When times were good, the rare times
times were good,
my father decided we should be cultured,
and culture to him meant learning to play
bumper pool or the organ.
I figured his Catholicism gave him the latter,
but it might’ve been his love
for those complicated buttons, reminding him
of a telephone switchboard
or those metal pegs he hung his tools on.
Maybe also the smoky drunken music
intoxicated him, so different than the piano.
The piano was New Jersey,
with its police car black and white keys,
and the organ was maybe Brazil
or the late Roman empire,
full of subtle options and tanned keys.
Of course, after the first day,
assembling and tuning it per instructions,
my father never sat at the organ,
as such culture was, he said,
for women and children. We each took turns
trying to learn chopsticks,
Jackie lasting longest,
as it was my father’s idea
his youngest and prettiest daughter
should be the belle in his Belle Époque,
but in only two months she also quit;
then we each took turns using that organ
to hold cereal bowls and folded laundry.
My mother went back to Bingo,
my father to drinking, and I got lost
in the dysphoria I could never shake,
for sadness has always been my addiction
and as hard to endure as any other.
And that would have been the end of it,
or maybe I would talk about how my father
one day took a hammer to that organ,
broke it down into pieces and set them
alongside the curb to be collected by garbage men,
had it not been for the time, the only time,
because I could not stand running anymore,
I remained behind when my mother ran
to escape his slurred words, violent glares,
and how one night, after midnight,
after the vodka bottle rolled off the table,
I heard that organ playing a hymn,
dense notes bleeding through our thin walls,
and, as I stumbled bleary-eyed into the parlor,
I saw my father hunched over the organ,
eyes closed, a liquored up Liberace,
playing a music and a melody
nobody, not even him, knew he knew.

Belle Époque by James Valvis

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Photo used under CC.