256 Words

On Being Watched

Victoria Arico

She arrives alone. Her coach, our interpreter, delayed by storms, leaves us three to toss our languages across a canyon.

In one week she'll compete at Symphony Hall. Twenty years old, a celebrity of her island nation. Leo and I are her volunteer parents with a baby grand and a room for rent where she unpacks her animist religion, a shrine of rocks on the dresser top. But downstairs she freezes at the brim of the music room, eyes wide to the pine planks. She's unwilling to meet the instrument until another day has passed.

When she steps toward the piano at last, she avoids the knots like a child in a sidewalk game. Her music is clutter, the sound of a biker avoiding the pedals. She's spooked.

One morning I see her kneeling, the scores face-down about the room as if tossed by wind. We gather the scattered staves, unspeaking. I leave her seated stiff-backed as a Shaker, not sure she is grateful.

But after three days of tension she quits waiting for the coach. She talks to the wall and bows to the room. Then fluent as bird song she blooms, strikes lightning chords and breaks the dawn.

At the competition her flawless passion earns her a spot with the Boston Pops. "We'll work on your stage fright," the coach says, present at last. But this girl for whom spirits haunt all things explains with a triumphant smile: those people will not daunt her more than the thousand eyes in our wide pine floor.

Copyright ©1999 Victoria Arico. All Rights Reserved.

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October, 1999
Issue #42

256 Words