A French Song in New York(5)

By: Anna Adams

“When I arrived, I had little technique, and Cordelia took me under her wing. If you don’t trust me, trust her.”

Grace shook her head. Her stringy, blonde hair fell loose from her worn rubber band.

“I’m going back home.”

Realizing she would make no headway with Grace that day, Maude got up, weary.

“I have to come with you. Mrs. Mary agreed to our lessons only if I brought you back to Children’s Haven straight after class.”

“As if I need a chaperone,” she huffed.

In the taxi, Grace propped her elbow against the window, turning her back on Maude, implying that the outside world held a greater appeal than the thoughtful passenger sitting next to her.

Maude’s disappointment increased.

She’d wanted everything to be perfect and had dreamed of her student’s triumph and success. In her imagination, Grace would become a sensation and thank her with tears in her eyes the day she debuted on Broadway.

How rapidly Maude’s illusions had shattered.

None of the many books she’d read had a proper remedy on how to deal with the realization that one was unsuited for the task of becoming a mentor. The only feeling she inspired within her student was negativity.

There was nothing she could do if Grace didn’t give her a chance.

When they arrived at the youth home, Maude sighed. Chipped paint, a crooked fence, and the missing shingles on the roof proved the house had not aged gracefully. Yet, she acknowledged how dedicated Mrs. Mary was to her girls.

Grace jumped over the small stoop and rushed inside, not bothering to bid Maude goodbye.

“Don’t forget our lesson in two days!” Maude cried.

The front door slammed with no indication that the student had heard or agreed to the lesson.

“No one ever warns you of these things,” Maude muttered as she went up the stoop. “You try and try. You give it your all, but it’s never enough. How do parents handle this daily, I wonder.”

Once she’d entered, the smell of cheap sanitary chemicals assaulted her nostrils.

Grace’s voice drifted from the kitchen to the entrance. Maude followed her angry accents, until she heard her words distinctly. Flattening against the wall, Maude hid and listened.

“I’m not going back,” Grace was saying.

“I told you it wasn’t going to work out,” another voice answered. Maude recognized the voice as Grace’s roommate, Effie.

Effie had shown from the start that she dreamed of little other than becoming a star. The sixteen-year-old pestered Maude with gossip each time she visited and gave her demos of covers that only proved she lacked talent.

Maude was certain the girl would encourage Grace’s ambitions. If not for her roommate then at least in an attempt to get closer to Maude.

“Getting out of this dump once you’re in is way too hard. That’s what Desiree says, too,” Effie continued. “They won’t give you the part anyway. They’ll go with someone who’s worked her whole life in that Broadway showbiz. Someone who’s got parents in the business. A person who doesn’t stand out, you know, because of her education. I heard Ira Tempest is up for the part.”

Outside the kitchen, Maude balled her fists with rage. How dare Effie discourage her student! She took a step toward the kitchen, before halting. She could not let the girls know she had eavesdropped.

Back against the wall, figuratively as well as literally, she listened some more.

Grace sighed. “You’re right, Effie. I’d rather quit now than be disappointed. I couldn’t stand it. If I fail, Maude will never let me live it down. She’ll go ‘look at all that time I invested in that stupid girl. Should’ve left her in that ugly home.’”

“I would never say that!” Maude mouthed silently, disgruntled.

Moving away from the kitchen, she went into the empty living room. Dust darkened the piano’s white keys and, after Maude slid her fingers across the keyboard, specks flew into the air before settling back upon the instrument.

Mrs. Mary marched into the room, dragging a vacuum cleaner behind with her left hand.

“These kids never wear their slippers inside ... arrgh, footprints all over ... why can’t they just do as I say?” she mumbled. “Oh, hi Maude,” she greeted, once she realized the walls were not the only witnesses to her soliloquy.

“How are ... how was your lesson?” Mrs. Mary asked.

“It didn’t go quite as planned.”

Maude sat on the piano bench, propped her elbows on her knees, and raised her doleful eyes at the matronly Mrs. Mary.

“Grace is a handful, isn’t she?” Mrs. Mary plugged in the vacuum cleaner.

“It’s not just that. Though I can’t say she’s a walk in the park.” Maude’s hesitation was plain. She rose from the bench and walked around the room to gather her thoughts. “I fear she’s afraid of disappointment. And instead of working hard, she’d rather give up. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: she’ll fail because she believes she will.”