“Uncle Andy! Uncle Andy! Tell me it’s not true!”
Maribell’s oak brown hair streamed behind her like the tassels of a girl’s bicycle handle as she ran to him with all her might. Green eyes now floated in seas of pink left by the tears that cut jagged paths down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong princess?” he asked as she came crashing into his arms.
“Daddy says it was all a joke! He said it was because of…”
Her cries grew in strength, turning the rest of her words into a jumble of incomprehensible sounds.
“Okay. Calm down. Breathe… Now tell me what’s the matter.”
Maribell looked up into the big brown eyes of her favorite uncle. They held a deep kindness that had always made her feel safe. He would never lie to her.
“Tell me it isn’t true!”
The muffled sobs would not be entirely subdued, no matter how tightly she pressed her lips together, and escaped in short bursts. Her uncle stroked her head gently and spoke soothingly to find out what cruel trick her father had played on her this time.
“It’s going to be okay. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
“Daddy says it was all just a bet! I thought you loved them like I did!” A storm of emotion bubbled just beneath the surface of her reddened cheeks, threatening to burst forth at any second.
Andy had known this day would come sooner or later. He had imagined how the conversation might go a dozen times, but his hope that it would be over cups of Earl Grey tea as they laughed at the foolishness of it all were lost in an instant.
She looked up at him. Her face waited with the same expression she had each time he made the quarter disappear, and then reappear from behind her ear. It was the look of hope that only children have mastered.
“Oh… Well… You see princess…”
Her hope vanished as quickly as the coin, but no slight of hand could ever bring it back. The storm he had expected never surfaced. Instead, quiet tears rolled down her cheeks while her eyes searched his face as if they were seeing him for the first time.
“Tell me. I want to hear you tell me.”
“Well, your father said, ‘You think you’re such a hot shot. I bet…”
“No, Uncle Andy. Tell me the whole story.”
He sat down in grass and beckoned her to sit in his lap. She crawled up and nestled herself into a comfortable position. A light breeze swept by and carried with it the smell of some neighbor’s flower garden.
“When I was just a lad, your nana Webber had a piano that had been her fathers. Your daddy and I were not allowed to touch it, but as I’m sure you can imagine, that only made it more intriguing.”
“What’s intree-green mean?”
“Intriguing. It means… something you really want to find out more about or play with.”
Andy could feel Maribell’s head nod in acknowledgment against his chest.
“One day, when nana Webber had left to do some shopping, I climbed up on the bench and began to play with it. It only felt like I had been there for a few minutes, but I guess it had been much longer because when I looked around I saw your nana watching me. She was leaning up against the wall with her arms crossed. I knew when I saw that that I was in BIG trouble.”
“Did nana Webber give you a whoopin!?”
“Nope. She just looked at me and said, ‘Go on.’ I turned back to the piano and fiddled around with the keys to make some pretty sounds. She said that I had an ear for music and after that she hired an old lady to come and give me lessons. That’s when I knew I loved to make music.”
Maribell was no longer crying. She seemed to be lost in the story, so Andy continued.
“As I grew up, I learned more and more and other people began to tell me that they liked the songs I would write. I decided that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life and went to school to learn all I could about music. I worked very hard and after a few years I wrote a play filled with music that many people liked.”
“Is that the one about the boy with the pretty coat?”
“No, not that one. But after the first one, I wrote that one. And even more people liked it. I wrote a couple more and they won some awards called Tony awards. And that’s when your father and I made the bet.”
She shifted in his lap to look up into his eyes again.
“But why did he do it?”
“Your daddy thought that I was getting a little too big for my britches and…”
Maribell broke into a fit of laughter as she imagined her uncle standing in britches that were several sizes too small for him.
“ANYWAY… He said that I thought I was a big deal and that not everyone thought so. I told him that it seemed to me that more people agreed with me on the subject than him. He laughed and said, ‘You think you’re such a hot shot. I bet you think you can write a play about anything and people would like it.’ I told him that sounded about right.”
“Daddy said it was just luck.”
“Ha ha! Yeah, he still tells me that. I told him he could pick what my next play would be about and I would write a hit no matter what he picked. I don’t think he was expecting that. He sat there for a minute frowning. Then a weird little smile crossed his lips and he said, ‘That. Write a play about that.’ I followed his finger to see what he had found. ‘A car? You want me to write about a car?’ He laughed and said, ‘No. That would be too easy. Look closer.’ And when I did I saw two yellow eyes staring back at me.”
Maribell’s face grew serious once more as she struggled about whether or not to ask the question that lay at the very heart of the matter.
“Uncle Andy? I love them so much! I thought you wrote it because you did too… Do you even like cats?”
“I do now princess. I do now.”
Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake