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[Time:  11 minutes ]

O is for Opera

My sister was nine the first time she called them. She picked up my dad’s cello — it was a room decoration by then, propped in the corner long enough to have gathered a layer of grey dust that hid the thing’s dark wood color — and she put it under her chin like it was something she’d done her whole life. Didn’t use the bow at all. Plucked at the strings with her fat little fingers, her eyes closed, her black pigtails bobbing with the music.

And it was music, this thing she’d played. Music like I’d never heard before, and I guessed not my parents either. Or maybe that had and even then they knew what it meant. My mother, far off in the kitchen, dropping something that shattered, running into the living room still holding the glass lid to whatever had fallen, holding it up in front of her face like a shield. And my dad, who’d been in the chair reading, the way he took the time to put his finger in his place before he closed the book, his face turning slow to the side of the room. I thought of him that day like a creature all to his own. Not my dad, but a robot, maybe, or at the very least, a man. I wondered, as I stood there, watching them watch her, what he did when I wasn’t around, what he’d done before I came.

I was thirteen, and the smart one. The one to whom things came easy. The one that had to be good to Cammie because she was special. Or a little slow. Or unique. Depending on who was telling me. If Cammie was the one around whom my parents world revolved, I was the one who revolved the world. Pushing that endless circle behind them, knowing they weren’t expecting me to catch up.

No one said anything. Cammie played for a long time. The steam condensed on the glass lid, fell off onto the hardwood floors. My father’s stubble grew an inch greyer. I turned the world another time, helped day melt into dark and minutes into years. Goose pumps broke out on my wrists. The pale dusty white of the cello began to rust and seep red.

It wasn’t until she stopped that we heard the birds beat themselves against the window. First one, then a hundred. Until they blocked the light and the sound and the world. My father’s book fell from his lap, cracked open. My mother’s lid fell too, rolled to a stop.

I put one foot forward, felt the world shift backward.

Cammie put her hands to the glass. A hundred blackbirds turned to red.



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Amazing “Ghost Opera” image by this artist.