“I wanted to thank you,” he tells me, his 10-year-old daughter holding out a basket with way too many bright-red tomatoes.
I’ve just stepped onto the sidewalk outside our house, finally home after yet another night assignment, but I pause, trying to think what I could have possibly done for them.
He pauses too. He smells of cigarettes, always, and I know when he’s approaching without looking. He’s not smoking now, but it’s a pause-for-the-inhalation habit, I think.
The girl smiles up at me. The tomatoes are bright even in the dark.
“The other night I was out walking the dog — I never walk the dog but I was that night,” and his story is spinning long like a spider’s web, the way old women talk.
“I heard the most beautiful music coming from your house, and I thought it was a recording until – ” another pause and I know where we’re going now.
“Until I heard a miss, and realized you were playing.”
He had stood there at the foot of the bit of sidewalk that runs from our front door to the main sidewalk, listening as I stumbled through the end of Canon in D or, more proficiently, the piece at the back of the Muse sheet music book.
He had stood and listened that night, my first time back to playing after a summer’s absence.
“You need to play more often, and louder,” he ended, and the girl pushed the tomatoes forward again.
They’re piled now in a white china bowl and I’ll take them to camp this weekend, try to share what will spoil.
I remember that night.
I’d spent the evening in a slow-moving, sleepy, unhappy mood, alternately complaining to myself and to him. I’m struggling accepting school again this semester, rebelling at long evenings entirely on my own, wandering in and out of his office hoping that if I look bored enough, he’ll stop studying and play with me.
And if I’m not thinking bitterly that for the six years I’ve loved him, he’s been in school for five of them (only partly true), then I’m thinking that this wouldn’t be so hard if Vesper were here.
That night, I’d layered it on, moping on the couch, standing behind his chair. He wasn’t budging.
I thought about playing, but decided that maybe I don’t like playing the piano. Maybe that was something I did because my parents made me. (Also not true. I recall, in my more lucid state of mind, begging for that piano.)
Maybe I don’t like watching football either. I just do it because that’s what he does.
Maybe I don’t know where I’m from, or who I am, or what I’m doing, or so on and so on.
And finally, bored by my own malcontent, I sat down to play.
And though I hadn’t played in weeks my fingers found the keys again and the piano’s in tune now and the music came and my mood gradually improved and yes, that’s right, I do like playing, even if I’m not much good.
Outside, in the night, I heard a dog bark and his rasping voice. But I didn’t realize he was standing there, listening as the keys, and the better part of me, became re-acquainted.
And she listened too, child that is now begging for her own piano, her request staved off with a clarinet.
You never know, I guess, who is listening.