Today’s post is going to be a piece I wrote for the last competition in the Writer’s Block community! I really enjoyed writing this piece, and explored a topic I’ve discussed before in this blog. I think some day I’d like to publish a short story, but I’m going to keep practicing the craft before I do.
The prompt we were provided with was “write a story about a gift”. It had a 750 word limit. Though I didn’t place in the competition, I got some really good feedback on it and felt I learned a lot. Enjoy!
The Gift I Never Wanted
I was three when I first understood the harp. An heirloom of my grandfather’s, and coated in a fine layer of dust, it guarded the corner of the dining room. I drew my hands across the strings, lined up like the railings of a fence, and they sang to me. The dissonance of the notes rang strangely in my ears. “Find my songs,” the harp said as I plucked a few individuals. I watched the strings strive to break free as they sang their singular notes – the tones they were made to express.
So I continued, and found the harp’s first song. The harp hadn’t sung in many years, so its voice was not clear and practiced. But when I turned around, my parents stood behind me in awe.
My mother ushered me into lessons, the harp– my harp in tow. My teacher had a voice that bounced and trilled like the notes at its far end. The now gleaming strings sang beautifully beneath my fingers, and our dance conquered any request thrown our way. I was paraded in front of family members who laughed and clapped as I mastered the songs they suggested. After only a few months of tutelage, that teacher joined the chorus of my parents, aunts and uncles.
“You have a gift.”
My heart thundered when I earned my first applause. The concert hall erupted as my harp and I drew to the end of our final song. As we left the venue, my mother was handed a multitude of cards, and her phone was inundated with callers. At home, as I tried to show her our newest song, she obscured her face with the back of her phone, and told me to “smile for the camera, honey.”
I was eight when I first appeared on television. My mother answered questions from two people that smiled too much as I watched my harp. More people with cameras for faces surrounded us, making me shudder. Of course, my harp and I eventually sang together. But we were tired. The song was dull and timbreless, and the strings strained under the weight of it.
That was just the beginning. We were thrust in front of television audiences, and made to sing together. Each time I plucked a string, I felt our connection weaken. Our dance became a reluctant shuffle, like a machine gathering rust. The scarce compliments I received from my mother were what I lived for, but her conversations were with her phone, not me. I was no stranger to concert halls, either – our dogged duet was in demand. We sweated together under the harsh lights as we danced.
At eleven years old, I took part in my final serenade. This one was across the country, and my parents assured me my harp would follow in a special shipment. It didn’t. As I approached the stage, I realised that the harp sitting there wasn’t mine. My mother pushed me into view as I began panicking, making my return to the tentative safety of the wings impossible. As I laid both hands on the instrument, I heard no song. No call for me to discover its secrets. This harp had been touched by many different hands, and its songs were used up.
With resolve, I eked a tune out of the wooden thing. This was not a duet; it was a clumsy solo, an acapella performance. The lights which I’d always despised blazed down on me again. My fingers slipped off strings, my harp not being there to catch them. Sweat poured down my brow and joined my welling tears.
When I was finished, my mother had fury in her eyes. “You’re wasting it,” she said, dragging me towards the exit doors. “your gift.” The frustration of a stifled childhood spilled over and I resisted her grip. In anger, she slammed the heavy door on my outstretched hand.
They told us it was nerve damage. Despite my mother’s attempts to make me play again, the harp and I no longer harmonised. Not even its familiar strings could support the stiffness of my aching fingers, and the stilted sounds we painstakingly produced impressed nobody.
But my mother’s arms began to embrace me, her now silent phone forgotten. I was free to pursue dreams that were my own. My harp resumed its watch over the dining room, and we both were glad of the memories we shared. I’d returned my gift.
Let me know what you thought!