Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Reading. MacLachlan.

I probably still read The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt about once a year, even though it is a children's book and I first read it when I was ten. Now I am more than fifteen years older than the eleven-year-old Minna, who "eases into love as she eases into a Bach cello suite, slowly and carefully, frowning all the while." (What does an eleven-year-old know about love? What did I understand when I was eleven that I have since forgotten?). It is one of those books that is so burnt into my memory that I know it by heart; its words and nuances are part of my brain, my vocabulary, my thoughts, like A Room With A View or The Master and Margarita, as important a part of me as any of those books I have loved all my life. Now I am older I read it and think of my own eleventh year, my own childhood practicing the piano and falling in love, but I also look at Minna's mother and wonder, will I have a daughter someday, a daughter I know as well as Mrs. Pratt knows her typewriter with a crooked r as well as she knows Minna, as well as my own mother knows me?

When I see the reflection of my own face in a window, pale face against the dark glass, I think of the first page of this novel, which introduces us to Minna, wearing only one sock and her mother's jean jacket, on the way to her cello lesson. Whenever I am in the car, driving past shops and houses and tree-fringed parks, and I see myself reflected, here and there against the window I think of Minna, with "two dark eyes in a face as pale as a winter dawn." When I hear the words "The opera's not over until the fat lady sings," I think of Minna's brother McGrew, and his friend Emily Parmalee, with her feathered earrings and baseball cleats and the note they slip in Minna's hand, to be read by her and Lucas before they go onstage for a competition for young musicians, how they walk onstage smiling, instruments on hand.

What has stayed with me most, though, is a whispered conversation between Minna and Lucas, as they are waiting in the wings for their moment onstage at the competition, thunder and lightning and rain crashing outside. It comes back to me again and again, as I wonder why I have recently come back to the piano after a distance of some ten years, why I find myself slipping back on that familiar old bench, the keys strange and awkward under my fingers, the notes mysterious and incomprehensible. I cannot remember the sharps and flats and what key I am playing in. But I think of Minna saying to Lucas, "Why are we doing this?," and his response, simply, "Because we love it." ("Have we always known that?," she whispers in reply). And I remember that all those years ago I played Bach, (practicing reluctantly, and as little as I could get away with), simply because I loved it, and I have always known that. And it is time to return.

MacLachlan, Patricia. The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. Harper Trophy, 1990. pp 11, 1, 129, 128.

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