Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Darkness at the Center--preview chapter

Here's a glimpse of the first chapter of my new YA that's NOT a fantasy but an exploration of psychological and sexual harassment by a preteen's piano teacher (more serious than my normal work).

Twelve-year-old Elise Francis struck the final note of "Fur Elise" and felt the Steinway baby grand's vibrations resonate all the way up her arm.

She winced. Once again, she'd landed too hard on the last note, "banging" the ending.

Her teacher, Mrs. Robi--or at least her reflection in the huge mirror above the piano-- leaned back, nodding. "You know what went wrong?"

Elise could feel her face flaming out, just as her hands tingled with the error. "Whamming down my thumb at the end of every phrase. I forgot again."

Mrs. Robi's reflection staggered a little. "Mercy," she gasped.

"Sorry. I'll try to remember."

Instead of remonstrating further, Mrs. Robi made a strangled noise.

That brought Elise's head up and around. "Are you OK?"

"Another little dizzy spell, is all." The elderly instructor groped for the brocade wing chair behind her and sat heavily. "I'll be fine in a minute. Run through 'Doctor Gradus and Parnassum' real quick for me, and that'll do it."

Ellie examined her teacher. Mrs. Robi's face was really pale. Almost as gray as her hair. She was breathing pretty heavily. Panting, actually. "Are you sure? I can get my mom. She's right down the street at Mrs. Shirley's doing their bitch-and-stitch, but it's totally informal."

Mrs. R. shook her head violently, then grimaced. "No, no, hon. Don't bother her. I just need to sit a minute, and remember not to shake my head." She closed her eyes. "Play, dear. If you present to me a reading worthy of Saint Claude, I'll be perfectly restored."

She tended to refer to the composers by first names like that.

After a moment Elise turned back to the Steinway. The ivory keys were cool and her fingertips clung briefly as she touched them to the opening notes. She heard a sigh from behind and suspected her teacher wanted a faster tempo, so she speeded up, almost imperceptibly.

Even though she hadn't considered playing it this fast, the quicker tempo worked. Elise raised her hands at the end, pleased with herself.

"Wonderful," her teacher said. But she didn't clap as she usually did. Instead, she coughed and then choked, loudly. Elise swiveled around in alarm.

Mrs. Robi was slumped over, head on her knees.

Elise slid off the bench quickly, but her teacher raised her head. Instead of reassuring Elise, Mrs. Robi murmured, "I do feel strange," and began fanning herself with the Dover edition of "Die Fledermaus" (which she'd picked up off the coffee table, where Elise's dad had been browsing it earlier, for grins.) Bullets of sweat were building up on her forehead.

"Do you need a glass of water? Are you too warm?" Ellie swung her head towards the thermostat. No, the room was chilly as always, kept that way so the temperamental baby grand wouldn't go out of tune so quickly. In here it was forever Alaska.

"Oh, I'm all right, you know me. A hot flash." Mrs. R. wiped her forehead with the gossamer sleeve of her fancy tunic. "Go on. Let's do the Beethoven sonatina, if you have it under your fingers." She lifted an eyebrow, which made Elise feel more reassured because it was one of her typical I challenge you expressions. "Make me hear that tension in the adagio."

So Ellie turned back to the piano, took a deep breath, and finally lifted her fingers to the keyboard.

She was playing the quiet section when she thought she heard wheezing, like her little brother when he needed his inhaler, but she wasn't sure and she didn't want to ruin the flow. She'd gotten over stopping when she made a mistake and didn't want to plow that field again. Besides, the right side of her brain was in charge right now and she wasn't thinking logically; she had entered the ethereal plane of music, just sequencing the melody and counterpoint and feeling the muscle memory in her fingers where she had parts memorized. And so when the THUD came followed by the CRASH, it startled her so that she nearly fell off the bench. *is there counterpoint in any Beethoven sonatina??**zamma

Her piano teacher lay curled on Daddy's expensive Persian rug, convulsing. The crashing sound had been her mother's Tiffany roses lamp, which was now on the floor cracked into perfect halves. Mrs. Robi must have grasped the edge of that linen table runner on the end table trying to catch herself, but instead it followed her down.

"Hey! What was that?"

Elise glanced up. Her little brother Jamie hung over the polished banister halfway down the stairs, saucer-eyed, gripping the balusters as he goggled.

"Call 911!"

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