• Maggie Levine

ArtWrite 9/24: Mary DeVincentis

Updated: Dec 4, 2020



“Please don’t be late,” Georgette said to Mrs. Loughlin. “I have another student immediately after.” The moms always tried to squeeze too much into the 45-minute window. Sometimes they actually made salon appointments and would show up frantic and with wet hair.


“Of course not.” Mrs. Loughlin was already out the door and flying to her car.


“Have fun, Ty!”


Ignoring the likelihood that Tyler was dreading the next 45-minutes in an old woman’s strange house, Georgette said, “Follow me“ and briskly headed towards a hall off the foyer.


“Are these all yours?” Tyler asked, stopping to look at a shelf lined with small glass tanks.


“They certainly are,” she said without even turning around. Riff, Bernardo and Chino. Riff’s a water dragon. Bernardo’s a Crested Gecko. And Chino’s the Bearded Dragon.” She didn’t tell him that in a few sessions, his reward would be a few minutes of tank time. “Now, come along.”


In the living room, dust danced in the rays of afternoon sun that streamed through the windows. Georgette pulled down the woven blinds, chiding herself for not having done it earlier.


“Go ahead,” she said, pointing to the piano bench. Tyler was standing a few feet from the piano like it was an animal about to pounce. “Have a seat.”


Once he positioned himself in the center of the bench, the boy fixed his eyes on the keys and waited for her to give him instructions. He certainly was meek. But Georgette didn’t mind. Precocious children annoyed her. She had taught dozens of Tylers and knew it was just a matter of time before she would bring him out of his shell.

“Play.”


He looked at her, his eyes squinting in confusion.


“Play,” she said matter-of-factly.


“But I don’t know how.”


“Don’t know how to what?”


“Play.”


“You don’t know how to play? You’re 8 years old, correct?”


Tyler nodded.


“You must know how to play.”


“I mean, I don’t know how to play the piano.”


“Well, if you can’t play it, try playing with it.”


The boy shook his head, dumbfounded. His cheeks reddened, and Georgette worried she’d overdone it, that he might start to cry. She softened her tone a bit. “Have you ever seen a piano before?”


“At school. In the assembly room.”


“Of course. And have you ever touched one?”


Another negative head shake.


“Well, go ahead,” she nodded towards the keyboard. “I’m not getting any younger.”


She stood in the curve of the grand piano and waited. Tyler appeared to be paralyzed. The room was stifling. Moisture accumulated under the arms of her cotton dress. It was only April. She’d have to bring up the fans up from the basement.


Finally, the boy’s right hand appeared to levitate from his lap. When it was nearly at the keyboard, all but his index finger curled back as he tapped the G above mIddle C.


“Go ahead, try again.”


He hit it again, this time holding his finger on the key a bit longer, before looking up at her expectently.


She nodded.”Try a few in a row.”


He moved his finger from D to E to F and to G, then repeated it. His shoulders settling a bit.


“Good. Keep going.”


A few more, all white, then he finally threw caution to the wind and tried a sharp.


“Do you normally stay in one place when you go to the park or playground?”


“No, I --”


“Well go on. There are 88 keys. Don’t neglect any or you’ll hurt their feelings.”


Finally, a little laugh.


His arm stretched towards the low end, and when the keys produced their rumbling sound, he looked at her like he’d done something wrong.


“Different?”


“Yes, he said.”


“How so?”


He thought for a long time which she appreciated. “Like a big -- like one of those big drums in the band that marches.”


“Ahhh. What a wonderful way to describe it. Try the other end now.”


When he smiled, she noticed how his two front teeth were enormous. Hers had been as well. Her father had called her lapin, his little French rabbit.


He struck a few keys at the high end.


“And those? How do those sound?”


“Maybe like a bird?”


“Ahhh. I agree. Keep going.”


He returned to the keys, but was still treating them like they were fine china. “Tyler, do you play any sports?”


His face lit up. “I play baseball. And sometimes soccer. And sometimes basketball.”


“When you are at home plate, how do you like to hit the ball?”


“What do you mean?”


“When you’re batting, do you like to hit it hard or soft?”


“Hard. That’s how you get a run. Otherwise someone on the other team gets it.”


“Ok then. I want you to keep playing, but I want you to pretend you’re playing baseball and hit the keys hard.”


His eyes flashed.


“But I also want you to mix it up like a pitcher would, and sometimes play them soft.”


Before his fingers could touch the keys, Georgette raised her voice and told him to wait. Ignoring his startled expression, she added, “And sometimes play fast. And sometimes play slow.”


“Okay.”


He rearranged himself in his seat and waited a moment. Georgette was charmed by how serious he was. His hands reached forward, and she raised her voice once again.


“One more thing.” She picked up the sand timer on top of the piano. “Do you know what this is?”


“No.”


“It’s a sand timer.” She turned it upside down. “When all of this blue sand empties from the top to the bottom, 5 minutes will have gone by.”


“That’s cool.”


“Yes, it is.” She turned it right side up. “In a moment, I’m going to turn it upside down and I don’t want you to stop playing until it runs out. “Really?”


“Why would I be joking?”


She turned the timer over.



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