If This is Crazy
“Isn’t it pretty?” May cocks her head, an invitation to the piano music. It sounds the way leftover raindrops look when they’re scattered across a window and struck by the sun – sparkling, delicate diamonds. She wishes for those diamond stud earrings her Walter gave her on that long ago anniversary.
“Huh?” Julie fans herself with her hand.
“The music. Coming through the window.” Her daughter-in-law has the earrings now. Her son said better an early gift than a late inheritance. Julie wears them with everything – tight jeans, tank tops, short skirts – as if they’re cheap earbobs from the dollar store.
“It’s just the TV.”
“No, it’s a piano.”
“A piano? It’s a stupid car commercial.”
“Well, I think I would know the difference.”
“Would you really?”
But Julie heaves herself off the couch to investigate. She leans over May’s shoulder, breath heavy with diet soda and potato chip residue. The diamond earrings wink at May from beneath the stiff, crunchy jungle of Julie’s hair.
“I knew it. Whatever music you heard was from the TV.”
“It was not.”
“Mother, the window’s closed. You barely hear me and Joel when we talk right in front of you and you think you’re going to hear music through a closed window?” Julie walks to the air conditioner, gives the knob a savage twist. “I don’t care what Joel says it cost, next time we’re in a hotel,” she mutters.
“I heard that.” May hates the triumph in her voice, hates that this is to be her victory of the day.
Julie rolls her eyes, flops on the couch.
May knows she has trouble hearing, although sometimes she only pretends so she doesn’t have to listen to those two, and so she can ignore the present that no longer really wants her in it. But she also knows she heard music. She frowns, leans over in the new wheelchair caging her old broken body, and touches the closed window with trembling fingers.
“Don’t even think I’m going to clean those smudges. I don’t do windows.” Julie flips through a magazine with one hand, jabs at the remote control with the other.
May leaves her fingers where they are, her own small act of defiance. She glares at Julie, who ignores her in favor of a talk show where women throw chairs at the men who deny their babies. If she could walk the way she used to, she’d get up and stride out of the room, away from the trash on the TV, away from the trash on her couch.
The piano tune takes on a jaunty air, teases her with its melody. She removes her hand from the glass and looks out at the neighborhood, as if she can see the music, see who’s playing it.
But the street sits silent in the afternoon sun. The houses, with their half-drawn shades like sleepy eyelids, drowse in the heat. Palm trees list, their fronds drooping dry and brittle against the sharp blue sky.
Next door, old Mr. Mack, a bent bug of a man, scuttles down his driveway to retrieve his mail. If only she could move as fast, on her own.
“Mr. Mack shouldn’t be out in this heat.”
“The sun can’t fry his brain any more than it already is.” Julie’s glance never leaves the TV. “I heard he thinks the anchorwoman on the eleven o’clock news is flirting with him. He also thinks a whole conversation is going on in his freezer. Can you believe that? Every time he opens the door to catch the words, there’s silence. Well, duh.”
Maybe he’s just lonely, May wants to say, wants to yell. But the piano swings into a number May recognizes but can’t name. She bobs her head a bit, sings along using made-up words.
“Mother, please.” The volume rises on the TV.
May stops, blinks. She still hears the music. Even over the TV, even over the air conditioner, even through the closed window. How can this be? Forget poor Mr. Mack, how about poor May? Will she start hearing voices from the garbage disposal now? Will the nice man in the cat food commercial invite her to tea?
“I’m not crazy,” she announces to a house, a room, a body that are still hers but are not of her, not any longer.
“No, but you’re on your way,” Julie says.
“I…I don’t want to be crazy.” Tears trace down the worn paths on her face.
Julie laughs. May doesn’t know if it’s at May’s words or at the TV.
The music murmurs in her ear. May sniffles, then cocks her head, listens. It swirls around her. It encircles her like Walter’s arms, back when they twirled around the living room or when they slid across the dance floor, her diamond earrings catching the lights, the lights catching her face, her face catching her love for her husband, for music, for life.
Her lips sway into a smile. If this is crazy, this is the way to go.
The music leaps, struts, dares her. She drags her feet from the wheelchair. The music swells, then swoons. She scrapes her slippers back and forth against the carpet. They’re the only part of her moving but they’re most definitely not the only part of her dancing.
–refers to the line “The waste of diamond studs” in Gay Degani’s short fiction piece Madeline in Her Coffin