Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Hear (07/08/10)
TITLE: Stage Right
By Chely Roach
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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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