Short Story

A DREAM OF WESTERN MUSIC

By Lan Samantha Chang
Illustrations by Jeffrey Smith



Following her emigration to the United States in 1965, Vivian Huang fell into a strange illness, a melodic preoccupation from which her new surroundings, her husband and children were almost forgotten as she struggled to hear faint, imagined strains of music. The origin of her illness lay in memory. She did not listen for the symphonic boom from Carnegie Hall, or the smooth sounds of the American stereo cabinet, but for the faint and wistful strains of the gramophone that she and her friends had played when they were barely teenagers, at her family’s old house in Beijing. Strauss waltzes and Beethoven sonatas hummed so quietly in her mind that Vivian had to lie very still in order to hear them. When she closed her eyes, scenes from the ancient walled city spun against her lids, vivid and fleeting, as if she were watching from a plush seat in a movie house.
        These reveries were shattered each evening when her husband, Ming, came home from work and directed their sons’ practice sessions on the violin.
        “First your turn, Ben,” she heard Ming’s firm voice say. There was a long pause. Vivian imagined Ben dragging his feet away from the television set and into the practice room. He stood ready to play like a sad little cricket, his tiny instrument drooped under his chin. After a few scratchy notes he began to howl. “Ma . . . Ma, Mama!”
        “Mama doesn’t feel well.” Ming gritted his teeth.
        “Aaaa!
        Despite Ben’s refusals and cries, it was half an hour before Ming gave up. “All right,” he said finally. “Now, Charles.”
        Charles tuned his strings. Vivian opened her eyes and saw Ben’s small shadow in the doorway. He had tiptoed in so that Ming wouldn’t hear. Now he stood and stared, terrified at the sight of her lying in bed.

Short Story (Plain text)

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MARCH/APRIL 1996

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