The light tap on the thick front door caused Ethel’s old heart to leap as if she was a teenager again. For the most part she was excited. She could feel it in the way her withered chest heaved with flustered breaths. A gloomier part loathed the sound. It meant she would have to rise from the plush living room chair. The reward would be worth the creak in her limbs and grinding pain of each joint. She heaved herself up to her fuzzy skippered feet. The hem of her dark blue dress swayed at her ankles as she traded the book she had been wallowing in for the dark brown cane resting at an angle while keeping her company. She shuffled forward, trying not to put too much weight on her feet or the cane. If only she could just float over the thick carpet on little wings or a tiny cloud. But each footstep followed the next and she tried not to hear the stiffness that rattled her bones.
She caught her breath at the door and worked the blood and lubricants in her hand. Her patience at her own body lasted only so long. With fingers warmed just enough, she turned the lock and her knobby hand reached for the knob.
The laughter that met her from behind the opening door soothed every ache. Like the sun on an icy road, the weight of her body’s toils melted away.
“Hi Auntie Ethel!” Ivy’s young voice filled the quiet house and she stepped quickly inside in order to wrap Ethel’s bent legs in a hug. Ethel’s wrinkled eyes looked out to the doorstop where Emma was smiling at the scene.
“I’ll be back in an hour you two.” Ivy’s mother shouldered her purse and started back down the walkway where the car and an assortment of errands waited.
Ethel didn’t bother to watch her go. She was too busy looking down at the youthful face smiling up at her. Ivy had had her long black hair cut since last month. It bounced at her shoulders now. The straight bangs across her smooth forehead made her look older and more sophisticated. But the excitement in her blue eyes and the eager spread of her lips were still childish. That youth seemed to waft off of the young girl in her plaid school uniform. It seeped into Ethel’s hand that landed on her shoulder.
They turned as they always did. Both knew where they were going. Like with the cane, Ethel tried not to put too much weight on Ivy’s small body but the girl knew her too well. Her thin arm wrapped around Ethel’s plump waist and she offered what support she could to the older woman. The girl kept her steps short too even though Ethel could feel them wanting to dash forward towards their destination. She hated being the one to slow them down but they would get there in just a few more strides.
They passed the cluttered living room with its cooling chair and turned down the hallway strewn with photographs that charted family history in sepia and bright colors. Another turn had them into the music room.
Once they crossed the threshold, Ivy couldn’t wait any longer. Her hand slipped from around Ethel’s waist and she hurried forward. The first stop was the bench which she lifted up carefully. There had been too many times when eager hands had been clipped by the fall of the heavy cover. Ethel watched on as Ivy kept one hand on the lid while the other sifted through the piles of sheet music.
“How about this one?” Ivy held up a red and green covered booklet of holiday songs. It didn’t matter that it was already spring.
“Looks fine to me.”
With a bounce that swayed her new bangs, Ivy stepped back from the bench, closed it carefully and then moved to the piano. Ethel made the last few steps over to the bench and plopped herself down. Ivy was already pressing the pages flat and resting them in the stand. She squirreled down next to Ethel and then her small hands lifted the lid that hid the black and white keys. The mahogany slipped soundlessly into its resting place. The ebony and ivory glittered in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the valenced window.
Ivy rubbed her hands together as her eyes narrowed at the title and first few notes. Ethel waited with new found patience. She had already taught her little niece all that she had known about playing. The girl would begin when she was ready. Ethel’s eyes closed as she waited. A lean smile came to her narrowed lips as the first tentative tones filled the air.