Chord & Discord Excerpts

Play Me
by Kathy Oldham

The departing train echoes through the station. The grating noise of the wheels recedes through the exit passageway as the carriages travel to their next stop, and shuffling feet on stairs make their way through the station. My space in the alcove inside the entrance is cool and a little damp, but the wind is not whistling through the tiled corridor as it usually does. The passengers from the departed train have dwindled when a rucksack lands with a heavy thump at my leg. The chain that connects a bench to me rattles as the seat is pulled out. A denim-clad bottom hits the wooden surface, before the bench legs scrape over the concrete when the bottom’s owner pulls the seat closer to me.

I was enticing—that I had been told. My appeal was not just on the surface, though I was recently decorated with large painted poppies, big butterflies, and a selection of colorful splodges. An invitation to “Play Me, I’m Yours” was also prominently stenciled across my upper panel. My appearance promised the possibility of sounds that were only limited in their complexity by the ability of the person who could produce them. I was a gift—a gift to all who passed by me who wished to stop and offer a personal musical moment.

The Elusive Melody
by Sandy Stuart Shaller

Richard watched Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley sing his song. He was aware of being in a little dark nightclub, but his attention was fixed on the brightly lit stage and the singers who appeared on it.

Ella sang with her eyes closed. Her hands seemed to weave the air, her incredible phrasing and vocal purity catching every nuance of the melody. Then Ella was Tony Bennett and his husky, mellow baritone caressed each note. It was perfect until…Garland replaced him, legs apart, eyes looking for the rainbow and one hand reaching upward. As she hit the high note at the end of the song, Judy became Frank and the note belonged to him. It resonated through a microphone that Sinatra held tenderly in his hand, as though it was a woman. His eyes were closed, his brow furrowed, and the note throbbed with a deep poignancy. The throb took on a twang, and Elvis bowed his head, swinging his right arm in a complete circle. His legs spread wide and the swinging arm ending up over his head, fingers splayed, before he dramatically lowered it again. The song was over.

Richard woke up, squinting his way out of his dream. He fumbled for the bedside lamp, scrabbled for the pad on his night table, and started to write notes. The clock on his night table said 7:00 a.m.

As the song reached its climax, the last thread of music moved through his mind like morning mist. It grew thinner by the second until it vanished, leaving only a fading echo.

Shit…Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!”

He threw his pad on the floor, dropped his forehead into his hand, and dug his fingers into his hair with the other.

A Night Manager’s Tale
by Catherine Hensiek

Giancarlo, the night manager of Ca’ Riva Serenissima hotel in the Castello district of Venice, paced from his alcove office to the lobby doors. An unseasonal storm raged outside. Earlier the drenching rain had overwhelmed the sandbags stacked around the front entry and flooded the terrazzo floor of the lobby. Most of his new reservations had arrived and were safely tucked into their rooms. But longtime guests, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, were on a late flight from Paris, and he was concerned that water taxi service would be canceled by the time they got to Marco Polo Airport. Just as Giancarlo was thinking about alternative transportation for his guests, Mr. Parker appeared from the dock at the back of the hotel, shook the water off his broad-brimmed hat, and handed him a business card with the Parkers’ reservation number written on the back, along with two passports.

“Buona sera, Signor Parker, and welcome to Venice and the Biennale.” Giancarlo took Mr. Parker’s cold hand in his warm one.

Mr. Parker grinned. “And buona sera to you, Giancarlo. Can’t you do anything about this weather? Caught what I am sure was the last water taxi leaving the airport, and huge waves nearly swamped us on the lagoon. How are we supposed to tour the exhibits without drowning?”

“I am so sorry, Signore. I must say the weather has been unusual this season. But, I assure you of sunshine for most of your stay. I predict that you will be able to enjoy our most bellissima Biennale yet and keep your feet dry!”

His guest laughed. “I won’t hold you responsible if we get more rain. But, from the looks of the forecast, the Arsenale will be first on the list this year. The Giardini will have to wait for a sunny day. Now, do you have suite 22 ready?”

“Sì, it is waiting for you.” As always Giancarlo added, “Do you need help with your suitcases? And how is Signora Parker? She is guarding your luggage?”

And then came the same reply going back many years, “No, no, traveling light! Left the bag at the back door near the dock. I can grab it on the way to our room.”

Giancarlo scanned the passports, handed his guest the room key, and then offered him a brochure from a local recital hall. “They have brought back the Verdi/Puccini program you and Signora Parker have enjoyed in the past.”

Mr. Parker glanced at the brochure and tucked it in his pocket. “Grazie for remembering.”

Giancarlo watched as his guest walked through the breakfast room to the back hallway and the short flight of stairs that led to the suite the Parkers had engaged for so many years. It seemed to him that the old gentleman walked more slowly than before. His broad shoulders sagged and his gait was wobbly. Giancarlo started to call out, to ask again if Mr. Parker needed help with the luggage, but hesitated.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me
by Denise Desalernos

I still think this is a waste of a perfectly good Saturday,” my mother scolded as she drove the big green station wagon north on Highway 101 toward the Cow Palace.

I know you do, Mom,” I acquiesced. “But this is our favorite band and everyone’s going to be there.” Which I regretted as soon as I’d said it. My mom hated crowd logic.

Your homework is all done? You’re going to be exhausted tomorrow.”

Yes, Mom,” I said, knowing better than to sigh out loud.

I had to be extra nice with my mom. It was sort of embarrassing since my friends were in the car, but she hadn’t liked the idea of us going to the concert in the first place. She had agreed to drive us there, yet I still was secretly scared she’d change her mind. She felt we were too young for concerts, even though we were seventeen and seniors already.

I tried to twist around in my seat to see how my best friend, Marta, and our other friend, Linda, were reacting to my mom being a…well…um, parent. The tight seatbelt kept me from moving much, and my bare arm stuck to the green vinyl. Ugh. How I despised that massive ugly car. I’d asked her to, but my mom wouldn’t drive us in my father’s sporty Datsun. She said the station wagon was safer for children.

Your hair looks cute, Marta,” my mom said, glancing in the rearview mirror.

Thanks, Mommy D.,” Marta mumbled. “My mom likes it this way.” Marta had just got a new curly perm, which she hated. Every time she got her hair done, she cried. She had sandy brown hair, not dark like mine or blonde like Linda’s, but she’s the only one with a perm.

Is your mom working again this weekend?”

No, she went to the Stanford game with her new boyfriend.”

Ahhh,” my mother responded non-committally. She knew Marta’s mom was divorced and dated a lot—mostly men Marta couldn’t stand, which is why she spent so much time at our house.

Thawing the Heart
by Norma Armon

She read in Opera News that in September 1998, Zubin Mehta was staging Turandot in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. It was where Puccini had originally set the story and was to be a major event in the musical world. I’d give a year of my life if I could afford to go see that! Nehama thought. She did a little research.

China had begun to try to attract foreign investment, and the Chinese Central Government sponsored a few study group tours to show that the country was ready to welcome Westerners and their dollars.

At UC Berkeley, California, in the Department of Linguistics, excitement bubbled over: a couple of the professors had requested sponsorship to tour Four Great Cities in China.

Nehama asked her Head of Department for the details, “What does ‘sponsorship’ of this trip entail?”

If the Chinese agree to sponsor the group tour of ten, they pay for rooms in five star hotels, all meals and land transportation, as well as the guides. Participants pay for the flights, including two internal ones within China,” he explained.

Do you know when this trip will take place?” Nehama asked.

The dates aren’t final, but it will be at the beginning of September. Are you interested in traveling with them?”

Yes, I would consider joining the group if the schedule lands me in Beijing during one of the nine dates Zubin Mehta’s Turandot is being performed. I’d appreciate it if you put me on the list and let me know when you learn whether the sponsorship is approved,” Nehama said, “and what the dates will be.” Nehama looked down at her lap, wondering if she was ready for the pressures of a group, the closeness of people. She already felt conflicted.

The excitement of possibly seeing Puccini’s Chinese opera in Beijing was almost more than Nehama could contain. El bel canto, as Nehama’s father called opera, had been the secret sauce that made their father/daughter relationship palatable. He was an introvert with little capacity to connect, yet found profound enjoyment in opera.

Nehama could almost hear her father’s voice, “…the most consummate of arts. A magic potion containing music capable of setting in motion the unexpected,” when he first played one of his records for her.

In Israel, his adopted home, her father’s worldview had been derided as a throwback to the European values that proved useless to save Jews from the Nazi’s attempts to exterminate them. Israelis called themselves sabras, the Hebrew word for the thorny fruit of the local cactus, a symbol of what Jews had now become. Needing to protect themselves, physical prowess, and developing an army with the power to stand up to tormentors, was valued, not musicians and singers to soothe their sorrows and help withstand the pain of exile.

Nehama’s mother and siblings were true sabras, living in the current world, not caring much for the old man’s passivity and soft pleasures, and thus actively demeaning opera, which they called shouting matches. But Nehama loved the music and learned to understand the lyrics. She studied Italian and took singing lessons so she could sing her favorite arias in tune. By sitting next to her father every Saturday to listen to the weekly radio broadcast, attending a live performance with him, or singing along him in a duet, she formed the only connection to her otherwise distant father.

Francie the Uke
by Carol L. Stefan

A few years ago, right before my mother moved to California, she asked me to come over and clean out what was left in my old closet. When I had moved out of her house some years before, I had left things behind that I knew I wouldn’t have room for. I had only half-heartedly gone through my belongings at that time, so now I had to go through everything.

“Why don’t you make piles to help you sort everything out, Debbie,” she suggested, so I did.

“This one goes in the ‘trash’ pile, this one goes in the ‘not sure yet, keep or maybe charity’ pile, this one goes in the ‘definitely take home’ pile.”

In the closet were “vintage” black high heels from Payless, probably never in style, with their soles half off—“Trash” pile! There was a threadbare wine-colored velour robe my parents had bought me in the days when I had a cream-colored princess phone with real buttons on it and no answering machine—“Maybe” pile!

There were many other keepsakes, relics of my past, that were easily sorted—scrapbooks, Playbills, a Grecian goatskin, yearbooks, a couple of trophies, academic awards, a jeans jacket. As I crawled around and dug further, in a barely-visible nook in the back of that cavernous closet, I saw my erstwhile prized possession, my baritone ukulele, nearly forgotten and not played since 1959. I took it out of the closet, gently removed the aged, now-tattered case, ran my fingers softly along her tan body, and got lost in a kind of reverie.

A Comrade Moves Along
by R.A. Harrison

Kris was into punk rock, ever since she’d been thirteen and seen some godawful grunge concert out the window of the Marriott, downtown Vancouver—one visit to her Burmese grandmother’s side of the family over in Whonnock some rainy, gray summer day back in ’ninety-eight, the way she told it. Rest her merry, hard-edged, no-bullshit soul. Kris, we miss you.

I met her in school, right around the start of it all. She was recruiting people to go smoke shisha down at Prince by the water. She was wearing someone’s old Boy Scouts uniform. She’d painted her nails black, had a nose ring, big brown eyes, and was outgoing as hell. She’d go, “Hey stranger! I’m Kris. Ha ha, like a boy’s name.”

Then she’d go, “Where you from? Are you coming with us?”

We all went down to the hookah bar, and I found out she sang and that we were totally down with all the same stuff. I’d been hooked by the big resurgence in punk at the time, and was already leaning into the new ska scene—hell, I was wearing checkered ties and bowling shoes way, way early—and she was heavy into the greats. With a side of Pearl Jam. We were both kind of socio-anarchists, and then when we realized we’d both been in Seattle for the WTO riots in ’ninety-nine, that was it. Fast friends.

And it wasn’t just us. We were all like that. That was, like, our thing. Our little slice of the bigger scene, the movement that had real meaning for us. Punk, man! We were tucked right into the middle of the wave.

Sentimental Journey
by Kathy Oldham

I expected him to pick me up that evening at 6:15. I stood before the hall mirror and ran a comb through my hair one more time, and noticed how the vinegar rinse had added that extra shine promised by my good friend Adrianne. I checked that there was no lipstick on my teeth and smoothed my dress, making sure my slip didn’t show. It was a new dress I’d picked out at Newberry’s last week. I knew as soon as I saw it that the cut would suit my figure, and the price was right. Made out of smooth rayon, the cool blue print had short sleeves with crisp white cuffs, a sweetheart neckline, and a full swing skirt.

My overnight bag sat by the front door. It was almost time for Dan to arrive. We had been planning the trip for a while, and the train would leave at 7:00 p.m., the same time as the train in our favorite song, “Sentimental Journey.” I knew it was just a coincidence, but it felt like a good omen. The familiar rumble of his Ford pulled up in front of the house a little early. I waited inside by the door for him to ring the bell. We were going to elope.

by Norma Armon

As the clock that hangs over the display of matryoshkas struck three, the old woman exited the revolving glass door of the Russian Tea Room. The young blonde columnist rose from the bright red bar stool on which she was perched awaiting her.

The minute, distinguished woman waited for the youngster following her in the revolving door’s next wing; attracted by her commanding presence, the patrons seated at the bar turned to look at her.

Mrs. Ives? I’m Vanessa Shaw, the contributing editor from Vanity Fair,” the writer extended her hand in greeting. “Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. We expect the piece will be the front cover of Vanity Fair’s May issue. And this young man is the musical prodigy?”

Please address me by my full name,” said the eccentric dowager, Arabella Palestrina-Mahler-Ives, wagging a finger with her tone. “All three of my husbands’ names must be included when you speak to me or about me. We Swedes believe our spirit is embodied in our name and only when the name is spoken are you remembered.”

I apologize, Mrs. Palestrina-Mahler-Ives,” Vanessa responded. Turning to the youngster dressed in a suit and tie, she said, “And, what would you like me to call you?”

I’m Ian, and she’s my Farmor, which is grandmother in Swedish…what we speak. But I call her Farmore…”

Why is that?” Vanessa asked him, scribbling in her stenographic notebook as they followed the maître d’ to their table.

Ian hugged Arabella before pulling out her chair and said, “Because she’s far more awesome than anybody.”

She certainly is. That’s why we’re doing the story in Vanity Fair,” said the writer.

When Are We Too Old for Rock Concerts?
by Carol L. Stefan

Recently, my husband, Rob, and I went to a concert in the Bay Area to see Chicago and the Doobie Brothers, bands from our past. With a large age difference between us, our music tastes don’t line up well, so it’s not always easy to find a concert that we would both enjoy.

The Concord Pavilion is open air, and after parking in the lot, we walked up a small hill and found our seats. Rob went to the concession stand to get us some bottled water and snacks. The evening air felt fresh and breezy; I could smell the sweet odor of marijuana and reflected on how some things never change.

Before concerts begin, I always look around and check out the demographics of the audience: are they “mature” adults, teens, families? Do some people look like their companions dragged them in? What about those sixteen-year-old girls? Do they know the music, or will they spend the evening going to the snack bar for hot dogs and sodas…and checking out teenage boys?

Coming to these concerts and delighting in the music sparks multiple memories of other concerts…and the different me that watched them long ago.

I thought about an incident forty years ago when I was in college. My roommate, Eileen, asked one evening, “Connie, do you want to go hear Chicago? They’re playing in the gym tonight.”

“Tonight?” I asked in an incredulous tone. “That’s crazy. We don’t have tickets, and I’m sure it’s too late to get them.”

“Ha, ha,” she replied, looking a little mischievous. “I’m going to have my buddy, who is working the stage setup, leave the door open a crack so we can sit outside and listen without tickets!”

An eight-bar blues tale
by Vesta Clare

Opening Chords
Lila was waiting for me off the Venice Boardwalk, by a sculpture that looked like a stack of blue, green, white, and navy pottery globes. Several feet away, a black guy with long braids played acoustic guitar. Lila listened, smiling, hands looped around the straw bag over her shoulder.

Her black hair was short now. When I got closer I could see it had streaks of silver in it and the angles of her profile had softened. One thing hadn’t changed, though; she looked sweet in the sundress she was wearing. It was the color of a cinnamon stick, just as straight-sided, and almost as small.

The guitar player started singing a Jackson Browne song about seeing too much, which made it obvious why Lila was so focused on him. He had a voice you could listen to all day long. Rollerbladers zipped past, bike riders whirled along, people strolled, and seagulls argued over a piece of a hot dog bun. Lila didn’t react to any of that and didn’t know I was coming up alongside her.

I wondered if she’d have agreed to meet without my manager, Kurt, pressuring for a reunion of the band. Maybe she’d say okay and we’d do a few gigs, see what the interest levels out there really were. That might lead to some tour dates. Or maybe the day would end and I wouldn’t see her again. After fifteen years of staying out of her way, I was hoping for the gigs and the tour.

Old Smoky
by Catherine Hensiek

His daughter’s voice wafted in from the backyard as John walked into the kitchen. Through the half-open Dutch door, he could see the three-year-old skipping in a circle on the brick patio. She swung her arms back and forth as she sang at the top of her lungs. John recognized the tune. He grinned as he listened to his little girl’s version of the song. “On top of old Poky, I losted my bunny! Old Poky’s a bad dog!” Uh, oh. Poky, the boxer next door, must have carried off one of her toys again.

Patsy’s short blonde hair waved in the breeze like dandelion fluff. Every so often, she stopped singing and dove behind a large pile of what looked to be the sofa pillows.

The kitchen smelled of freshly baked bread and another delicious aroma he couldn’t quite identify. Madge was slicing a loaf of bread at the kitchen counter and listening to one of her soap operas on the radio. She switched it off when the soap flake commercial came on. John caught his wife from behind and gave her a careful hug. “Where does our Patsy learn these songs? ‘Old Smoky’?” He laughed and nuzzled the back of Madge’s neck.

You should be happy. Yesterday it was ‘Tom Dooley’!” Madge hummed a few notes of the melody and then burst into the refrain.

She tucked some stray ends of chestnut brown hair into her usually neat French twist. “I made cabbage rolls…your mother finally mailed me the recipe.” Madge grabbed a pair of crocheted potholders and pulled a small casserole dish from the oven, sighing as she straightened up.

John frowned. “Back hurting?”

Just tired. The baby has been kicking all afternoon.” Madge patted her belly. “I have the feeling that Patsy’s little brother or sister is impatient to join the family.”

I’ll get Patsy washed up for dinner.” John swung open the lower half of the kitchen door and stepped out onto the patio. A gust of wind lifted the ends of his tie and smacked them in his face. As much as they loved the view from the little house on Geneva Avenue, it was going to be nice to have a bigger backyard and a warmer climate. The late afternoon sun was no match for the chill air blowing ahead of the fog bank that poured over the nearby hills. He gathered up the pile of pillows and carried them into the house and returned outside.

Patsy threw herself at her father’s legs as he stood on the patio. “Daddy, pick me up! Horsy ride!”

Not now, Patsy. It’s getting too cold out here and besides Mommy has a nice dinner ready. We need to wash up.”

Patsy grabbed his hand and skipped into the house turning at the door to wave. “Bye, Hogmogen!”

John lifted Patsy up to the kitchen sink. “You were playing with Hogmogen?”

Flight of the Bumblebee
by Webb Johnson

Hi, Bob. It’s Karen. Find Lew before you leave.”

The phone memo’s curt tone told me all I needed to know about my promotion. Even so, I had to hear the bad news from the big man himself.

Sitting behind his neat desk, Lew Cook told me that the Selection Committee felt that Clara North had the greater talent for team-building. “That was the decisive factor,” he said.

I tried not to let it show, but I couldn’t hide my disappointment.

I know you feel lousy, Bob, but that’s the way it is. There’ll be other opportunities.”

I said, “OK, then.”

Lew’s eyes shifted to a ringing telephone, then back to me. He nodded a short and snappy encouraging smile in my direction as he picked up the phone. I smiled back the best I could as I stepped back into the empty corridor.

Driving home, I was in a mental fog. I should never have told Laura about the new job. I should have kept my mouth shut and saved her the disappointment, and me the humiliation, of trying to explain why my younger rival got the promotion instead. Wanting to put that conversation off for as long as possible, I left the other commuters on the freeway and took the longer way home.

Veering across two lanes of traffic I made it to the Alternate Route 23 off-ramp with no dents or scratched paint. The blaring horns and middle fingers could not make my already miserable outlook any worse.

I remembered my dad taking us to buy eggs and honey at a farm somewhere along the old country road. That was decades ago, but nothing much had changed. Definitely not the sharp turns. When I heard my tires skid, I remembered a kid named Billy Lovett, who died in a smashup during a high school car race.

A Nickel for a Smile
by Vesta Clare

Mark first heard Kate & Mike’s music on a January night at the 24th and Mission BART station. He’d left the indie video store where he worked, one of only five still left in the city, and had run some errands by bus and on foot before heading home. He got off the train at 24th Street around 8:00 p.m.

By the time he’d passed through the fare gates and made it to the escalators, he’d stepped on something sticky that wouldn’t scrape off his sneaker, and his knapsack had been shoved off his shoulder twice by tunnel-visioned iPhone addicts. Then some kid being carried by his mom had shrieked, without warning, about ten inches from Mark’s ear. The perfect ending to a crappy day.

Then he walked into the full Kate & Mike effect. They played a sort of R&B-Motown mix with intrusively catchy dance rhythms. It was almost impossible to ignore them, especially Kate, wearing wild colors and dancing into the flow of passengers as she sang.

They were nothing like the sincere one-man band who always looked nervous, the classical violinist who was so good she made you want to weep, or the rapper outside on the plaza whose lyrics usually had to compete with somebody lecturing on religion.

by Denise Desalernos

Over Roger’s shoulder, she watched the band. Those guys are well beyond middle age, she mused, unless everyone is going to live way past one hundred. The band members were dressed in the style that was popular when they were young musicians. The lead singer had a receding hairline but wore shimmering metallic blue pants and a long-tailed top coat. The guitar player had on skin tight jeans and a paisley print polyester shirt, unbuttoned halfway to his navel, revealing his graying chest hair.

Does the drummer have a mullet?” Roger asked in awe.

It sure looks like it,” Leslie replied, smiling at the memory of a time when the short-in-front, long-in-back style was popular. “Business up front, party in the rear,” she quipped, quoting the words of the guys who flaunted that hairstyle back when they were teens. Roger chuckled.

This is about a city we all know and love,” the singer announced as the guitar player strummed the opening chords to Journey’s mega-hit “Lights.”

How long has it been since I’ve heard this? Leslie wondered as the singer with the flashy blue pants crooned the familiar lyrics. Her thoughts drifted back to when she had first danced to that very song…

She was wearing a purple flowered dress on the last day of eighth grade, standing in the middle school gym, which had been decorated with paper streamers for the graduation dance. She had her arms around the cutest boy in class, and her feet were riveted to the floor in terror. Leslie remembered it all: the gym, the music, the boy, and her friends—the ones she had lied to about this exact same boy.

Susan’s Superhero
By Webb Johnson

I shivered when I heard Susan at the cemetery this afternoon. “Oh, Andrea, it’s lovely to see you. So good of you and Bud to come such a long way.”

It took me a second to realize it was Dolly, the only one of our three daughters who inherited her mother’s voice.

We’re back at the house now. There are forty-one of us: our three girls, their husbands, the grandkids, and one great-grandkid make sixteen; the rest are dear friends and other relatives.

Savory aromas drift from the kitchen—the fridge and the cabinet doors open and close—familiar feminine voices confer about plates, tableware, and how to set up the buffet.

Earlier, I tried to be good company but I don’t know what to say, so I’m flopped down in the big chair I sit in when I watch TV. Susan named it Serta because I spend more time sleeping in it than I do watching.

I may look like it, but I’m not sleeping. I hear everything—quiet laughter, old stories, and hushed sorrow—not sleeping, just taking a break, resting my eyes.

I can hear the teenage cousins together in the patio while their parents browse through the albums and chat about where they were when some photo was snapped. “Oh, I remember that time…” they say, and then provide the details of some almost-forgotten special day. When someone mentions how beautiful Susan was, I have to reach for my handkerchief and dab my teary eyes.

At the same time, I can’t help but smile through the tears when I hear the new baby fussing. Our eldest granddaughter, Sharon, named her Susan. She’s not even four months old, but already I know she’ll make some lucky fellow’s life worth living some day; it’s in the DNA.

I hear Sharon asking how her grandmother and I got together. Dolly says she thinks it was in college, Linda says it happened in Texas, and Anna believes we were set up by their Uncle Travis.

I’m flabbergasted. I have no idea why none of our daughters knows how their mother and I met. I thought that story was part of the family lore.

Dolly says, “He’s the best dad ever, but I can’t imagine him as any superhero in the romance department.” The others chuckle.

Fairy Music
by Sandy Stuart Shaller

Every afternoon, Sylvie went down to the garden and listened to the fairies playing music. She crept under the willow tree where the long fronds hid her from view.

The fairies were tiny creatures that swung on branches with their violins or flittered in midair with their flutes and piccolos. Some of the fairies were so dazzlingly beautiful that Sylvie had to squint to see them; they were like bright rays of sunlight. Others looked like green toads with mottled skin, and had heavy webbing between their fingers. There were fairies as thin as water and fairies as thick as molasses; no two were alike.

Beautiful or strange, they all played the most wonderful music. It flashed like gold and flowed like sweet mead. It created streams of sound that wove through the air like a lark coasting on a summer breeze. It wrapped around Sylvie like a lyrical glove, warming and thrilling her. Sylvie would sometimes close her eyes and find that the music transported her to faraway places. It was, after all, fairy music, so Sylvie was not surprised to find herself sailing through the air on an oriental rug, or floating above a waterfall where mermaids and mermen played and laughed and loved.

The fairies played their music for only an hour each day, and when the hour was up, one fairy would alight on Sylvie’s arm and sing, “Come away with us, Sylvie. Come away.”

But Sylvie would only smile in melancholy fashion and shake her head. The fairy’s eyes grew large when she declined, and in its eyes Sylvie could see herself. A young girl, nearly a woman, with long wavy hair the color of an elm tree and eyes the color of a chestnut.

Then the fairy would look sad and flit away with the others, vanishing into the beams of sunlight. Sylvie remembered reading in some book that a fairy is sad for only a brief time, but fairy anger lasts forever.