Drawing by Judith Wolfe
Lois J. Peterson
BUT WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT MUSIC
I used to like listening to the oldies on Dell's favourite station. I Heard it Through the Grapevine. Kathy's Clown. I'd listen while I was doing dishes, making supper. Sometimes while he was in the other room with the TV. They reminded me of the old days, of the Mecca where we used to go on Friday nights, before we were married, before the kids. Before there was just Dell and me and not much else between us except what had slipped by without noticing.
- Tuesday nights I went to Yoga with Michelle from across the street. Saturday afternoons Dell went to the harness racing in Cloverdale. On Fridays we ate out at the White Spot and always ordered the same thing. And in between was just work and the house and the long days of rain, waiting for the kids to call, for something to change.
- Then I found out about Glenn Gould.
- Sometimes I think I can still hear his uneven hum below the sound of the fridge or the washing machine, or the cars passing on the street outside. I stand in the kitchen and try to let everything else go. I listen for Gelnn Gould's voice, and sometimes I hear it, and it reminds me of the music.
- I never knew anything about Bach or Beethoven before, about concertos and fugues, oboes or cellos. Then one day I was fiddling with the dial, trying to make the news come in clearer. A woman was talking about someone who was almost as famous for his humming as his piano playing, and she said you could hear it on his recordings. So I stood with my hands in warm water while Glenn Gould played something called the Goldberg Variations. I could hear him humming, as if it was the sound of his own self and there was no way of separating one from the other.
- They told me at Sam the Record Man at the mall that I'd have to go downtown to a classical music store to find Glenn Gould's CDs. So I lost interest for a while. Figured I didn't want to involve myself with the kind of music you'd only understand if you'd been to university, or at least a better school that I went to. Then a few weeks later I picked up People at the checkout, and as I was leafing through it, waiting for my groceries to get rung through, I found a picture of Glenn Gould and an article on a movie about him.
- He didn't look like I'd expected, although I wouldn't of known what a pianist looked like. All bundled up as if was expecting cold weather, he was wearing a long, tweedy coat, a bunch of scarves twisted around his head so you could hardly see his face. Like someone in hiding.
- I started tuning the radio to CBC sometimes, hoping to hear Glenn Gould playing again.
- I couldn't tell Dell that I was suddenly interested in classical music. He likes his routines. Leaves the radio tuned to CKVU, gets all his music that way, and news. Often he talks back to the talk shows, getting so worked up I stay out of his way until the program's over.
- On my trips to the library after I'd been to Superstore each week, instead of just heading for the paperbacks I looked through the music section, running along the rows of books, saying the names of the musicians over and over again to myself. Haydn. Vivaldi. Beethoven. Looking for something about Glenn Gould but not finding it.
- And I listened to CBC most nights in the half-hour I had before Dell came home from work, while I was setting up supper. Hoping to hear the announcer say his name again on the radio.
- That's when Dell started to notice I was a bit distracted, I guess. He's not a bad man, but when he's mean I know to watch out. He's been better since the kids grew up and left home. Work's been steady, and my job helps, and when he gets home the house is not all upside down. He still likes his supper on time, gets antsy if I read too much. Wants me to sit with him even if I don't want to watch what he's got on. Just needing me near.
- Soon I was telling him to go into the living room after supper; I'd bring him in coffee when it was ready. And while it brewed I'd turn on the music program that comes on after the news. I didn't often get to hear Glenn Gould, but I listened to whatever music was playing and it started getting easier to like, as if my ear started to recognize Bach. Beethoven and Strauss.
- I took too long one night and suddenly knew, even without turning around, that Dell was there in the doorway.
- "What is this shit?"
- "What shit?"
- I should have known better. He was around that table and in my face before I could even move.
- "That. Piano. Fucking violins. Thought you were done in here?"
- "I am. It's just finished dripping."
- I poured his coffee. Put in cream and sugar. I handed it to Dell, but as soon as he saw it coming he turned his back and I had to follow him into the living room, give it to him when he was sitting down.
- "And turn off that garbage," he yelled after me as I went back to the kitchen. "Roseanne is just starting. You don't want to miss that."
- I wouldn't have minded. But I turned off the radio. I swabbed the counters. Then I went into to sit with Dell.
Next time I was in the library, the woman behind the Information Desk stopped me as I passed. "A video came in today about Glenn Gould. I thought of you." She passed a video to me. Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, it was called.
- I took it home and put it in the bottom of the laundry hamper, and next Saturday afternoon while Dell was at the races, I put it on. It wasn't my kind of film, really. Kind of choppy. But Glenn Gould was playing, hunched over his piano on a little stool, that scarf still around his neck. I listened close and could hear him humming under the piece of music that I'd heard before.
- "I'll be right out." I switched off the radio, quick.
- "What the hell is this?" Dell was in the doorway, holding out the tape.
- "Thanks. I've got to take it back."
- "You get this from Rogers? It don't look like no Rogers' video"
- "The library has videos. You should come sometimes. Maybe there's something there you'd like, Dell."
- "What the hell is this? Never even heard of this guy."
- "He's a musician. A pianist. He was a genius, they say."
- "So what the hell would you know about him, then?"
- When Shelley called a couple of weeks later, I asked her if she'd heard of that film.
- "Sure, Ma. It's won some kind of award." Shelley's the one knows everything there is to know about movies. Always smart, my Shell. My favorite, too, though I wouldn't let on to Jason in a million years. Being a boy, Jason should have been closer to Dell if he'd been the kind of Dad to be close to his kids.
- "How'd you know about it?" Shelley asked.
- "I got it from the library? I've been listening to Glenn Gould."
- "Who's he, then?"
- "Was. Kind of a loner, and a genius. A pianist."
- "Didn't know you were interested in music, Ma."
I didn't ask what she thought I might be interested in. Making three meals and day and clearing away and planning for the next one? Interested in laundry and cleaning and ferrying kids to games and making sure they had what they needed for school?
Ironing shirts that would just get dirty again?
- "I'm not really. Just caught my attention, Shelley," I told her.
I should have known. It was bound to happen.
- "For Christsakes!" Dell yelled one afternoon when he turned on the radio to find out who had won the game. Something stringy was playing. Could have been Vivaldi. But what do I know about music.
- Dell swung his arm back. When he smacked the shelf the radio crashed across the counter and onto the floor. I stood back and watched as the back popped off, the batteries sprung out.
- He kicked the radio. Then slammed out of the room. The door caught me across the cheek as it swung back.
- I stood against the table and held my face. I tried to breathe deep a couple of times, like I'd learned at Yoga. I listened hard for music. Or humming. But all I could hear was the blood behind my ears.
- In the living room Dell was shoving furniture around. He turned when I came in "I am so sick of hearing that goddam stuff every time I turn around. You doing this to get at me?"
- I could feel my cheek pounding against my hand. "I thought I'd try something new. I like listening to classical music. " It hurt almost too much to speak. "It's real pretty some of it, Dell."
- His jaw was twitching. His face was getting red like it does when he's almost out of control. I backed away a step or two, but not far enough.
- "Dammit. What the hell's wrong with the stuff I listen to?" He was yelling now, banging his fists against his legs with every word "What's wrong with what you're used to listening to. The oldies. We both like the oldies. Who the fuck do you think you are, lady la di da, listening to violins and stuff. Makes me want to puke."
- He went on for a bit, but I had stopped lsitening. I was listening for Glenn Gould, for his humming, imaging him hiding out behind his scarf, wrapped tight around his face. Dell's voice went on and on, then slowed, then got quiet and stopped. Just like I'd heard music do.
- I waited for just a moment, then I said "I'm going to clean up in there." Dell was breathing heavy, looking around like he needed a way out.
- I had made it easy for him. Like always.
- He brought a new radio home next day. His way of saying sorry, but too late again.
- It's tuned to the oldies now. I only listen to it when he's home.
- The bruise on my face is gone; it's as if I'm the only one who ever knew it was there.
- At night we watch the same old shows together, and sometimes, if they're not reruns, we talk about this season's programs, whether they're better than last.
- I miss the music.
- I try to remember some of what I heard, sounds I'd just started to recognize. But music's funny. It melts away, and there's no way to get your memory around it when it's gone.
- I still listen for Glenn Gould humming. Sometimes I think I hear him.
- But I know it's only in my head.