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SEREN???/Daphne Eva Kalotay MY MOTHER BELIEVED THAT HER entire Ufe would have somehow been different had she been given piano lessons as a girl. She said this often, with a little sigh that made me feel I had better run through my scales one more time. She had grown up, as she often reminded me, "a sculptor's daughter," which I later learned to translate into "poor." I did not take the piano in our famUy room for granted. My parents had found it at a garage sale, a big brown upright with the face of Ray Charles painted on the frontpiece. I always approached it reverently, with the impression that my piano lessons were going to somehow transform me. In outright rnimicry of my neighbor Ruthie, I had demanded that my piano instructor be Cole Curtin. He would appear at our doorstep chewing his thumbnaU, invariably late, sheet music stuffed into a paper bag. Entering our house, he strained his neck to glimpse my mother chopping vegetables in the kitchen. When demonstrating a technique or correcting an error, he could play a ten-minute cadenza and then look surprised to find me sitting there beside him. After I had struggled through my scales, his only reaction might be to say, "Your mother is extremely beautiful." According to Ruthie, Mr. Curtin treated her mother no differently. Neither Ruthie nor I questioned such behavior. We were best friends, both ten years old. We Uved next door to each other and owned identical pink jumpers. It seemed appropriate that we have the same piano teacher, and that he be in love with both of our mothers. My father might never have made the fuss about Mr. Curtin had he not been home from the plant early one Thursday. In my worldview, fathers were either "at the plant" or "on the porch." When mine came home, winter or summer, he retreated to the Uttle screened-in space that nosed into our backyard. There he had instaUed a large rocking chair (it had been in the famUy, I was often reminded, for over one hundred years) next to a table fuU of wood for whittling. My mother explained this to me as "Daddy's down-time." Winters he would bundle up in a scarf and hat, wrap a wool blanket around himself and nap there for an hour or so before creating some small object out of a piece of wood. 146 ยท The Missouri Review Now it was July, and my father was home earUer than usual, whittling away on the porch. Peeking through the living room window, I saw Mr. Curtin approaching our front door, stopping at one of the planters to have a look at some flowers or bugs. He was a soft-shouldered man with thick, dark brown hair, bushy eyebrows and a droop to his eyes. Even though it was summer, he wore the same fading corduroy pants as in winter, only now with five-and-dime flip-flops. His button-down shirt was tight on his shoulders, as if it had been purchased ten or so years earlier. He was stiU young! Ruthie and I didn't know this. His tired eyes suggested a long, difficult past. Mr. Curtin's mumbled comments implied a history of lost opportunity and poor decisions: women gone off with other men. Jobs lost unaccountably. Sheet music lent to students and never seen again. Cole slouched Uke someone perpetually waiting for a tow truck. And despite his thick buUd, he looked as though he needed to be fed; his skin was pale, and there was a neediness in the way he lingered by the kitchen door as I urged him into the family room. "Hello, Mrs. Mintz," he said softly to my mother. She looked up from her cooking and said, "How are you, Cole?" "Oh, you know," he said. "Things happen. I got fired from the ballet school." Days, Mr. Curtin played accompaniment for dance classes. "Why?" I wanted to know. "The teacher said I made her feel uncomfortable." "Tm sorry to hear that," my mother said. I asked, "Why? Why did you make her feel uncomfortable?" "Quiet, Samantha. Don't be...


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