A leaf lay still on a riverbank. The waters that brought her there had frozen, encasing her brown body in what seemed to be a glass casket. The earth had met the first hints of winter’s touch; the rivers and lakes had almost solidified, each stream forming blueish fingers that creeped into every valley, carving through the landscape and heading South.
There, between the hills and valleys, lay the cottage of the girl.
This morning – as did her every morning – began with the soft melodies of a grand piano. Each note soared from the living room she played in, echoing across the walls and leaving her window.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, she began. Her pale hands then glided across the keys, each finger now drumming in a perfect rhythm. She dared to close her eyes this time, letting muscle memory guide the progression she had painstakingly perfected over the autumn. She could feel the harmonies as they left the piano; she imagined them as stairs leading to some unknown place, somewhere that only she could find. As her fingers moved quicker and quicker, a smile began to form on her face. Perfection, she thought. The arpeggio grew louder as the movement neared its end. She was almost there, almost at the end of a song she was playing flawlessly, for the first time. Practically breathless, the girl opened her eyes in time to play the final chord-
“Marie! Come here, look what came in the mail!”
And with that, two fingers missed their cue, sliding onto the keys that sat next to the ones that should have completed her melody. She grimaced at the noise: an audible “Twang!” that abruptly ended an otherwise smooth movement. It was as if she was climbing those stairs – desperately reaching for the door that lay on the top floor – when she had missed a single step, sending herself tumbling downwards. The young pianist groaned as she stood up and headed outside, knowing that this time, she still wouldn’t find whatever was behind that figurative door at the end of the song.
“Marie, you’ve just been selected for that spring concert! Aren’t you proud?”
Marie could only force a smile and nod to her mother, who was obviously overjoyed at her little prodigy’s newest achievement.
“You’ll want to impress the special guests, so make sure you practice each song until you can play them flawlessly. I’ll be here to support my little girl, okay?”
“Thanks, Mom! I’ll have every song perfected by New Year’s,” replied the girl.
I’ll never have every song perfected, thought Marie, now pacing around her bedroom.
This wasn’t what she asked for, at all. Her passion in music lay not in concert halls or stages, but in notes etched with ink in her books, or recordings of little tunes she composed in her head at night. She wanted to create, not perform.
Even the thought of a hall filled with eager students and teachers – all silent and still in their suits and dresses – scared her. Then she imagined the red carpet that divided the hall, beginning from the VIP seats in front of the stage and stretching infinitely into the darkness.
Marie shuddered. How would she do it? How could she face that night? It was so far away, 4 months even, and yet it seemed to be just around the corner, waiting for her.
I need to relax, she thought.
She let her legs take her where her mind wanted. Marie began wandering through the house, pacing back and forth through each empty room. This was an exercise she had discovered a few years ago; simply letting her thoughts lead the way to new places. She need not care about a destination, it was the process of getting there that allowed her anxious heart to be set free.
Marie found herself facing a set of stairs, leading up to the attic. She felt her feet touch the cold wood of each step, and she remembered that rising melody which began to play in her head as she climbed up, reaching for the attic’s door.
Up here, it was always dusty and grey. Today, however, the last rays of autumn sunlight pierced through the darkness and gave a golden glow to the old boxes and parcels that lay in the attic.
Marie released a breath, which then formed a light wisp in front of her, allowing her anxieties and fears leave her chest along with it.
The clouds outside began to shift, and a warm burst of sunlight flooded the attic. Beside Marie, just tucked between two large boxes, was a small bundle of envelopes that caught her eye.
She picked them up and studied the words so beautifully calligraphed on each envelope.
“From Your Grandfather…”