Posted on March 6, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair3.6.2015 Journal Prompt Photo by Roy DeCarava March 6, 2015: He used to love. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
6 Replies to “3.6.2015 Journal Prompt”
What a great photo, such vibe.
He won’t never ‘mount to nothin. That’s what Don’s mama done told him alla time. Not nothin at all, and she says that cos he is the spit of his pa. I mean like two peas scraped outta the one pod. Not that I ever saw his pa, but in pictures, they was just the same and you couldn’t tell ‘em apart. Same hair, same teeth and the same way of lookin, which was intense like they was lookin through you to what you was really like under the skin, and they both done that.
His mama says that ‘bout Don not ‘mountin to nothin on account of she hated his pa. She couldn’t say his name without she spat on the ground and rubbed that spit into dry with the dance of her shoe – like she was rubbin out the very man. And the thing is, she loved him, too, that man that caused her to spit. I know cos I found a box once, in back of her cupboard, and she’d kept everythin he left behind – a old shirt and handkerchiefs, and a cup he’d used and she’d never washed it since, and a comb with his hair tangled in the tines, and letters he wrote her, so many letters, all wrapped in bundles and tied up with ribbons.
And I s’pose she loves Don, too. In her own way, she does, and maybe her sayin he won’t ‘mount to nothin is her way of pushin him, cos he gets real mad when she says it. Not slammin doors mad or punchin walls or swearin like Old Man Kite who sits outside Macey’s Bar and he’s so drunk alla time he don’t know what a pit of badness is his mouth and all the words comin outta him like an infected sore. No, Don just quietly takes himself off, his brow down, dark as a storm comin, and he sits hissel’ down in front of a piano and he plays.
Don can play beautiful. Leastways he could by the time I knowed him. He plays like the music’s something inside o’ him. He plays like it’s his heart and soul is makin itsel’ known. Gentle like birdsong and sweet as the breath of trees when they is in flower. But when his mama says that ‘bout him not ‘mountin to nothin, well then the music is different. Then the music is like a storm and I worry for the keys on the piano he hits ‘em so hard. And then it is like he is playing out all the hurt and the hate that a man could feel.
His mama took me aside the first time and she said when he got like that I was best to be outta the house for a while, which I thought was just spite with her spit, cos it warn’t me as made him mad as a shook hornet’s nest. But she was right, too. Best to be away from him, cos the sound was all broken and sharp and it hurt the ears and the hairs on the skin stood on end.
His mama takes hersel’ off someplace and I don;t know where. She has a bundle of letters wrapped in ribbon in her bag, but ain;t no one s’pposed to know that.
And I go to the end of the yard and I talk to the bees there, and I reassure ‘em so there won’t be no bitterness in the honey they’s makin. From there I can still hear the kick and the punch of his playin, and I can hear it softenin in time, like a storm that spends itsel’ out. And after, somethin like the calm followin the storm, like Don draws breath or the world does. And then he plays so sweet again, and so beautiful, and I know when he plays like that he already ‘mounts to somethin and I know it’s only a matter of time ‘fore someone important hears it. And I shake then, and I cry, and I hold mysel’ like I am all I’ve got, and I wonder if one day he’ll leave me like his pa left his mama, and if then I’ll be left with a old shirt, and a dirty cup, and letters all tied up with ribbons. And I wonder if Don’s name will be a bitter thing in my mouth and I won’t be able to say it without spittin.
He used to love to sit and just play. He’d come in from work and he’d set himself down and the whole house would be filled with music and that music was just all his thoughts put into sound. You could tell his mood by the music he played, if the day’d been hard; or if there’d been coffee unloading and the air so thick with the smell of the beans that it was like breathing in heaven; or if they’d been carrying oranges in wooden crates and he’d bring a couple home in his deep pockets sometimes and we kept the peel from them oranges in a bowl for days so the room smelled of sharp and sweet at the same time; or if they’d been standing around waiting for a break in the weather to let the boats in and just smoking and chewing the fat.
And he’d just play according to how he was feeling, all the windows thrown wide so the whole neighbourhood could hear, and girls dancing on the grass out back and they’d call up requests for him to play and he’d give ‘em exactly what they wanted. And he’d play till the sun went from the day or till there was food placed on the table and his momma shouting up that it’d be cold if he didn’t get to it soon enough.
That was then, and all of that so long ago that it is talked about by men who are old and they ask each other if they remember the time when… and it’s been so long since it happened, that they don’t dare trust their memories, about that or about anything, and so they talk about it over beer and whisky, and talking makes it briefly true and certain again. And the girls, well, they remember better, remember kicking off their shoes, and dancing barefoot on the grass, and the sun filling up the yard and making every day golden.
And he still sits at the piano most days, but he don’t open the lid. He just sits there, with his back bent and he stares at the lid, staring like he doesn’t really understand what it is he’s staring at. And once I saw him lift his hands to the lid, and he ran his broken fingers across the polished wood like he was remembering a tune that he’d once played. But that only happened one time.
And if I’m asked, by a girl from back then, and she’s a woman now and her hips are wide and her breasts sag heavy and her hair is like smoke or clouds, and she asks if he still plays; well, I smile and I shake my head and I tell her he don’t. Not since, I say… and I don’t need to say more, cos everyone understands.
Not since that day on the boat and they was unloading bricks and timber and either he wasn’t looking or he was and he didn’t see, his hands holding tight when it was better if he’d let go, better for him at least though if he’d let go there’d be a man dead who still breathes. And his fingers all crushed till there was no feeling left in them.
Years back now, but he remembers – how could he forget! And he still sits at the piano mots days and he just stares and he listens to the silence. And old men in bars talk about how it used to be; and girls who are now women, hear a song on the radio and they kick off their shoes and they dance across their kitchen floors, and they think of how it was back when the days were sunny and grass was under their feet and air was all hung with music.
He din’t ever have no teachin. He just sat down one day and started pickin out tunes. Well, sorta he did. There was hours ‘fore there was much of anythin. Just Cole hittin keys and hittin ‘em so they broke the air into pieces, and I almost told him to just give it a rest – give it a rest almost ‘fore he’d started.
That first day, just when I thought I’d had ‘bout enough, somethin like music came sudden outta the room. I swear it was as though he’d been playin that piano all his days. Like the music’d just been waitin to see if he’d stick by it. He was sixteen then and he’s been comin here every day since and that’s near on five years.
Cole cleans up the yard for me first and he washes the car on Wednesdays and sweeps the porch and chases spiders from all the corners of the house and he fixes most anythin I ask him to. I pay him for all that. Then when he’s done, he sits with me some, drinking lemonade out front, and we talks ‘bout everythin and nothin. He’s all polite and callin me ma’am and askin after how I is. He don’t never seem in no hurry. Sometimes I is the one who is impatient for him to be playin and I stamps my feet and I tell him to git.
It’s the best part of my day when Cole’s playin and that’s the God’s honest truth. I sit watchin the sun chasin shadows ‘cross the front stoop, and bees kissin all the flowers and kissin ‘em once and twice and three times, and butterflies pressin and pantin on the porch nettin; and sittin like that I just listen. All the windows of the house is thrown open and sometimes a neighbor stops by to listen, wavin to let me know they’s there and then just standin leanin ‘gainst a tree or a post, head cocked like a bird’s, and listenin.
At first it was tunes I recognized. Things Cole’d heard on the radio or comin from outta Marty’s Music Emporium or played on the street. Classical pieces or jazz or pop – it din’t make no nevermind to Cole and it din’t fuss me none neither. And church songs sometimes, and my feet always dancin and my hands dancin, too. Now they is his own tunes, and I can hear Cole in ‘em and I reckon he could be makin a livin with his playin instead of scracthin the dirt in my yard and gittin only beer money for that.
I told him as much one day. I said, ‘Cole, you should be playin in a bar someplace, or makin records, or givin concerts. You is that good.’
He just shrugged his shoulders and he said thank you, but he was just fine as he was, if that was alright by me.
Alright by me! Honest to goodness, I want to slap him sometimes. I tell him he could really be somebody, and he shrugs his shoulders again and he looks at me as though he’s simple and he says he’s already somebody. I say as how God has given him a talent and it’s his duty to share it with the world, I tell him that’s why he’s here on this earth and it is his whole purpose; and he says that he does that already, sharin his playin, and that’s why the windows is always open he says.
I can’t be abidin sass, but it don’t never sound like sass when Cole says those things.
I try to give him a little extra when I pays him, but he won’t take more than he’s earned for the chores that he’s done. I say the extra is for the music, and he says that’d only spoil it if I did that.
After he’s gone, the house feels new in its sudden quiet, and I walk from room to room, my ears sharp as pins and listenin for any small remnant of the music Cole’d played that day. And in my head is somethin and comin outta my mouth somethin too and my feet and my hands still dancin. And I give thanks to God then.
Poppies is right ’bout this picture. It is just so blessed beautiful, and I wants to be there in the room with him, maybes as a fly on the wall, and just listenin to him playin somethin. But as I can’t, I just keep spinnin stories out of the air and makin believe I can hear what he’s playin.