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We weren’t a talking family especially when it came to discussing why I locked myself in the bathroom upstairs, in order to avoid my mornings at Sunday school. On those days of rest, my mother retreated in her slippers to the kitchen, downstairs. Minutes later, my father would remove his belt. Twice, Papa shook the door, pounded it with such twisted fury that it cracked, broke the hinges before a single word blurted from my terrified mouth— We weren’t a talking family, even when he and I took the dogs for their evening walk, the two misfits of dogs: the one I’d chosen at the pound because its coloring suggested I was getting a St. Bernard— the large dog I’d always wanted— until it grew into a medium-sized, ungainly critter who, all clumsy, walked like a wobbling tortoise. Papa and I would laugh at him and at our little, portly beagle who, with her waddle, she resembled a beach ball, so round she was from puttering to the neighbor’s homes, begging food at each. We grinned, watched those dogs, and walked blocks, but even after a mile and more, hardly a word emerged from our clothes-pinned lips. Back home awhile, and soon ensconced in our tiny music room, Papa’s mood— mine too— would slowly shift when he’d grab his burnished violin and lift it gently, tilt it with his left arm to his handsome chin. I don’t recall how we conveyed to each other that we would do this: play our duets, after the walks— so few words hovered in the air. But soon, I was tightening the shafts of my oboe, grabbing a reed from my tiny shot glass (at the ready): two reeds soaking in a sip of water. I had practiced The Bach Concerto for Violin and Oboe, though we’d both honestly say it was the Concerto for Double Violin which my Papa and I preferred— the easiest for my lips to play. Soon, we’d be off, our instruments “singing” the music— “talking” the sweetest and most touching way we’d ever speak as the notes, their beats and phrases, pervaded the room. We played ‘til my shaking embouchure collapsed, ‘til papa’s wide smile and mine curved into hardy belly laughs. For those moments, that joy, the thrum of each measure, and my Papa’s tender music soothed all memory of my fears, that strap, even his panicked rage—
Judith Alexander Brice’s books include Overhead from Longing (David Robert Books, 2018). She lives in Pittsburgh.
Copyright 2020 Judith Alexander Brice.