Playing By Ear: A Short Story

Zoe Hoffmann Kamrat

My mother’s sole purpose in life was to make sure I became a musician. Every morning she would rip open the blinds, and the sun would reach its glowing fingers into my room and slap me across the face, as she would recite directly into my ear, “Music. Equals. Happiness.”

But we lived in the country, and the only notes for miles were the sound of Mr. Mill’s lawn mower next door, and the occasional meek chirp of a bird.

She came home one day and practically threw herself at my feet. She shouted between gleeful tears, “Oh Rosie, this is truly the best day, for Mr. Eagle, our kind neighbor, has agreed to teach you the art of the violin.”

Before I was able to form a sentence, I found myself face to face with the oldest man alive. Frail is quite an understatement. I was afraid to breathe, because he would blow away if I did. He had a single wispy strand of silver hair, and his hands shook violently.

I glanced at my mother, for I was sure she had taken me to the wrong man, but she was just staring at Mr. Eagle in a state of awe.

Mr. Eagle opened his ancient lips and uttered three words: “I. Am. Deaf.”

He smiled, and I realized my mouth was hanging wide open. I closed it.

He told me to have a seat, while he handed me a red violin with a small crack down the middle. My mother burst into tears and left me with a very old man and a strange wooden object that she expected me to use to produce music.

Every week at my lesson, Mr. Eagle would watch my fingers dance around the neck of the violin, and he would close his eyes and rock back and forth. I was never afraid to play wrong notes because they always went unnoticed. I soon realized that I didn’t even need to play a single right note to impress my teacher, so I just moved my bow across the strings and my fingers up and down the neck of the violin in no particular order.

After two months of lessons, Mr. Eagle told my mother that I was ready to play in my very first recital.

When it was my turn to perform, I placed my bow against the strings of the violin and pulled, playing the first note of Minuet No. 1 by J.S. Bach. But, instead of a beautiful note, a horrible screech came from my instrument. I played the second note, and produced another horrible screech. I screeched my way through the entire piece, and took a bow when I was finished, just like I had been doing for the past two months at my lessons.

Mr. Eagle jumped from his chair to clap, beaming. But he was the only one. Everyone else, including my mother, sat, hands clasped and unmoving in their laps, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. My mother silently got up and walked to the back of the room, where she opened the door and left without glancing over her shoulder.

That was the last time I ever saw Mr. Eagle.