With the candle low and the wick in the wax and the crumbs only left of the bread, with the cheese turning green and the carousers outside and sister in her blanket half-asleep, with the chill in the air from the hole in the wall and the drunken hoots skittering in, with my mother’s eyes crimson and my brother sewing socks, and the moon a wet curd in the clouds, my father leaned over his battered old wallet and pulled forth his accordion. I ceased scouring the forks with the mildewed rag, and held my breath. And my father spoke, as he always did, of the day he met my mother. He wiped his long moustaches with his thumbs, slick from his tongue, and cleared his throat with a rolling rumble. His basso profondo filled the damp apartment, rumbling and rolling away:
“When I met your mama, we had nothing to eat, no cheese nor bread, just dust. We’d scoop up the dust and scrounge up some flour, and bake a fine dust loaf. And in the street you’d fight, fight like cats! Fight like mad beasts! For a pinch of flour. Man or woman, young or old, even more miserable than we are, my little woodmice. And your mama, skinny thing, bit me in a tumble of twelve bodies or more – I think it was more! She sank those sharp teeth of hers into my haunch and I cried out, ‘Release me, give me leave to keep this flour, and I will sing you songs all your days. For,’ I said, ‘I have a grand old accordion, from my papa. It is all that I am worth in this world.’ ‘Can you play it better than you tumble?’ she taunted.” My father’s eyes glistened. Mother looked away. “‘Aye,’ I said. ‘I can, at that.’ And that night, sharing the dust, I played. Here we go-”
And my father raised the accordion in his meaty, hairy hands and he squeezed the old accordion together. And with his fingers on the keys, his voice rivaling the carousers, with his lungs beating back the cold, he stood to his height, his proud, swaying height, and he played a rambunctious polka. And my brother took I and my sister in hand and my mother sat and began to clap, and we whirled around the table. And my father was a god, and in his hands was the world, and my mother would love him again, as we loved him forever. She wept into her laughter and the night’s candle wilted into the wax and the music, breath of its own, life of its own, compressed us and sweetened the stale air, alive instantaneously, hounded out the rats and the wolves beyond our door, as wide as my father’s arms, as narrow as his grasp, celebrated its freedom from his purse. In music, sweet music, guided us in mercy and grace to our dreams.