His piano sits at the front of the dining room. There's only a few tables of diners tonight but the size of the audience doesn't seem to matter to him. No table is as attentive to him as ours. His music familiar on a Wednesday night. No singing, just his fingers on the keys.
Still, the words run through my heart.
Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way
Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river, and me
Mom seems, if not happy, then at least somewhat content to be here. The music takes her back to a place before any of us were part of her life. We're used to her singing during his set. We're used to watching her disappear in her memories.
The piano player takes a break, he leans toward our table, says he'll be right back to play the other side.
I excuse myself. Moon River is a lot to take.
Kathy joins me outside on the bench. We look at our watches and wonder to each other what Mom will order next, coffee or Courvoisier. It's a beam of light on the length of the evening.
He steps into our light.
I miss your father. He was a gentleman, very warm and gracious.
I feel like a baby bird at his words, hungry for more, opening my eyes up to him.
We miss him too. Thank you for saying that.
It took a while to get to know him. Your mother's always singing along. If your father liked the song I was playing, he's smile at me and nod. I guess it's been twenty years now.
We thank him again. He disappears inside for his second set.
When we return to the table, she's ordering ice cream. And coffee.
The piano player begins Hello Dolly.
Mom moves her head back and forth, shuts her eyes, dissolves into the images in her mind. She opens her eyes to us, lets us inside by telling us a story of bringing her mother to the Broadway debut of Carol Channing in Hello Dolly.
We rode the bus, it was the only way we had to get there.
She smiles wistful at the memory.
After twenty years, I think he knows what he does for her. I think he knows when she walks in the room that she comes here not for the Prime Rib but for the ticket he gives her, the ticket out of her present and into the glistening moments of her past.
When we stand to leave, she goes to him, tells him he played all of her favorite songs. She's okay tonight, my mom. He has taken her on a journey and safely returned her back to us.
Behind her I silently mouth the words, thank you.
He smiles at me and nods, begins another song. I can't recall that I've heard it before, but as we walk, Mom hums along with every note.