tina to take a deep breath, shake
out her fingers and begin anew.
had been a full morning for Catherine, what with her granddaughters fiancées
deployment to an undisclosed location in the Central Command, which her daughter
said meant Kuwait. Of course, Isobel only knew the specific location because of
the New York Times online. So Catherine spent the better part of an hour pondering
the chains of command and the way young people think nothing of tapping out an
email to dozens of people saying, essentially, get your funeral clothes pressed.
Why does the Pentagon tell the New York Times but not spouses, would all the wedding
invitations need to be reprinted, was someone calling around the Womens
Guild so all those names could be added to the prayer list?
got halfway through the piece, turned the page, then abruptly stopped and stared
at the notes, as if shed never seen them before.
didnt you get this far?" Catherine asked, buzzing from her breakfast
it was just those two pages," Tina replied, lost in the page as if shed
wandered into a mausoleum whose walls were bathed in Sanskrit.
Tina, thats what you said last week about the Brahms. You see this? These
two lines mean that a piece of music is over. I shouldnt have to tell you
asked if she could go to the bathroom and Catherine took a long sip of her tea,
then set it back down on the piano lid.
up, then. You wont become famous by taking bathroom breaks."
closed the door and Catherine went into the kitchen to fetch a cookie for her.
Catherine looked at her watch. Five more minutes.
Tina sat down, Catherine suggested she play her recital piece, the minuet, which
shed played so beautifully at the spring concert at the Episcopal church.
This was Catherines signature method for boosting confidence when a student
has obviously spent the week doing anything but practicing. Sometimes it meant
hearing "Three Blind Mice" eight times a day, Catherine considered herself
an ambassador of sorts, a missionary, really.
sped through the minuet, eager to get her cookie and leave. Catherine ignored
Tinas utter disregard for tempo and began making slow, cursive notes in
Tinas assignment book.
pencil had just finished writing "3. chromatic scales, separate and together"
when Tinas mother pulled up outside and honked her horn. This always irritated
Catherine. There was plenty of parking out front. Her porch was full of wicker
furniture. How much trouble would it be for Mrs. Lacy to get out of her car and
wait patiently for Tina to finish whatever she was playing, not to mention the
irritation that such disturbances --
made one more note: "Please tell your mother not to honk her horn, neighbors
have expressed concern." Piano instruction, Catherine reasoned, was a sort
of cultural training for the entire family.
sooner than Tina slammed the front door, the phone rang. Catherine peered out
the sheer drapes of her living room to see little Tina bounding over her boxwood
hedge, no doubt decapitating several daffodils in the process. Dutch bulbs, not
just yellow, but also white and orange. Catherine answered on the third ring.
its LuAnn, are you decent?"
do you ask?"
need to come over and return your coffee service."
that would be fine."
young officers wives," Catherine said aloud after the phone went to
dial tone without even a closing.
later, LuAnn knocked on the back door. Any of Catherines friends would have
let themselves in through the front door, but LuAnn came through the back yard
and always looked reluctant, as if she were handing in a poorly researched term
paper. Catherine liked it this way, especially since LuAnn had taken to borrowing
patio furniture for parties, then failing to issue Catherine a proper invitation.
Sure, sometimes, LuAnn would get halfway down the back steps on the day of a party,
hors doeuvres platter in hand, then turn around to say "Were
starting at 7, please come by." Which just wasnt the way Catherine
was your party?" Catherine asked.
was fun, I mean, lovely. We ran out of liquor halfway through and had to go out
for beer because the ABC stores closed. This isnt California where
they sell liquor in grocery stores, right next to the 7-Up."
it isnt," Catherine said. "Sometimes you just have to make do."
set the coffee service down on the kitchen table. "I polished it with that
stuff you recommended. It worked real good. I used it on my grandmothers
silver, which I dont think had been cleaned in I dont know how many
you care for some tea?" Catherine asked, mid-pour.
I really cant, Ive got exercise class," LuAnn said, taking a
step backward toward the door. This served as an explanation, but not an excuse,
for LuAnn showing up on her doorstep in a pink sweat suit. A sweat suit!
see," Catherine said, turning the cups contents into the sink. She
marveled at the manners of the young, who seemed to regard their neighbors as
a lending library for upscale party supplies.
felt behind her for the doorknob, as if she were a heroine in a horror movie,
never turning and running, but maintaining eye contact with her pursuer, retreating
too slowly to save her own life.
she found it, she leaned back against the solid door, pulled the hood of her sweatshirt
over her head, down to her nose and stomped violently on the floor.
dear," Catherine intoned, stepping back in case the girls outburst
spread further into the house.
flailed about, suddenly roaring. Both of Catherines cats dropped heavy footsteps
on their way upstairs.
carried on, a vertical cousin of epilepsy. Catherine focused on LuAnns feet.
Out of the heels of her tennis shoes, there were two powder blue puffs attached
to her mini socks. Catherine fixed her eyes on those most feminine accessories
as they bobbed up and down with each footfall. A tempest passed through LuAnns
body, her French manicured nails pulling the hood further over her face, down
to her chin now, muffling throaty sobs.
cries became piercing, then she bent over and put both hands flat on the floor,
as if she were doing some sort of exorcism ritual right there in the middle of
the kitchen. When she brought herself upright, she fell backward into one of Catherines
spoon collections, causing exactly one dozen spoons to fall from their perch,
their impact with the wooden floor providing a three second impromptu recital.
still hooded, dropped to a crawl and began grabbing for the spoons, which she
gathered in the makeshift pouch of her sweatshirts lower hem, holding it
with a shaking hand until every spoon had been retrieved.
polish them, Mrs. Wyatt. Ill polish them right here at the table,"
LuAnn said, staggering over to the kitchen table where Catherine was seated and
dropping all twelve spoons on the green formica tabletop, giving way to another,
if duller, utensil symphony.
took another sip of her tea, then extended both of her hands across the table.
When LuAnn kept shaking and jostling the spoons, Catherine brought both palms
down onto the table with a thud hard enough to elicit a tiny plink from the spoons.
She didnt wear her rings during piano lessons anymore because once, to startle
a particularly lazy student, she smacked her palm on the piano lid. Her wedding
band had left quite a mark.
took both hands from her face, the left lowering her hood, the right pulling the
tie from her ponytail. Catherine went to the sink and filled a plastic cup with
water, then put it in front of LuAnn, half-expecting it to go soaring should another
LuAnn said, clearing her nasal passages in a series of snorts, "We dont
sat back down. There seemed to be absolutely nothing left for her to do.
unit got called in," LuAnn said.
to?" Catherine asked.
wont say," LuAnn said. "Somewhere in the middle east, thats
all we know."
you check the New York Times, on the internet?"
granddaughter is in the same situation."
I received an email this morning to that effect."
leaving this afternoon, Im driving him to Petersburg."
put you all on the prayer list," Catherine said.
you watch Frances until I get back? I should be back later tonight. I just dont
know whats going on."
is my four year-old."
had dug up six of Catherines tulips and replanted them, unsuccessfully,
in her sandbox. Catherine watched in horror as little Frances pulled her wheelbarrow
full of tulips across the yard to the sandbox in the corner, which wasnt
yet a sandbox proper, just an emptied flatbed of sandbags, since her father hadnt
gotten around to lining the sides with plywood. The little girl was methodical
about using her plastic shovel to dig six evenly spaced holes across the front
of her sand patch, as if to delineate the edges her parents had been remiss in
providing. Catherine watched from the upstairs guest room window, somehow resisting
the urge to run downstairs and cut the transplant short. After patting down the
sand around the base of each tulip, Frances sat down in front of the sands
border and looked back toward Catherines flowerbeds, as if to curate the
rest of her new garden. Just then, LuAnn came screaming out of the house, frantically
prying the tulips from their fresh houses, breaking their stems and scattering
petals in the process. Tulips are delicate and mid-bloom transplants are ill-advised.
Catherine was amazed by the little girls grace so far. When all was said
and done, it was her mother whod killed those tulips. The child had simply
be happy to watch Frances," Catherine said.
cant get a sitter at this point," LuAnn said.
seems you just did," Catherine said, sensing that she was but a last resort.
just telling her that Daddys going on a business trip," LuAnn said.
was not the right moment for a class on disclosure for the very young, or even
etiquette for the twenty-something set, so Catherine said as little as she could,
letting LuAnn roll out her plans for the rest of the afternoon.
bring her over in an hour or so, would that be all right? If I end up staying
in Petersburg Ill call, could she stay here? Im so sorry to impose,
I just dont know who to call, its all happening so fast, I dont
know what to do but drive and pack." LuAnn reached for the spoons, presumably
to load them into the pocket of her sweatshirt. "Ill polish these and
bring them back, I swear."
put one hand out so it hovered above the pile of spoons.
dont get polished," she said.
gently released a fistful of spoons and brought her hand to the table. Catherine
patted her hand twice, then let her fingers rest near LuAnns hand.
Frances like ham?"
dont know, weve never had that."
fix ham, then."
wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her sweatshirt and stood up. She said "okay"
and closed the door behind her in slow motion, not even all the way shut, wary
of making any more sounds.