I felt I’d just been bested at a game I didn’t know had started, with rules I’d never learned. I replayed the conversation as I made my way back up the dark hallway and out the front door, thankful to be alone. I hesitated on the sidewalk, then decided to head back the way I’d come that afternoon, hoping I’d find a closer bus stop along the walk. This edgy neighbourhood didn’t invite a nighttime stroll. I felt nervous. I heard footsteps behind me, faster than I liked. I sped my pace and so did they. Suddenly, Trix knocked my heart into my throat by loping up beside me.
“Hey, Mouse, what did you think?” she asked, like she hadn’t just given me a heart attack. I didn’t respond right away.
“What, you don’t like me calling you Mouse?” she asked, direct. “What would you have your nickname be?”
“I don’t want a nickname.”
She stopped, so I stopped out of politeness. She took my shoulders in her big hands, turned me to her, and bent down fast, bringing us face-to-face. I got lost in the large pupils of her dark eyes, a little mesmerized. I couldn’t look away. She spoke low, her voice deep and barely above a coaxing whisper,
“Tell me your secret name.”
“Sun,” I answered immediately. I didn’t know why. Our eyes held contact as she laughed a slow, deep, good-natured chuckle. She took my chin between her fingers and thumb as her mouth softened into a sisterly smile.
“Yes, little one, you might be giant in there somewhere.” She turned my face to the left, regarding my scar. “How to let it out without the burn, hmm?”
I moved away. We resumed our walk.
“Why Mouse?” I asked, already feeling resigned to the inevitability.
“Small as a…cute as a…” she laughed, reaching over to tickle my tummy like a toddler. I giggled in surprise. Then pouted.
“More like, quiet as a…or mousey…”
She snorted, amused.
“I don’t think anyone would take it that way…well, maybe as an irony. No one could describe you as mousey, Christine. You’re quite lovely.” She turned and swept her hand under my cheek so I looked up at her. I thought for a second she would kiss me, but her expression stayed quizzical, curious.
“Surely you know that you’re beautiful?” she asked.
I couldn’t keep looking at her disappointment in my lack of self-admiration. I shrugged away and we walked quietly for a minute. In truth, I was feeling a little resentful at her intruding so far into my own space. Not just the constant touching. I bristled at her presumption, to just call out things that I didn’t even talk about to myself, like she knew them already. Who was she to expect me to share these things openly? Why should she make it her business to know where I fell short on my personal development path? I felt afraid of looking foolish to her, but also defensive of my right to be just as I was – the combination made me petulant.
“Well, I know you think I’m hot. What was that the other night? I don’t even know you, and you’re coming on to me in front of my boyfriend?”
“That?” She seemed both amused and a little annoyed, almost mocking by elongating my that. “That’s just who I need to be at a nightclub, and you got my attention, little girl. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I just am who I need to be for that. It’s a trick you could learn, you know. You might be happier. Anyway, Chris is a big boy, he can handle it. And surely it didn’t hurt your pride, either?”
I found myself smiling at her shyly. I didn’t like to admit how much I enjoyed being the object of an interesting person’s attention – being singled out, held in a special position, given shows of preference.
“So you’ll play, for sure, on Friday? Right?” her sincerity felt disarming.
“I don’t know the music.”
“Songs’r all here.”
She tossed me a memory stick from her jacket pocket, as if that solved the problem.
“How can I practice? I don’t have a guitar.”
“A true musician needs no instrument to practice. Listen. Contemplate. Ready yourself.”
“What are you, Yoda?”
She laughed, a genuine peel of enjoyment.
“Use my Gibson when you’re here until you have your own. At home, try my way. Listen to the music. Imagine yourself in it. Your body can follow that with what you’ve taught her so well.”
“You’re too tall to be Yoda.”
“So you will come? I need to know today.”
Something in her earnest plea made me want to come through for her.
“Okay, I’ll come.”
She rewarded me with a huge smile – I thought her eyes would bug out of her face, she seemed so happy.
“Good. Practice every day at 1pm. Don’t be late.” Her giddiness infested what she meant to be a bossy tone. She hadn’t been as sure of me as she seemed. But I had to disappoint her.
“Every day? All afternoon? Trix, I can’t. I have to look for a job.”
“What? Getting your ass pinched waiting tables at the Hard Rock Café?”
“Yes, or something. In the short term. Then maybe I can look around for…I don’t know. Movie background music? Ads? Maybe teach?”
She looked incredulous.
“And that is the extent of your aspirations?”
I felt irritated. Where did she get off? It should have been clear to me far sooner that the heights of excellence were not for me. I had skills – technically exceptional – but I always missed the solo opportunities, got passed over for lead, got left out of the band. When the budgets tightened at the University, it was me who got cut. I saw myself as one of those Olympic skaters who come in 32nd. They are far more talented than your average figure skater, among best in their country, but they will never rank.
“Who am I to have aspirations? A steady income will do,” I answered sullenly.
Trix had heard me play all of one time. Of course I played well. People are always impressed at the beginning. But over time, they notice that something small is missing. If I knew what it was, I would have changed it, but I couldn’t figure it out. For years I practiced and practiced, thinking I just needed to get better. I had only recently accepted the truth – in fact, during that last fight with Ethan. Because he was right for once, damn him.
Trix stopped again. I felt tense about missing the bus, so this time I kept going, She skipped sideways along the sidewalk ahead of me, surprisingly light and quick like a daddy-longlegs spider, cutting me off so I bumped into her. I lost my balance, landing on my bum like a two-year-old. We both found this incredibly funny, especially as the bus roared by and eased my tension, since I had obviously already missed it, nothing to be done. We laughed together as she helped me to my feet.
Trix kept my hand, and swung our arms leisurely as we walked the remaining block to the bus stop. I felt calmer once I could stop and look around.
“Okay, look,” Trix said, turning me toward her. She held my arms on both sides, just below the shoulder, firm in a yielding way. Normally I would feel pinned, but instead I felt secure for the first time in a long time. I was still marvelling over this and almost missed what she said next.
“It’s hard to get beyond ourselves, beyond where we’ve been and what we think is wrong with us, to imagine what’s possible. I know you’re still behind that wall, but you mustn’t give up. I can see your potential.”
Did she say what I thought she said? Did she just name my deepest, darkest secret fear and I missed the metaphor? Relief pored through me. She knew I was flawed. She believed in me anyway. But wait a second. Being who she needs to be? In one session,Trix had seen my weakness and my strength. Was she going for the easy win, playing on my fear, feeding me hope? Why? She watched my face with what looked like real concern.
“Christine?” she started, gently, carefully. “This is no big deal for you. One night on a stage for a big crowd! To feel that way is rare. Why wouldn’t you crave that ? I don’t understand your hesitation.” She did appear genuinely puzzled.
“I said I’ll come,” I replied irritably. She sighed, and leaned forward to press her forehead against mine. We looked into each others’ too-close, bleary eyes.
“Don’t let me down” she whispered.
It seemed minutes passed. Finally, she raised her head and looked around.
“Mouse, why are we standing at a bus stop?”
“So I can catch a bus home?”
She laughed. “I’ll take you home, come on!”