I stood frozen, peeking around the curtain at the audience. I was, as usual, the grand finale to Mrs. Smith’s annual piano recital. I hadn’t been nervous in front of an audience in years, but the fact that seat beside Father sat empty, made me antsy. Mama had never missed one of my performances, and I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t there.
I popped my fingers and listened to the first year piano student play staccato notes on a piece that was supposed to be legato. The choppy song resonated through the recital hall and put me even more on edge than I already was.
“You okay?” Mrs. Smith came and stood beside me. She was pregnant again, and her stomach looked like it was about to burst.
“I’m okay, just wondering where Mama is.” I confessed.
“Oh, she’ll be here.”
“I hope so.” I adjusted my dress and took a deep breath. The names on the program dwindled down to only two people left, and still no Mama. I had worked very hard on Stravinsky’s Petrushka Transciption, and knew that it would be a piece that took Mama’s breath away.
I looked out at Father, who had a pleasant look on his face, enjoying the final notes of the teenage girl’s piece. She smiled and bowed, and I knew that it was my turn. I tried to forget the fact that Mama hadn’t come, but was so disappointed that I could barely walk out and sit on the bench. I decided that she must have a good reason and put my hands on the black and white expanse of keys.
The piece was comprised of three movements. I blocked out the nagging disappointment and focused on the music that I was creating. The piece was originally written as a ballet and I could see the little tu-tus frantically scurrying around the stage in my imagination. My fingers danced across the keys skillfully, and I knew that I was wowing the audience once again. The anger poured out through my fingers as I banged out the frantic movement that piece called for. I felt the warmth of a tear escape my eye and tried to blink away the rest. Mama wasn’t there, she wasn’t hearing the fruit of my hard work. By the end of the first movement I was damp with tears, and I knew that there was nothing I could do to hide them. I had no choice but to finish.
After I played the final notes, I stood and bowed. My eyes, instead of seeing the smiling faces misted with tears, I saw the empty seat. I forced a smile and headed off stage. Mrs. Smith, who was already emotional from the pregnancy hormones, had mascara streaking down her cheeks. “Amazing!”
“Thank you.” I said, dodging her open arms. “Please tell my Father that I’ll be waiting in the car.”
After Father finally escaped the clutches of all the praise that people had for my piano playing, he came out and found me in the car. “You were wonderful!”
“Thanks.” I sighed, thankful that the car was finally moving. I needed to cry harder, but was too proud to do it in front of him. “Where was she?”
“Anna hurt her ankle at tennis practice. They are at the hospital.” Father explained, realizing that the tears were not tears of passion but that they were tears of pain.
“Oh.” I nodded. “I guess that is a good excuse.”
The article in the local newspaper the next day spoke of my amazing technical skills, but focused on the emotional connection that I had with Stravinsky’s work. It quoted Mrs. Smith as calling me a “piano virtuoso,” and had a black and white photograph of me hovering over the keys quietly sobbing. I slid the paper in the trash before Mama could see it, I didn’t want her knowing just how devastating the experience had been. I was starting to wonder if my reliance on Mama was healthy or not, but knew that it was too late to turn back the clock either way.
Anna made her way to the trash can on her crutches and pulled the unread paper out. “What are you doing?”
“Just embarrassed about being on the front page…” I lied.
“Mama will want to see it! I thought she was going to kill me for breaking my ankle.” Anna put it on the counter and hobbled out. I couldn’t help but smile, Mama wanted to be there. She didn’t abandon me after all.