Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Melody (08/24/06)
TITLE: Chasing Claire
By Jan Ackerson
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She rose and made coffee, a melody buzzing in her ears like a persistent insect. The newspaper contained the usual: Mideast violence, rising gas prices. Claire plodded to the bedroom and pulled on gray sweats.
The song grew louder, crowding out thought. Fourteen notes, over and over. They nearly drowned out the television news. Just as well; the perky newswoman annoyed Claire. Must she always smile?
Although it was Saturday and she had a list of chores, Claire’s leaden arms made housework wearisome. She tried to read, but was stymied by the melody in her head, insistent and unchanging. With a frustrated cry, Claire stomped to her car and drove to a store that sold keyboards and electric guitars.
She sat at a keyboard and attempted to pick out the notes. D-E-D-B, then G-E-D came fairly quickly, but Claire struggled to find the next note. She played the sequence again, then stared at her fingers, willing them to continue.
“Can I help?” The woman’s badge read ANGIE, on a treble staff.
Claire sighed. “It’s this song. I’ve had it in my head all day, and I don’t know what it is. I’m going insane…” She played the seven notes again.
“Oh, I love that song!” Angie sat beside Claire. “Is this it?” She played the entire song, in lovely simple harmony.
Claire listened with closed eyes. When Angie finished, she realized she hadn’t been breathing. “Yes. That’s it. What is it?”
Angie’s eyes sparkled. “I’ve known that hymn forever. It’s ‘Rock of Ages.’”
A hymn! Claire couldn’t have been more surprised if Tom had walked into the store and kissed her. She murmured her thanks and hurried away, driving randomly until the sight of a church caused her to brake suddenly and veer into the parking lot. She sat very still, long-dead memories resurrecting themselves.
Seven years old…summer with Gran…Gran’s crackly singing while she slices cucumbers…patent leather-clad feet swinging from a wooden pew…Mom looking tired and sad when she comes to Gran’s…slapping the Noah’s Ark coloring book from her hands... “Why are you filling her head with this nonsense, Mother?” …Running up the porch steps to see Daddy…he’s gone, he’s never coming back…
Claire had never since been in a church, save for a few awkward weddings where she sat stiffly, the pew pressing into the backs of her knees. Now she found herself inside this church, flipping through a hymnal for “Rock of Ages.” There—number 189.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
The words made no sense. Claire had an absurd mental picture of Gran, hiding behind a boulder. Nonsense. She gathered her keys and purse and prepared to leave. The hymnal lay open on the pew.
From behind her, a male voice spoke. “They don’t sing that one much any more, do they?”
Claire looked into a pair of smiling gray eyes. “I’m sorry…I was just leaving.”
The man’s gesture took in the entire room. “What’s your hurry? The teeming hordes won’t be here until tomorrow. Why were you looking at ‘Rock of Ages’?”
“I was just chasing down the melody. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
“Sounds to me like a melody was chasing you.”
Oh, for Pete’s sake. “Listen, reverend, it’s a pretty song, and you have a pretty church. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Don’t bother trying to save me. I’m beyond redemption.”
She stood to sidle past him, and he handed her a card. “If you’re ever being chased again, feel free to run back here.”
Claire shoved the card into her purse and spent the rest of the evening clear-headed. The melody was gone, but some of her heaviness seemed to have left with it. She fell quickly asleep.
When she woke, there was a distinct picture in her mind: Gran in her blue dress, her spotted hands holding a yellowing hymnal…standing on tiptoe to see the words…words that make her miss Mom…Come home, come home, ye who are weary, come home…
I am weary, thought Claire. I want to come home. Exasperated and amused by her own folly, she dug in her purse for the card from the gray-eyed pastor. She would call him, she knew, some day soon.
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