A Short Story by Manelle Oliphant
Snick, pad, pad. Snick, pad, pad. Mrs. Meyer climbed the organ loft’s stairs. Her feet settled on each step behind the click of her cane. Her eyes didn’t do the job they used to, but her ears were still sharper than the tune of a beginning violinist. A bit of sun bounced down from the door at the top to light the dim shaft just enough. Besides, her leg muscles knew these stairs the same way her fingers remembered Bach’s, “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”.
She clambered into the light and squinted down from the organ loft over the church’s nave. Five people sat scattered around the pews, typical for a Thursday morning. She squinted harder and recognized the tops of four heads. The last person was unknown to her.
Snick, pad, pad, she shuffled to the bench and sat. With a small clunk, her cane was in its usual resting place. She took a short moment to listen to the silence. If a person couldn’t hear what wasn’t there, he wouldn’t fully appreciate the music about the fill the air.
Knobbly fingers took their position, and Mrs. Meyer began her favorite hymn, “Abide With Me”. Do do, do, do, do, do, do, do, musical chords replaced the silence with something new. Sounds with meaning filled the church.
As she played, Mrs. Meyer thought about Maria. She sat third row on the left, her usual spot when she came to church. Mrs. Meyer knew she worried for her teenage boy, a rebel who ran with the wrong friends.
The old lady remembered similar worries for her children when they were young. She remembered how she’d found comfort at the time. Through her song, she sent thoughts of peace, patience, and hope for the future.
The hymn’s last notes settled into stillness, and her fingers moved into an organ piece by Mozart. Through the song’s happy middle she sent the jolliest thoughts she could for the pair she called the old folks. Miss Jones and Ma Settle rested at the church every week after they’d finished their grocery shopping. Afterward, they walked home to neighboring houses. They complained about everything, which made them seem ancient. In actuality, they were younger than Mrs. Meyer.
Mrs. Meyer sent a playful energy through her music and hoped they could let their complaints go for a moment. She imagined a joyful conversation as they strolled home with swishing skirts and crinkling grocery bags.
Mr. Hardham’s bald head was the last person below whom she knew. For him, she played Handel’s, “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”. She wasn’t as fond of that one, but it had been Mr. Hardham’s wife’s favorite. As she played, she thought, “you are not alone, Mr. Hardham. You are not alone,” Because she missed her dead husband as he missed his dead wife. Her fingers glided over the keys, and her feet worked the pedals like an expert, even while a few tears ran down her cheeks and plop, plopped on her blouse.
After a quick pause to pull some stops, lop, lop, lop, she launched into a loud organ symphony. Through it, she pushed the feelings she wanted to convey to the stranger. Since she didn’t know him or his troubles she put into the song everything she knew a person craved: love, companionship, happiness, joy, and belonging.
She played every note, chord, and interval with the intent to help and heal. When the song required softness, she remembered quiet nights holding her babies. Then she crescendoed into memories of weddings, new grandchildren, and even funerals. When the last chord thundered through the church with its loud thwang, she felt both depleted and elated.
She played one more hymn, “Come, Thou Holy Spirit, Come”, and paused to let the silence blanket them once more. She took a few deep breaths, stood, and shuffle-clicked to look out over the nave one more time. Maria had left. The whisper, whisper of the old folks’ gossip drifted through the air. They hadn’t noticed the music’s absence. Mr. Hardham sat unmoved on his bench. The stranger was nowhere in sight.
Sigh, she gathered her music and made her way downstairs. People didn’t always want what you tried to give. You can only help to the extent they will allow you to.
When she emerged into the foyer, a man walked up to her. He was young, in his 30’s maybe. Smiling, he took her hand. She saw from his red-rimmed eyes that he’d been crying. “Thank you. I had a magical moment today because of your beautiful playing.”
She smiled back. “You’re most welcome.”
He nodded, donned his hat, and with a whoosh thunk he was out the door.
Mrs. Meyer grinned. She’d helped one person with her music today, which was plenty enough for her. She tottled home, all the while making plans for the music she would play next time.
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