January 1-7, 2023
PROMPT: A STRANGE REQUEST AT A PIANO BAR
“It’s five o clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in…”
My fingers paused over the keyboard. The eyes always capture me first. Hers were brown and rich as Godiva’s chocolates. Her graceful walk had more than one appreciative gaze moving her way. She slid her wrap over one of the piano bar’s high-back chairs. She was close to the wall but had left the last chair in the horseshoe empty. No doubt expecting someone else to join her, I thought. My mind nudged my fingers back onto the keys and without a conscious thought, strains of “Heaven must be missing an angel” floated through the air. Yes, indeed she was angelic and that was before she turned her full wattage of a smile in my direction.
“Can you play Melancholy Baby?” she purred. At the disappointed look on my face, she laughed. A melodic tinkle floated in the air.
“Sorry,” she said, “I always wanted to say that.”
“Come here often?” I queried, but I knew she didn’t. This was a nice venue and all, but she was definitely out of place. Her wistful smile accompanied a slight shake of her head.
“I must have passed it a thousand times on my way here and there, but I never was inclined to visit you. I had an appointment nearby today and decided I wasn’t ready to go home, yet.”
Placing her purse onto the chair she pulled out an expensive wallet, lifted a crisp C note from it, and deposited it in my tip jar. Would you mind playing “Happy Birthday”? You don’t have to sing, just play it.”
I smiled at her. “Not at all, is it your Birthday?”
Her long brown hair swung to cover her eyes as she looked down. “No, It’s my mom’s.”
Her hand rested gently on her purse. I noticed it was an expensive leather satchel affair. I started to play and watched as her eyes filled with tears. The purse opens and reveals a silver urn. Her heavy sigh fills the air.
“I know you are not a priest but somehow I felt I could find absolution here.”
Meeting her gaze, I asked what she needed to be absolved from.
“I was an only child and when my mom got sick, I became her caregiver. Being a caregiver is like belonging to a club no one wants to join but you are not in a hurry to leave because the only way out is through the cemetery gates.”
“I never married nor had a kid but caring for my mom was like suddenly having a very large child. I was a legal secretary and the firm I worked for tried to be as understanding as they could for as long as possible but in the end, I just couldn’t make it work.”
“Then when mom was diagnosed with cancer, and then Alzheimers, it was like a giant hungry beast that constantly needed to be fed. Doctors’ appointments, diagnostic procedures, and medications ate first, her savings, retirement pension–and then it ate mine. Everything got sucked up into her care.”
“I loved my mom and she had been so good to me. I wanted to take care of her. She was my mom; I was her daughter. It was my job and I wanted to do it, but there were times when she would just call my name over and over all through the night.”
“Once I lost it and just started screaming at her. “Shut up! Shut Up! SHUT UP!!”
I started sobbing and mom reached out for me.
“Don’t cry, April. Oh, I am so sorry. Don’t cry. It is going to be all right. You’ll see. Don’t cry.” Mom said.
“She was comforting me. At that moment, she felt like my mom, not my child and I felt like I was failing her. Wanting to better care for her, I looked into care facilities that could do more for her than I could. They had more staff, were more rested, with more training, surely, they could take better care of her than I could.”
“The ones I liked I couldn’t afford, the ones I could afford, I would not, could not place my mom in them. So, we struggled for over 15 years. I was able to get some small legal research jobs I could do from home for extra money. Some friends from church would come twice a week to sit with her so I could get a break. Most times I just went to the park and sat in my car. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I just sat and stared off into space.”
“When she finally passed, peacefully at home, I splurged on a silver urn for her remains.”
I glanced at the urn now as I started to play “Tears in Heaven.”
“I’m sure you did your best and your mom understood. You were only human besides,” I said, as I glanced at her expensive clothes. “It looks like you landed okay.”
Swallowing hard she looked away from me and said, “Oh yes, things would have been different with more money.”
“I was part of a class action suit against one of the pharmaceutical companies that supplied my mom’s meds. I thought they were price gauging during the pandemic. The courts must have thought so too, because one day a very large check came to my door. So now I have the money, but I can’t enjoy it because I can’t stop thinking what a difference it would have made to my mother back then. What good is it now?”
She picked up the urn and placed it on the piano. Then resting her hand on the shining top she closed her eyes. Tears streamed down her face.
“April?” As the voice came from behind her, her spine stiffened.
“Mom?” She breathed as she turned in her seat and looked in amazement at the lovely woman in front of her. “Mom?” she asked again. “Mom” she repeated in a whisper. “Oh Mom, you look so beautiful.”
I softly played “Amazing Grace” as I watched the scene between mother and child. There was no questioning the resemblance between the two. April stayed frozen in the chair afraid to approach.
“Mom, oh Mom” I am so sorry, the words then came out in a gush, “I didn’t mean to yell, I was so tired, I tried my best, I… If there had been more money. The money came too late”
“Shhhhhh. Of course, of course, you did. I knew that. I know what you could and couldn’t do. I know how hard you tried. I am your mom, who would know more than me?”
Touching her gently, her mother added, “As for the money, that was me, too. I wanted you to have some comfort in your life. You deserved it.”
Rocking with her sobs April choked out “So you forgive me?”
“No, I can’t” her mom said softly, “there is nothing to forgive.”
Gently encircling April and pulling her to her breast as she certainly had done when she was a child. They headed for the door, and I started to play Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as people entered the church. I sometimes fight with the priest about this song. I know it’s not technically a “church” song but people like it.
I looked towards the front of the sanctuary where a silver urn rested surrounded by flowers and a picture of the very woman who had most recently sat at my piano. A lost child now found and headed home. From the piano bench, I could just make out her name embossed on the urn. It read “April Comesky.”