#2 (495 words)

Mrs. Duke says to practice, looking down her nose at me. She can tell I haven’t been practicing. Daddy had a used piano delivered and tuned. “Practice,” he says. I bang out chopsticks, bang out scales. I destroy Have A nice Clam Bake. Daddy sighs. Mama shuts the bedroom door. Finally, he puts a hand on my shoulder to stop me.

“You’re getting better,” he says. I’m not. He’s had enough. Me, too. My knuckles ache.

Mrs. Duke smells like an ashtray. Her house smells like an ashtray. I sit next to her on the piano bench. She is smoking a long brown cigarette. I look up her nose. A crisp red booger- like a twig- is sticking out of it. This embarrasses me, glees me. So when she smacks my fingers for a mistake, I take comfort in that gross display. I know something she doesn’t. She opens the music book.

“Have A Nice Clambake,” says Mrs. Duke. “You practice like I say?” I nod. I lie. The lines around her mouth droop. Her yellow-gray bun droops. Her long curved line of cigarette ash droops. She pushes on my back. “Sit up straight. Don’t I always say to you?” Smoke chugs through her nostrils down into my hair, face. Her bloody booger trembles.

I hope it doesn’t fall on me, on my head. I watch it to keep track of it. This aggravates Mrs. Duke. “Don’t stare at Mrs. Duke,” she says. “Play!” She puts her cigarette into one of several filled ashtrays and places her hands above mine. They are translucent, her veins large and green bulge over her bones. The hills of her knuckles are spotted. Her long nails are painted bright pink. pressed into my nail beds. It hurts. I don’t say anything.

“Look at music, not hands!” I look up at the notes, odd shapes- some pointy knives, heavy bottomed like stinging wasps, others droopy like Mrs. Duke. Her fingers play my fingers. My fingers stumble over the keys like drunks. Whole notes like eyes stare at me, mocking my assault on the keys. I can’t find them- the notes.

“Oh word, oh word,” Mrs. Duke gulps at her cigarette and pushes the smoke out through her nose. And it falls, the booger, but I don’t see where. “That is sloppy work. You not practice like I tell you. You will regret this for the recital.” She crushes out her cigarette and begins to play the song herself. It’s light, happy. I watch as her fingers dance and pop, picking out the right notes. Her eyes are closed. I shrink. I should practice like she tells me every Saturday.

Mama and Daddy pick me up after an hour. I burst out into the clean air, drinking lungfuls greedily. “She smells like an ashtray,” Daddy complains. “Well, you chose her,” Mama says. “She was the cheapest, remember?” They argue. I don’t listen. I’m wondering where Mrs. Duke will find that booger.

at the piano, mrs. duke
(Copyright 2008 beezies)
c. A. Hughes

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~ by c on February 25, 2008.

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