Lena tried her very best to pass on parts of herself to her children, especially Emma. The problem with this was that many of Lena's particular skills were not quite suited to the post-apocalyptic world in which the Mitchell family lived. Sure, she had taught her kids everything they needed to know about navigation and piloting, but it was obvious that they preferred to be doing Hank's thing on the ground with guns. Lena liked to be doing things, but she preferred it to be quiet.
One of the things Lena tried to pass on was her skill with the violin. While Lena was no Itzhak Perlman, she had gotten to be quite good at the instrument over the years. Back in the day, Lena was in the United States Air Force and was one of the pilots for Air Force One. She basically was living the dream before doomsday. In the downtime between flights, Lena played violin. Aboard the Holdsworth, she did the same. Three days a week, these routine violin sessions included a two-hour lesson with Emma in her room.
Emma was not a fan of playing the violin. It was much too slow for her; too dull. Sure, she enjoyed the music, but music simply was not her place. Or so she felt. Lena, however, felt differently. As they rehearsed a slow rendition of Whiskey in the Jar, Lena stopped and told her daughter, “Careful, you're playing your D's a little flat.”
Emma adjusted her fingering, “Yeah, sorry.” The reason her notes were off was literally because of her frustration at having been at this for an hour and a half.
“You're doing great,” Lena said as she started back up again. “Isn't this fun?”
It had been Emma's little secret since she was eleven years old that she hated playing the violin. And this was simply not the time to change that, “Yeah!”
The worst part about these sessions was that Emma could never find a good enough excuse to bail. In most circumstances, one could always claim to have something else to do or remember an “appointment.” The Holdsworth was, however, a small place. Emma had been caught avoiding their sessions several times. For better or for worse, Emma felt as though she was in a good enough mood to bear it this time.
As soon as Whiskey was over, Lena asked, “You wanna try to learn something new?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“We've got some sheet music in the bin,” Lena pointed to a footlocker in the corner. “Lots of stuff I looked at but ain't tried playin' yet. If you could find somethin' good, we could learn it.”
Emma shrugged, put her violin down, and walked over to the box. In her mind, she realized that it might not be such a bad idea to learn a new piece of music. After all, part of what made Emma hate practicing was playing the same things over and over. It was the dullness of it all that got to her; perhaps finding something exciting could remedy that for a time. The footlocker was full of stuff that either looked too complicated or uninteresting. Just when Emma was considering giving up, she found something unexpected. One particular and very simple piece caught her attention. It was dirty, unlabeled, and the notes were scribbled by hand. Blood stained the bottom of the page. Emma looked it over and found writing on the back, but could not read it. The handwriting was awful and, since it was done in pencil, faded.
Emma picked up the piece and brought it her mother asking, “Momma, what's this one?”
Lena took it and then it hit her, “We found this... gosh, it must be twelve years ago!” She looked it over. “We were in Washington, the state, and we were doin' a regular survivor search to do some inoculatin'. For whatever reason, we went inside a church and there was this old church lady layin' dead beside her piano. It was a sad sight, but one we're all used to seeing. Anyway, at her piano was this sheet. We dunno how long she was there dead, it was a long time, trust me, but we found that piece. The writing was already in bad shape, but it talked about how the last thing the lady wanted to was to write that bit of music. She apparently finished it... and then killed herself so she wouldn't be a monster.” Lena paused to think it over. “I decided to keep the music. I put it in the bin with the others and forgot all about it. I always wanted to play it and try and figure out what it is, but it just slipped on by.”
“You don't even know what it is?”
“No,” Lena licked her lip. “I guess it's time for us to find out.”
“All the notes are written for piano,” Emma stroked hair out of her eyes. “We'll have to change a few things.”
“Ain't gonna be to hard,” Lena said as she started rummaging around the room. First, she found a pencil and second, she found a few blank scores. “Let's see if we can't make this one our own.”
“You're better at writing than I am,” Emma told her mother. “I'll run through it once as is and you start putting stuff down. It'll be easier if you hear it as you go.” Emma picked up her violin and set it upon her shoulder.
“Ooh, this is exciting!” Lena beamed.
Within a few seconds, Emma was playing the first notes. Although a little chunkily, Emma played the notes naturally. She suspected that one or two of them were off, but it mostly seemed like a stable piece. Emma remarked, “This is easy to play.”
“It's a hymn,” Lena said. “I know it, I know it! It's at the tip of my tongue!”
“Yeah, keep playing!” Lena put the down the pencil as she worked through it in her mind. She knew the song for sure, but it was tough remembering it. After all, it had been twenty-five years since she had sung or even heard a proper hymn. Her church back in Mississippi used to play hymns and this was one of them. “Oh, it's not 'I Surrender All,' it's not 'How Great Thou Art,' it can't be 'Amazing Grace,' ugh, I can't- wait! It's 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God!'”
“Yes!” Lena's smile grew exponentially. “That's exactly what it is! 'A Mighty Fortress!' It's been so long since I've heard it!”
“Well, we should learn it,” Emma's patience still was not perfect. Finding the hymn definitely helped things, but she would still rather keep moving.
“Shouldn't be too hard,” Lena got to work with her pencil once again. “We used to play this one back in church. Sometimes I played along... I remember playing this one. My favorite was always 'Leaning on Everlasting Arms,' but this'll work just fine.”
Hank walked into the room and as we walked over to the closet said, “Hey, you two.”
“Hey, Hank,” Lena said moving a C. Emma played on.
“This is new,” Hank said as he rummaged around through his things. “Isn't it?”
“It's an old hymn,” Lena told him. “Do you know 'A Mighty Fortress?'”
“No, can't say I do,” Hank slid a light sweater over his junky t-shirt. He sat down on the bed and listened. “I like it; play on.”
“It's from that sheet we found in Washington all those years ago.”
“I barely remember that,” Hank said as he contemplated. “Cool that you found it.”
Emma finished running through it and then set down her violin. “I'm gonna go, mom. It's just about supper time and I could use some serious grub.” She put her instrument in its case and locked it.
“Okay,” Lena gave her the motherly smile. “I'll work on this and we can play it later.”
Emma stood, straightened out her clothes and then left.
Hank sighed and told Lena, “It's getting a bit chilly outside. You might want to layer up a bit.”
“You know, I think I was actually getting through to her that time,” Lena said.
“For eleven years she's been pretending to enjoy the violin,” Lena locked up her own instrument. “Eleven years and it actually seemed like she was having fun this time.”
“Wait – you've know for eleven years that she hates playing and you just kept going?”
“Yep!” Lena grinned. “I don't give up!”
“True, but that's not exactly what I was thinking.”
“What were you thinking?”
“That you're a freakin' sadist.”