One of them, a decrepit, toothless hag cruises up to the front in her wheelchair to get a better look at the piano. Frail, much like a wooden puppet, she drags her bony, crooked body over to the bench, slides open the cover, and bangs at the keys.
The melody is familiar, but played haltingly, and with an awkward touch, which makes me wish mom would stand up, walk over there right now and show them, show all of them just how it is done, and what fine music ought to sound like, performed with inspired virtuosity by the hand of a renowned pianist, trained from early in life in a variety of memorization techniques.
But no: there she sits, her long fingers idle, her eyes nearly shut, as if trying to block out all distractions, perhaps to divine a particular sequence of music, or to recall the fierce, blind stare emanating from an imaginary bust, the bust of Beethoven, or else just to drift off.
The other seniors gather around the toothless amateur, and they start shaking their wrinkled fingers in the air, in pantomime of her gestures, and humming, La-la, la-la-la! La-la, la-la-la! One of them is so swept by the rhythm, as to warble in a thin, cracked voice, somewhat out of tune,
Bei mir bist du shein,
Bei mir host du chein,
Bei mir bist du alles oif di velt.
For some reason the singing grates, quite harshly, on my nerves. I am surprised to find myself so upset. For a time I do not even realize I have water in my eyes. The entire space starts swimming in front of me, and I am glad that my father does not seem to notice it, or else he may think I am weeping.
Weeping—can you imagine that?—out of some weakness or something.
The reason I am so lucky as to be ignored is that his face hangs there, away from me, over his chest, and is held in that position, nearly masked by the palms of his hands. I get the feeling that under that cover, his mind has been carried away elsewhere. Perhaps he is thinking about the first time he saw mom.
From reading his stories I know it happened quite by chance, when he accompanied a friend to some concert, and sat there, raising his eyes from the second row, and there she was, up on stage, aglow in a sphere of light.
His heart started fluttering inside. It pounded so hard that he thought he would pass out, which was fine by him, because he considered himself, at that moment, kissed by luck.
One could not wish any better than to die a happy man.
In his eyes, she was the most beautiful girl in the world—not only because of the hazy glare of the spotlight, through which he saw her rosy blush, the long, slender arms, and the glitzy black dress, but because of the heavenly, harmonious music, which she made reverberate in the air, all around her.
To me you are beautiful,
To me you have grace,
To me you are everything in the world.
For the longest time, my old man sits there, utterly motionless, in the midst of bells being shaken and bongos being beaten by unsteady hands. Only the top of his head, gripped tightly in his fingers, is visible to me between this sagged shoulder and that, in the back of the crowd.
And it is not until the end of the song—when everyone sitting in the divide between him and me has joined in an intoxicated, disorderly chorus, singing loudly, I've tried to explain, bei mir bist du schoen—that the next line makes his hands fall, suddenly, into his lap.
I've tried to explain, bei mir bist du schoen,
So kiss me, and say that you will understand.
It is at that phrase, and say that you will understand, that I see him wincing. Having sensed, somehow, the weight of my gaze, his jaw clenches. My father turns his head abruptly, to pull himself back from view—but not before I realize, to my complete shock, that he is awash in tears.
There are claps and numerous shouts—Bravo, bravo!—and after a while, as if guided away by an invisible hand, they scatter around. The show is over.