Listen to "His Clarinet"
read by Sally Rosen Kindred
I never saw it, only heard as he unbuckled the case to reveal my sister’s rental, that he played one back in school. The break is an ellipsis, lifting the sound to the clarion range when you hit the register key, marked by bones of silver up the black horn’s back: my father’s hands stopped to find it, so the music, like sparrows, could vault from guttural chatter to flight. He handed it over to my sister, smiling. We didn’t know what was coming, none of us, though I like to think it was written somewhere on old music tucked in a case, coded on a wrinkled score across lines of black ice: in thirty-five years this man will go over the break: new mustache striking out the part of his face that made sense; the wrong socks; the hands picking the lock to my mother’s room just because; the smile that didn’t look anything like a smile. And his Nova nosing up off the icy express to leap another workday’s gray rail—the damage minimal, I guess, except he kept moving in and out of focus until, seasons on, he shaved the mustache off and his old mouth returned. Surprise looks like a mouth losing then regaining its embouchure. For me and my sister, then, he took the clarinet back, gave us what we wanted: one more breath in flight down the joints from the barrel to the bell, a handful of notes we think we survived.