So now I kneel down before my mother and breathe deeply and say, “Mom?”
And I wait there on my knees for a long while, and change my position to a squat, hoping that eventually, she will come up with something to say, because she did so that last time.
And I wish that in her heart, she is as exhilarated as I am at this moment, because that can easily explain why she is sitting there, speechless.
“Mom?” I whisper. “It’s me, Ben.”
I never prayed before, so now—while trying to balance the combined weight of my body and of the album—I am looking for words, the right words to call on Luck, or Fate, whatever: Please, give me a sign. If my mother can catch sight of me, if only she can laugh, I think all will be well.
“Here I am, mom,” I press on.
What was I thinking, I ask myself. Of course it will take some time before she turns to look at me, before she smiles, even, and takes me into her arms, to make me feel warm again. Years, years have passed since mom heard my voice. To her this moment feels, perhaps, as if it came from another lifetime. Still, I must trust that she will, somehow, find a way to forgive me, forgive my long absence; which is not an easy thing to do, for a woman as proud as she is—I mean, as she used to be.
“I am back,” I tell her. “Mom, look at me.”
The young staff member cuts in, calling me from across the room. “You better sit,” she says. “You better get comfortable.”
“Thank you, I will,” I say, and adjust the album, which is covered right here, under my waterproof jacket, and secured in place by both arms.
“And” she adds, “if you need anything, my name is Martha.” Then her eyes turn away as if to say, Whatever it is, I have seen it all.
I watch her picking up some wet tissues from the floor, and stuffing them into the bulging garbage bag. Only now does it hit me: The smell, the pungent smell of chlorine bleach from the nearby toilet, and of stale water from the vase, and of withered flowers from the belly of the bag, and most of all, of soiled diapers.
“Here,” says Martha, dragging a chair towards me, “grab this one.”
So I make an effort, an uneasy effort to get comfortable, by flopping myself into the seat, and unzipping my jacket, and taking out the photo album, and then putting it in my lap, closed.
I bend over to my mother, saying, “Look here, I brought you something.”
There is no way to tell if she has heard me. Her gaze is fixed, as steadily as before, on the same small pane of glass, through which the sun is blazing; which makes it hard to figure out what she sees out there.
I push forward, aiming to view it, somehow, from her angle, which at first, is too hard to imagine:
In my mind I try, I see a map, the entire map of her travels around the world. A whole history. It has been folded over and again, collapsed like a thin tissue, into a square; which is suspended there—right in front of her—a tiny, obscure dot on that window.
And inside that dot, the path of her journey crisscrosses itself in intricate patterns, stacked in so many papery layers. And the names of the places, in which she performed back then, in the past—London, Paris, Jerusalem, San Petersburg, New York, Tokyo—have become scrambled, illegible even, because by now, she can no longer look past that thing, that dot. She cannot see out of herself.
She is, I suppose, confined.
Ben in The White Piano
★ Love reading? Treat yourself to a family saga ★
The complete series:
Volume I & II, woven together:
Few authors would be able to pull off the manner in which the apparent polar opposites of Ben and Anita begin to bond... but Poznansky has the visual and verbal and architectural skills to create this maze and guide us through it.
~Grady Harp, HALL OF FAME reviewer