Saturday, December 31, 2005


When Galetea emailed me the word "threnody" for a story idea, I thought that whatever I wrote would probably involve a main character who took "Threnody" as her goth name. I didn't actually want to write a threnody (a poem of mourning) because I had "been there/done that" throughout much of my writing life. I'm gleeful, I kept telling myself, gleeful.

Still, it would be dishonest of me to reject the thread of melancholy that is ever-present. In my life, there is much I would have done differently had I the wisdom and perspective to have carried it through. Then again, as e.e. cummings says, "kisses are a better fate than wisdom."

Galetea, here's the story inspired by your word:


Even though Justice Alba Root had short, stubby fingers, she wanted to play the harp.

“All the focus and drive in the world is fine enough,” Ms. Angevine, the school music teacher said, “but at a certain point, you’re going to have to come to grips with the physical limitations. I wanted to dance ballet, but I was bow-legged. Technically, I knew all the steps, but when it came time to audition for the Company, I flunked every test simply because of my knees. There’s nothing fair about it, but that’s the way it is.”

“I don’t want to be a famous musician,” Justice said. “I just want to play the harp.”

“Well, do it then,” Ms. Angevine said, “but I’d hate to see you dedicate yourself to the harp only to find out that in the end, you could only do so much.”

That was two years ago. Justice wished she could have proved Ms. Angevine wrong, and showed her that with enough determination and gumption, she could play just as well as anyone with long fingers, if not better. The fact of the matter was that Justice was a tolerable harp player. She played in the school orchestra only as long as there was no other harpist. However, in her junior year, when Elias Beck transferred into the school from out of state, Ms. Angevine had Justice give up her chair. Elias was a prodigy, and the adults said he played like an angel. Justice was skeptical, as she was sure no one she knew had actually listened to the musical performances of angels, but she had to give up her chair anyway. Elias wasn’t mean about it, but he didn’t go out of his way to acknowledge their mutual appreciation of the instrument. Justice had wanted to be a good sport about the whole thing, and she was. Still, when no one noticed that she was being a good sport, the general effect was lost upon her peers.

Justice could have become resentful. She could have carried the bitterness with her throughout the rest of her teen years, and perhaps have written a book about how no one had believed in her, her dreams had been “shattered”—all the elements that were so popular in the memoirs she saw on the best-seller shelves at the bookstore where she worked. That was rubbish, though. Justice was no Salieri, and she would write no threnody. She’d had no aspirations of greatness. All she had wanted to do was to play the harp.

Eventually, Justice found a harp of her own in the back of a second-hand music store. Half the strings were missing, and the other half had rusted. There was also a bit of warping around the base. Justice simply restrung the entire instrument and avoided playing the high notes. In college, she played her harp by her open window at night during breaks from studying her accounting homework. Other students in their dorms listened for the music of the harp. Unlike the radio, the harp music wasn’t distracting. Somehow, it made them think and focus more clearly. She had a nickname that she didn’t know about: The Dorm Angel. If she had known about it, she would have laughed. “Angels don’t have short, stubby fingers,” she would have said. And then she would have returned to playing her harp.


Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks, LH! Happy New Year to you, too.

Someday, we'll have to figure out how we all met up. I suspect Nonny has some of the answers...

Anonymous said...

melancholy with a smile behind it. that's the best kind.

have i ever told you that "melancholy" was one of the first words that i remember reading first (and coming up with my own pronunciation: "me-LAH-cuh-nee") and hearing later. when i first heard it pronounced correctly, a mental picture that involved some sort of cross between Lassie and a watermelon came to mind and i haven't been able to shake it since.

Saints and Spinners said...

ABCGirl: If I recall correctly, you recently blogged about your pronunciation of "melancholy." I made the "melon" connection myself when I heard of the song, "Come to Me My Melancholy Baby." However, I thought that the baby in question was colicky.

Anonymous said...

ah the dangers of being a storyteller--i can never keep track of who's heard my stories already! it's a shortcoming that runs in my family. :)

Saints and Spinners said...

In my book, repeating stories is not a shortcoming. Really, I should always just pretend that I've notheard the story so that the person doesn't feel badly about telling it again. In my storytimes, if a child says, "I've already heard this story," I often reply with something along the lines of "Oh good, that'll make the story even better." I leave the child to figure out how exactly that will transpire.

Lone Star Ma said...

This is a beautiful story.

I got all excited when I read "in my book" and then realized you only meant it as a figure of speech. I want more of the book!

Anonymous said...

i get that comment in storytimes too--i usually have to caution them not to give the ending away! :)