Concert in the Park
By Hantian Zhang
Once again, I checked the time: 12.30, almost. My limbs stiffened and my heartbeat jittered, but still I headed to the front door as planned, trepidatious and single-minded. I had to go to San Francisco airport to pick up my mother, whom I had not seen for three years and not lived with for eight (that is, if I count directly from the time I came for college from China, and skip all my homecomings during the school breaks). All morning I had been on tenterhooks in anticipation of her month-long stay, and how our past tiffs could ramify and how new contretemps could break out, and all that had made me uneasy. Propelled by last-minute nerves, I paused at the staircase and stepped into the guest bedroom instead, checking for the last time that the hardwood floor there had been impeccably scrubbed, and that the bouquet of calla lilies I bought only yesterday remained fresh on the night stand, tiny bubbles on the stems underwater, shining like fine precious stones.
I descended the staircase and sat by the door, switched from house slippers to sneakers. In the mirror I tucked a wisp of hair behind my ear, and judged that I had not overdone my makeup. I then lined all the house shoes along the right side of the stairs and the outside shoes along the left, being self-aware that such a clean-cut regimen of footwear was, in fact, a practice I learned from my mother. When Brandon and I started living together, soon after I gained my master's in statistics and started working at a FinTech firm, the shoe-changing ritual enticed from him both plaudits and protests; and while the three years under the same roof had turned him into a practitioner, he seldom took that additional step of sorting the shoes. After a few quibbles I gave up my conversion effort, and simply assumed the task myself. His adoption of the shoe-changing practice is good enough already, I reasoned, and there was no need to have it my way on every triviality in our relationship. Such an insistence had cost my mother her marriage, and it would be silly to lose Brandon over some pairs of shoes.
The car was street-parked a block away. The midday sun percolated through the canopy of sidewalk weeping figs. The familiar voice of the NPR news announcer jumped out the moment I ignited the engine, but I turned it off with a punch. My mind was tense and jumbled, with no room left for more problems of the world. The traffic light was already yellow, so I rammed the gas pedal and whooshed across the intersection against the red-turning signal.
I stood at the immigration exit and scanned the faces, intermittently locked eyes with expectant, searching attention, and then quickly moved to the next chance. The information screen said that UA889 had arrived 30 minutes ago, so Mum could be anywhere between behind the border control and by the baggage carousels.
"Ying-ying!" But she was already out, with a shrunk frame and greyer hairs. She approached me from a seating area with a beam across her face, her gait so unhurried that piqued in me an instant worry of a recent development: arthritis maybe, an operation even. That gait also drew my attention to her sneakers, the way their large, decorative golden N's stood out against black quarters. It was these exaggerated N's, I decided on the spot, that brought to the fore the floral patterns on her dress; and together with her silver windbreaker and black leggings, they created an off-kilter and wrongly youthful impression out of her ensemble.
She tapped me on the arm, seemingly tempted by but then decided against a hug. In return I patted on her shoulder, and offered to carry her luggage. "Aren't you cold with your dress on?" I asked as we proceeded to the garage.
"San Francisco is cold indeed," she followed me but did not answer directly, "thanks to your warning I came prepared, with my windbreaker."
"The locals like to quote Mark Twain, who allegedly said the coldest winter he had ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Have you also brought your sweaters?"
Before we got back to the car, I had already learned that her legs were just sleeping earlier, and they were otherwise alright. During the 12-hour flight my mother sat in a middle seat and dozed intermittently, as there were babies crying just rows behind. At the passport control there were no passengers from other flights, so her line moved quickly. The immigration officer asked her to show her return ticket, but she made out none of his English. So he extended his arms sideways and flapped them, like a bird fluttering its wings. She guessed his meaning correctly and presented him her ticket, so without further delay he stamped admission.
I chewed on the story as I took the ramp onto the freeway, thinking of talking points to follow up on, so as to disperse a thickening silence descending upon us. I resorted to the low clouds hanging over the coastal mountain range like a thick quilt, the russet foothills that had been lush before the last February rain. My mother followed my verbal guide and looked at these scenes out of novelty, but offered no comments other than an acknowledging "oh." Clusters of nondescript industrial buildings receded outside at great speed, leaving behind an impression of a terrain devoid of luxuriance and purpose.
"So, about Brandon. I would see him tonight, right?" Then, she broached it.
"Yes –" I said with a growing tightness in my voice, brought out by the unknown of what would be coming out of her next. "–Typically, he has to work even on the weekend, but tonight he will make time to join us for dinner." After a pause I added, with a clear realisation that my defence of Brandon had already begun.
"So, what are you cooking?"
"I am ordering Szechuan take-out actually, because I also have to work a bit in the afternoon," I paused, then proceeded with my plan for the rest of the weekend: "Today you can rest at home, to recover from jet lag. Tomorrow we'd visit the Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge, followed by grocery shopping and cooking dinner together." I stopped there, waiting for her asking me to clarify the "we" further.
"Can Brandon take spicy food?" But she pulled me back to the plan for tonight.
"Oh yes, he likes things Chinese, especially Szechuan food."
That answer seemingly comforted her, but just as quickly, that padding was soon withdrawn. "And he will not be joining us tomorrow, right?"
"No, I am sorry," I said drily, "now is such a critical time for him to prove the product/market fit of his start-up; he's already working seven days a week."
Silence. Then she asked, "What's his start-up about?"
"I have told you time and again already!" A surprising bout of impatience blasted in my voice, and to rein it in I had to pause, so as to blunt my following words into a smoother shape. "They arrange cars to send kids to school or pick them up. A Didi or Uber service for kids, basically," I then said, with fabricated patience.
"Ha," she snickered for dramatic effect, but quickly wore down her segueing expression into a mumble. But I still heard it: "Even though he wants no kids himself."
A strong emotion poured over me right there, and I would have had no problem calling it "anger" if my interlocuter had been someone else. Her seemingly selective memory — remembering Brandon's preference of not having children while forgetting what his start-up was about — appeared an intentional provocation, pushing a readiness in me to shout something aloud.
You have not even met him yet! These words were ready. I looked ahead and waited for a straight segment, so that I could look way from the road and confront her face-to-face.
But she was already looking outside the window, her attention seemingly fixed. We were on a section of freeway that was built on a straight subgrade reclaimed from the San Francisco Bay. Thick, leaden clouds gathered, but columns of sunbeam still broke through. Silver waves were lapping against the shoreline, just yards away from the road.
"You know what, we have time. Lay all your protests and questions on the table, and we three can talk them through," I looked back and opened my mouth, but heard a reconciliation ringing instead of an escalation. "Let's have your questions answered, your concerns addressed during your one month here," I continued and added after a pause, "but no matter what, we have already decided to get married."
She turned to me, and her face sank, as if wanting to say something but decided against it. She looked out the window again, as if to hide her thoughts, and suddenly I lost all interest in carrying on the conversation. I pressed the radio and heard again the voice of NPR announcer, irritating and long-winded as ever. With great force I gave the button a few quick pushes, and did not stop until I hit a classical music station.
It was Dvorak's New World Symphony on the air: 'Adagio – Allegro Molto.' The towers downtown rose before us as abrupt exclamation marks, glistening under the sun which had just dispersed all clouds. I squinted as I flapped down the visor, feeling a sudden circle of tears rimming my eyes, a protective layer against the dazzling reflections.
I put down the phone, and walked back to the dining room, where Mum was. "I am sorry, Brandon will be late today," I said with my eyes evading hers, "he's sent his apologies, and asked us to start without him."
She could give out another snicker, and I was half-expectant, half-weary of that. But sitting by the dining table she uttered nothing, not even a disapproval sound-effect. I scanned her for signs of disappointment or its emotive kin, and tasted a faint delight when I could not find any.
"He will be coming back as soon as he's done with work. You will surely still see him tonight," I added.
Earlier in the afternoon my mother showered and then napped, while I stationed myself in the study, logged in remotely, and worked. A ticking metronome in my mind kept fixing on her and interrupting my concentration, my Python code ended up full of bugs. When she re-emerged from the guest bedroom to present her gifts, she had already changed to a fleece jacket and a pair of linen pants, whose cuffs draped loosely over a pair of buffy slippers she had brought from home. She toured the condo and concluded it did not have a convenient floorplan; and when we had tea on the deck in the bright late afternoon, she said my tea tasted bitter, and I should try the gift tea she had brought with her.
Bumpy interactions, but still good ones because there were not fights. And now, at the appointed dinner time she sat quietly by the dining table, forearms crossed and resting on the teak surface, displaying all the good manners of a well-behaving guest. Plates of dishes were already spread before her: red oil dumplings as appetizer; Kung Pao chicken, Mapo tofu, sautéed green beans and pickled cabbage fish stew as entries. Collectively they offered the allure of a welcoming feast, but with Brandon's absence hanging like a layer of disrespectful steam, their impression appeared only more commonplace and ingenuine than their provenance typically warranted (I ordered them all from China Live, the latest hippy Chinese eatery in town. Pricey, of course). I put a bowl of rice before my mother, sat facing her across the table, and started eating. A sense of inadequacy withered away my willingness to start a conversation, so I decided to wait for her to make the first move.
"Before I left Beijing I actually met Jun again," and here it came, so quickly, so out of the present context.
Like the many occasions before during the day, I had half-expected her to say something of this sort; I had held a general sense of the direction from which she would release her attacks. But when she actually said it, when the name of the boy I dated for the duration of high school was uttered and when that antediluvian detail of mine bared its unexpected, fresh connection with her, a tension still raised in me so surprisingly and abruptly, stirring all the negativities I had managed to suppress thus far.
"I bet he is already married," I said harshly. I was sure she mentioned him for reasons that had something to do with marriage.
"He is not yet, actually," she said, "I found it surprising, given how handsome he is, and what a good job he holds. He works for China Investment Corporation now, you know, and he owns two condos, one in Landmark Bridge, the other overseeing Chaoyang Park."
"Then I am glad for him."
"He asked about you. I said you've found a job in San Francisco, but I didn't tell him you've bought a condo here, nor that you are dating a foreigner."
"Why not? Were you afraid of ruining any chance I might still have with him?" I let my china bowl and stainless-steel chopsticks clatter onto the table.
"No, no," she rushed to refutation, "I was just thinking that you two are practically strangers now, and there was no need to overshare things. If you choose to meet him yourself, I'll have no problem with whatever you decide to share with him."
I picked up my bowl and resumed eating. "Well, that we are practically strangers now did not stop you to meet him, though."
"I met him not because of you," now her voice vibrated with a shade of playful mirth, "I met him because his mother and I used to work together, remember? That same small publisher of economics books, before I started working for the stockbroker? I met his mother lately, before meeting him, and his mother asked me to meet him."
"She asked me to serve as a go-between," she chuckled with a hint of embarrassment, "to introduce some potential girlfriends."
I chuckled as well. "Why, it is not like you have access to a pool of candidates."
"Well, since I had my early retirement two years ago, I have been attending a calligraphy class and joining a choir. I met many people there having children of marriageable age."
"Did you introduce any to Jun?"
"I suggested quite a few names; but I haven't heard back from him."
"Quite a few names without a match? He must have high standards; or you know, he might be bisexual, or has turned gay."
"Ai-ya," it was Mum's turn to clatter her china bowl and stainless-steel chopsticks, but with amusement welling in her dimples. "Don't make up such nonsense," she said, without reproof in her voice.
"I was joking," I chuckled as well, feeling a sudden expansion of generosity. Should she had started to ask about my life, I vowed to share with more patience, more details.
But her voice changed, her profile straightened. "But I met someone who could be a match for you. Do you want to give him a chance?"
"Mum!" I shouted in incredulity, as if to cut her off from saying something that was more ludicrous, more inappropriate. "You yourself are now in the home belonging to Brandon and me, and I've told you that we are getting married?"
"—Yes, I know." The default confidence in her deflated to a point, and I could feel her effort in mustering it back, in pushing out these uneasy words: "But I still want to try again to change your mind."
"Why would I?" I said with anger blasting between the syllables, and I again pushed down my bowl onto the table.
"Ying-ying, I am not a close-minded person," now she said with a faint trace of wavering in her voice, "but have you really thought through the cultural differences between you two?"
She lowered her shoulders and pushed her body to the table, as if in a position of plea. Setting my anger aside, I waited for her to continue.
"Marriage is not love," she said with a seriousness intended as persuasion, "it is having a life together. If you want A and he wants B, you enjoy C but he prefers D, such frictions will cause you tons of trouble, and in the end, you will regret getting married with him."
In an abstract, plain kind of way her statements certainly made sense, even a 10-year-old could see the point; yet it was exactly because of those qualities, her groundless generalisation and the oblique reproof that I could not see the truth comprehensible to a 10-year-old, an intense displeasure poured over me right there, compounded by a taste of humiliation. It helped little that her obnoxious request also had ignited in me a heightened alertness, an expectation of enlightenment that one could see only with age; but my sheer disappointment in her delivery only shocked them all to the opposite direction, accelerated by the pull of the gravity of our past, our quarrels and fights flashing scene after scene.
A scene, where she smashed fine china on the floor (for what?);
Another, in which she slapped my face three times in rapid succession, for calling her disrespectful names;
And a third, where she locked me outside of her apartment, not letting me in unless I beg for her forgiveness (again, how did all that begin?).
Then these scenes dissipated as abruptly as they were summoned, leaving behind only an exasperating charge; and carried by it, "How can you make such a judgement, even without meeting Brandon?" slipped out of my mouth, as loud as blasting cannonballs.
She retreated, as shown by the reconciliation in her voice. "I know, you have left me for eight years, you have changed," she said, "but you know, fundamentally I think we never change, you are still Chinese in essence."
I knew what she meant, because I have tried. Flashbacks of my first years in America: how I invited myself to all the parties I heard of, just to practise English and to make friends; how I brushed up my knowledge of sports and politics and The Simpsons despite the lack of intrinsic interest, just for the effect of being able to converse with an insider's confidence, proclaiming implicitly that see, I was not an interloper, I was worthy of inclusion.
Although after all these years, how I still preferred spicy food and shunned cheese;
Although at this late date, how I kept organising my thoughts in Chinese primarily and firstly; how my English utterances kept emerging only as afterthoughts, mediated and derivative;
Although at long last, how I became so good at detecting the China-bashing undertone so pervasive in the news; and how I was piqued by the double-standard of a free but biased press, how I was deeply disappointed;
She was speaking a truth, then, the kind that I had meant to avoid face-to-face. But at the peak of my anger I could not afford to show such a recognition in my words. "Contrary to what you stated, I adjust pretty well," instead I claimed my half-truth as I held tight on my make-believe, "all my friends are American; Brandon is American."
"Well, perhaps I do not know — you seldom shared your life with me." She did not persist with her point and maintained her forward-leaning, low-shouldered posture, "every time we talked on the phone you were always so curt, just giving a 'yes' or a 'no' for an answer. So often I had this feeling that you had turned a stranger. You cannot blame me for getting worried."
Her plea-like tone sharpened her words into a needle pricking my anger, and there was an instant deflation effect. So readily I could recall my weekly call with her, the sense of obligation when I made the dial, the impatience that hurried me to rush to the end. I was a completely different person on my monthly call with dad, chatty and jovial and all that; and seemingly it had always been this way, ever since their divorce when I was ten.
"You always, always asked me the same questions," I said harshly but regretted the tone at once, "I always have to explain so much to you."
"Is it too much to ask to know more about your life?" Her voice was now tinged with a hurtful tone, wobbly and wavering with her inflection. "I am retired, and don't remember things as well as before. Is it too much to ask you to repeat what you had said?"
"Well, you are here now, my whole life is an open book!"
"But still you don't share it with me! I don't want to say this, but earlier today, 10 minutes on the freeway we had already exhausted all conversation topics. I could feel your resentment to my presence, as if you did not want me to be here."
"What do you expect!?" I shouted, feeling my most vicious emotion surging to the fore. "Let's face it, I don't feel close to you, and I don't what to share my life with you! And you know why?"
"Why?!" She sat back with great force, such that her chair grunted all over its joints. "Why am I such a nuisance?" She spoke with a keen provocation, no longer constrained by the plea-like tone she had previously assumed.
"Because I never felt any warmth from you!" I said with all the seriousness I could muster, emboldened by a passion I did not recall having tasted before. "I read this Harvard study explaining people's sense of happiness. They traced thousands of subjects over decades, and you know what, they found that the most important factor accounting for happiness in adulthood is one's childhood relationship with her mother! Makes so much sense, don't you think? I would never forget the time you locked me out of the front door, for hours perhaps, so that I had to beg you to let me back in, to admit that it was all my fault."
She fell back onto the table, lowering her frame. Her widened eyes looked at me in consternation, unwavering and expectant of more.
"So," I continued, "what a humiliation. I even forgot what started it; but I would never forget how I begged and begged but you still refused to open that door — and imagine what all the neighbors would think when they heard my howling; what a loss of face.
"And this was just one example out of so many. I felt no warmth and love coming from you; all you had shown me was this face, this distorted face full of anger and impatience.
"And now, magically you expect me to share my life with you?"
The corners of her mouth twitched, as her eyes turned watery. Her lips started to tremble. With surprising swiftness, all her signs of pain conjured up in me strong sensations opposite in nature to what had grasped me thus far: a keen wish to undo her unhappiness, a readiness to wash away all our past misfortune. But holding back these urges there was also a hardened determination, the command that since you've already got thus far, let's just lay clear everything.
"I have long promised myself to leave home," I said as I was carried by the second determination, "so that's what I did, left home, left China; the sooner, the better. I know things would never change with you."
My voice shook as I said these words; a loop of twitching sensation began trembling around my eyes. I bit into my lip and watched her, the way her frame shrank, the way her spirit struggled to remain importunate. And I could see this spirit in her eyes, now expanded and steely judgmental, as if what I said just confirmed her worst suspicion, but at the same time also released her from an enervating state of uncertainty.
"I have long known you kept your distance, that you did not like me much," she said, slowly as if expressing an uncomfortable truth, "I know I was ill-tempered, but I thought that with time, you could see that I acted that way because I was pushed to my limits to raise a child as a single mum, and that you would change your attitude and forgive me; but now I see it, you not only still don't like me, in fact you detest me so vehemently—"
Her voice broke, as she bent over her plates to hide her face from me, but too late as I had already caught sight of her falling tear beads. There was such a weight on me to say something, to instantly undo the pain my truth had inflicted on her; but at the same time there was also another weight of an opposite charge, one that outpowered the first and pinned down my posture so tightly. With all possible movements of affection frozen into a disheartening inaction, I had this consciousness of being thrown into a suffocating silence, with my hands tied, my feet sunken, my profile an exoskeleton of sorts.
And it was in this silence that I heard the clock announcing its tick-tocks, broken by a string of key rattling downstairs. Then, there was some fiddling of the front door lock, followed by the closing sound of the door.
"Hello, Ying-ying; hello, Ms Tan!" Now Brandon's voice rolled up the staircase, followed by his approaching footsteps. Soon afterwards his lanky presence inserted itself into our fields of view, our attentions hurrying to rebalance themselves.
Both Mum and I stood up, wiping away our tears and welcoming him. Brandon kissed me on the cheek, and walked up to Mum to shake her hand.
"Everything OK?" He looked at me and then to Mum, then back at me again, "I hope everything is alright?"
"Yes, yes," I said, wishing he would not linger on the awkwardness he must have detected.
"Yes, yes," my mother's confirmation echoed mine.
Of course he would have noticed the tears, the tense air that had been hanging; but after a pause he proceeded as if not taking heed. "Sorry Ms Tan, there was an urgent call I have to attend," he adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses and seated himself by my side, "I hope you did not wait for me." Even though an apology, he still said it with his usual joviality.
"Ah, so he speaks Chinese really well!" Mum beamed and nodded to me in approval, before she turned back to him and continued her praising, "Ying-ying has told me that you speak Chinese, but it still surprised me that you speak so well."
"Yi dian dian, yi dian dian," he said, in the characteristic affected humbleness of the Chinese, "just a little, just a little."
I went to fetch a bowl, and filled it to the brim with rice. As I put it down before Brandon together with a set of chopsticks, I caught him and Mum smiling at each other. It was the kind of smile you affect for people you know you have to get along with, with an additional effect coming from the belief that you would if you keep trying; and that if both of you work in the same direction for long enough, the "have to" part will dwindle, and the "would" part will grow.
Then at that moment I felt this onset of something, the beginning of a withdrawal. The ebb of the intensity from the fight with my mother; and the opposite ascent of a tiredness, an exhaustion even, from holding on bad blood for too long. How abrupt the epiphany was, given the explosive situation we were in just minutes earlier; but also how uplifting, how liberative. By allowing myself submitting to its force, I was able to see how fortunate it was that our truths were now laid bare, and what an opportunity the month ahead could offer, a chance to make out all the truths' grain and colours.
So I joined them, sitting between Brandon and my mother, smiling to both.
The next morning the three of us had a simple breakfast — Mum made porridge with the Szechuanese pickles she brought, paired with the yogurt, ham and berries stocked in our fridge — and after that Brandon excused himself and headed to work, promising availability for the next weekend. My mother sent him off at the door, and then returned to helping me with the dishes. The table wiped and the stove scrubbed, she brewed a pot of tea and had a cup of it. When she reemerged from her bedroom, she had already put on her windbreaker over a white turtle-neck sweater and indigo slacks.
"I am ready whenever you are," she exclaimed from the sectional sofa, referring to our plan to go to the Golden Gate Park. She said it plainly, with the default, everyday confidence one had at the beginning of the day, looking ahead to all the tasks and arrangements, all the obligations to be fulfilled.
Hearing that tone I felt a tiny sting of shame, for having been worried — even just half-heartedly — about the likelihood that she might pull back from the plan. Then there came a delight, tiny in amount also, when I pictured our stroll in the park, the new scenes to comment on, the new stories of lives to share.
"I will be ready in a minute," I said.
We did not speak much on the ride to the park, but I did not feel the silence depressive. I could not explain why, especially given how high the tension had mounted up to last night; I did not see how it could evaporate so quickly, why the grudge had been cleared so soon.
Because I have told her my truth, I decided to hold onto this explanation, I have shared my story with her.
We parked the car outside the botanical garden in the Golden Gate Park, and rambled along the main cement path. Before us, skeins of watery sunshine cast a chiffon tinge on an expanse of lawn. Backlit by the sun, all the dewdrops at the tips of the grass were exceptionally plump, collectively forming a carpet made of the whitest pearls.
"About last night," I was ready to say, "we can return to that topic."
"How beautiful," but Mum paused at the fringe of the lawn, "all the dewdrops are so plump, just like the whitest pearls."
"Yes they are, aren't they," so I said this instead. "Ordinally the fog rolls in every night, and the clouds would not clear until lunchtime. Today is really an exception, with the sun coming out so early. For you, I assume."
"Is that so," my mother chuckled without looking to me, "is that so."
We resumed rambling, without a clear destination in mind. After a left turn we found ourselves on a mulched side path, and at the end of which was this bower, a patch of tall grass with a grand piano sitting in the middle.
My mother's eyes lit up. She walked onto the grass, disregarding the dews damping her shoes. She walked straight to the piano like a toddler grasped by a sudden and complete attraction, a shiny, marvellous beetle, or a toy robot dog wagging its tail.
"Mum!" I yelped, meaning as a reminder to be careful. But she walked on as if she did not hear. She reached the piano and sat readily on the bench, taking no notice of the upholstery soaked with dew.
I tumbled across the lawn, with a few missteps into those grass-covered, mini muddy ponds. When I reached her, after bending down to wipe grimy leaves off my shoes, her fingers were already on the keys.
"Why is there a piano here?" She asked without lifting her eyes away from the blacks and the whites, "can I play?"
I recalled reading in the news that the city was hosting a month-long concert in the park, with performance venues scattered across all of its 1,000 acres; and now realisation came that this must be one of them, where a pianist would later install herself before an audience sitting on the grass, playing with the afternoon sun warming up the air, breezes rustling through the grove.
I was about to share my recollection, but her fingers had already started moving in practised flicks. She pivoted from one scale to the next and carried on with the momentum, rendering arpeggios that ascended and descended, then ascended again along a new octave. Such predictable patterns were then broken, as she started moving her hands back and forth in a more dexterous fashion, producing a tune that I instantly recognised as her favourite:
Let us sway our oars
She sang as she played, with an intensity you see in people so devoted to a task, fully absorbed, completed immersed. She soloed the whole piece and then gave me an eye, at which I inhaled and then exhaled, and plunged in and joined her —
Having completed the day's work
People were standing by us in a circle, strangers. They would not understand the Chinese lyrics nor the significance of the piece, but they stood there attentively, clapped during our miniature intermissions. I never knew Mum could play the piano, but recalling that she had been attending retiree classes I guessed this must be where she had gained her skill, how she spent all the time in hand, alone.
She was on fire, one song after another, all those 1950s and 1960s pieces that had long shed their revolutionary connotations, undimmed as mellifluous testimonies to her bygone youth. I sang along when I knew the lyrics, and played the accompaniment otherwise. When she finally stood up from the bench and walked aside, the audience clapped until we were back on the mulched path. There were even a few whistles, an exclamation of "bravo" or two.
"Wow, Mum, they gave you a standing ovation," I said, "I didn't even know you could play."
"I wanted to surprise you," she said, "my original plan was to ask you to take me to an instrument store and play there, but apparently a better opportunity just presented itself."
"And what a good job you have done," I said, "what a great job."
The clouds cleared. Walking through a shade of pines, I began to think that before she returned home, I should take her to a professional concert, in an afternoon when the sun was golden and the fields baked dry, with the company of Brandon. The three of us would sit, among the audience and on the grass, and we would clap, whistle and exclaim, "Bravo," for there were performances worth praising, just as there were moments in life worth celebrating.QLRS Vol. 19 No. 3 Jul 2020