This piece “Fingers” is one of the coolest, darkest stories that Cecily wrote for our class. It really hit me, and I still to this day think about it. This truly hits the heart of any person who strives to love with passion so much it hurts. I hope you enjoy it and also, check out her blog Humor Her.
I remember when I first started. Mother made me, and I couldn’t stand the damn thing. The sound was too loud for my ears. I couldn’t touch the ground, but I couldn’t reach the keys unless I sat on a cushion. I remember when Mary hid a Robin’s egg under it, hoping it would keep warm and hatch, and then I forgot and accidentally sat on it. Icried and cried for the poor bird, and Mary didn’t shed a tear. She just kept shaking her finger and yelling. Those strings and hammers were bad luck from the start. I dreaded going to Mr. Roeper’s house every Wednesday for lessons. Tuesday night Mother would ask how much practicing I had done, and I would say “none” because I always thought honesty was the best policy. Then I’d have to spend all night plunking away at the keys instead of watching my shows with Mary. I hated that piano. Always making me feel stupid. I wasn’t stupid. But every time Mr. Roeper said, “Ah, ah, ah, that’s a flat, not a sharp, Maggie,” I felt like breaking my fingers as an excuse not to come back.
I guess all those years of lessons and missing my shows caught up to me, because one day it clicked. And then Mother and Mr. Roeper made me play at nursing homes, and then at recitals with teenagers who were actually decent, and then the piano started consuming my life. I didn’t know what to do after school. College wasn’t an option, so I signed on with my high school choir teacher and started accompanying our school choir for a stint. And when they made it to a statewide competition, my name made the concert program. Some man approached me at the competition and asked if I would play in his concert hall. I agreed, and then my name was showing up other places. I was giving plenty of recitals on my own, so I stopped playing with the choir. People thought I was talented.
And then I was playing in front of real, big audiences with people who called themselves fans. I still can’t pinpoint how it happened. I guess it’s a good thing people like to talk so much. I’m just glad they were doing it with each other and not me. When people did coax something out of me they usually looked like they regretted it.
Lack of social graces and all, my name went up in lights after one of my mother’s connections invited me to play at the Saenger Theater. And I loved it. Not so much the name in lights, but the piano. To tell the truth, I tried not to pay too much attention to my name, and I tried to pay even less attention to the audience. I just liked to walk in, sit down at the keys, and play without looking up. My hands were so fast I could hardly see them. I breathed in through my mouth and out through my fingers. Playing required no thought. It doesn’t now, either, but it takes my fingers longer to react than it does my brain to tell them where to go. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been sitting there for more than a minute, watching my fingers before they start to move. Old age is everything Mother said it would be.
And now it hurts. I started taking Aleve, like Mother used to, and it still hurts. Maybe if I hadn’t played until my fingers cramped every Tuesday night. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much now. One less concert here, one less there, and maybe I would’ve been all right. Funny how a person changes. How a burden becomes a passion, and then a memory. There’s a piano in the home here, and every once in a while one of these fools will meander over to it and plunk out an old tune. They keep it tuned; I asked them. I played regularly when I first moved in, and people would come and sit and listen.
Workers and geezers like me alike. But I’m too embarrassed to play now. Especially after I told them about my younger days and now they insist on introducing me as “the magnificent Maggie.” It comes so fast in my memory, but plays so slow on my hands. I guess I didn’t have to move here when I did, but Mother and Mary were gone, so coming here felt like a natural progression. I only would’ve been able to play a few more years before people started turning me away. And I certainly didn’t want to teach any bratty children; God bless Mr. Roeper.
Sometimes children come here to give recitals. When they’ve got one scheduled someone always makes it a point to let me know, and I go. Sometimes I sit at the chair closest the piano, so I can watch their frustrated faces. I don’t like to admit I sit that close because I’m an old lady who’s hard of hearing. So sometimes I look down at the lobby from my fourth floor balcony and rely on the acoustics to carry their tunes. The unsure pauses and accidental keystrokes are a sort of music on their own. I listen for every mistake, and clap the loudest for the child who makes the most. Sometimes if they’re really god-awful I talk to them afterward. Tell them my life story. Hold on to their shoulders to make sure they stay ‘til I’m done. A few of them take pity on me and ask me to play them something. And when I’m done I look up at them and see them looking back at me as if to say “Why, you’re no better than I am, you old kook.” “Well, I use to be a lot better,” I tell them. “Before I got so old and senile. Not that you know what that means.”
It wasn’t worth it. I knew from the beginning I wasn’t cut out for it. But Mother made me. I would’ve been happy working 9-5, making decent money and keeping my name to myself. I curse these fingers every day. I could forgive them when they slipped and broke Mother’s vase, forgive them for taking so long to feed me my pudding, forgive them for scaring the children who visit. But I will never forgive them for what they took from me. And I will fight them until the day I die.