Perceval and Karina

 oxford

I once met a man at Harvard when I was pretending to be a woman from France. He was a third generation attorney named Perceval Harkness Granger the third.  It was the actress in me, looking for something more interesting from life than the hand I’d been dealt. While he told me about himself, I got busy assembling a French accent and history to match. I was just back from France so my clothes reflected the culture.

Yes, this is my first trip to America, I told him, I’ve come to study music.

I was without shame. Unfortunately, the more we talked, the more I liked him and by the end of lunch we’d made arrangements to see each other again. Now I was really stuck. If I wanted to be with him, I needed to continue to be the person he’d met, which would be an on-going challenge.

The show-down came when he gave me a surprise birthday party, decorated his apartment like a street in Paris and invited all of his friends who spoke French.

 I wanted to make you feel at home, he told me.

 How dear. The only problem was that I didn’t speak French. I just had a great accent from spending my summer there. I walked cautiously from guest to guest, like a swimmer in shark infested waters telling them my latest lies.

I’ve promised that as long as I am in the United States that I will speak only English. That’s what I am here to learn, forgive me if I don’t join you.

It had taken everything I had to maintain my charade with Percy, but convincing a group pushed me over the edge. I decided to end the game. We’d dated for the better part of the school year, when I asked him to join me on a park bench to discuss ‘some things of common interest.’ I drank in his image for the last time. He was a handsome young man with dark wavy hair, his eyelashes, thick brush strokes executed with precision. He had opened my eyes to the world of art films, coffee houses, Harvard University and what it felt like to stand on a solid family base.

 My voice sounded flat and ordinary, as I let go of my French accent and explained what I had done. Everything felt different as I did, colors, textures, the light, the very air smelled different. When I finished, he got up and walked away, feeling angry, embarrassed, and used. That was the last I ever heard from him, except for a book he mailed to me written by Eric Fromm, called, The Art of Loving. He wanted me to read it, but the title was enough. I got the point.

Last year I decided to Google him and found he had died. Percy decided not to become a lawyer after all. He migrated to writing instead, leaving a creative legacy for television, theater and the screen. Maybe I inspired him. You think?

The Recital

stepsI entered the Longy School of Music as a singer, but could not read music. I faked it by getting classical records out of the library and learning songs by ear. I was an exceptional student until I could not locate the recording needed, then my voice teacher would shake her head in wonder at my apparent lapse of ability.

Giving a recital on an instrument was a requirement of the school, but I didn’t play one. To comply, I sat next to an overweight man who smoked cigarettes and wiped bored sweat from his brow. He tried to teach me piano and how to read music. I had only been playing for three months when the concert rolled around. The public was in attendance and so was the faculty. Grades were issued accordingly. I went to the dean.

Surely, you can’t expect me to perform on the piano when I’ve been playing such a short time. I’d only make a fool of myself.

It’s a requirement of the school, he said, there are no exceptions.

The afternoon of the recital I was escorted across a grand stage amidst enthusiastic applause to a piano fit for a master student. Positioning myself I said a silent prayer and began to play. This was a student’s time to shine, to show the community and faculty that they held professional status. Naturally no sheet music was allowed. I was sick with nerves, knowing full well that I possessed no skill whatsoever. If only I could sing for them, I thought, everything would be fine.

I played for ten measures before my memorization collapsed.  Determined not to fail, I reached into my bag and pulled out the forbidden sheet music, praying for a miracle of comprehension. I envisioned red ink marks being splashed across my report by the faculty seated in the back row, but no longer cared. This was an exercise in survival. The notes on the page ran together, while restless whispers from the audience amplified. I stopped to gather courage, took a deep breath, and straightened my posture. A vast landscape of black and white ivory lay before me. I had only to place my fingers on the right tract to make my way to safety, but I could not. I missed the mark over and over again.

Finally an authoritative voice from the back of the auditorium rose and called out to me.

Miss Banfield, may I make a suggestion?

Yes, please sir. I was in desperate need of a lifeline.

Try playing a D with the third finger of your left hand, instead of an F. I think you’ll find it gets you back on track. I changed my fingering and it momentarily eased the pain.

Dear God, can someone tell me how a gentlemen in the back row could indicate which finger was amiss, while I, giving it my full attention was completely lost?

I played on, being guided by whatever saints take mercy on inept musicians. When I finished, I closed the sheet music and returned it to the bag. I pushed back the piano bench with what dignity remained and prepared to leave. The same man stood again at the rear of the concert hall.

Miss Banfield, I have a question for you before you go.

A renewed sense of panic filled my body.

I’d like to inquire, do you enjoy playing the piano?

Shielding my eyes from the glare of the spotlight, I probed the sea of faces before me, searching unsucessfully for his.

No sir, I answered, I hate it.

He made some marks in his book and dismissed me by saying, it shows.