A Short Story by Manelle Oliphant
Snick, pad, pad. Snick, pad, pad. Mrs. Meyer climbed the organ loftâ€™s stairs. Her feet settled on each step behind the click of her cane. Her eyes didnâ€™t do the job they used to, but her ears were still sharper than the tune of a beginning violinist. A bit of sun bounced down from the door at the top to light the dim shaft just enough. Besides, her leg muscles knew these stairs the same way her fingers remembered Bachâ€™s, â€œToccata and Fugue in D minorâ€.
She clambered into the light and squinted down from the organ loft over the churchâ€™s nave. Five people sat scattered around the pews, typical for a Thursday morning. She squinted harder and recognized the tops of four heads. The last person was unknown to her.
Snick, pad, pad, she shuffled to the bench and sat. With a smallÂ clunk, her cane was in its usual resting place. She took a short moment to listen to the silence. If a person couldnâ€™t hear what wasnâ€™t there, he wouldnâ€™t fully appreciate the music about the fill the air.
Knobbly fingers took their position, and Mrs. Meyer began her favorite hymn, â€œAbide With Meâ€.Â Do do, do, do, do, do, do, do, musical chords replaced the silence with something new. Sounds with meaning filled the church.
As she played, Mrs. Meyer thought about Maria. She sat third row on the left, her usual spot when she came to church. Mrs. Meyer knew she worried for her teenage boy, a rebel who ran with the wrong friends.
The old lady remembered similar worries for her children when they were young. She remembered how sheâ€™d found comfort at the time. Through her song, she sent thoughts of peace, patience, and hope for the future.
The hymnâ€™s last notes settled into stillness, and her fingers moved into an organ piece by Mozart. Through the songâ€™s happy middle she sent the jolliest thoughts she could for the pair she called the old folks. Miss Jones and Ma Settle rested at the church every week after theyâ€™d finished their grocery shopping. Afterward, they walked home to neighboring houses. They complained about everything, which made them seem ancient. In actuality, they were younger than Mrs. Meyer.
Mrs. Meyer sent a playful energy through her music and hoped they could let their complaints go for a moment. She imagined a joyful conversation as they strolled home withÂ swishingÂ skirts andÂ crinklingÂ grocery bags.
Mr. Hardhamâ€™s bald head was the last person below whom she knew. For him, she played Handelâ€™s, â€œArrival of the Queen of Shebaâ€. She wasnâ€™t as fond of that one, but it had been Mr. Hardhamâ€™s wifeâ€™s favorite. As she played, she thought, â€œyou are not alone, Mr. Hardham. You are not alone,â€ Because she missed her dead husband as he missed his dead wife. Her fingers glided over the keys, and her feet worked the pedals like an expert, even while a few tears ran down her cheeks andÂ plop, ploppedÂ on her blouse.
After a quick pause to pull some stops,Â lop, lop, lop,Â she launched into a loud organ symphony. Through it, she pushed the feelings she wanted to convey to the stranger. Since she didnâ€™t know him or his troubles she put into the song everything she knew a person craved: love, companionship, happiness, joy, and belonging.
She played every note, chord, and interval with the intent to help and heal. When the song required softness, she remembered quiet nights holding her babies. Then she crescendoed into memories of weddings, new grandchildren, and even funerals. When the last chord thundered through the church with its loudÂ thwang, she felt both depleted and elated.
She played one more hymn, â€œCome, Thou Holy Spirit, Comeâ€, and paused to let the silence blanket them once more. She took a few deep breaths, stood, andÂ shuffle-clickedÂ to look out over the nave one more time. Maria had left. TheÂ whisper, whisperÂ of the old folks’ gossip drifted through the air. They hadnâ€™t noticed the musicâ€™s absence. Mr. Hardham sat unmoved on his bench. The stranger was nowhere in sight.
Sigh, she gathered her music and made her way downstairs. People didnâ€™t always want what you tried to give. You can only help to the extent they will allow you to.Â
When she emerged into the foyer, a man walked up to her. He was young, in his 30â€™s maybe. Smiling, he took her hand. She saw from his red-rimmed eyes that heâ€™d been crying. â€œThank you. I had a magical moment today because of your beautiful playing.â€
She smiled back. â€œYouâ€™re most welcome.â€
He nodded, donned his hat, and with aÂ whoosh thunkÂ he was out the door.
Mrs. Meyer grinned. She’d helped one person with her music today, which was plenty enough for her. She tottled home, all the while making plans for the music she would play next time.
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