My great grandmother was in her seventies when her crooked fingers with thin skin hammered chords by ear on the piano in the living room, and she patted the bench and said, “Come on. I’ll show you.”
She taught me the major chords (A, C, D, E, F, and G) and the minor ones, and I learned “Heart and Soul”. She even crisscrossed her arms to teach me it was fun and could be done in a variety of ways. I pecked out “Heart and Soul” over and over on the old Mahogany upright my parents bought from an elderly woman moving to an assisted living facility closer to her son’s family, and I kept time in my head to make certain the sound was right.
Like a metronome, I kept time on my bike when I pushed pedals, left then right and up then down, to get to after school piano lessons–up the hill, around the corner by the creek, by the baseball stadium, and through the cemetery, where the Indian princess and Doc Holliday’s family were buried, and across the bridge. When a guy in a Volkswagen parked in the cemetery tried to coax me over, I didn’t go see what he wanted and sped up my pedaling time. Later, I heard my parents say he’d been arrested for drugs and for luring children to a show and tell they didn’t comprehend, but when three teenage boys jumped in front of my bike, my time stopped. They stole my bike, rode off in clouds of laughter, and I described them to the piano instructor who understood I was too upset for a lesson.
My mother picked me up in her Skylark that ticked a rhythmic time, and when I was home safe, I practiced. Mom took a call from an aunt that my great grandmother had slipped away in the afternoon to the beat of rain pelting the camellias outside her nursing home window. I imagined she heard “Heart and Soul” and was greeted by my great grandfather who gave her a long-awaited kiss. While diabetes had taken its toll on her body and made her heart flutter until it stopped, in one great swelling and final beat, she was made whole again in the fullness of time.
‘Keeping Time’ was originally published in The Citron Review; December, 2020
FEATURED IMAGE: Robert Delaunay “Rythme sans fin” (Endless Rhythm) 1934), Oil on canvas, 1619 × 1302 mm frame/ 1644 × 1332 × 45 mm TATE, London