What a Musician Hears

Image Sourced from San Francisco Sentinel

The last notes of the evening’s recital hung in the air and then faded gently.

The room burst into clapping. Joseph had played his song so well. The trills were clear, the scales precise and the melody sung above the rest like the chime of bells. Julia was thrilled for Joseph, but a small part of her wished he hadn’t played quite so well. He was 15, only one year older than she was, yet he played far above her own level.

Julia’s mind floated back to each and every mistake she had made in her own song. She’d left out a flat at the beginning. Her own scale, simple compared to Joseph’s, she’d stumbled through. Half way through the song, Julia had even forgotten a measure and had to jump to the next section. Hopfully no one had noticed.

In one year’s time she would certainly still be leagues behind where Joseph was now. She wasn’t sure she would ever play with his confidence, and artistic expression.

Julia remained  in her seat well after the recital had ended and everyone else was milling around the desert table, chatting. Her own parents always attended her recitals, but her father had been asked to make an important last minute business trip and her mother was in bed sick with a nasty version of the flu Julia had two weeks ago.

In the end, Julia’s uncle had been the one to bring her here, only he was more interested in the cookies and punch. Looking down, Julia noticed that her hands were gripping her music so tightly that her knuckles looked white, and she suddenly realized that her jaw was clamped tight.

Oh, this was ridiculous. It was just a dumb recital. She’d done dozens before. At least her parents hadn’t been here to hear all her mess-ups. They would have been be so embarrassed.

Julia’s vision blurred and she quickly blinked several times.

Hopefully, her uncle was ready to leave. She didn’t feel like staying to chat to the parents of all those kids younger than her who had done so much better. Walking towards her uncle she could make out what he was saying to one of the mothers.

“I’m always going to the symphony, and the opera.” His voice was deep and carried far. “I must say, after hearing professionals it was a little hard for me to sit through . . . well.” His lips curled upward. It was meant as a smile, but it made Julia’s stomach flip.

A hand rested lightly on her shoulder and Julia turned quickly. Joseph stood next to her, one hand in his pocket. His light brown hair curled around his head, emphasizing his light blue eyes.

Amazing musical skills and great looks. Life just wasn’t fair.

“You played really well, tonight.” He grinned as his hand dropped off Julia’s shoulder.

“Not that well,” she sighed.

Joseph glanced at his shoes and then back at her, “I thought it was nice.”

“Thanks,” she felt a small blush warm her cheeks. “But, it was nothing compared to your piece. That was seriously amazing.”

“I should hope so,” he rolled his eyes, “I’ve been working on that dumb thing long enough.”

She glanced back at her uncle trying to tune out his voice as he exaggerated the pain it caused him to listen to ‘certain music’. Nonetheless, her uncle’s voice carried clearly to her and Joseph.

“That, music?! Ha. You should hear Chicago’s Philharmonic. Now that’s music! I was visiting Chicago last year, and I knew I couldn’t miss the Philharmonic while there. I love music like that – real music.”

The warmth on Julia’s cheeks dropped to a chill and sunk slowly down into her chest.

She turned towards Joseph who was looking at her uncle. “I think I gotta go,” she said in a soft voice.

Joseph’s face slowly turned back towards her. His smile was gone. Instead his lips cut across his face in a straight line. “Your uncle, right?”

She just nodded.

“He’s not a musician is he.”

Her eyebrows dropped, “No. But, how did you know?”

“If he had been a real musician, he would have been able to hear and enjoy the music no matter how well or how poor any of us played. My guess is, he probably didn’t enjoy the philharmonic much more than he enjoyed our little recital anyway. He’s just talking big is all.”

“You think so?”

“Those who truly love music always look past the musician’s imperfections and will allow the music to resonate within themselves regardless.” He glanced away once more, “At least that’s what my dad is always saying. It helps me remember to focus on the heart of the music when I play, and not worry about the individual notes too much.”

“That’s cool.” Around my uncle, people were slowly moving away, forming other groups and starting other conversations. “My mom always says that negativity is the fastest way to push people away from you.”

Joseph let out a small chuckle, “I think your uncle is learning that one right now.”

I felt my mood lift as an idea struck. “Do you think if I invite my uncle in to explain the whole recital to my mother he might catch her flu?”

Joseph’s face lit up, “I don’t know. But I think it might be worth a try.”



The Mountain’s Reflection

Displaced black bear cub finds new home

Image Sourced from Katu

Story Inspired by Actual Events

Swinging his head first right and then left, the small bear cub shifted his weight from one paw to the other.

This was not home.

He could not smell the light, airy fragrance of flowers or the sweet, call of the scent of berries. The smells here were harsh and stung his nose. Instead of dark brown dirt and supple grass beneath his paws this ground was a uniform grey and was hard. Try as he might, his claws could not make so much as a dent in the ground.

He did not even recognize the sights here. Instead of fields and forests, there were red, yellow and green lights which flashed above his head. Large machines thundered by him. Inside were those strange creatures his mama bear warned him about countless times – humans.

What would happen to him here? He was too young to be without his mama bear. He couldn’t hunt for his own food yet, and without her near him at night he’d freeze.

Taking a few steps backward, the bear cub bumped into something cold. Spinning around, he stared up at the tall edifice before him. It stretched to the sky like a mountain did, but this – whatever it was – went straight up. He placed a tentative paw against it. The cold seeped straight through his thick fur and chilled his skin. Stretching out his claws in the hopes of gaining some perch, the young bear scratched against the surface of the tall structure.

His claws against stone sounded low, while this caused a high pitched wail to fill the air. Howling against the noise, the bear cub pulled away.

This was wrong. Where was home? His stomach growled, and he felt a chill settle along his back. How had he gotten here in the first place? He could remember seeing the lights blinking from a distance and had tried to get closer. But he couldn’t remember exactly when the mountain had ended and the hard, non-living ground had begun. Worse, he couldn’t figure out how to get back.

A glint of sky blue and white capped mountain twinkled to his right. Turning, he could just barely see the top of his mountain home. His heart speed up as he broke into a full run. He ignored the lights and harsh noises as he barreled towards the mountain. He drew close, then the mountain fell out of view as it passed momentarily behind a particularly large machine which shook the ground as it passed.

The little cub ignored the hideous sight. He was almost home. Never again would he wander away from mama bear. This place was worse then she’d described. But, as the large machine rumbled away, bear slowed to a stop. His mountain was gone. Instead, only tall buildings stood before him.

How? Where? No, the mountain had been just here. It couldn’t just up and walk away. Frantic, the bear cub swung his head right and left. Then, there was the mountain. To his left, and not that far. Sprinting hard, he charged. In his hears he could hear screams from a group of humans as he passed, but he ignored them. Home was just right . . .

But as he drew close, the beautiful mountain shifted, then warped into a blue nothingness. Where he had been so sure his mountain was, now stood only a row of glass buildings. Stamping his paws in frustration, he blinked several times.

Then the fur along his neck and back stood up. His ears swiveled quickly around him. He’d been hearing the foot falls of humans all afternoon long, but these were different. They were purposeful, and they moved directly towards him.

The young bear cub whirled around to see three humans moving slowly towards him. Two looked alike in plain light brown cloth, short cropped hair and large red and white something’s on their feet. The third also wore the same light brown cloth around his body, but his hair was black and hung long and straight, reaching just past his shoulders. His skin was slightly darker than the other two and instead of the bulky red and white, his feet were covered with a soft dark brown cloth. Around his neck was a long, sky blue feather tied to a small bone. Bird bone, the bear cub guessed.

The first two walked quickly towards the bear cub. But, mama bear always said to run from humans. They aren’t safe. Oh, why did he ever come here to begin with?

The bear cub turned to run, but a voice flowed across a soft breeze. He could not understand the words, but a small amount of the fear inside him calmed. He turned back towards the humans. The third one had one hand out towards the bear cub. The other hand was wrapped around the feather and bone at his neck.

The first two remained still, watching the cub, as the third slowly walked forward. The soft dark brown cloth around his feet silenced his footsteps until the noise was like the gentle padding mama bear’s paws made against the forest floor.

Again the man spoke, his hand still out stretched. The bear cub was unsure why he should feel comfortable around this human, but before he knew it the man’s outstretched hand was resting against his forehead.

“Peace, little bear,” the man’s voice shifted on the wind and rang clear in the cub’s ears. “We are here to help. Is your mama bear around?”

The bear cub glanced nervously towards the first two humans. They stood, not far away, arms crossed.

The human before him didn’t look back as he spoke, “Don’t worry. They can’t hear what we say. Is your mama bear with you?”

“No,” the cub sputtered. “She said never to . . . but I did . . . the lights, it was all so different, so exciting . . .” he felt the tears form along the bottom of his eye lids. “And then the mountain was gone. I thought I saw it, and I tried to get to it, but I couldn’t. Is it gone forever?”

“Oh, no, little bear. What you were seeing was not the actual mountain, but the reflection of the mountain against the glass of the buildings. Think of it like the reflection of the trees behind you when you stare into the lake looking for fish.”

“Mama bear always says you must focus to see past the fake trees on the water. If you don’t , you’ll never see the fish.”

“Your mama bear is wise. The same is true in our human world. We must look hard around us always, or all we’ll see is the reflection of the world we hope to find, not the real thing.”

The small bear looked around him, “Is this world not real?”

“Oh it’s real. Just as the water and the fish are real. The problem is in what we see, not what is there. There is good to be had here, just as there is good to be hand in the water in your lakes. But if you don’t learn to see a reflection for what it is, one will go hungry always searching for what they need, never knowing it is within their reach.”

“You don’t have any fish with you, do you?” The young bear asked, his stomach growling once more.

The human laughed, and the sound was deep and calming in the cub’s ears. “No,” he said, “Unfortunately not. But come with me. We will take you back home to your lakes and your wise mama bear. I’m sure she’s worried about you.”

The man stood and the bear cub followed him towards one of the big human machines. It was not long before he was back up in the mountains where the land was familiar.

After climbing out of the human machine, the man placed his hand on the bear cub’s forehead once more. “Can you find your way from here?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” the bear felt an excitement rising in his chest, “I can smell my mama and I know the way to our cave.”

“Good,” the human smiled. “Remember, do not let the reflections trick you.”

“I’ll remember,” the cub looked up at the man, “Good is to be had anywhere. The trick is in being able to see your surroundings for what they truly are.”



These Are My Jewels: a retelling of Cornelia’s Legacy

Image Sourced from Wikipedia

“Are you alright?” Julia asked me, as she sat across from me, warm in the west room of my small roman domus, or city house. I blinked twice, pulling my gaze away from her new bracelet and the other fine jewels around her neck and headdress. She had amethysts, pearls, gold. It all sparkled so softly in the evening sun.

“Of course I’m fine. Your bracelet really is stunning.” I shifted my weight so that I couldn’t feel the tears starting to form on the couch below. My hand strayed to the flat, faded pillow beside me.

My friend’s soft, red lips turned upward at the compliment and as she smoothed the wispy purple silk she wore draped over one shoulder.

“You know, dear,” she said with down cast eyes, “A woman in your status really should . . . peruse the shops. I hear the silk traders will be leaving soon and you won’t want to miss them.”

My two boys tumbled into the room, literally. The oldest playfully punched the other while the younger found leverage and kicked his brother off. As they rolled towards us my Julia pulled her feet under her, and pushed the hem of her brilliant white stola out of their muddy way.

Growing boys eat so much food. And they are always in need of taller clothing. I called my boys to my side and, still grinning, they slowly made their way over.

My friend laughed softly, “What will people say when you take your boys to court and you do not have any silk? And the new jewelry from Egypt is such the rage now. Really, Cornelia, lets you and I go shopping tomorrow morning. Leave the children with someone. You must see the silks I found this morning.”

While the oldest boy remained standing by my side, the younger sat next to me and looked up with his bright blue eyes.

“Mom,” he said, “I don’t like it when you wear silk.” I raised an eyebrow in question, but his grin only grew. “Because when you wear silk, I can’t do this!” and he threw his mud-caked arms around me, squeezing me tightly to him.

My friend raised a pampered hand to her mouth, but I only laughed as I tugged the older boy in, too. The three of us swayed on the tattered couch as both brothers tried to push the other off while keeping me in the middle.

The older brother one this time and the younger hit the floor with a low thud.

Among the snickers I raised my eyes back to my friend. “Julia,” I spoke with conviction, “Thank you, but I have as much finery as I could ever want, actually. These here.” I hugged my ambitious boys closer. “These do not tarnish nor do they care for the trends of the seasons. These are where I have placed my money, my time, and my life’s work. Julia . . .

“These are my jewels.”