You know what else was kind of terrifying? I don’t know if it was Flip or marijuana that brought it out, but Claire had a charming side I had never seen before. As usual with me when I smoked, I got quiet. (I mean quieter than usual.) But Claire came to life.
Flip had brought both a bong and a vaporizer, but we ended up opting for the bong. I was surprised Claire knew how to use one, but I guess I shouldn’t have. It just had never occurred to me that my mother had actually done drugs before. There certainly hadn’t been any evidence of it while I was a kid. Maybe it was from before she had us. I didn’t think it was the sort of thing an evangelical preacher would condone. Then again, what did I know?
Also, Silas showed up just in time to get high with us. I sat there in the living room of the bungalow being silent, while Claire drew the other two into a far-ranging conversation that somehow kept leading back to her being able to tell some stories about growing up in New York City in the 1950s.
I had never heard any of these stories before. Not a one. There was one about a nutty neighbor who kept a macaque in his apartment and which one day made it into my mother’s family’s apartment via the fire escape. Silas apparently thought a macaque was a kind of bird, but no, it’s a monkey. He was probably thinking of a macaw. Not the same.
She also told a story about the time she studied with a strict but eccentric vocal coach. “He was trying to teach me to keep my tongue cupped to open the back of my throat when singing certain vowels, and I think he had seen My Fair Lady because he hit upon the idea to have me put a marble in my mouth. With predictable results.”
“Predictable?” Flip’s eyes were hidden behind his sunglasses but he sounded wide-eyed, if you know what I mean. “Did you do what Eliza Doolittle did?”
“Who? Did what?” Silas asked.
“The gal in My Fair Lady,” Flip explained. “She’s got this heavy low class accent and this snooty professor teaches her how to speak like a high class lady. That’s what the show’s about.”
“Ohhhh, got it. But then what happened?”
“I swallowed the marble, of course,” Claire said with a prim smile. “He was lucky I didn’t choke on it!”
I finally motivated my mouth to say something. “But did it work?”
“Did what work, dear?”
“Did your singing do what he wanted it to? Did the exercise do what was intended?”
“Oh, I suppose. I think I sang just fine, actually, but he had to justify the fee he was receiving somehow.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t, just then, remember how much Ziggy and I paid Priss to work with her. “I have an eccentric vocal coach, too.”
“Oh?” Claire twisted her hand toward me palm up, which I gathered was my cue to tell them about Priss.
“She’s German, but she’s been in the States so long that she loves baseball. And then she tries to use baseball analogies with all her musician students who don’t know anything about it.” Now, that wasn’t that funny a story, but when you’re all high as kites, even things that aren’t particularly funny can make you crack up. “Ziggy and I both go to her. I’m, um, I’m supposed to be doing vocal exercises every day while I’m away. But I, um, haven’t been.” Guilt curdled in my core.
“Oh? And why haven’t you?” she asked innocently.
“Um, no piano,” I blurted, although that wasn’t really it. Not really.
“Oh, hey, I’ve got an electric one in the trailer,” Flip said. “I should show it to you.”
“Um, sure,” I said, but none of us were ready to move yet, so the conversation moved on.
But a while later, after Claire was sleeping and Silas had gone back to his dog, Flip went and got the keyboard and set it up on the coffee table. I stared at it for a bit without touching it. Then I thanked him for setting it up but I feigned fatigue and went to bed myself.
Maybe it wasn’t feigned. I conked out fairly fast. But when I woke up again the next day, there it was, the white and black keys facing me like a too-wide, too-eager smile.
(Comment challenge update! In light of the web server being offline on Tuesday, I’m extending the comment challenge through Tuesday February 5th! 50 top-level comments will get you a chapter post the following Saturday! Only the top level comments count, not the replies, so we’re still pretty far from where we need to be! -ctan)