Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Piano Practice

She drove to his house as she did every Thursday and Friday afternoon. He lived on a peaceful tree lined street where none of the inhabitants knew of hunger or felt the fear of F16’s flying overhead. The children grew up playing soccer and learning instruments. He got out of school at three o’clock, and she always tried to arrive a couple minutes before him. She was pulling into the driveway and she saw him standing by the neighbors trash cans with his friend Jack from across the street. She waved to him and he raised his arm, moving it, yet it could not be described as a wave, there was no greeting or friendliness within the movement, it was more something his body did to shrug off the forwarded hello. He walked towards the front door where she was just turning the copper key into the top lock. Entering the house, he threw off his backpack and slid off his shoes and walked away, leaving them in front of the door.
"I have a lot of piano work to do, but I’m hungry too."
"Your hungry? you want some curry?"
"yes, please."
She took off her shoes by the front door and went to the kitchen in her wool socks to the sounds of an unlearned wedding march. She wondered why his teacher had selected that particular piece for him to learn. She grabbed a white ceramic bowl from the cupboard and scooped some rice from the cooker into it and got out the container of curry his grandmother had made the previous day. The bowl spun in the microwave and she munched on cold purple grapes while she waited for the seconds to pass. Dooot! Dooot! Doooot! The food was hot and she put the steaming bowl on the marble countertop, it smelled so good. She went down the hall and towards the sound of the crashing keys and inglorious notes. The boy was crouching on the piano bench, his toes the only part of his body making contact with the shiny black bench. He looked up as she approached and stopped playing. "Is that the way you’re supposed to sit?"
"Okay…" he said with a groan and then sat half on the bench and half on his heels.
"No, sit the way your teacher would want you to."
And he slouched more, but sat on his butt.
"the food’s ready."
"Ahhhhh!!! I’m never going to have this perfect by Monday!"
"why does it need to be perfect by Monday?….oh, that’s when your class is?"
"But you don’t have a performance or anything?"
"No, but this needs to be really good because I never have it good when I go there and I have martial arts class later and then I have to do homework and we’re leaving to go skiing on Friday and we’ll be gone all weekend!" He looked like he was going to cry, his head was dropped low to his chin. "I need to practice this for hours!"
"You’ll have time to practice and do martial arts and your homework if you don’t watch any TV."
"That’s not true" his voice turned authoritative, like a child king. "Homework takes me a couple hours, dinner takes an hour, I won’t get home from martial arts ‘til 6 and I also have to go buy some books."
"Okay, look…look at me…look at me" she touched his shoulder. "You won’t be able to do any of those things if you freak out. You don’t need to cry. Are you hungry?"
"Okay, why don’t you go eat, the curry’s hot. Then, do your homework before martial arts, you’ll go to marts, and you’ll be home by six. I really don’t think it takes you an hour to eat dinner, but even so, you’ll have time afterwards to practice and all your homework will be taken care of."
"Yeah, but I go to bed at 8:30 and I start getting ready for bed at 8:15."
"Well, if you just want to make up excuses…."
"Yeah, but…"
"Look," she touched his hair compassionately, "the worse thing is to start crying and getting yourself all worked up. You’re freaking out instead of doing the small things you need to do. If you want to be able to do it all, then you should start by eating and then doing your homework."
"Okay," he walked defeated into the kitchen, his footsteps pounding on the hardwood floor. He started gobbling his food and glancing every couple of seconds to the clock on the wall.
"Hey, I don’t want you to choke. You can do everything and do it well and not sloppy. Chew your food, okay? It’s not going to be good if you do everything fast and sloppy. Do you want something to drink?"
"Yes, please"
She poured him some grape juice and went to sit at her computer in the other room. Ten minutes passed…she was typing an email…
"You forgot I have to get books!" he called from the other room.
"you forgot I have to go get books later tonight, so I’ll have even less time to practice."
"if you want to keep making excuses up, then I’m not sure what to say. Are you doing your homework?"
"well, keep working on it and stop getting ahead of yourself."
An hour and a half passed, he had finished his homework and had changed into his martial arts uniform. He was sitting on the couch fifteen minutes before they had to leave.
"What happened to practicing?"
"I just want to relax for a couple minutes."
She took him to martial arts and then back home. His mother’s car was in the driveway. She opened the front door and he charged through.
"MOM!! We need to go buy books!"
"Oh," she turned to him a little surprised, "You want to go before dinner?"
"okay." She got her keys and they said goodbye. She left as well, saying she would see them tomorrow.
Friday arrived and both of his parents were home preparing for their ski trip. She made the boy a sandwich and then he sat in front of the TV. He stayed there for hours, watching the military channel and simultaneously reading a book. Then, he went downstairs and closed the computer room door. His mother called to him from the hall without opening the door.
"Dad and I are going to your brother’s soccer game, you should practice piano."
"Okay," he said. But he did not remerge from the room ‘til almost 5:45 and there was a tentative plan to leave for the mountains at 6pm. He came out from the computer room to use the bathroom.
She looked up from her computer when she saw him in the hall, "what happened to playing the piano? You were practically crying about it yesterday?"
"Oh yeah," he said. He shrugged his shoulders and went downstairs again without an explanation or second thought.
On Thursday, he had felt an urgency, a need to act. Perhaps it was just brought about by the responsibility he had to his teacher, the same way he was compelled to do his homework, not brought about by an internal desire, but familial pressure. But he had felt the urgency, the knowledge there was barely enough time to do it all. Friday, he had forgotten all about it, he had fallen asleep to any pressure or need and allowed himself to drift through hours without a second thought to his goal. When the urgency is clear, it is the time to act. The window of opportunity passes all too quickly.

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