The Word: Ear
Mel watched her daughter down in the living room, playing her old black Telecaster. Kat weighed what, a hundred pounds? She certainly hadn’t gained any weight during her stay in rehab–how was it possible for a girl to be alive and yet so thin? So alive and talented and painfully close to the edge–one small crumble of that narrow dirt ledge upon which she so precariously balanced would send her tumbling all the way down to the rocks a thousand feet below. For some reason, she thought Kat would come back looking healthy, snatched back from the abyss. True, she looked a hundred percent better than she had in the days before Gerald, her ex, checked her into rehab–Gerald, who’d fought her every step on the raising of this thin, sensitive girl who was now supposedly clean and sober.
“What’s that you’re playing?” Mel called down to where Kat sat on the raggedy old couch, the survivor of the divorce, the couch that had seen how many hours of old movies and Kat’s favorite ’60s spy shows?
“It’s a new song,” Kat said. She was 22 but she looked like thirteen. Yet there was nothing childish in the music coming from those long thin fingers on the black Tele, her thirteenth birthday present.
The song was surprisingly cheerful, a sprightly pop melody in E. Absolutely unexpected from a girl who has been in anything but a pop mood for the last six months. But she was still so thin, it was remarkable that a girl could be so alive and so barely there, thin and pliable as a shoot of bamboo.
And yet, bamboo had a tremendous vitality, didn’t it? Didn’t it? She stirred the spaghetti sauce that Kat always liked, her ‘welcome back’ dinner. Thinking of a show they’d once seen, a program Kat loved, that specialized in debunking legends. This one tested a legendary wartime torture, to see if a bamboo cane would actually work its way through a man’s body. Indeed, they proved that a shoot would work its way through a side of pork in under three days.
Kat was alive.
And she had made up this song in the place Mel could only think of as That Place.
Did she even know this girl, this child which had come out of her, her talent seemed otherworldly now, her life a dangerous mystery. Mel gave the sauce a last stir, splashed in some wine and turned down the heat. She went down into the living room, picking up her old Guild guitar from the rack, and joined her daughter on the old grimy couch.
“Play it again, I couldn’t hear from up there,” Mel said.
And Kat smiled at her. A smile! That was unexpected. And began to play. So confident, so authoritative. When did she get so good? And Mel listened, trying to work her way into the tune, she was improvising around her daughter’s line, picking it up.
They didn’t talk about That Place, the overdose, the why and the how. For now, they were just playing. Kat leading, Mel close behind. She couldn’t ask for assurances, she couldn’t ask what came next. There was no sheet music for this one, she would have to play it by ear.
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: CANE