“Luly, you shouldn’t go out so much with those people,” she said as she tugged at the plastic on the container of raw chicken. I got the salt and garlic powder out of the cupboard.
“Mami, those people are my friends,” I said to her. We had repeated the conversation before. My Mom had never had a drink in her life. She was an artist and her whole existence revolved around the paints and her family. Her friends had been killed by Castro for supporting the wrong regime. For saying the wrong things, they had been dragged through the streets and shot.
“Those people don’t care anything about you. Once you stop bringing them booze, they will find someone else with deep pockets and a desire to please,” she said. “Mi hija, you can be generous, just be about something that the world needs.”
“I know that you are saying this because you care. They aren’t using me, Mami,” I said. “They are good people. Not everyone who looks a certain way is out to hurt us.”
“I don’t care what they look like. You just haven’t played the piano since you started going out with them,” she pulled the chicken out of the plastic and rinsed it in the sink. She passed it to me and left me to slice it. I cut it into strips for the fricase.
“Gar is the musician. I can’t play,” I said smacking the chicken onto the bowl. My Mother sprinkled the seasoning onto it. We always talked during our work in the kitchen. When she painted, I used to play. She was right, Gar had shown me that I couldn’t play. I played for him, but I wasn’t any good.
“You need to practice. Just like he does. That’s what I mean. That’s exactly what I mean,” she said shaking her head in a way that indicated a negative. It was a no. She had made her point.
“Can we just drop it?” I chopped the rest of the chicken. We finished in silence.
In that small exchange, I had heard my Mother’s point of view. I had always thought that she had something against my friends because they were hippies, but that wasn’t it. She even recognized Gar’s devotion to his craft. You need to practice. Just like he does.
I moved to the sofa after the chicken ended up in the oven. I looked at the piano. It sat with its dust cover up, and its keys hidden away like little pieces of treasure. I heard in my mind the sound of that old song U2 created with the sad piano part that always broke my heart. It was an itch inside my soul.
I went to the piano and lifted the cover. I sat at the bench and found the right beginning notes for the U2 song. Soon, I was playing and oblivious to everything but the rhythm and the melody. It washed through me and out onto those keys. Then, I was playing that Chopin piece. The music was in my ears and in my head. There was nothing else but those notes, but I could not see them only feel them. It was truer than mornings and more substantial than death but invisible. It was the soul’s lament. My soul was hanging there before me. It cried, but only my fingertips could produce tears. Without them, it simply choked on unspent emotion.
After the Chopin, I had to stop. I was trembling. The bell rang. I went to the door. Gar was there.
“Hello Lully. Can I come in?” he said looking in my eyes. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot as if he had been crying.
“Yeah, sure. Come in,” I opened the door. He stepped in and put his back against the door. There was no kiss. “What’s wrong?”
“We can’t go out any more,” he said. I looked away. Turning my back to him, I faced the piano. He couldn’t be saying this. “Today was a wake up call. The accident was minor, but it could have been worse. Loni is too young to go out like that.”
“What has this to do with us?” I asked. I would still not face him. The silent tears were now streaking my cheeks.
“I need to focus on the band,” he said. With that, he turned and left. I heard the door shut behind me and his footsteps retreat in the hall outside.
The piano sat in front of me with a bottle of vodka on the table next to it. I grabbed the bottle and unscrewed the cap.