Congratulation to Sarina Dorie of Oregon City, Oregon, February’s Penn Cove Literary Arts Award Recipient.
The Right Note
By Sarina Dorie
My nine-year-old dragged his heels. “One more minute,” Billy said. He closed his eyes and listened to the music coming from the open door of the art gallery. A man sat at the grand piano, his hands flying over the keys.
The player wasn’t just skilled; he was passionate. Billy swayed, eyes closed. When his vision had declined three years before, the piano had become his refuge.
Only, these days since the divorce, it was rare to see such contentment on his face.
The song abruptly ended when the man at the piano stood. Billy’s smile faded. He angled his head to the side to see the man’s approach. Peripheral vision was all he had left.
“Would you like to view the art?” the man said. He was younger than I’d realized, in his early forties, but with a shock of white hair that would have rivaled Mozart’s—only I didn’t think Mozart had such brilliant green eyes. “We currently have a new sculpture exhibit on display,” he added.
I shook my head. “We really must be on our—”
“Please, Mom. I’d rather listen to the music than go to the park.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “What have we here? My first and only fan?”
“Please, Mom. I can’t even see the birds anymore.” The expression on his Billy’s face was so full of longing it made my heart break.
“Why can’t you see the birds?” asked the musician.
Billy toed the edge of the sidewalk with his sneaker. “I can’t see.”
I was ready for the musician to say something insensitive like people sometimes did when they first realized my son had Stargardt’s disease. Instead, he said, “Would you like to feel the sculpture exhibit?”
Billy’s feet were already stepping forward. “Really?”
I cleared my throat. “Don’t you think the artist would mind?”
The man winked. “I know the artist. She’d say these sculptures are meant to be touched.”
The musician escorted us to a row of sculptures that resembled children made of plastic. The material was spongy and felt like marshmallows. Don, as we learned the musician was named, instructed Billy to explore the sculptures with his hands. Considering most people treated Billy like he was automatically going to break everything he touched, this was a first. Billy poked his fingers into a sculpture his size, giggling.
“Is this your gallery?” I asked.
Don nodded. “My sister and I own the space. She does the art. I do the music lessons and events.”
“That song you were playing before,” I said. “It was beautiful. Did you write it?”
Don’s eyes widened. “Yes, how’d you know?”
“You played it like it was part of you. I might not be a musician myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize good music when I hear it.”
He blushed. “Well, maybe I have two fans.”
Billy turned away from the art. “Would you play for us again?”
As Don played, Billy sat beside me on a couch. He leaned his head against my shoulder. “I wish we had a piano.”
“I know, baby.”
Billy made do with a miniature keyboard, but it lacked the warmth and resonance of a real piano.
Don finished another of his original pieces, this one even more impressive than the last. “Anyone else interested in taking a turn?”
Billy jumped to his feet. “Me!”
He played Bach and Beethoven, and ended with Chopsticks. Don joined my clapping.
“Come back and practice any time you want.” He shook my hand. From the genuine warmth in his green eyes, I felt like he truly meant it.
Billy asked later. “What does he look like?”
I smiled. “Like Mozart, but cuter.”
Two days later, we returned. As soon as he saw us, Don’s eyes lit up. “Back for more?”
Billy headed straight to the piano. “Yes, please.”
Don occasionally pointed out a place to slow down or a correction to a note. While Billy practiced, Don sat on the couch beside me and we chatted. He face brightened when I asked him to play one of his compositions.
He shook my hand before we left. “I hope you’ll be back.” His fingers lingered on mine. Warmth tingled up my spine.
It was on our third visit that he presented Billy with the brail music book.
“No way! For me?” Billy said.
“I have to do something to keep you two coming back.” Don laughed.
Billy shook his head. “No, you don’t. My mom thinks you’re cute.”
One side of Don’s mouth crooked upward as if he were fighting a smile. Heat flooded to my cheeks.
It was after we’d gone home that I found a card in the book asking me out to dinner. It looked like we’d started on the right note.