Academic journal article Chicago Review

Voodoo Sonata

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Voodoo Sonata

Article excerpt

Jane sat on a straight-back chair in a row of other straight-back chairs in Sula Bookbinder's living-dining room. Up front, dwarfed by the grand piano, a tiny blond girl in round wire-rimmed glasses played the melody from "Ode to Joy." She played slowly, counting under her breath, bent close to the keys as if to keep the notes from flying away. Jane put her hand through her husband's and squeezed. Nat did not return the pressure.

A bubble of blank formed in Jane's mind. Then in walked Paulie Winger, closely followed by his parents, with whom Jane and Nat played once-a-week bridge. Jane's Catherine was best friends with their daughter Lee Ann, though Jane wasn't 100% thrilled with that. She whispered to Nat, "No Lee Ann!"

"No loss," Nat said.

"Hssshh! Her name's on the program, see?" She waved her friends over to empty chairs behind her and her husband. "Doesn't Lucia look terrific?"

"Lucia's a pig."

Jane wanted to let go of Nat's arm. But the idea of punitively separating herself made her feel like a balloon blown too full. She shook his arm in humorous disagreement, shook her disagreement away, mined and beamed as the Wingers sat down behind her. Lucia's ashy blonde was the natural color Jane went every six weeks to maintain, and Lucia played a nice game of tennis, but she obsessed about Paulie, who was slow in school, and she had no control at all over Lee Ann. Applause came for the tiny pianist, who bowed unsmiling. Jane whispered to Lucia, "Where's her ladyship?"

"Cramps, she said."

"Oh, dear. She plays so nicely. Catherine will be disappointed!"

"She doesn't menstruate yet." Lucia reached into her purse for a couple of aspirins, swallowed them dry. "She's an evil human being."

Jane smiled. Lucia was from New York and always expressed herself as dramatically as possible. Jane widened her smile in the direction of the current performer, a fat boy in knickers who kept sliding forward on the piano bench as he ran strenuously through "Fur Elise." Lucia looked unmoved but Leo bowed, his pleasantness coming toward her like waves lapping. He was exactly Lucia's height, Lucia would announce from time to time, with an irritation that Jane generally tried to smooth away. He had small features, nicely arranged, and away from him Jane could not have described exactly what he looked like, but he was the only man she had ever talked to without thinking about what she was going to say next. She was formulating something nice about him to whisper to Nat, but the woman beside her, who might have been the mother of the boy in knickers, turned her head sharply. Vera Bookbinder, Sula's 30-year-old daughter, home from a marriage that didn't work out, also gave her a look. Paulie Winger said, "Hell-o!" And then the girls' duet was announced. Her daughters were walking up to the piano.

They looked exquisite, Catherine with her hair aflame over her blue velvet dress, Em barely palpable in pink organdy, a moth, spun sugar, sitting down together at the piano like good sisters. Em's chords were as crisp as a metronome. Catherine's hands rose and fell, milking the keys for sound. Jane glanced at Nat, then behind him to catch her friends' expressions. Lucia was paying no attention but Paulie listened with his mouth open. Leo leaned forward and whispered, "Little Rubensteins."

This was it, the feeling she'd been looking for these past days, shifting her thoughts around like someone with a back problem looking for the stance of no pain. Now there was no pain. There was this feeling of inviolability, what a rich family must feel walking the grounds of their estate so large they can't see the fence around it. It was how she felt at age 15 as Guinevere in her high school's Camelot, in love with her own singing voice. And how it was when the girls were little, fighting for room on her lap, and she, the mother, all closed in by sweet skin and baby hair. Catherine and Em no longer hung on her but she felt them living inside her. …

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