Playing By Ear

Playing By Ear
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After my 90-year-old mother’s right hearing aid falls out and disappears, an otolaryngologist implants an electromagnetic hearing device inside her right middle ear. This implant uses the most advanced technology and at first, it really seems to help. Mother’s home health aide Gloria is pleased since, unlike a conventional hearing aid, the implant can’t fall out and be lost and I, who pay the bills, am pleased because I won’t have to replace it.

Soon Mother starts insisting that a tiny fairy lodges there in her middle ear, alongside the implant, whispering to her in schoolgirl French. “The fairy’s name is Nanette,” says Mother. “She knows things.”

When I was in middle school, Madame Clio gave each student in French class a French name. Mine was Nanette — a stupid name I often didn’t respond to. That was 40 years ago. Now I worry about Mother, suspecting this could be the beginning of dementia. But except for this Nanette business, she’s lucid.

Then Mother begins to comment on things I don’t tell her. Does Gloria see me around the neighborhood and know? That I took early retirement. That I’m not looking for work. “What about BNP Paribas?” Mother asks. “You could apply there. They’re hiring tellers.”

I don’t respond. I won’t work in a bank again. I’m studying piano in the Juilliard evening division. During the day I frequent a practice room, not a job.

“Nanette says you want the Steinway when I die,” Mother says. “Not happening. You’ll inherit equally. You and Charles can sell the piano and partager the proceeds.”

Charles lives in Paris and is completely unmusical – like Mother. Mother inherited the piano (now sadly out of tune) from grandpere, who played by ear. I can’t play by ear, though I tried. When I started lessons at 10, Mother lamented I didn’t inherit this gift and needed to study a piece to play it.

Yesterday, while Mother and Gloria were in the bathroom, I spied Mother’s old hearing aid, the one she lost, stuck between the seat and metal frame of her wheelchair. Mother’s implant has a 90-day return policy. We could get it removed, and get our money back.

Yet Nanette knows I dream of living with Bach and Mozart, not Mother; dream of Debussy commanding me, instead of maman.

Nanette knows me as Mother never has.

I can’t let her go.

 

Nancy Ludmerer

My short stories and flash fiction appear in Best Small Fictions 2016 (a flash fiction originally published in River Styx), Kenyon Review, Green Mountains Review, North American Review, Litro, Cimarron Review, Sou'wester, and other fine journals and anthologies published in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Argentina as well as the U.S. I live in New York City with my husband Malcolm and our cat Sandy, a rescue from Superstorm Sandy.

My short stories and flash fiction appear in Best Small Fictions 2016 (a flash fiction originally published in River Styx), Kenyon Review, Green Mountains Review, North American Review, Litro, Cimarron Review, Sou'wester, and other fine journals and anthologies published in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Argentina as well as the U.S. I live in New York City with my husband Malcolm and our cat Sandy, a rescue from Superstorm Sandy.

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