In the Garden of Persephone (part 3)

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Xan and Hannah bond in the band room

The door to the band room was deceptively flimsy. The room itself was enormous with a high ceiling and an open locker room for uniforms and instruments. There were chairs placed in concert formation as if waiting for an audience to watch. Still carrying her euphonium, Hannah walked around the circumference of the room looking at photographs of the band that crowded some of the walls whilst shelves for trophies and medals crowded others. There more photographs of cheerleaders and dancing troops and in nearly every one of them, there was the smiling face of the band director, so indisputably proud of his band that Hannah could not help but smile herself. She was so busy admiring the paraphernalia that she did not notice that Xan was standing next to her so close that her chin nearly touched Hannah’s shoulder.

“That’s me!” said Xan. Her arm shot past Hannah’s shoulder, surprising Hannah so badly that she farted loudly.

For a few seconds, Hannah was too mortified to speak. She would be forever grateful that Xan had pretended not to notice.

The two girls quietly vacated the area leaving a small group of woodwinds who were quietly chatting several feet away to be overcome by the smell of Hannah’s large intestines a few minutes later. Xan did not even break into a smile as they heard them blaming each other for the obnoxious odour. Hannah and Xan stood shoulder and turned simultaneously to express the disapproval for such puerile conversation.

“It’s why Mr Graham shouldn’t let these young ones come along on trips,” Xan said loudly. “They’re too immature!”

The younger pupils looked at the older pupils and lowered their voices, throwing disrespectful glances towards Xan and Hannah. When Xan noticed Hannah was still carrying her euphonium, she showed her where the instruments were stored, explaining the bigger instruments were kept on the bottom shelves whilst the smaller instruments such as flutes and clarinets were stored in the higher shelves.

“So what is it you play?” asked Xan. She looked surprisingly healthy for someone who had been writhing in agony only a few minutes before.

“A euphonium.” Hannah thought Xan was looking at her as if she were making it up. “You know, it’s a little bigger than a baritone?” Hannah prompted. Xan’s complexion was not fair and her nose and cheeks were sprinkled with light freckles and her eyes were a deep brown, almost green and stood out against the back drop of her dark red hair which was draped over shoulders. Xan pushed the mop of hair from her face.

“Do you still play in b flat?” she asked.

“Yes,” Hannah confirmed, “Just like trombones and baritones.” Hannah explained that euphoniums were valued for their mellow, sweet sounds compared to the crassness of the trombones and baritones. She opened her case and took out her instrument. Balancing on one foot, she brought her other knee up to help support the weight of the instrument, and played a two octave scale.

“Wow,” said Xan, clearly impressed. The sound of the euphonium seemed to linger in the air even though Hannah was no longer playing it. Hannah put her foot down and rattled her valves noisily.

“Thanks,” she said, blushing. “I’m usually the only euphonium in any group. Well, except my mom’s band has two.”

“Wow,” Xan said again. She climbed up over the shelves of the large bass instruments then reached to the back of where the smaller instruments were stored. Pulling out a tattered case, she dramatically sprung open the locks and produced the most dented, tarnished trumpet Hannah had ever seen. Seeing Hannah’s surprise, Xan shrugged and demonstrated a perfect chromatic scale starting from C to high C, then a couple of octave jumps to demonstrate her dexterity.

Hannah motioned for Xan to allow her to examine the trumpet. It was warm where Xan’s air had blown through but cold behind the third valve.

“Your third valve doesn’t work?”

Xan shrugged. “Who needs to play in the lower register anyway?” she asked.

Hannah continued to look over the trumpet. If the large patches of lacquer hadn’t been worn away and if huge dents in the bell hadn’t given away the trumpet’s grand age, the narrowness of the body of the horn did. It looked like the kind of trumpet that was popular in the times of Tommy Dorsey. Although she was curious about the origins of the horn, she knew better than to ask. Smiling, she handed the horn back to Xan who immediately cradled it as if it were a baby and not just a battered brass instrument. Lovingly, Xan polished the tarnished trumpet then placed it back into its case. Hannah wondered what Xan’s playing range was and if she really got away with avoiding the lower register all the time.

“Well then!” said a cheery voice. Xan’s face broke into a wide smile as a grey haired man in a bright red jacket joined them. He was wearing glasses and a tie with the school mascot on it. “You must be my new student!” He grabbed Hannah’s hand and pumped her arm up and down. “I’m Mr Graham, the director. Well well well! You’re a euphonium player!”

“Yes,” said Hannah, “My mother is the local officer for the Salvation Army and we move around a lot so my. . .” she stopped herself. Was she babbling like an idiot? “My dad always said there would always be a demand for euphoniums.”

“What about trumpets?” Xan demanded.

Mr Graham gave Hannah a conspiratorial smile. “I keep telling Xan there are never demands for trumpets but she seems to be under the impression the bass section doesn’t exist!”

“It doesn’t!” said Xan.

“Well, not for you, dear,” said Mr Graham with a wink to Hannah. He pulled over a few chairs for them to sit and asked Hannah to play a few scales for him.

“What does your dad play?” Xan demanded.

“Well, he used to be a trombonist. . .”

“What does he play now?” Xan had completely missed Hannah’s cue for privacy or even delicacy.

“Xan, maybe you shouldn’t ask so many questions,” warned Mr Graham.

“It’s okay,” Hannah said. “He died in car accident a few months ago.” There, thought Hannah, I said it.

“Did he die right away or—“

“Xan!” said Mr Graham as if horrified.

“He died on impact.” Somehow it felt better to say it out loud. So many people whispered around Hannah that it was a relief to be confronted directly. Even at the funeral there was much whispering and spreading of the more gory information. People were much louder that they thought they were for at the end of that long, long day when her father was laid to rest, even she knew that beneath the closed casket, her father was split into two.

Mr Graham was inspecting Hannah closely as if looking for signs of a mental breakdown. She shrugged to show him she was okay.

“OK then,” Xan said as if the gravity of the conversation was lost on her, “Let’s hear you play.”

Hannah was more used to these kinds of casual auditions and she was not intimidated that there was a small audience nearby. She simply sat down and played a few major, then minor chords and arpeggios, first slurred then double tongued. Mr Graham nodded.

“Can you triple tongue?” he asked. Hannah triple tongued up a b-flat major scale. It was always difficult to coordinate her fingers with her tongue and they sounded tangled. She stopped abruptly, frustrated.

“My fingers can’t always keep up with my tongue,” she explained.

“Try playing triplets on one note at a time in a scale,” he instructed.

Hannah tried again, keeping even time.

“That’s pretty impressive,” he said.

“Well, not really when you think about how much time I’ve spent in practice!”

“Nonetheless, that’s still very impressive. Will you be a music major when you get to university?”

Hannah was thrilled that he would assume she’d be going to university.

“I will,” said Xan.

Hannah turned to her new friend. She thought about the old dented trumpet and registered Xan’s ruffled and worn clothing and understood that wanting and getting were very different things. For several seconds, she felt a deep guilt and almost shame that she could make assumptions about people simply from the way they dressed and what they owned. Xan’s appearance wasn’t quite shabby but her clothes were certainly not fresh from the dryer as Hannah’s were. There was a stain or maybe two down the front of her shirt, remnants of ketchup perhaps and she gave off an odour that whilst not unpleasant, was definitely not fabric softener. Xan smelled of clothes that had been left to dry in a slightly damp environment, as if they did not have the opportunity to dry completely. There was another, more pungent smell of animal hair and looking more closely, Hannah could see the fine hairs of a pet across the tops of her thighs where a dog or cat had lain.

Xan was blushing under Hannah’s scrutiny and she tried to brush the hairs from her jeans.

“I have a cat,” she explained. “I call her Persephone. Get it? Purrrrr-sephone.” She smiled then and with great pride took her battered trumpet from its case and demonstrated her triple tonguing.

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