Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships
The first story has a word count of 580 and is titled (Dad’s, Monday, Bread and Butter Song). It is about the small things which evoke memories and grief experienced in a variety of ways. Mourning can be sporadic in that nostalgia can be brought to the fore by random incidents.
The second story is under 690 words and titled “On a Clear Night”, and explores the inner turmoil within an adolescent boy soprano, gifted with a magnificent voice. Having reached an age when his talent may be diminished by impending manhood, he must clarify his priorities.
Short Story: Dad’s, Monday, Bread And Butter Song
“Monday, bread and butter, Tuesday roast beef” my dad would sing. I think we children found it comforting, in its predictability and repetition. Each day of every week had its own food or function. As each new day was added to the rest, all previous days were reiterated.
It was a song Dad learned at summer camp, with his four brothers. Hence, not surprisingly, at family parties, all of them would sing it, without much melody, reminding them, it seemed, of hikes and camp fires in decades passed.
“Wednesday soup day, Thursday spare ribs, Friday fish day.”
In our own lives, friends moved away, pets died, we siblings fought. Yet, what we called “Dad’s bread and butter song” was always there, akin to air and water. Later, when anguish came, as we approached adulthood: engagements ending, jobs quests seeming ceaseless, that song remained, sung now less frequently, but reassuring, urging us onward.
“Saturday, pay day, Sunday church day”, every verse finishing with the refrain, “Oh, you hungry lookies, we wish the same to you.”
Years passed, then, somehow, decades. During what seemed to us too soon, our children reached those ages when we first had heard Dad’s song. Surely we siblings had not aged that much. And yet, we heard our children plead with “Granddad” to sing “the bread and butter song”, much as we ourselves had at those ages.
And so he would, his voice no longer strong. Absorbing this, we strove for nonchalance. Dad slowly had grown older, as had we, the youngest of us having just turned forty, but still, Dad’s life seemed infinite.
Then came that morning when we could no longer ignore his waning strength and growing frailty. The stroke he had, forced us to lose our sense of immortality- Dad’s, our own, and ultimately, one day, that of our children, too.
Dad’s doctors kept repeating “agitated”, as if this state was not to be expected of a man who, still vibrant as he aged, could barely speak, or force his throat to swallow. A feeding tube provided nutrients, but that was all.
We brought him lots of pens and stacks of paper, but these he threw aside as indicators that his voice was gone and could not be restored. Then, one nurse suggested, if he tried to sing, his thoughts might reach us. Although not knowing why, some years before, she had seen this succeed, so why should Dad not try?
I do but sing because I must; and pipe but as the linnets sing
— Alfred Lord Tennyson
Hearing the urge to sing, Dad smiled for the first time since his stroke and sang, with all the zest within him that old song; then, one by one, we each joined with him. After that, he sometimes sang his thoughts, but for the most part, nodding, he smiled as we sat reminiscing about years past, chatted in terms of current happenings, with aspirations for the days to follow.
I was in England when I got the call I knew would come, while hoping it would never. Recently married, I felt happy Dad had met my husband briefly, but for long enough to gauge his essence.
After Dad’s death, my grief was not as deep as I believed and thought it ought to be. Then, I grew to understand the Dad I knew, died in the true sense, the day that stroke engulfed him. Still, when on walks, I see activities sequenced by days, I ache to hear his song, and wish I could sing it beside him.
Short Story: On a Clear Night
The acclaimed beauty of my voice could not remain. Already, I could hear the subtle straining, notes at my topmost range starting to fade. Thus far, the change remained detectable only to myself and a few experts. Still, that change, which for some years I’d known would come, was now encroaching.
In all likelihood, my boy soprano’s voice would ease into a tenor or light baritone. Given my training, ability, I would always be a singer. Still, I might well become one of those hundreds good but not unique, no longer on that peak of wonder.
This fear, long haunting me, although denied, gnawed at me now as I heard the first notes of Handel’s Messiah, in which I would be featured as chief soloist. Might this performance be the final time of such significance? If so, what then? Singing is my wellspring.
The Discovery of Talent
It had started that first day in kindergarten choir. Just as the session ended, its director, drawing me aside, had asked, “Ian, will you stay for a few moments?”
”Did I do something bad, Miss?”
”Not in the least,” she had replied, touching my cheek. “I would like to hear your voice alone; it sounded so lovely.”
Then, sitting at the piano, she had said, “Sing this note for me. Good, now this one; now this one, will you?”
And so I did, each note high, then ever higher, until I squeaked a little. At that point, she had smiled, and said, “Well-done, Ian! I see your mum is waiting in the hall. Do let me speak with her a moment, while you stay here, OK? It won’t take long.”
During the drive home, I asked, “What did Miss tell you, Mum?”
“Lots of nice things about your singing voice. She thinks you ought to sing for other teachers.”
"That would be fun.”
Mum brought me to sing in front of a good many teachers. Each one had liked me; and my voice. A few had cried, telling mum how much they missed their work in opera. Soon, I attended lessons once each week. In between, I had to practice, practice.
At times I hated this, felt tired, cross. Yet, soon enough, I learned, in order to continue to obtain that praise which made me glow inside, I had to earn it. Thus, I did not stint, just practiced, practiced.
Things went on this way for quite some while-would have continued. Then, as I edged towards age thirteen, I had heard alto notes emerge more and more often. Although I had known this change would come, I ached to halt it.
Clandestinely, I had researched castration. Handel, my icon, had found eunuchs fruitful in reaching notes beyond the range of men. Still, things had been different then. Ghastly as the prospect seemed, I felt sure some surgeon somewhere would take it on. Still, was I willing to forfeit chances to, one day, become a lover, husband, father?
The Special Rendition
This evening I had time to muse back-stage, eleven minutes left before my solo “I know that my redeemer liveth”. It was here, in Westminster Cathedral.
Then I stepped onstage. As I began, a sound poured from my throat, pure, soft at first, and then expanding, into a beauty I had never dared to hope, even imagine. As I sang on, it echoed through the walls, bringing a silence of suspended breath. When I had finished, there had been a pause, as if applause would lessen such a moment.
Back in the wings, I had known I could never again re-create such a sound. Maybe, I thought, given this night, this knowledge, I could begin to let my voice evolve, not as a sacrifice, but as a step towards what was surely bound to be my next adventure.
© 2015 Colleen Swan