The first time the man with the car heard me play was three weeks later. He had come back home. The lady and I had still gone to church. But he had not come here. No one else knew. The lady didn’t want them to know. One of those weeks in Miss Jeanne’s class we learned the story of Jesus welcoming little children onto his lap and how the disciples wanted the children chased away. Jesus had told the disciples to let the children come. Jesus liked children. And he helped children. The man with the car didn’t seem to like children at all, like Jesus did. And certainly, he didn’t seem to like me.
But one day, after he came home, I was playing scales. Maggie had taught me how to do 8-finger scales and taught me how to play them for two octaves. She said usually it takes more time to teach someone how to do these things, but I see it in my head when she tells me, and it makes sense. It fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. I love jigsaws.
I was playing scales working up and down the circle of fifths, and also just going in the order of the keys. Even scales were fun to play. It was fun making my fingers move on the keys. The sounds were fun to make together. I liked how it felt. And I liked that when I played scales, I saw rushing brooks of water down a mountainside.
The man had come home and walked into the living room. Usually, he liked crossing his arms. But that day, when I looked up, there he was, hands at this side, eyes wide, and his teeth showing. “Hey,” he said, “your mom said you could play. But, this? I never imagined this. Could you play a song?”
I stopped and looked and didn’t do anything. I didn’t know if I wanted to play anything for him. He had never been nice to me. He didn’t like me. And sometimes he’d hurt me. But then I thought of that song I had heard at Maggie’s. She said it was by someone named Chopin. And it had this feel of something deep and dark, certainly not black, and that seemed to match him fine. So, I played the Chopin’s “Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor.” It’s called the “Funeral March.” He stood there and didn’t say a thing. When I finished, he didn’t clap. It was like his hands didn’t work. Mouth wide open, he looked at me. Then he turned and walked away.
I didn’t get him. Perhaps he didn’t get me either. But after that day he didn’t say my name with that “spitting” sound anymore. So, something got a bit better. But he didn’t treat the lady better. He walked back to where she was in the kitchen that day, and they talked quietly. Then, I heard him yelling again at her. So, I played. It helped. It was like the living room had light and color and rainbows, and the black could just stay in the kitchen with them. But when I was in the room when the fighting started, like last week. I first ran to my closet, which is all finished now.
I had just had my bath and had come back downstairs so the lady could read a story. That’s something that happened more now than ever before. She had borrowed the book that Henry had started with me and was in the 12thchapter now in the story of the four children. I liked the story, but now that we had actually met Aslan the Lion, I like him best. His brightness and depth. When I heard the descriptions of him from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver in the previous chapters, that he was good, and on the move, and would set all to rights, I knew I liked him. But once we met him in the story, I decided, he understood the color blue and made it happen.
I had just gotten downstairs. The lady sat in her jeans and t-shirt on the beige sofa with flowers on it and had the book in her hands. I sat next to her. I was wearing my blue superhero pajamas with Spiderman on them. Just as I sat next to her, the man with the car yelled from the other room, “Dorothy, what did you do with my black gym bag? It’s not in the closet.”
The lady closed the book and said, “Just a minute, Phillip. I need to go talk to daddy.” This was all different. She used to just yell, but it was like she was choosing to live with different choices, like the man Miss Jeanne told us about in Sunday School last week.
There was this blind guy named Bartimaeus who used to sit begging from the people in Jericho. And one day he heard that Jesus was coming through town. He’d heard about what Jesus could do, and began to shout out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This was not what a blind guy was supposed to do, and the people around him were embarrassed, or something, and they told him to be quiet. But he was changing his ways. He believed Jesus was the Messiah, the “Son of David,” even if they didn’t and he wasn’t going to stop saying that even if they wanted him to. So, he yelled louder.
It was a good kind of yelling, for he was yelling for Jesus. And Jesus heard him! Jesus stopped walking down the road and called for him to come to him. Then the same people who had told him to be quiet a moment ago, now encouraged him saying, “Hurry, get up, he is calling you!” This time he did do what they told him to do. We talked about this story a long time in class. For when Bartimaeus got to Jesus, Jesus asked him a question. This surprised us. It was obvious to us that Bartimaeus would want his sight. Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
And Bartimaeus said, “Lord, I want to see.” After Jesus opened his eyes, the first person Bartimaeus saw was Jesus, there, standing in front of him. He saw the one who had given him sight and knew who he was. I think the lady was like Bartimaeus, Jesus had opened her eyes and now she saw how she had lived and was changing it one moment at a time. That night, she had walked into the other room, and spoken to him instead of yelling. Whatever had happened to his black gym bag was not good news.
“You bitch! What are you doing loaning out my stuff?”
The lady responded, still softer than him, “You will not call me that. You haven’t used that bag for months. What’s the big deal, anyway?”
Then he hit the wall, and a picture fell to the floor, and Skye pulled my sleeve, and we ran upstairs. It got louder after that. The lady couldn’t keep being quiet. Sometimes it is hard to live differently. It takes a long time. Miss Jeanne said that. She said having the courage to change is as hard as the change you want to make. And Bartimaeus had the courage. I think the lady was getting more courageous too.
But the black from their fight had stolen upstairs and it took a while to rock in my light-blue closet on the same rug, holding MC Bear and Skye with his paws on my leg. I said my colors and rocked and after the black went away, I thought about the blind man who had sat by the side of the road shouting for Jesus. I realized that I had been helped to see too, and the colors I saw within me and outside me got better and better.
You know what happened at Maggie and Henry’s at my last lesson?
We went each week now, and Maggie and I had been working on the Circle of Fifths. I now understood that this was a way of seeing all the notes on the piano. Not only were there the major scales and the number of sharps they had, but there were the minor scales with their number of flats in this as well. They are strange. If you counted three notes below the middle C for example and start playing a scale on the A but use no sharps or flats, just like the C Major scale, it creates a totally new sound! It was so exciting when she showed me this. Whereas the major scales were bright and beautiful sounds, streams, mountains, woodland scenes, when I added the minor scales and learned the minor notes suddenly there were darker colors included and the darks made the lights all the brighter.
So, this all made sense to me. I saw it as she described it and knew how to play those scales using the same flats and sharps as the corresponding major scale. It worked. And when we began to play music with those scales in them, tears came to my eyes. I loved the sound of Chopin especially and the big mountains and valleys of Rachmaninoff.
That day, I heard the Rachmaninoff “Prelude in C Sharp Minor.” It is dark sounding but there is so much light inside it. It was walking into a dark cave and finding light inside. I began to work on it. I could play it but some of the chords were hard to reach for my hands, but Maggie taught me how to connect the notes. But that day, as I played it, something new happened. Maggie and Henry sat listening to it, holding hands, and when I finished, I looked around for they usually clapped and instead that time, they said, “Listening to that was like seeing an artist paint a picture. I could see colors and light.” So, they had seen what happens as I play as well. They had seen a painting take shape.
It was then that the lady returned with her friend Molly. And they came inside, and Henry and Maggie asked if they could sit for a few minutes, Maggie said, “Could I make you both cups of tea?” They accepted, sat down, and Maggie said, “Phillip, perhaps you could play your new song for them.”
I played the Rachmaninoff, and as I finished, Molly said, “Phillip! I have never heard that before. It was like a magnificent artist stood at a canvas painting with darks and lights. That song was a painting.”
The lady said, “That’s what happens whenever he plays for me. It is like there’s light all around me and within I see paintings, beautiful pictures, like the one that Phillip made on the fridge at home.”
Then they realized that for all of them this happened. Not just sound but sight, light bursting upon the canvases of their hearts, color, and with it a feeling that all was well.
“You know what, little man?” the lady asked. “You can speak. And you speak with words and with an eloquence not many have mastered. You speak through your music and you speak through your drawings. You have so many words that you use.” She ruffled my hair. It felt a good kind of warm inside of me.
“You’ve finished your tea. How about we take a short walk in the park?” Maggie offered.
So, me and Skye, and everyone else went out the back door, across the yard, through the gate, across the bridge and into the park. We followed the trail that went along the stream. We stopped and I threw rocks into the water. Henry could make rocks skip across a small pool. He showed me how to choose flat rocks and how to throw them, but mine just plopped. But I gave it my best effort.
Up in one tree they spotted a great horned owl. We stood looking up at that huge bird for the longest time. It was so solemn. And it sat so still. It was awake and turning its head all the way around to look behind.
As we stood there, Molly held my right hand and my left rested on Skye. She leaned down and said, “Isn’t that a beautiful owl, Phillip?”
I nodded. It was so beautiful. All the feathers had so many colors. It was like a rich tapestry.
We stood and watched this owl sitting on its branch for a long time and then suddenly it took flight, and the wings must have been as wide as I am tall or maybe bigger. They were so, so wide. When the bird took off all of us gasped at the same time. It caught our breath. It was beautiful and perfectly silent as it flew away. Then we laughed. I looked up. The lady’s cheeks were wet. I think she really likes beautiful things.