by Zinta Aistars
The work day is long and complex, although not hard. A quantity of brochures and memos to revise and edit and proof. An interview to do for an article, and I am always glad for a jaunt out of the office to another building, to someone else’s office, to pry as writers do, into someone else’s life for an hour or so. Back in the office, I sort my notes, fill in blanks while memory is fresh, and follow a trail or two for research. It is work I enjoy, yet sometimes it seems …. entirely too devoid of creative play.
The urge to play wells up and threatens to spill as my 17-minute trip to the country house begins. At what shall I play tonight? A snowman? A skip down the road? A dance in the field? A snow angel on the bank?
Lavender streaks across the sky as I turn onto the home stretch. Lavender and orange and threads of red, then inky blue. I park the car quickly in the red barn, don’t even bother to close the door, don’t bother with gloves or scarf, only grab for the camera I carry in my briefcase, and race around the barn toward the back. Toward the lavender dance.
Again, deer. Tonight, a single small doe. I nearly run up on her, yet she is so nose in snow and nibbling this and grazing that and white tail snapping left to right that she does not even note my approach. I want to run out into the field to catch the lavender light… the sun is sinking, sinking fast … but she remains oblivious and I remain frozen in my tracks. But one hundred feet away. Any closer? I step one more and one more and one … and her head snaps up and her white tail twitches and she leaps and arcs across the dry grass in snow and she is gone, gone.
I bound after her, not nearly as graceful, a stumping human in winter boots, but it is the lavender light I am chasing. Lavender veils now tangled low in the black silhouettes of trees.
And moon. A chunk of white, nearly square it seems, glowing through mist.
Every night now these: deer, snow, black trees, moon slivers, and the clear cold air in my lungs. I don’t tire of any of it.
But enough outdoor play. I stayed at work too long; it is already dark, and I take my itch for play inside.
There. Just the thing. There is a piano in the dining room, and why not. A room to feed the body, and to feed the spirit, too. Along the outside wall, there is a guitar here, and bongo drums, a flute, a harp.
A lamp glows overhead with blue dragonflies, wings outspread. Nature at play, with flight, and bounding dance, and veils of light. Do I even know how to play anymore? Is there still child in me? I sit down at the piano and try to remember … but I can’t. I can’t remember when I last played.
When I lived up north, in that previous fairy tale life, there was a piano in my bedroom. I would fall asleep some nights to the sound of music playing. When the music stopped, I stopped listening to music. For years, I lived in silence.
Until I heard music again, in the whistle of wind, in the tattering of dry leaves on trees, in the zipping of a hummingbird, in the howl of a coyote in the wood, in the chatter of a squirrel, in the sloshing of a foaming wave, in the purr of my old cat.
I sit down at this piano, now, and put one hand above the keys, the other still in my lap.
I think of her, then, my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Valija. Not one lesson, ever, but she would sit at the piano unafraid, sure that it was created just for her, and loosed her hands over the keys, a torrent, a rapids, a ballet, a spat. She would play for hours, never the same twice, always improvised and with no idea how to read notes, nor needing them. What might she have been had she ever had lessons? A pianist? But she was a pianist now, in a mad and joyous dance, fingers a blur, casting spells over the instrument and it on her.
I think, lessons would have ruined her.
She knew how to play. And it was all play to her. Like a child, freed, and not knowing discipline, only the joy of her music.
I let my hand fall onto the keys, lightly. But I am … if not afraid, then awkward with unaccustomed position. How long ago? I was surely a child, a girl, a very young woman when I last played. Do I remember?
Don’t think, I tell myself. Just … let it come. Just play, play, like a child, experimenting with the wonders of sound in order and disorder, chord and discord, harmony and noise.
I plink. One hand. Plink. A chord. Another. Move my fingers across one octave, then higher, then lower. It sounds… almost pretty, a little silly, and then I catch a few notes that appeal to my ear and try to repeat them.
It is a game of memory. Where was that note? How did that go? A pattern, a rhythm.
My other hand lifts to help, a little jealous. I like the contrast, the low and the high. My hands go hunting for that illusive something, sometimes find it, then lose it, then find it again.
The windows darken with night, and time has vanished. Lavender veils are now black velvet. I have lost myself in the evening, and for a while, I think my grandmother has entered the room, silently standing behind me, smiling, listening to me at play, and my looking for her in the music.