It was a rather peaceful Sunday afternoon when Manerva finally did what she wanted to. The sun was shining with a rather warmish glow that somehow only she could feel. The other members of the family, and even hr friends, were dining in the Main House with Papa. It was his birthday, and Thanksgiving. Both on the same day. And she was always his favorite girl.
No, not in the ways that the other girls never talked about with their mouths, but always with their eyes, but in the ways that really mattered, as Manerva was special. She learned to read a year earlier than all of her brothers and sisters, and learned to write very soon afterwards. The kind of books that she would never be able to read, according to Papa.
He looked happy, and sad, at the head of the table, his big eyes, bushy beard and bald head, the hair along the side of his head worn like it was still on top. He looked old, and young, both at the same instant, so it seemed to Manerva. So, why was she not in the house, by his side, and why was she about to break his heart, as she looked at the gazebo, and heard the man speak to her with the wood in his hand and catgut mangled around his fingers?
“It’s just a violin,” the musician who was looked on as a beggar and trespasser said as he kept playing. The same melody, in different ways each time, becoming Manerva to do the unthinkable.
“I can’t”, she protested as her feet started to carry her to the platform, the stage forbidden to the star scholar of the family who was destined and trained to become a lawyer, maybe a judge or perhaps even a President, the first of her generation of American born children to do so.
But the musician kept playing, and she felt the music, its core. “I can’t” she said as she noticed even the roaches in the Old Man’s beard moving legs to the beat, swaying to its breath. “I am a lawyer and you, Sir, are a trespasser not worthy of notice, Sir.!”
“If I am a trespasser not worthy of notice, then why do you look at me?” he said. “And why do you call me Sir?” he muttered with laughter, merging that expression of his pain and pleasure into the songs that sounded so strange, and familiar.
“I can’t!” she protested again as her feet became possessed with a new kind of person, a new kind of Presence, something that Papa would frown on, and Mother certainly forbade. “They have made all these sacrifices! How can I become or even think about becoming a—a—“
“—Dancer?” the magician with the violin said, playing on. “You feel it in your belly, it’s gone to your feet, and if you don’t do something with that spark, it will reach up your spinal cord and fry your brain, to little bitty—.”
“Ahhhh!” she screamed, knowing that the Old Man’s visit, and dare was overdue. She felt the tune, tempo and timing even more now, vibrating on the souls of her feet, which she now found shoeless, then inside her belly, which was neither full nor empty. Then a pounding in her chest. “No!!!!” she shouted to the man who she had seen in her dreams, and nightmares, for three years. Maybe more. He had visited her in that dark and dreary place when she was wearing the robes of the Court, passing laws that governed countries whose names she could hardly pronounce, and barely knew where they were. He had warned her that she would die a death of uneventful happiness if he didn’t heed his words, and his case, delivered with music rather than words. He told her that God who she served, or wanted to serve, lay beyond the Divinity her parents told her about. He told her that unless she flew, everything on the ground would burn in a fire of ice worse than the flames of hell. He had shown her how to fly in her dreams, but not how to make her dreams come true.
From inside the house came a dinner bell. “I have to go,” she said. “Really.’
“I will go,” the Old and Young Mentor said. “If you tell me to in a language I understand.”
“Go!!! G.O…N O W!” she screamed as she commanded the diverter or perhaps demon away, so she could grow up to be a good girl, a great lawyer, an exemplary Christian. “Go…n o —“
“Sing it,” he lilted with the music. “Then I will go. Sing to me that I should leave you, and let you connect to the Mentor who will make you an adult worthy of your Papa’s greatest dreams and Mother’s sacrifices she has made for your school fees and books, and I will go forever…”
“What?” she protested, waving to Mother inside, becoming her in for the surprise desert, a birthday cake for her father and the country he and she had adopted as their own. “You want me to…”
“Sing, yes. Like a bird.”
“A crow with a goiter stuck in a throat,” the Mad Musician sang, and danced with sour notes that made Manerva’s ears ring with pain. The only break from the pain was the knock on the window, Mother’s stern look, and Papa’s loneliness at having everyone around him but the woman he loved most, a pain he dared not share with anyone except Manerva.
“They’ll ask you to sing happy birthday in there,” she felt the Mad Hobo saying to her as his stench got stronger, the sweat smelling more like blood from his rancid clothes and breath that stank of something strong, and volatile, though not alcohol, rum or tobacco. “Sing about crows with goiters in throats and I’ll be on my way,” he said again. “Me and my dancing roaches.” He stroked his beard, some of the six legged comrades who had been sharing his soup for the last ten days jumping at Manerva’s feet, nearly catching onto her new ‘big girl’ nylon stockings.
“A crow had a goiter in the throat, it made the bird sing very loud, and made his heart bear very fast, and..” she sang, elaborating on the effects of a high level of thyroid hormone on the avian or human body, and then stopped in mid verse as she went through three of the seven major body systems. “What are they doing?” she screeched, peering down below her waist in terror.
“Dancing!” the Musician smiled, with a grin he hadn’t expressed or felt for years. “Your feet are dancing.”
“So they are! So they…” Manerva’s mind raced through the motions and barriers. First terror at the strange sensation of feeling Life before understanding it. Then, fear of being found out by Mother, who admonished her every time the ‘genius’ of the family acted like a little girl. Then horror, that God would discover that she was indulging in an emotion forbidden to geniuses and Christians—irreverent laughter and gleeful non-vigilance. Then enlightenment upon finding that God, the Reality behind the Alters, was sharing the joke with her. Then, shame…as Papa would see her, and his dreams of having the first Lithuanian American Supreme Count Judge shattered because the door to something else was opened. Then—his eyes staring at her.
Manerva stopped in mid pirouette, or was it a twirl? She wasn’t sure, the dance defining itself. Laying on her was the stare of the man who sacrificed everything for her. The one who would say when she did something dumb, stupid or selfish… “I send you to the finest schools, and this is what I get.” The man who gave up his own dreams of being something he never told her about to operate a restaurant seven days a week, and enjoy the fruits of his labors on Thanksgiving, Easter and Graduation days. The man who was….now smiling, tapping his foot, and clapping with joy, yelling ‘Encore! Bravo!’
Manerva saw Mother in another window, preparing the birthday cake, but even her stern ‘no’ face broke out in a smile.
Confused, Manerva looked to the Bum with the violin and pet roaches. “What happened?” she asked the person who sometimes was real, often imagined, seen only by her eyes on so many occasions.
“You all grew up,” he smiled at Manerva, winking at her father who asked him to come into the house. Mother seemed to not see him, but that didn’t matter so much. Papa was entitled to his imaginary friends and Visions. As, so it seemed, was Manerva.
The Musician kissed Manerva on the cheek as Papa came out to greet them both. He gave her his violin, then walked away. Upon arrival at the Gazebo, Papa asked. “Where did you get that?”
“A friend,” she said.
“Yes, I know…now” he said. Touched by his daughters courage, and patience with him, and love for him he took the violin in hand and played tune, sweeter and kinder and even more musical than the Bum who was constantly thrown off he grounds played. He invited Manerva to join him on the Gazebo, and while he played music no one knew was in his fingers or heart, Manerva danced a step her feet knew and felt in a way she accepted, but didn’t question. Not anymore.
Manerva did catch a glance at the house during the Birthday Dance that Thanksgiving when she and her father were born. Mother seemed disturbed by it all, the rest of the family puzzled. “It will be their birthday soon,” the Bum said as he peered through the bushes. “God can’t be cruel enough to not allow it to be so,” he affirmed his multi-legged roach friends as he danced off to his next destination. Or so Manerva seemed to see, and hear, with eyes and ears she, and her father had just opened for each other.