Read Part 1 here.
The sound of the doorbell jolted me back to my senses. With a glance at the clock on the wall, I knew it must be my final student. She was right on time. I walked over to the door and opened it. A young girl about ten years old stood huddled in the entry, with her piano bag hanging from her shoulder.
“Hello, Alyson! How are you?” I said, looking down with a smile at my student. She smiled back up at me with glowing eyes.
“Hello, Ms. Stephanie! I’m good, thanks,” she replied. The cold winter wind shot through the entryway and sent her golden brown hair flying.
“Brrr! Quickly, come in out of the cold!”
I took her coat and hung it by the door while she went to set up her books on the piano.
“My mom told me to tell you that she has to run to the store real quick, but she’ll be back in time to pick me up after my lesson,” Alyson explained as I joined her by the piano.
“That’s quite fine,” I said, taking my seat. “Shall we get started then?”
She played her warm-ups to the steady click of the metronome, and I took pride in the visible improvement of her technique. After that, we began to work on her assigned songs. Everything was going smoothly, until she reached the end of her last piece.
“That was excellent note reading, and the dynamics sounded great!” I praised her. “Well done. And your counting is almost there. We just need to fix the last measure. You skipped this poor quarter rest right here on beat three.”
“Mm-hmm. You went straight from the note on beat two to the note on beat four.”
“Oh. I must’ve not noticed the rest.”
“Yes, that’s the trouble with rests,” I said with a little grin. “They get ignored by us far more often than the notes do. But rests are just as important as the notes, so we mustn’t leave them out just because they’re silent.”
Alyson pondered this as she stared up at the page of music.
“Songs are kind of like schools, aren’t they?” she decided finally. “The notes are the popular kids, and the rests are the unpopular kids, because no one wants to pay attention to them.”
I had never thought of it this way before, but had to admit it made sense.
“Well then,” I replied, “you can be the nice person who does pay attention to the unpopular kids, because they need friends, too.”
She giggled at my silliness, but nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah!”
Together, we practiced the last measure a few times until I was confident she could play it correctly on her own. Then I checked the clock again and saw it was time to wrap things up.
“Okay. Let’s stop here for today. I want you to practice this song one more week, paying special attention to your counts. Do you think you can fix that by your next lesson?”
“Yes, of course!” Alyson answered confidently.
“Good! I think so too.”
Alyson closed her books and packed them back into her bag, then we chatted while we waited for her mother to arrive.
“Is that a music box?” Alyson asked suddenly, pointing to it.
“Yes, it is,” I said with some surprise. She had never asked about the box before, and I thought it interesting that she should notice it tonight, after I had just been thinking about it.
“It’s so pretty! Can I see inside?”
I picked up the box and handed it to Alyson, who held it gently in her hands as if it were made of glass. With bated breath, she opened the lid.
“Ooh, a unicorn!” she whispered.
We watched the figurine bob its head up and down in time to the tinkling music. I admit I had not opened the box again since I brought it home, so that was really the first time I heard the song completely. It was an unearthly waltz, one which gave me the chills, but it also had a mysterious calming quality to it. The longer it played, the more I could feel myself relaxing.
“That’s a nice song. What is it?” Alyson asked drowsily, her head sliding further down the hand that supported it.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, unable to take my eyes off the box. “I never heard it before.”
Alyson set the open box on top of the piano and watched the dancing unicorn for several minutes. I think I was watching it too, although I can’t be certain. It is hard to remember exactly how it happened.
I only know that it did happen. One moment, I was sitting there beside my piano listening to the music. The next, my head suddenly fell forward as if I had fallen asleep and I jerked back up.
Everything was dark. So dark, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. What happened? I thought to myself. Did I fall asleep? I don’t remember Alyson leaving. What time is it?
“Ms. Stephanie?” a timid voice whispered beside me.
“Alyson, is that you?”
“Yes! What happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“I can’t see anything.”
“Are we still in your house?”
I saw no reason why we shouldn’t be. Just to be sure, I reached out a hand towards the piano, which should have been right in front of me, but it was gone.
“I—I don’t know,” I said again, trying to sound calmer than I felt. “I don’t know where we are.”
“Look, over there!” Alyson exclaimed.
I felt a twinge of irritation at first. Everything was completely dark. How did she expect me to see where she was pointing? But then I saw it too: a faint point of white light that was glowing just ahead. It seemed to be off in the distance, but it was hard to tell.
“Let’s go see what it is!” Alyson cried, taking off suddenly. Her footsteps grew fainter as she walked away.
“Wait!” I called out, trying (unsuccessfully) not to panic. “Wait, Alyson! We don’t know what it is. Be careful!”
With my arms stretched out in front of me, I walked cautiously towards the light. But there was nothing in the way, and the ground was quite even. It was like a large, empty room. This did nothing to calm my fears, however.
“Alyson?” I whispered.
There was no answer.
I tried again, only louder. “Alyson?”
My voice shook like a scared little child, and seemed to fall straight to my feet instead of projecting forward.
“Over here!” I heard Alyson answer in the distance. Relieved, I quickened my pace.
“Look,” she said happily as if nothing about the situation was unusual, “it’s a window!”
To be continued…
A special thanks to my student Alyson, who inspired the beginning of this story with her interesting conversation on rests. 🙂