My child played a borrowed flute for four years. Not the daughter with the ear for music, but the daughter with the workman’s determination. She practiced. Lord, she practiced. She see-sawed second and third chair, triumph and defeat, depending on the character of the challenge piece. In her black skirt and white blouse, sensible heels — hair up, assembling her instrument in the school gym — I never loved her more.
The borrowed flute was repossessed in an instant: “Alex starts flute tomorrow, we need it back.” I’d have taken it to be refurbished, after four years, but there wasn’t time. “Just wipe it off,” I told my daughter. She’d been waffling over band, anyway, terrified of the marching requirement, horrified by pants with stripes. And then we found her school didn’t offer it; she’d have had to walk to the larger high school. She shut that door quietly, firmly. Stubborn.
It bothered me for a long time that she didn’t have a flute, not even a flute to gather dust in the closet — no flute to take out years later and polish again with her shoe-cloth. Four years is a long time for a teenager to care about something.
“I can do two hundred dollars,” I said. “You can have a new, cheap flute, or a secondhand, better one. You choose.” She wanted the better flute — the child who wouldn’t go in a thrift store, wouldn’t wear hand-me-downs. The child who hadn’t played in two years. She never asked for the flute. I wanted her to have it.
We went to the music store one town south — not the one with the punk kid guitarists, but the one with the painted steel drums and the Burl Ives guy behind the register. She went shy, wouldn’t say a thing.
“I want a flute for my kid: secondhand, student model, under two hundred. Can we do it?”
He took us up a set of narrow stairs, up to dusty stacked boxes, new and rental and used. There were four flutes he felt were worth trying. He stacked them for her, handed her the first case.
She played one note; a D, I think. One note, one D, not sustained. And set the flute down.
“Do you want to look at another one?” She nodded.
Another short D.
Burl Ives chuckled. “Is there any other note you like, or is that just your favorite?” I felt her face flash heat, as much as saw it, and I knew she wouldn’t say another word, nor play any other note than the one she’d chosen. I reached for another of the cases and handed it to her.
Another D. She put it back without a word. Another flute. Another D.
“It’s the second one, isn’t it?” I’d seen it in her face. She nodded. “Want to try it again?” She shook her head. “Are you sure?” She just looked at me. I bought the flute.
She held it in her lap on the way home, not speaking until we got in the house.
Then: “I couldn’t remember how to play.”
And took the flute into her room, got out her music stand, and began again.