I was a child prodigy. I started taking piano lessons when I was 3 years old, and I showed promise by the age of 5. By the time I was 7, I’d won some local competitions and had some appearances on tv. I remember playing for a couple morning shows. My parents were my managers and got me concerts with famous orchestras. By the time I was 10 I was a touring pianist and was hardly in school. I wasn’t unhappy. I loved playing the piano and I loved the attention from audiences and my parents. I thought I would be playing the piano forever.
I would rather be honest about my opinions and corrected than stay silent forever in fear. But what I rather is not often what I do.
I thought that to be a parent one has to learn first to love unconditionally, like we are told that parents must, towards their children. When I was young and stupid I asked my father: Dad, who do you love most. He said, Your mother of course. No, I said, me or Christa. How could I choose between you two, he said. I knew he could, though, because I had seen him give Christa a five-dollar bill when he thought I wasn’t looking, and grin and roll his eyes at her after he’s made a joke about how slow I always am, or complain to her about how he can never understand me and how I never make sense when I talk. At the time Christa said I was just being sensitive and I’m sure he says stuff about me, too, that’s just how he is.
It was Christa who Dad liked best, and it was Christa who Dad hated most when she started dating Ben. Ben was not rich, not from a good family, not trustworthy, the wrong height, the wrong job, smiled too much, social climbing bastard son of a bitch. Dad was wrong. Ben was kind, hardworking, attentive, everything good for Christa. Christa knew this, so she married him and they moved to Seattle where Ben’s new job was. She’s still there now. Because there was no one else, I became the favourite.
I got married to a nice guy that my dad liked. Two years later we’re divorced. Between Jeremy and Olivia I can’t help but like Olivia more. So I give them both five-dollar bills. Dad also likes Olive more. I see Jem looking when Dad gives her a treat when he thinks no one is looking. I say to him, Don’t worry Jem, Mummy loves you very much. He said to me once, No you also like Olive better. Whenever I say that now he says nothing and runs to his room.
I once saw a bright spark in William’s eyes, a purpose wanting to be spoken, how bright his eyes shone, and our world so dark, his spark drew moths and critics so he dared not speak. Smouldered so long in the pit, it eventually grew faint, an idea at the edge of memory, nearly forgotten, its forgotten name, an object that occurred outside the body, away from his self, my eyes could not see where. There was an opening for a carillon player in Hamilton, many years later, as some weak apology against the sins of poor timing, its cruelty. I asked him about it, would he apply himself, take up a different fate than that which had come to him by accident. His eyes searched the distance, the spark’s new home invisible to him, searched, as if the light in the distance could be his. He thought, and decisions were always hard to make. The progression of time weighed on him, as his spark once did, a burden of existence, broken, as we are from our trials. The ground wept with realisation, we must age unlike it, and with it, we change faces though our lives cannot change, our passage inevitable, told to us through stories since the beginning. A semblance of control brightened the spark, then died. I left him after we ate and nothing had changed, but the ground a bit damper than we remembered, our feet a little heavier, our joints harder, our eyes dimmer.
Look there. That’s the old lady named Birdie who lives down the street from us. You can see her house just up there, in the next block. That one with the scraggy-looking lawn. She doesn’t do the gardening, that’s for sure.
No, Birdie’s not her real name. We’ve called her that ever since we were kids. Her real name’s Bernadette or Bernice or something. Birdie’s short for bird-brained, which is what we call her. She doesn’t mind, or she doesn’t know. No one talks to her anyways.
Met up with a friend last week over coffee. Although he’s usually very neat about how he looks, his appearance that day shocked me. There was week-old stubble all over his chin, his nails were cut jaggedly, there were paper cuts all over his hands, and his eyelids were baggy and dark, as though he hadn’t slept in days. I asked him if there was anything wrong. This is the story he told me:
My friend Chris claims that he loves his life. “Seriously, my life’s been great,” he told me when we met for his usual birthday party celebration among old high school friends – himself and me – together over a lunch or something between hours. As his sworn “study-buddy” all through five years of college and both still unmarried, the two of us are pretty close. Everyone else seemed to have drifted off somewhere and gotten married, leaving just the two of us geezers to contemplate life at the age of thirty-two.
“You say that,” I replied, “but you haven’t told me the ‘why?’ yet.” He nodded then, with that characteristic quick, cocky upwards tilt of his.
That lady named Diana who lived down the road from me picked up a new companion some day when I wasn’t paying attention. I should probably explain something first: Diana was at least forty-something, single, unhindered by Life. Which is to say, she was still beautiful at her age. In other words, she’s good at turning heads. In some ways, that’s how I came to know her.