Silas is a mix of snot and fumbled fingers. His wad of toilet paper in his front pocket is at the ready for when frustration signals his nose to run. Or for when his brain says, “enough,” and I’ve asked him to try one more time. He can catch the tears there, too.
I’m in my usual seat, to his left, sharing the piano bench that is big enough for his whole bottom and most of mine. For fifteen minutes I coax him to read yesterday’s notes, last year’s notes, today’s new notes. Only he doesn’t remember what they look like. I point at each note with my finger, moving it up and down like an elevator as the notes raise and lower, but his fingers still guess at what he thinks I want him to play. This key? No, this key? The notes are black ink on a white page—a tangle of same-looking squiggles.
I count one-two-three, one-two-three over and over again and ask Silas to move his lips with mine. He tells me that it’s easier for him if he doesn’t count. I insist. And we start the measure over. Then we start it again. And then again.
We are three years in. His pressing the keys on the piano with stiff, flat fingers. His lips quivering as he guesses at the notes on the page like a blind man. His shoulders slumping in personal defeat.
But eventually Silas’s ear learns the notes. His eyes memorize his hand positions and his fingers play the songs in rhythm from beginning to end. He does not look at his music, does not, cannot read the notes. Cannot identify middle C on the treble clef where it has sat for centuries and where it will sit tomorrow. But he is making music.
Alone at the piano, Silas’s fingers curve around chords. He pounds the keys rhythmically, fluidly, even, his full nine-song repertoire spilling out of his fingertips without pause. His head and upper body sway like a virtuoso and his face and eyes shine.
His simple songs reverberate within me, too. I anticipate the next piece as the one before it finishes. I chop and dice onions to the beat. I know where he has skipped a note or when he’s added a measure that wasn’t there. I holler unheeded help from the kitchen.
At his recital, we watch as Silas scoots to the edge of the piano bench. We wait as he finds the keys where his fingers should start. And then we listen, giddy in the moment, as he plays every practiced note as if it cost him nothing.
My mother-in-law leans in, her jaw half-way down. “I can’t believe how well he played,” she whispers. Her surprise is genuine.
I nod. Nod and smile and clap, proud of my boy.
Proud of us.