The breeze slammed the backporch door. "Hey, I won!" echoed across the linoleum floor. The kitchen door creaked. Pogo kneed the bulky case through the door to set it down. Nobody around. Abandoned dishes were in the sink. A fly buzzed crazily against a pane.
First a bee-line to the bathroom and then take the monster upstairs. The basic facts of life remained the same: the world went on without her. Plenty of more important people with famous names in the morning paper. She was never going to be one of them.
The instrument slapped heavily against her legs going up the steps. Straight 1's for a kid with trembling knees. Only the beginning of anything was really frightening. After that she was lost in the music, spilling out through her instrument. Nobody taught her to read music. Somebody had once shown her where middle C matched the line on the paper, but that was about all. By five, she followed her mothers hands cascading cadenzas of Chopin in rippling movements like a river tumbling over a waterfall. Music came in her sleep on invisible feet, leading her through days of weariness, filling her heart with song.
Setting the heavy case on the bed, she sat next to it. The mouthpiece sagged in her pocket. Running her hand over the hump of the case, she lifted the lid and caressed the smooth curve of the elegant bell. Her reflection gleamed in it. The papers lay on top. Pushing the valves like a three-year-old, she still heard the judges' voices, making their announcement, feeling the stunned numbness of her name called. Why everybody knows that girls can't play brass.
"Euphonium? What's that?" a voice sneered.
"Something like a small tuba with the timbre of a French horn and the range of a trombone," she automatically replied.
"Ah, a girl can't play that..."
She shrugged, "Suppose not," she answered. Picking her way across the crowded gymn, she received the award on the podium : State Champ, Brass Instruments.
Never mind the adjudicator had called her by her sister's name who hadn't been around for ten years or the trombone-players, whistling insults when she warmed up.
Taking the instrument out of the case, she cradled it like a baby in a fond embrace. Slipping the mouthpiece from the pocket, she played the piece from memory, allowing the cadenza to glide out of the top of the bell; sail into the cold air where it drifted sonorously onto the floor. She hugged it closer to her. The horn was an escape-route to the future if she played it right.
On the velvet interior of the instrument case, the small trophy gleamed and winked of dreams.
Taunts dimmed: "Medical studies reveal that IQ drops with succeeding births. Mental deficiency is a high risk for babies born to mothers over forty." The tune flowed, filling the empty house.
Below a door banged. Voices echoed on hardwood floors. reality entered. Carefully, she replaced it into the case with the tenderness of a mother laying a baby to sleep.
Dinner still had to be cooked.
"Well, how did you do?" the question dropped like a fork on the tablecloth.
"Straight one's," Pogo replied.
"The judges are idiots," the reply snapped back. "They don't know anything."
Pogo studied the cold peas rolling on her plate. Numbness stretched across her stomach.
"Where are the papers? Bring them."
Reluctantly, she retrieved the notes from the piano, placing them by her father's plate.
"Listen to this," he rasped, "Outstanding skill in interpretation and perfect articulation in elaborate passages requiring triple-tonguing. What malarky is this? Don't they know anything?" Acid dripped onto his plate.
Word-by-word and note-by-note he eviscerated the unheard performance.
Etiquette requires sitting until excused or the head of the table leaves. Hot tears mingled silently with hot dishwater.The papers lay on the table.
After the house was silent, the lid of the case lifted to reveal a small trophy gleaming on a bed of vevlet, nestled by the gracious curve of the bell. Silently, Pogo tiptoed down the stairs, openeed the front door and walked down the alley. Softly the trashcan lid closed on the gleaming brass surface of a trophy for the State Champ.
She was a failure after all. It didn't really matter what she did, because she was always going to be a failure.