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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Hear (07/08/10)

TITLE: Stage Right
By Chely Roach


With the same certainty that I know my own name, I know that the first sound I heard was my mother’s saxophone.

I can almost see the gleaming horn resting on the right hemisphere of her swollen belly, just inches from where I swam beneath her heart. If I close my eyes, I can hear the rich notes—pushed out by her very breath, keyed by her long fingers—reverberate through the finite ocean that brought sound to my newly knitted ears. In that dark, safe place, her music was all encompassing; the gentle sound waves rippled the melodies across my eyelids, caressed my pruny flesh, and pulsated down my throat as I gulped her music into my depths. Before I had a voice, I knew song. Before my feet every felt solid ground, I could dance. Before I could ever experience emotions, I knew tranquility, frivolity, longing and fury. Of the many intangible gifts she gave me, these were the very first.

These visions feel more like memories than imaginings. Perhaps from seeing the photos—grainy and sepia toned—of her on a bandstand, wearing gaudy maternity smocks and polyester pants, lower lip tucked under the mouthpiece, and the purest joy in her eyes as she looked up at the flashbulb. But perhaps I remember these things like they were my own memories from hearing the story, practically an infamous narrative, told to me in my childhood…

Tell me again, Mommy.

Well, when I would start to play, you would jolt in my belly, like BOOM! And the for the entire three hour set, you would swing your arms and legs and do somersaults. Sometimes, I could’ve sworn that you were tapping on my tummy to the beat. You danced with me all night on the stage…

My mother’s band, The Swingtones, played most weekends at Gravois Farmers Club, though in the summer months there was a small rural circuit of venues; Music in the Park nights, Lion’s Clubs and VFW’s, various weddings and banquets. When I was old enough to go with her—a craved rite of passage that my sisters claimed and discarded before me—I would sit stage right, sip Cokes, and worship her. I learned the Chicken Dance from a mob of grey hairs and sagging stockings, and memorized the lyrics to In Heaven There is No Beer. What I remember most though, is seeing my Mom as something more than the housewife and mother that consumed most of her days. On that stage she was talented. She was special. And she was undeniably happy.

I didn’t know it then—and had I known I wouldn’t have understood—but life has a way of doling out cruel ironies. The same music that made her whole, over the years, broke her body. Hearing loss, to a musician, is more than a nuisance…it is the incremental evaporation of the soul. In the last years of her life she was deprived of what fulfilled her the most. Song.

She used to jest with us, “When I die, I want my ashes sprinkled on the dance floor of Gravois Farmers Club.” Part of me wishes we could’ve made that happen for her. When the devastating disease of this fallen world finally took her, we put her in the ground, high on a hill; around that same time her beloved dance hall was leveled to dust.

It’s far too easy to remember her like that—as I last saw her. Her long fingers entwined, resting beneath her breasts. Her stage lights, dimmed shy of a full set. Instead, I compel myself to understand the nature of the song she was given; her grave is a mere breath mark on the sheet music; her death was only the bridge between choruses.

When I am overwhelmed by the silence she left, I dwell on an image in my mind—a narrative that is so familiar it feels like a memory—of a grand banquet yet to come. I will see her long fingers dance across the mother of pearl keys. I will hear the silken notes of her sax rising like incense, mingling with a million piece symphony on a bandstand that looks like a sea of glass.

And I will sit stage right, sip the wedding wine, and worship with her.

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Anita van der Elst07/15/10
Loved this story. Could see & almost hear this woman & her saxophone. My favorite phrase: "her death was only the bridge between choruses".
Francy Judge 07/16/10
What a beautiful story! I loved your descriptions all the way through. Excellent writing.
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/16/10
I am wowed by the beauty of your words. This is poetic prose at its best. What a clear picture you painted. Two sentences leave me breathless:
Her grave is a mere breath mark on the sheet music. Her death was only the bridge between choruses. Again...Wow!
Sheri Gordon07/16/10
This is beautiful. My favorite line is "... reverberate through the finite ocean that brought sound to my newly knitted ears." I immediately thought of Psalm 139: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." You painted a wonderful picture with your words.
Mona Purvis07/18/10
Just splendid in so many ways.

Maria Egilsson07/18/10
Michele: words cannot express the beauty of Stage Right and the emotions it elicited in me. I love that death is not an ending and that at the marriage supper, sipping the wine, we will join in worship with those we have loved that have gone on before us.
Rikki Akeo07/18/10
You are a master writer.
Margaret Kearley 07/19/10
I am in awe! Just amazingly beautiful writing, insight and emotions expressed. Superb.
AnneRene' Capp07/19/10
My heart is so warmed at your adoration for your mother, the highest honor that a mother can have bestowed upon her. You painted such wonderful imagery within the womb. I will always remember your phrase: her death was only the bridge between choruses.
Carol Slider 07/20/10
This is, quite honestly, one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read on FaithWriters--masterful and deeply meaningful in every way. I can relate to it very well, because my son "attended" so many (classical) concerts with me before he was born. "Before I had a voice, I knew song." Oh, I love that line! Exceptional.
Kate Oliver Webb 07/20/10
I don't know how you do it -- except to know that you allow that Divine Gift to flow through you. The wording is too good to be believed; at times it felt almost scriptural. What a delicious piece of writing!
Colin Swann07/21/10
Absolutely profound writing! Thanks
Shirley McClay 07/21/10
You made this story musical somehow. Excellent.
Carol Penhorwood 07/21/10
And her song goes on in you and through her gift to you. You have a true mastery of words. All I can say is "Wow"!
Lollie Hofer07/21/10
What a lovely tribute to your mother. I love how you used this week's theme so adequately. Thanks for sharing this sweet story.
Author Unknown07/21/10
I know it's not until next week's posts that we focus on taste, but I was feasting on this piece.

Unbelievable! Your word-crafting, the thematic use of words carefully placed for best effect-- oh, it was yummy.

And what a beautiful tale-- this feels like a novel, though it sounds like maybe more of a memoir.

Marita Thelander 07/21/10
Oh Chely! You could have ended this after the first two paragraphs and it would have felt complete, but no... you dug in and lyrically took us on a beautiful journey. I loved all the musical tones in this piece. loved it. so very much loved it.
Beth LaBuff 07/22/10
This is rich and warm, like the notes played from a saxophone. I love your ending. Congrats Chely!
Charla Diehl 07/22/10
This is so beautifully written that it filled me with peace. A well deserved win for these gifted words.
Mariane Holbrook 07/22/10
Congratulations on your win! This piece is so extraordinary that it should have received a special honor, easily above first place. I'll read it again and again, and picture you sitting off to the side, watching and worshipping your mama as only a child can do. Big time Kudos!
Kimberly Russell07/22/10
This was wonderful and so deserving of its high ranking. You told it well and as a saxophone player, I was enthralled. Awesome!
wendell a brown 07/22/10
I could visualize every moment with you. Very nice job...congrats on finishing in the Editors top ten, very
Joan Campbell07/22/10
This is truly special - I believe it is the most beautiful tribute I've ever read. You wrote it in such a poetic way. It's one of those that "stays" with you as a reader. Congrats on your 2nd placing.
Dee Yoder 07/22/10
Cheley, I love the era of bands and smokey music halls, VFW posts and parties you evoke with your words. I can see this lady, her music moving her, in vivid detail. A well deserved win! Lovely.
Laury Hubrich 07/23/10
Oh wow! Beautiful. Awesome writing. So much emotion.
Amy Michelle Wiley 08/01/10
This is beautiful. I especially loved the opening.