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K C DEVEREAUX tells the story of
the second best piano student in the class


In eighth grade I was assigned Chopin's Waltz in B minor as a recital piece. There was a middle part my teacher told me I didn't have to learn. I knew I wasn't the best piano student Mr Assarian had. That would be my classmate, Camilla Capelli. She always played last in the recital; I played second to last. From third to eighth grade it had been this way: no younger prodigy supplanted Camilla or me in the recital lineup, not that a prodigy would have taken piano lessons at Christ the King School in the first place, even to skip out of Arithmetic once a week. George Assarian was also the choir director and organist for Christ the King parish. His feet and hands tangled up, resulting in what Dad called clunkers during Mass, although they sounded more like groaners. He was a patient piano teacher but sometimes, during my lesson I'd hear him sigh. I'd look out the giant window on the cinder-strewn playground while his pencil scratched. When I got home, an F natural I kept missing would have a checkmark and an 'N B' Nota Bene. A spidery deadline date appeared above the next piece I was to learn.

This year, 1961, Camilla's virtuoso piece was the Chopin Waltz in C Sharp minor. Being last in the recital wasn't really an advantage. After sitting through thirty students in ascending degrees of competency, the audience of parents were exhausted from too many halting renditions of Für Elise or The Spinning Song by Ellmenreich, and from empathizing with the kids who froze at the keyboard, then walked off. Who cared if the last performer was closest to actually good? People only came to recitals to hear their own kids.

Waiting their turn, kids paced the corridor outside the school gym, chewing their lips. An hour and a half into what my parents called 'the ordeal' there would be an intermission during which Dad came out to smoke and to give me a phenobarbital.

Our dialogue was always the same.
'I'm going home.'
'You can't let old George down.'
'He doesn't care.'
Unfolding three fingers on which rested a little white pill, about the size of a St Joseph children's aspirin only not orange-flavored.
'Will it make me sick?'
The only thing I feared more than piano recitals was throwing up in public.
'No, it will quiet your nerves.'
'What if I fall asleep?'
'It's a low dosage. Just enough to kill all the butterflies in your stomach.'

I'd take the tiny pill and wash it down with water from the drinking fountain so he'd go back to Mom and leave me alone. It made me a little dizzy, thinking about a bellyfull of dead butterflies. I couldn't stand butterflies, moths or any floppy insect.

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Copyright © 9 April 2008 K C Devereaux, Michigan USA


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