Practice
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Collage"
Originally featured on 02-02-2010
As part of our series "Senses of Togetherness"

“Every good thing takes time,” grandma echoed like an ancient, and I felt like slapping her in the face with my twelve year old hand. Grandma smiled at me and patted me on the shoulder. I then forgot how to keep time. The music I made on the keyboard was not pretty, despite this being year six of piano lessons, and I wanted her to say it. I wanted her to say that I had no talent and for her to tell me to move on.

We stand babies up at nine months old and will them to walk. Drag them. Pull them up. Encourage them and say, “come here” and the baby falls and sometimes hurts itself and we pull it up again. And years later it’s good at walking, but sometimes stumbles, hits walls, and we still pull it back up. Sometimes it breaks its leg and we give it crutches. Push it forward. Time moves it too.

My mother told me at puberty, that things would get easier. I would look better, taller, more even one day, and that I’d learn to handle myself and I wanted to spit in her face for her insistence on patience, her need to tell me it would be ok, while I wallowed in my acne and thin, long bones, for years. One day I grew a woman’s face and it was free of acne, but the eyebrows didn’t match and I felt it.

There was a day when a boy kissed me and it was wrong, something like a rock in a throat, not like they’d told me it would be, and it did not get better, not the first, second, or eighth time and I had to walk away from that one and when I kissed a man, and it was not perfect, I wanted to quit because it didn’t get better then either and I had to try again, slowly learning, pain in the interim. Then I married and somedays it’s fine and other days I forget how to be good at this and he hates me for it.

I will work at a job for thirty years, and somehow forget how and the thirty-first year I will fail and lose it. And they will tell me it will get better and that I have to keep trying. And I will pull my fifty year old body out of bed and make the arthritis run on the treadmill. Dye the grey hair and learn how to make a better resume.

I held my grandmother’s ancient hand after her second stroke. She asked me to play for her and I did, a lumpy sonata and I leaned into it, trying. I came back to hold her hand and I said it then, “It will get better, you have to keep trying.” and she lifted up her hand and told me that it wouldn’t and I loved her for that. I wanted to hold her despair in my young body, hold it too, crawling into bed beside her because I was tired. I wanted to feed it back to her, letting things rest, giving up the fight and the ghost.

Read More By Alice Clark

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