Of course, when the night of the recital came, there was no thought of him actually attending–at least, not for his parents.
For the last six weeks whenever his scheduled session with his instructor had come near, he had buckled over with sharp, piercing pain in his abdomen. The first night they’d been sympathetic. It had been so sudden that they had had no time to call off the lesson. They politely met his tutor–a matronly crone with an unmoving face and a sterling reputation on the Upper East Side–at the door with her requisite fee in hand and a mouthful of apologies. “Too ill to practice?” she had said dubiously, but they assured her that they would make sure he did practice on his own as soon as he was better.
But the second time this occurred, they forced him to endure the lesson anyway, with disastrous results. “Now, Michael,” they said–and actually failed to finish the sentence. They simply set up his sheets on the piano and poured his tutor the glass of water with no ice that she always expected waiting for her.
Michael marched up to the ivories with a grimace and sat down for his lesson. They left the room, convinced they’d done the right thing.
Fifteen minutes later, however, the tutor summoned them. With the same didactic tone they heard echo through the hall while she instructed the boy, she told them to tuck him into bed and to monitor his temperature carefully and not to let him drink for at least an hour and which name-brand soda to give him when he finally was ready. Then she left, the lesson incomplete. To her credit, she did not insist on payment that time. She did though say, “Not to force the boy to endure something like this again.”
So when the next week came and Michael once again complained about his stomach, they placed a hasty phone call to the tutor and, with quick glances at one another, said they would take him to the doctor and let her know when he could resume his lessons.
The doctor, though, seemed unnecessary. By the morning, he was spritely and game for adventures in the tiny garden behind their brownstone or a romp over to the park. They thought they had his number pretty squarely down at this point and decided that, admitting defeat, they might as well just pay out the rest of the contract with the tutor and not renew for the next year. The piano, after all, had been mostly a decorative item before they’d thought to have him instructed on it; it could be simply that again.
But on the night of the big recital, Michael dressed himself and came downstair two hours before, nervously flexing his fingers and bobbing his head to an inaudible melody.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s the recital.”
“But Michael, you haven’t practiced in weeks. You’re not ready for the recital?”
“You didn’t tell Mrs. Gerbacher to take me off the program, did you?”
“No, but we…”
So they dressed and caught a cab to the recital hall.
And he played beautifully, growing greener with every strike of the keys, and just before the end of the second movement, he vomited upstage and finished the piece with an orange smudge on his shoulder.