Ava described the viola’s hum in her left forearm and pointed to the strange movement of her thumb. When the neurologist didn’t have an answer and couldn’t even begin to explain how bass notes could float out of her feet, Ava was relieved. An answer would have been medical, would have robbed her of magical. Ava left the office wondrously light, having refused further testing and the name of an associate in the department of psychiatry. The vibration in her forearm surged as she marched to her car.
In her kitchen, Ava tore off her coat, her body wild and electric. Major scales dove off her hips, bounced off the floor, plinked against wine glasses, punctured tomatoes, plopped on top of her toaster, swirled into bags of readymade salad. Bold piano chords poured out of the droopy skin underneath her upper arms, sonorous wings, broad and courageous. A memory of her husband and sons, young and musical, laughing as she sang to them in a voice unimaginably flat, appeared and vanished instantly beneath a swelling saxophone. For a second she thought she perceived her husband’s ghost, his unfriendly chiding, but a tuba’s cavernous tones gushed from her chest and swallowed whatever it was she thought she heard. Her spine lengthened, a baton in the hand of a faceless conductor. This way and that way she swayed, jerked, pointed herself toward the ceiling — vectorial and sure.
Another memory took shape: Just a few weeks ago in an orchestrated video chat from her deck, her grown sons noticed her restless thumb and insisted on an appointment. Their aggression felt startling. She couldn’t bring herself to voice her certainty that the tremor signified the cusp of something robust, possibly an extraordinary metamorphosis. Months ago, she’d welcomed it as a physical response to a new piece she’d discovered by her favorite guitar duo and dismissed the recurring headache which might or might not have been coincidental. That her sons noticed the shaking was of no concern to her. She denied having other symptoms and rejected their mistrust. She agreed to see someone so that she could begin her visit with her grandchildren. Her sons backed off, then cackled as usual as she sang to their toddlers through her computer’s pixelated images. She felt the bite of their laughter. Why couldn’t they hear her improvement? She clicked out and scheduled the appointment begrudgingly.
Back in her kitchen, a cymbal clanged, and the potted succulent on her windowsill snatched the memory and tucked it into its soil. An oboe’s reedy notes sprang from her belly and gamboled low to high, then hovered in the middle, teasing the hairs on her skin into dance. The symphony rolled on to its glorious finale.
In the quiet, Ava sat warming her hands on the mug of tea in front of her. Her left thumb knocked rhythmically against the dusty blue ceramic glaze. Ignoring her phone calendar’s reminder to add the next appointment with the neurologist, she placed her cheek on her forearm and mimicked its hum. Her lips parted, and her breath, taking the shape of an old standard, wound itself like a cobra rising to the lure of a flute. For the first time in all her life, Ava marveled at the sound of her voice as it found its way to the melody and, steadfast in its grip, flew.