Monday, May 06, 2019


People who work on genetics, esp. the evidence of long lines of inheritance from ancient times sometimes find "trees" or paths that show the characteristics of individuals who are of a kind that no longer exists but that influenced the subsequent peoples by offering certain code elements.  Might be hominin or might not.  There are no fossils or other evidence that they ever existed except for these code "prosodies" nearly spoken, footprints.  Likewise, people who study the texts of the various Bibles will speak of a missing referenced document that doesn't seem to exist anymore. not even in fragments.  They call it "Q" like that character on "StarTrek" who seems to be an anomaly, except on the sci-fi series he's actually a character instead of a lacuna.

So I'll call this "ghost" from the past, this man I knew that no one knows now, by the name of "Q", who gave me so much code for life.  He was my piano teacher but there was so much more to it.  As fine a player as he was, it was not the core of his work.  He was interested in a certain kind of boy, no doubt the kind he was as a child, and he had a strategy to fish out the kernel of each, the tiny center like the worm in a bottle of mescal, grab it by its slippery little nape and kindle it, call it out, make it wake up.  It wasn't sex, not even love.

Sometimes there was no worm in the bottle.  Once in a while there was a twisted little scrap that was too deformed to grow.  The piano teacher never asked why they were there.  Some were brought by hopeful mothers and some slid in from the street after hours, begging for explanations that would show them some secrets.

And I was a total anomaly: an old woman who could play in childhood but lost it in service to others who did not need piano music.  There was a short interval before rheumatism took my hands.  Did I say Q was black?  With long fingers, nimble and strong.  Maybe that's why he didn't turn me away.  Is there a connection?  I had been a typist to support my family, so my fingers were also strong.  In fact, when I was playing music I sometimes realized I was spelling out words.  The music was doubled when the little internal hammers of the keyboard struck taut harp of wires, because to me it was talk.

Q's studio was in the top -- I suppose you could say "loft" -- of a furniture store and there were several pianos on little wheels so they could be pushed around to be side-by-side or even against each other but also shoved to the wall with a big empty patch of floor in the middle of the space, but no one danced.  Advanced students could play on one instrument while he played on another.  Sometimes when you were demonstrating your progress, he would step to another instrument and either chime in with you, or begin a clash, a question, a dissonance.

There was no waiting room so we waited sitting on the narrow stairs from the street.  There was no scheduling, no appointments, so we just waited in the order that we came, most recent at the bottom, moving up as the time went on. Those leaving squeezed past us.  Only once Q called us all to come up at once, all the pianos were put into action, but we didn't play the same piece so it was like the birds in the forest when the whole means something but the bits do not.

At one end of the piano space on the side above the street were big sliding doors to a very narrow balcony big enough to stand on but not big enough to take a chair onto.  There was nothing to see outside.  Just a small town but not many people.  Music spilled into the street but no one paid attention.

It's tempting to conclude this story with some reason to push the pianos through the sliding doors so they fell onto the street, a loud twanging plunge in substitutes for human suicide.  It's tempting to have them be on fire somehow -- maybe they are set on fire and pushing them out of the building is a doomed effort to save them.  Aren't we all on fire?  Don't we leap for freedom?  No, it's too corny.  

As far as I know, no one became a famous pianist.  Maybe a few played in bars.  We never exchanged names.  One day we were waiting on the stairs and no one was called to the top.  No music drifted down to us.  We never saw Q again, though we finally went up as a group and searched the space in case he died and was lying under one of the massive gleaming instruments.  He wasn't. We went on our way somewhere.  

So what did the ghost Q, a person never identified, teach me?  To find meaning.  To accept circumstances.  To value the moment.  To wait peacefully for the day that the piano that I am finally crashes through the glass and pitches twanging over the balcony to smash in the street.  I hope I don't crash onto anyone.

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