(Here is an un-retouched portrait of the editor-in-chief in younger days: Father-figure, anyone? I know…pathetique.)
Good morning, and happy Fathering Day from the Towers that are A Word with You Press!
Time to post our semi-finalists. If you just dropped in, we are in the belated semi-final stage of our contest: Once Upon a Time. Five entries have been selected based on the prologue that they wrote as their original gambit. The prologue was to be the catalyst to get each of us off Facebook and actually writing the novel that we have spoken about while sitting on the sofa at those quiet dinner parties when some stranger from one of our favorite genders inquires, “and what do you do?”
Those who have made it this far must now submit chapter one, and from the semi-finalist, three finalists will be selected, who will submit chapter two.
We (moi, actually) are behind schedule in all this. I will post two stories a day until we have not only our five contestants posted, but also those of you who care to post your first chapters outside the competition in order to get the feedback, or because you are a true writer and just HAVE to tell your story. So deadlines for the phases originally announced are a bit soft. I want every entrant to have a little hang time before they are displaced by another contestant. We do appreciate well-hung stories.
And here be the first! Chapter one of
The Piano Teacher
by Laura Girardeau
Her name is Beverly. She has hands as soft as cookie dough and golden hair from another time. A time before, when love mattered and gardens bloomed. She has a garden behind her house that births broccoli and bougainvillea with equal ease. When you come into her home through a door that’s always open, she gives you something from the garden, freshly birthed.
I haven’t been alive till now. Every Thursday, my mother and I make the pilgrimage to her house as if going to church. Only Beverly doesn’t care if I wear jeans like my mother and God do. As we drive down the country road to her house, I’m sitting in the back seat pretending to do my theory homework, but instead I’m looking. Looking at the thistles like cathedral spires that line the road and speak of the beauty to come. Instead I’m breathing in the wild weeds. Queen Anne’s Lace, a flower from another time. This flower smells of freedom.
I never do my theory homework. Beverly says my gift is feeling, not theory. My fingers draw difficult patterns across the keys that have never before been tried. It would be easier to do it the way everyone else does, but she says I have the Gift of Feeling. Like Bach and Beethoven, who wrote their stories with notes instead of words, flowers instead of theory.
Maybe they felt like I do when a boy at school who smells of wild weeds holds my hand—Fantasia in C Minor. Or when my father yells at me—a never-ending Pathetique in D. But how could Bach and Beethoven understand, if they’re boys?
“Why weren’t there any lady composers back then?” I ask Beverly, and she looks sad, but always takes the time to answer, even if it’s just to say there are no answers. Whenever I say something, she looks right at me and listens, until I wonder if this really is the world, in the wild weed countryside, and all that on the other side of the thistle spires—sisters, school, pain—isn’t.
Sometimes I go into the room with her for my 45 minutes, the metronome beating like a heart, and we just talk. My mother is outside on the couch and must know I’m not playing, but she just waits. This is my time, the one time she can’t barge in. Because I’m with Beverly, who’s holding my hand to help me reach an octave, but all I can feel is her soft, warm touch and not the keys.
Now my tears are dripping on the keys as I tell her about the boy who smells like wild weeds, and feel the touch on my hands I’ve been missing from my mother. I tell her how it feels to be a Fantasia in C and a Pathetique in D all at once.
And she doesn’t care that I didn’t do my theory today or that I freeze at recitals. To her, my talents are just being myself, playing songs in the key of flowers and asking about lady composers. Beverly’s God understands. Maybe he lives in her garden and in the wild weeds. Maybe He’s a lady composer.
I feel better now that I’ve told Beverly what I’m translating when I play the Pathetique. She tells me if that’s what’s making me play so well, to keep on feeling it.
I still hear her saying it, 20 years later. Beverly’s gone now, but somehow she’s not. I still play every day, even though I can’t afford a piano, only a pen. I’m playing it now as the ink smears my hand, my fingers following the logic of the wildflowers, just for her.
11 thoughts on “The first of our Semi-finalists: The World a chording to Laura Girardeau”
As we begin the semi-finals with Laura Girardeau’s piano composition fingered in elegance major and named, “The Piano Teacher”, I must admit a sense of a certain confusion. While I would be remiss not to applaud brava and tell all of you that Ms. Girardeau has become one of my very favorite authors; I wonder how this Chapter One entitled “The Piano Teacher” relates to her entry Prologue of “The Secret Place”.
My question which is most likely my oversight not hers and the brevity of this Chapter One, however, need not diminish the beauty of her words. I would characterize Laura’s writing style as more Debussy’s Claire de Lune than Beethoven’s Pathetique. Her words flow with slow, feminine melody in fawned sighs rather than the masculine pounding of the beat of romantic angst. The enchantment of Ms. Girardeau is a blending of a most unusual signature of a wide-eyed child innocence in measure complimented by a femininity tender, swaying in the breeze of delicate impressions pressed between pages, remembered sentimentally.
Laura’s words are as ballet slipper pointe precise as a tendu gliding us step to step from beginning to end. It is an honor to critique such fine writing from an author whom I believe was the best prologue in the beginnings of “Once Upon A Time”.
Your replies are always works of art in themselves! Re your question on the flow of chapters, I think some of the confusion is related to titling. I title each chapter, but they are presented online with that title as the book title. The Secret Place would be an example prologue of a book with unknown title, setting up the character’s main essence and essentail life questions, as well as a backdrop for her life and growth. The Piano Teacher would be an example first chapter in which we see the next step in the character’s evolution or experience, maybe a few years later.
The titles of each chapter simply comprised of a short description of the setting or main theme in that chapter. Each chapter would be a short vignette / story that is interconnected and flows forward in time as the main character grows. The Secret Place may indeed be the best title for the whole book, considering her rootedness in nature and the secret nature of any young person’s inner being. The Piano Teacher is simply the next step, “flash” or snapshot in the most important elements of her life journey,
Your comment made me see how important titling is, and how tricky this endeavor is to weave the interconnected short story form into a novel / book form. Which flashes /life snapshots are significant and flow best if jumping years at a time? What is the next flash in the series according to what just came and what will come next, and to the themes of the novel as a whole? I eyeballed this as most fitting, but there may be another! Thank you…
I grew up as Beverly’s student. Only I went to University and did my theory homework. But yes, I know this student. I know the piano teacher who cares about the feeling more than the notes, and I know the legalistic clipped staccato of the perfectionist from which one must protect their artistic neuroses. This character sings to me, olde songs from “when love mattered and gardens bloomed.”
I have a musical heart that hears in color, and reading someone who has capture the feeling so well is awe inspiring. This gravitas is full of tryptophan but I am so glad to hear/read/feel this connection with a character. The words are simple but effective and flow nicely, like the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Sonato No. 8 aka ‘Pathetique’…
This chapter seems a vignette all its own, and could easily be fit into a short story publication. WHERE OH WHERE IS CHAPTER 2! WRITE THIS STORY SO I CAN BUY A COPY FOR MYSELF!
If you wouldn’t mind.
Tiffany, I love how you relate this to your own experience at university with well-loved professors. And yes, you’ve grasped that this novel would be a book of interconnected short stories that jump in time a few years each chapter. There has been some confusion, since the title is just the chapter title. The book title would be the one in the prologue: The Secret Place.
Laura this is a beautiful piece of writing. You have such a flow to your writing that it lulls the reader into a dimension that is not of this time frame. it brought back memories of my Grandmother of whom Beverly reminds me of teaching me at the age of five to play the piano. I never took piano lessons for she taught me so well on how to read notes and the mood of the music. Feeling the music is so important and equally as important are words that create a story – they must be felt. For myself I find this to be a wonderful beginning to a story the leads me to wonder what will happen next, wanting to read it on a rainy day to the rhythm of the rain tap dancing on the panes of glass while thunder plays like a base drum on the roof as the wind brings in the orchestral sounds.
Wow, Diane, you have the gifts of words as well as sound and the rhythms and nature. Go ahead and write something about this! I’m glad the point came through in the story, about the arts merging together: music and words, as well as “the practice” being the same across the arts, whether piano or writing stories for this site…And how important mentors are, which we all are for each other!
I wanted to add that I thought the addition of P. I. Tchiakovsky’s portrait was an interesting choice given that I have been listening to Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Romeo & Juliet while writing. Laura’s style to me is both romantic, ballet and musical with beautiful creativity worthy of such an imaginative composer.
Your talent. The way you can write two worlds that are the same side by side and connect them with poetry, knocks me to my knees. I could read this stuff forever not caring for a plot, character development etc… Yours is the finer pen, the flush color of fiction, the simple white chair in the middle of the white walled room waiting for our souls to spill it. Reading you, rainbows fill my eyes.
As usual, your comments are quite helpful and you touch souls with just your replies, not only your own stories! Appreciate the male perspective, too. Glad you can relate to a little 10 year old tomboy’s world view.
This piece like a waltz, in some gauze-filtered warm light, on a floor all alone with the person you like most in the world.
I think it’s all been said, so just let me add, how pretty the pictures this opened in my mind are.
Good luck in the contest, you certainly have that spark.
Thank you for your insights, Shawna! Always nice to see a new face here!