By Robert Elmer
Random House Robert Elmer
All right reserved. ISBN: 140007164X
Are you okay, Mrs. Horton?"
"Oh!" The question yanked Joan from her brooding daydream.
"Of course. Sure."
She almost bit her tongue at the lie. Little Anna DeBoer looked up at her sideways from her perch on the piano bench, her cute little feet not quite reaching the pedals.
"When I get that way," said Anna, eyes wide and innocent, "my mom tells me that I need more sleep and that I should get to bed."
"Smart mom you have." Joan smiled and returned her attention to the lesson. If daydreams were felonies, she would soon be under arrest. "So why don't you try the right hand through to measure six this time?"
Her youngest piano student willingly attacked the keyboard, blending sour notes with sweet. Mostly sour. This time Joan did her best to keep time as Anna struggled through "Itsy Bitsy Yellow Bug," a simple tune in Anderson's Basic Piano: Book One.
So sorry, Anna, but today your piano teacher can concentrate on only one thing at a time: you, the lesson, or the letter. Not all three at once.
Thoughts of the letter threatened to take over every minute of her time. Joan glanced furtively down at her watch and wondered how in the world her concentration had eroded so much and so quickly this afternoon.
Is this what happens to multitasking when people approach sixty? Never mind.
She would survive thislesson, the last of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day--as a well-loved children's book put it. Then she would finish heating the Cajun chicken-and-sausage casserole she'd started and enjoy a nice dinner with Gerrit. Or as nice as it could be, given the circumstances. In any case, Gerrit would probably show up at her doorstep any minute now. But no matter what, she would not let herself worry about how she would respond to the letter, the offer she received in the mail this afternoon. Not now; not today.
"We're getting it right, aren't we?" Anna had no idea how close her teacher was to screaming.
"Almost." Joan couldn't help wincing at the C-natural that should have been a C-sharp.
"Stop?" asked Anna.
While stopping would have been wonderful, Joan shook her head.
"No, no," she told her student. "Keep going, please."
As Anna continued, Joan battled her own poor attitude. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, she prayed. Anna, for her part, still couldn't seem to get the rhythm down. She sniffed and looked around, mightily distracted herself. Joan wondered for a moment if they shouldn't just end the lesson a few merciful minutes early after all and call it a day. Enough damage had already been done.
"Do you smell something burning, Mrs. Horton?"
Joan turned the page and paused. Anna's mother charged through the front door just then, punctual as usual. Instead of her usual polite smile, though, Mrs. DeBoer wore a panicked expression as she dashed in and grabbed her daughter.
"Where's the fire?" cried Mrs. DeBoer.
"Oh no! " Joan leaped to her feet at the sound of the smoke alarm, nearly knocking Anna down. The music book flew off its perch. "My dinner!"
Joan was too busy rushing into her smoke-filled kitchen to answer Mrs. DeBoer's questions. All she could think to do was open the oven to find out what was going on, which turned out to be Mistake Number One.
A cloud of thick black smoke poured from the oven, hitting Joan in the face.
"Call 911!" shrieked Anna, but her mother held her back.
Smart mom, Joan thought. "No!" Joan said, coughing. She could handle this...maybe. She tried to wave a towel at the disaster, which only splattered smoking Cajun sauce all over the hot oven, making matters
worse. She should have closed the oven and shut off the gas, but that would have been a level-headed response, and at the moment, there were no level heads in Joan Horton's kitchen. Besides, it was too late now. Where was a man when you needed him?
Baking soda! Long ago some home-economics teacher had once told her that baking soda would put out a fire like this. Joan covered her mouth and nose with the towel while she tried to remember where the baking soda was. Meanwhile, the smoke alarm kept up its insistent skreeeeing, and little Anna added to the noise level any way she could with unintelligible shouts and yelps. Her mother wasn't much better, skipping at the edge of the linoleum and waving a music book in the air in a feeble attempt to circulate the smoke away from the alarm's sensor. By this time they had succeeded in attracting the attention of the Van Dalen Fire Department. No doubt Mrs. DeLeeuw next door had called in the alarm. She'd never missed a thing before, especially not after Gerrit had started visiting Joan on occasions other than his own piano lessons and those of his granddaughter, Mallory. Sure enough, even above the smoke alarm, Joan could now hear Van Dalen's finest hurrying up Delft Street in her direction, coming to the rescue of the poor widow from New York who still didn't know how to cook anything that wasn't store boughten. Oh yes, Joan thought, she was sure to make the front page of the next Van Dalen Sentinel.
"Burned-Out Music Teacher Torches House with Scorched Dinner."
Excerpted from The Recital by Robert Elmer Excerpted by permission.
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