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THE PIANO TEACHER

Rositza Borkovski

web

‘Bend your fingers.’

My fingers, all but the thumbs, bent into slight arches.

‘No, not like that. Imagine you’re holding an egg.’

I took hold of an egg with each hand.

‘Not boiled ones, they must be raw.’

I loosened my grip for fear I might break them, but not too much for fear I might drop them.

‘Now play the scale like I showed you a minute ago. Do you remember it?’

And to refresh my memory the teacher played it again. I watched him and my right hand repeated the movements of his upon my knee.

‘Ok, it’s your turn now,’ he said getting up, approached the bookshelf, chose a book, and started reading.

I wanted to imitate him. I compared my performance to his. It didn’t work. My stomach rolled into a ball with excitement every time I had to place my thumb right after my little finger. I named this exercise ‘thumb squatting’. Gradually it became pleasant even and I went on repeating the drill again and again. And when I was ready to show off this acquired talent, he said:

‘Now try with your left hand.’

I smiled. If could manage with the right hand, I wouldn’t experience any difficulty doing it with the left hand. It would just be a mirror image.

‘It isn’t that easy,’ the teacher smiled in turn.

I was slightly annoyed for he turned out right about that. ‘Now everything from the start, but in the other direction.’ It is always like that. I decided to show patience and will. I started fiercely pounding the keys. He put down the book, took my hand gently, and said:

‘You seem to have forgotten about the egg.’

I was ashamed that I had let my anger show. I calmed down and continued. He nodded

contently, reached for the colored pencils and started drawing something.

Once again I was left alone with the piano, my left hand and the thumb squatting, which wanted to go left but I pulled to the right. Time didn’t matter any more; I was a child again. And again that feeling of pride when I managed to play the scale without a mistake. I decided to try and do it again with the other hand; and then with this one, and then with the other one. My fingers started dancing on the keys.

He lifted his head, not taking his eyes off the drawing.

‘Now try with both hands,’ he said holding tight the dark blue pencil with his left hand.

Why didn’t he encourage me? It turned out to be more difficult with both hands. First, I recalled how I did it with the right hand, then with the left, and finally how I alternated them. Every recollection helped the next one, and all together had to reveal the world of the simultaneous. I needed a break and said:

‘What are you drawing?’

‘An ocean,’ he replied.

‘Will there be ships and fishes?’

‘No’

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s very deep.’

‘It isn’t interesting that way,’ I said.

‘Ships sail on the surface; fish swim in the deep. Everyone knows this, everyone has seen this. Very few, though, have reached down to the deepest. It is called ultra abyssal.

‘How do you know?’

‘From the encyclopedia.’

‘I can’t imagine it,’ I closed my eyes.

‘It’s not easy. Light can barely reach it.’

‘Isn’t it a little lonely and boring?’

‘Not to me. I can see in the deep. There are different shades of dark blue. See how they play! Well, if you want it that much I will put an abyssal fish here,’ and he pointed at the central bottom part of the sheet.

‘Why there?’

‘Why not?’

‘Let’s play something,’ I suggested.

‘Alright, I know an interesting game. I will play a tune and you will guess what story it tells.’

He closed his eyes. The keys flitted, tweeted, and put forth leaves on the frozen tree tops outside.

‘It’s a spring song,’ I proudly exclaimed.

‘That’s right! It is.’

‘Seraphim, the dinner’s ready”, the piano teacher’s mom cried from the kitchen

 

It smelled of pork and sauerkraut in the kitchen. The table was loaded with roast peppers, pickles, regal pickles, pickled cucumbers, toasted bread with savory, and a bottle of brandy posed in front of the glasses in parade order.

We sat around the table. In the mean time the father would fix his eyes on something on the table, then fix them on his wife, who would in turn stand up, bring more food to the table, sit down again, and place her outstretched hands over her lap.

The conversation turned round the weather. ‘It hasn’t been this cold for years’, I managed to say. There were even cases of people freezing to death. There were floods in the summer, now this cold. ‘We are being punished by God’, Maria bowed her head down and promptly made thrice the sign of the cross.

The father and Seraphim followed suit.

I was not religious but felt somehow awkward and obliged and so clumsily performed a sign of the cross.

And again that gummy silence.

‘Cheers!’ the father finally said, forked a piece of the regal pickles and took a sip of brandy.

‘Cheers!’ we echoed.

Seraphim started eating. He looked at me just once and his eyes told me to hurry up. My eyes replied that I would be a little late for our next piano lesson because it’d be impolite to leave the table in the middle of such an important conversation. He nodded his comprehension.

‘Is there anything for dessert?’ he asked.

‘Yes, there’s apple pie,’ said the mother.

‘Mmm, I love it!’

‘Won’t you first play something on the violin for our guests?’

‘No, I don’t feel like playing the violin now,’ answered the son and looked at me again. This time it was an appeal for help.

‘Well, maybe some other time,’ I gave it a shot.

‘Come on,’ the father cut in, as he bowed his head slightly and fixed his penetrating glasses on his son, ‘Show us what you’ve learned at school.’

The mother looked at me; that is to say, at the guests, and explained:

‘His teachers claim that he is the best in his group; if only he could be a bit more patient.’

Seraphim fixed his gaze on his slippers, which took him out of the kitchen and brought him back several moments later, equipped with a violin, bow, and tuning fork. He started tuning up the instrument

‘I’m ready,’ he said after two-three minutes which seemed to me like boulders.

‘No, you have to tune it properly; you remember what your teacher said, don’t you? Be patient,’ said the Father and looked at the Mother, who bent her head to confirm His words.

‘But it’s already tuned.’

‘Check it out one more time,’ this by the Mother.

He put down the violin and without wiping his tears said:

‘I don’t feel like playing.’

Then he left the room. He went to draw that tiny fish. What did I say its name was?

 

 

© Rositza Borkovski
© Dimitar Dimitrov, translated from bulgarian
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© E-magazine LiterNet, 14.11.2007, № 11 (96)