My mother’s piano

I have been following some of the discussion on the blog No place for sheep, in part a debate over feminism, in part over freedom of speech and all because of one woman’s threat to sue another for defamation.

I am amazed at the heat that’s generated there. The language from those who comment is largely academic, or religious or occasionally a rant.

I do not feel equipped to enter into the discussion. It terrifies me. I stand in awe of Jennifer Wilson’s ability to respond to her detractors. I could not sleep at night if it were me.

The comments roll in thick and fast, as if we are on a battle field and the first line of attackers arrive only to be repelled, soon followed by the next line of attack. Of course there are many, perhaps more commenters, who are on Jennifer Wilson’s side.

It puts me in mind of the nature of conflict and how we deal with it, on line and off. I’m not so good at it myself. A fight wells up and I can feel my heart thumping, the perspiration under my arm pits shudders to the surface and my mouth goes dry.

I pitch myself back in time to my mother’s piano in the hallway of the Camberwell house. It is a tall and dark hearse-like instrument with keys made of real ivory. I think of all the dead elephants that went into the making of my mother’s piano, elephants all the way from Africa.

The name above the keys in gold lettering, ornate as a dancer, takes me to Europe in my imagination. A German name maybe, or Austrian. A name that speaks of dead composers, or ancient carpenters, cabinet makers, craftsmen, always men, who built the box that holds the sliced elephant tusks on my mother’s piano.

My mother plays Die Fledermaus. She sings along, Dutch words, military words, words that take her elsewhere back to her girlhood, back to her old life, back home to the Marnixplein where the life she leads now was still a dream, filled with hopefulness and colour, filled with the joy of her youth, her beauty and her prospects.

My mother’s voice rises above the roar of trucks along Canterbury Road. My mother’s voice rises above the cacophony of voices from the television. My father turns the dial higher and higher. The television volume goes up and up.

The house is alive with noise: my mother’s music, my father’s silent screams for attention, louder and louder and I cannot think for the noise of my parents, for the drums of war, the aeroplanes that fly over head, the bombs that drop.
We are silenced.

And all the time behind my eyes an ache swells. I don’t want to fight, I want to cry.