“Piano Lessons,” by Kate Sullivan

Nov 22nd, 2023 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose, Visuals

“Swan Song,” by Kate Sullivan

Do you remember how I was telling you about my piano teacher? Mrs. Haley was an old lady with white hair, glasses on a string, a Boston Terrier named Jerry and a house that smelled of old upholstery and stale coffee. Just the smell walking in used make my heart sink. That, and knowing that I hadn’t practiced. The most I could hope for was that Jerry’s ball would get lost under the credenza and he wouldn’t stop yapping until somebody dug under there with a yard stick to find the ball. Of course, old Mrs. Haley couldn’t get down on her hands and knees herself, so she was always so happy that I was there to help. I’d crouch down, acting like it was hard to find, my face twisted up towards Mrs. Haley so she’d be sure to know how hard I was trying. Finally, figuring enough was enough, I’d flick the ball out for the little mutt. Another good interruption was giving Mrs. Haley the check for the lessons. That was only once a month, but it usually made for a nice delay while Mrs. Haley rhapsodized about how wonderful my mother was and how prompt she was with her payment. I loved it when Mrs. Haley rhapsodized. You knew you were in for a good five to eight minutes. Especially when she got going on The Eastern Star, which obviously was some kind of club for older piano teacher ladies. They would have Functions, where all the ladies dressed up and talked about how nice it was to be in The Eastern Star. Mrs. Haley used to play the piano at these Functions, or so she said, but this always surprised me because I could never picture Mrs. Haley actually playing the piano. I could only picture her talking about playing the piano. Sometimes, she’d try to show me how to get emotion by holding my elbows and making them go round and round while I tried to play Für Elise at the same time. The only thing that did was make me play all the wrong notes but she’d get a little annoyed and say the notes weren’t what mattered at that moment. I kind of wished they didn’t seem to matter so much all the other times. And every other lesson or so, she’d lean over me to turn a page and I’d be forced to look at her flabby arms. I don’t know why she didn’t wear outfits with long sleeves so she wouldn’t have to worry about all that flab. She would stop sometimes and wiggle her arms and say how gross they were. The other thing Mrs. Haley would do is take my hand in hers, which was kind of disgusting to begin with, and press her crooked, fat, sausagey fingers with thick, yellow fingernails, onto the back of my hand to show how much pressure to put on the keys. I was never really thinking about the piano at those moments. I always just wanted her to let go of me so I could finish the lesson and get outside for some fresh air.


Kate Sullivan likes to play around with words, music and pictures. She has written and illustrated children’s books, On Linden Square, Sleeping Bear Press and What Do You Hear?, Schiffer Books.

She has sung chansons at NYC Mme Tussaud’s Wax Museum and her fugue-ish “Fugitum est” was performed at Carnegie Hall by The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra as part of their tribute to Mozart. She also likes to paint ostriches and play the musical saw to impress people. Her poems and paintings have appeared in Flash Frog, Loud Coffee Press, Sleet Magazine, Rush Literary Magazine, Dillydoun Review and Writers.com, among others.

To browse Kate Sullivan’s paintings, go to shop.sullyarts.com. She can be reached through sullyarts.com.

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