Welcome! This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, a mental break during these tough times.
This month, I’m switching things up a bit in honor of Short Story Month. Each post, over the next week or so, features an installment of my short story “Let Me Take Your Hands,” originally published in The Woven Tale Press as a prizewinner in WTP’s 2017 literary competition. Find the first installment here and follow the story forward up to the current post.
This is a favorite story of mine. Each installment is be paired with a piece of piano music I’ve recorded.
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“Let Me Take Your Hands” part 5
Antonio had never worked with clay until he came to Telluride. Back then, barely more than a boy, he had been running from his own memories. The riots in Mexico City. The police firing on the crowd. The screams he heard in his nightmares. And he had been running, too, from the constant ache within his own body, the piece that had been ripped away when he lost his home. He had been trying to forget his mountains, the great Pico de Orizaba with its craggy white summit, the giant in whose shadow he had grown up, always promising himself that one day he would make it to the top and breathe the crystal-fragile air up there. He had landed in Telluride when his money ran out. At least there were mountains here, though they were not the same. Nothing could be. He had known he would never see his home again.
He had gotten a job as an old viuda’s shop-cleaner and errand boy. The widow, part Mexican, part Navajo, had sold crafts to the tourists, mostly quilts and silver and turquoise jewelry, but she made some pottery of her own. Without much knowledge, Antonio had still been able to see she wasn’t very good at it. One day, as he was sweeping the floor in her shop, he had glanced up to find her examining his hands on the broom, moving her eyes up to his back and shoulders. “Ven aquí,” she had said, pointing to her workroom. Come here. That afternoon, he had first sat at a wheel.
He’d had no skill. Even so, that first time, he had felt thoughts and memories and nightmares running out of his fingers and into the wet clay. “Para la arcilla, se necesita fuerza,” the old woman had told him. Working the clay needed the right kind of strength. She didn’t have it, but she told Antonio he did. “Te lo muestro.” I will teach you.
Now, in spite of himself, Antonio lost track of time. The bowl took shape under his hands, growing slowly and smoothly off the spinning wheel. In this work, you never knew what something was going to be until you finished it. Each piece had its own life.
A scraping noise against the floor made him look around. Tess had maneuvered one of the glaze buckets over beside his stool. She sat down on it, leaning forward to watch the spinning clay, so near Antonio that a strand of her hair brushed his shoulder.
Never, that he could remember, had she willingly gotten so close to anyone but her mother. He felt her nearness like the hot kiln, warning him to back away before someone got hurt. But when he glanced at her face, ready to look away in an instant if his eyes upset her, he saw she had attuned her whole self to the clay between his hands.
Without a word to her, he kept working. Her presence stayed there, as warm as a banked fire. The bowl rose off the wheel, the clay smooth between Antonio’s fingers. The slurry stained his hands gray. The bowl itself was slick and shining. Carefully, he applied light pressure at the right point, while the wheel spun, to make the bowl’s lip flare out. Then he re-compressed the lip between his thumb and forefinger, running the thumb of his other hand along its edge.
He was sorry to let the wheel stop spinning. The bowl sat there, as well-shaped as a flower. Tess was still watching him. In her face, Antonio saw her question as clearly as if she had said it aloud: Now what?
As he got his wire tool and slid it carefully along the wheel, cutting the bowl free, he found himself explaining his work to her, as if she had been the student he never had. He showed her the drying board and told her how the bowl would sit there for a few days, until it was as hard as leather. He pantomimed putting it back on the wheel, upside-down, and showed her the shaving tool that would trim the base, cutting away the extra clay and giving the foot its shape. Why he told her all this, he didn’t know. He had no idea whether she understood, but her eyes followed him as he moved around the room, pointing at tools, picking up a piece of once-fired greenware to show her how the bowl would look after one round in the kiln.
He had started to tell her about glazing when she stood up abruptly and went over to his block of fresh clay, on the worktable next to the wheel. She put her hand on the plastic that covered it and looked at him with another question in her face.
Certainty bloomed in Antonio’s mind. “Lo quieres probar?” he asked. Do you want to try it?
~story continues in the next blogpost~
Musical pairing: J. S. Bach, Prelude in C sharp Major, WTC II
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