Story: Mrs. Chandler Can Sing

Sandi Sonnenfeld ’85 is the founder and Managing Editor of The Lyon Review.  Her short stories, essays and journalism pieces have been published in more than 30 literary magazines, including Sojourner, Hayden’s Ferry Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mr. Bellers’ Neighborhood, The Storyteller, and Perigee.  She is also the author of a memoir, This Is How I Speak, for which she was named a 2002 Celebration Author by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.  After graduating from MHC, Sandi received an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington, where she studied under National Book Award Winner Charles Johnson.

Mrs. Chandler drives her station wagon down the same street every day. It is a nice street, with wide, neatly marked lanes, and two straight rows of leafy trees that line either side. Mrs. Chandler notes how the branches of the trees bow towards each other like pairs of giant lovers joined together in a permanent embrace.

Mrs. Chandler thinks the trees remind her of Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, which she read during her first and only year of college before Joey Chandler came home from Korea. They got married right away in a small Catholic church in Brooklyn, just a few blocks from where the two of them had gone to high school. Two years later, they moved to a three-bedroom home on the south shore of Long Island.

Now, Mrs. Chandler makes sure that her four children get safely on the school bus every morning. Then she goes to the supermarket to do the family shopping. She goes every day because her husband likes to have only the freshest vegetables in his nightly salad. Max, the grocery clerk, waves to Mrs. Chandler from among the radishes. He tells her that cantaloupes are on special today.

It’s early in the season and the melons are small. She holds the rinds up under her nose, smelling their flesh. Mrs. Chandler raises one to her ear and gives it a good thump. She listens to the sound it makes, checking for ripeness. Her husband is very proud of her ability to always pick the right melon.

Mrs. Chandler knows that her husband is very proud of her.

Three times a week in the afternoon, Mrs. Chandler teaches her children to play the piano. She starts with easy tunes, placing her fingers over the smaller ones of her children, showing them how to press down on the appropriate keys. She tells them that when she was a little girl, notes on a scale looked like little bugs trying to wriggle off the page. She asks them to wriggle their fingers as fast as they can, so they can keep up with all the bugs, especially the spiders, which are called sixteenth notes. Mrs. Chandler’s third child, Jenny, is afraid of bugs and starts to cry.

Jenny cries far too often, and Mrs. Chandler worries about her. She also worries about her eldest, her Danny, because at thirteen he disappears up into his bedroom for hours on end and when she walks by his door all she hears is silence.

The silence frightens her–when she was growing up, the kids played stickball and tag in the dirty Brooklyn streets. There were always shouts and mild oaths, the sounds of competition and loss and victory.

Here on Long Island, there are tree-lined avenues and well-kept lawns to play on. She often tries to make Danny go outside to play with some of the neighborhood kids, but he rarely does what she asks.

Danny says that the games are dumb.

Dumb is better than silent, Mrs. Chandler thinks, but does not say so out loud.

Continue reading