by Collette Treewater
“Make yourself comfortable Deliliah, and don’t talk to me until 6:00,” my mom says as she drops the keys in my hand. She obviously doesn’t want to deal with the store or me. I beg to differ. My Grandfather died last month and the music store is left in my name. He and my mom never had the best relationship, so he always told me he would leave it to me to make sure it didn’t turn into an accountant firm or something useless like that.
“Okay whatever,” I reply with a snark in my voice. She will come back later to finish the paperwork with me, but goes on some errands first. She leaves me at the shop to look around and start the clean up job of the century.
All my life I have never been enough. The fact that all I wanted to do since I was eight was take over the store was unthinkable to my mother. She wants me to become a lawyer or doctor, you know nothing remotely interesting. I don’t wish her a good day as she stomps off down the sidewalk. She has to finish looking through everything he left behind, but all I care about is the store.
The key is rusty. I’m lucky if it even works, but with a little elbow grease I open the door. Dust coats the furniture and the string instruments like a blanket. Even though it's been closed for a while, I have so many loving memories here. I would walk down after school and a warm welcome would always await. My grandpa loved me more than life itself. I felt pressure from others to become someone meaningful, but he knew I already was. Warm cookies would, without fail, be waiting for me on the counter as I walked up to the second story for my daily flute lesson.
I stand at the base of the stairs, gloves in hand. Where do I even start? I’ve had big dreams for this place for a long time but there seems to be a never ending list of things to fix that just keeps growing faster than I can catch up with it. I look at the green velvet stairs that bring back memories of my daily flute lessons. As I walk up the stairs, the dust cloud behind me flumes out like a rocket. The creaking is something out of a movie. At the top of the stairs is a hallway going into the lesson rooms. When I was six my Grandpa let me name them after my stuffed animals- Poppy, Randal, Bubba, and doggo. I thought I was so cool when I came up with those names. Oh, what a long time ago that was.
When you took lessons at the music shop there were a few rules. Number one: don’t take the instruments of their hooks until your teacher gets there. Number two: no crying; there shall be no crying in the world of music. Number three: enjoy yourself and play only if you actually want to… we lost a lot of customers with that rule. And number four: don’t play the flute in the storage room.
Rule number four always perplexed me. I went into the storage room one time to get some new sheet music and all the flutes looked spotless. They were the most beautiful instruments I had ever seen. Why do I have to play my old, used, cheap flute when there are some that are just hanging there on the highest natch just begging to be played? Grandpa would never tell me.
I walk back down the stairs to the main floor part of the store. I brought some gloves with me and went to work. My first task of the day was to take all the instruments off the walls. I had scheduled a general contractor to come in three days and he said he needed to see the room with a “clean view” whatever that means. I start with the guitars. The Reverends have always been my favorite—more unique than the Fenders—and a great sound.
I strum the guitars as I take them off the wall. Every single one is out of tune and I start to tear up. My Grandpa would never let an instrument get out of tune on his watch. It reminds me of the good ole’ days, and how much has changed. I try to remember what he used to be. I never met grandma. She died before I was born. No one really talks about her, but I am sure she was a lucky woman. She is up in heaven with father. He died when I was two. That’s the same year grandpa opened up the shop- in my dad’s honor. I always thought it was the nicest thing. It has always been grandpa, mom, and me. Tuning all the guitars myself would take hours. I don’t have perfect pitch like he did. I’ll get to it eventually. Maybe someday I will be as incredible as he was.
I set the instruments in boxes that I stack along the wall. I brought twelve large and ten small boxes with me, but that didn't end up being enough. That really pisses me off. I swear my simple calculations are correct. Three guitars per large box, and two per small box. I only have five left to pack, which is so annoying. I could go to the store but that is a mile walk, and I wouldn’t consider myself the active type. Then the most brilliant idea popped into my head. I bet there are boxes in the storage room! Please, let there be boxes.
I walk back up the stairs to the end of the hall and open the door. It’s very heavy, I remember my constant struggle to open it as a kid, but I’m grown up now so it’s not too bad. I’m a big girl if you know what I mean. As I walk into the storage room the overwhelming stench of old wood, and dust hits me like a breaking wave. I walk in and a sparkle catches my eye. It’s the flute. The forbidden one, from rule four. I was never able to touch it before, but there is no one here to tell me no. I’m an adult…definitely a responsible adult. I remember my original goal of finding boxes so I postpone playing the flute and walk around. There is a lot of junk sitting in the storage room. Everything from sheet music, to strings, keys, broken mouth pieces, drum sticks, and more. It’s not what I’m looking for. A strike out on the boxes, but there is the flute.
It’s begging me to play. I pull it off the hook and grab a mouth piece that is sitting beside it. Not the most sanitary environment; who cares. I attach the piece to the flute and start to play. I haven't picked up a high quality flute in a minute so it takes me a little while to gain my fingering. The sound is so whole and the notes are the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. Even though Grandpa is gone, I still feel rebellious about playing it. I am breaking rule number 4 after all. No one can tell me no. I’ve waited my entire life to not be told no.
It would be unethical not to play my Grandpa’s favorite song. It is his flute after all. He always loved the song “Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers. He loved the message of loving your family and living life to the fullest. I play the first verse and my fingers seem to have a mind of their own. The chorus is thrilling to play and makes me feel oddly connected to Grandpa, and my dad. The instrument plays incredibly smooth. The notes flow out like a waterfall of sound. It is all incredible until I get to the second verse. My fingers start to hurt a bit; I haven’t played in a while. I remember how much my fingers always hurt when I played everyday. When I was young I would have indents of small circles on my fingers because of pressing hard on the crisp metal air holes of the flute.
I try to continue and play the song but I am forced to stop. I breathe into the mouthpiece but no air comes out. I stop my fingers and release the mouthpiece. I begin to breathe heavily and gasp for air. I never remember being so out of breath when I used to play. I guess that was a few years ago.
I’m puzzled. My body feels heavy, and my fingers are cramped. I guess this is a sign that I should stop fooling around and get back to cleaning. As I put the flute back on the untouched silver stand I catch a glimpse of myself in the floor length mirror at the end of the hall. I scream.
I’m… I’m old! I must have aged a whole twenty years. My fingers are wrinkled, my hair has streaks of gray, my muscles ache. Oh my goodness what the hell! How, how, how, how did this happen? It's impossible. I walked in this building two hours ago as a young adult and now I look like I can be my own grandmother! This is a prank, right? Someone has pulled a practical joke. It’s impossible! I pick up the flute from the floor and reconnect the mouth piece that fell off when I dropped it. I play a scale and I feel my fingers start to tighten. The wrinkles already engraved in my fingers deepen as I play and my joints become more sore. I stop playing and the sensation stops. It must be the flute.
In what world does a flute make you age? It makes no sense and total sense at the exact same time. Grandpa would never let people play it because he knew. He… he knew. But how? The only way he could have known what it does is if he witnessed it himself. If people found out about the flute they would destroy it. No one can know. What do I do now? If I tell anyone they would report me. I don't have friends; I only had Grandpa. I have no choice but to call mom. She’ll understand…I think.
My hands tremble as I pick up the phone. The wrinkles in my hands seem to cut into my skin. My fingers ache and my eyes blur. I look like I’m sixty... or older. I text her that she needs to come and that I need help. She texts back that she’ll stop by on my way to the grocery store in 5 minutes. I stand in front of the mirror in horror until she arrives. I can’t stand looking at myself, and start to sob. My life is ruined. My dreams- gone. I will only live another twenty years. I was twenty-four - just starting my life, not ending it.
My mom knocks on the door and I pull myself together. I take a deep breath and walk down the green velvet steps. I open the door and rush to her without showing my face.
“What is going on,” she asks. Her voice is stern and impatient. “I have places to be, Delilah. I don’t have a minute to look after you or this dump. I thought we were clear, you deal with it; I signed it off to you.”
“I know. I’m, I’m sorry,” I reply. My voice trembles as I bury my hands in my jacket so she can not see them.
“Why are you not looking at me? What is going on?” She asks. I can tell she wants nothing to do with this.
“Okay, just don’t freak out,” I say. I know she is going to freak out. What am I even doing? Why did I call her? Oh my god I’m so stupid!
“What! You have five seconds to have an adult conversation with me or I’m leaving. That starts with looking me in the eye, Deliliah.” She rolls her eyes and starts to walk out then I turn around. She looks at my face and body- frozen. She screams. “You played the flute. Oh my God. Just like your father. ”.
I look at her wide eyes. I don’t respond. What does she mean? My father? I don’t understand. Dad’s dead. She looks back at me and utters, “or should I say your Grandpa.”