by Narrelle M Harris
The cemetery looked particularly lovely this morning, with the crisp, blue autumn sky above and a few darkling clouds in the distance creating a fluffy counterpoint to the geometry of the headstones visible above the fenceline. Kitty stood at the sink, sipping her sweet, milky tea and looking at the view. A few sparrows hopped on and over the brick- and iron-work fence. Little sparks and speckles of life going on over the buried bones of the houses in which spirits had once lived.
Her grandparents’ bones were bedded down in the soil, over there. Well, not quite bones yet, no, but nature was doing her good work, reclaiming carbon and iron and all those other constituent parts of a house of flesh and giving them back to the world.
Kitty’s grandparents, who had raised her, had gone three months apart. Grandpa buried only two weeks ago. They were the only parents she remembered. Kitty had loved them, and she missed them. She was aware, though, of a sense of freedom now, too. Their love had been a support that never wavered, but it had been a bit of a cage as well.
She pressed the fingers of her left hand against the glass pane, tracing the distant outline of a Celtic cross that thrust up into the sky. Even at 21 years old, she had always sensed their life had been something of a cage to them, too. A wall through which they couldn’t walk and sometimes couldn’t speak. There was an untold story behind it. The thing that had happened to her parents. The thing that had silenced her history, and Grandma and Grandad’s memories, and even music.
With a sigh, Kitty placed the empty mug in the sink. Time for a few minutes’ rehearsal before she had to get to work.
She sat at the breakfast table and pulled back the tablecloth. She’d brought the table out from her own room a week after Grandad had followed Grandma into the earth. She’d successfully kept it hidden from them for five years, under a cloth and piles of books and stuffed toys, always carefully replaced after she’d used it. She knew they hadn’t found it, because if they had, they’d have made her burn it.
Kitty sat at the table and splayed her hands across the lines she’d painted on the edge of the table. The white keys and the black. She’d only seen a real piano a few times at school, but she’d borrowed a book and drew a diagram on a piece of paper she’d kept folded up in her shoe. With a tiny pot of white paint that Grandad had used to paint repairs on furniture she’d painted three octaves worth of white keys, leaving spaces for the black.
She’d learned the word ‘octave’ from a book. She’d heard the piano and hidden to watch the music teacher play it, and memorised, from those few glances, the notes that each key produced.
Then, every night for five years, she taught her fingers to play the painted piano while her memory told her mind what it should sound like.
For ten minutes she played one of her own songs. She’d hardly ever heard any other songs – though of course her grandparents hadn’t been able to completely ban music from her environment – so it was easier to compose her own songs in her head.
Her fingers stretched wide, her smile wider, Kitty Carrasco played her silent keyboard and heard the notes in her mind as she sang.
The grass is green and growing tall
Underneath it ants they crawl
My spirits high and then they fall
Like crawling ants who forgot what they crawl for
And it was high and low like that, thoughts like an itch under her skin. She felt like she was waiting for something, but she couldn’t have told anyone what that thing was.
Caverns broaden in my mind
Beginning till the end of time
Deception everywhere I find
Intentional revelation is the tree I climb
Most of the lies in her life were made of silence, Kitty knew. Silence where her history should be. Her parents, their deaths, the reason why music was never allowed in this house. Kitty thought she should have been angrier, but mostly she was just… waiting. For the silence to end.
I’ve softened my heart finally
For now it isn’t meant to be
Like self-sustaining energy
I hope you drift away and come back to me
Like crawling ants who forgot what they crawl for
I hope you drift away and come back to me.
She could wait, though. Silence had a way of being filled, if you listened hard enough.
Kitty got up, pulling the cloth over the lines out of habit, took her bag and stopped at the photo of her grandparents on the way out the door.
I know you never wanted music in the house, so I’m sort of sorry, but actually, I’m not, she thought, fingers brushing over their faces in the photograph, I never understood that. You were wrong. I loved you, but you were wrong about music. I don’t know how anything bad could ever come of it.
Then it was outside for the tram rides to Richmond and her job at the funeral home.
(Please feel free to post your responses to the story here: thoughts, speculation, whatever strikes you, good or bad.)