White Rabbit

Image of a creepy white rabbit set against a dark backdrop.

It was Stanley, the white rabbit, that finally confirmed what Anita had always suspected – that her youngest daughter was fragile in a way that a glass object, if allowed to let slip, will inevitably shatter and break.

The suspicions were not new. For example, Anita had known for a while now that Lucy was unlike other children. Not only the rest of her children, but all other children. She did not know what to do with this knowledge about her daughter. She observed it, the strangeness that Lucy often exhibited, the fact that she was terrified of a fly, or that she didn’t like to be outdoors, or that she found the sound of chirping birds unbearable, or that she hated the feel of carpet on her bare feet. Or, in fact, that she would run away when offered fruit, making gagging noises as if she was afraid of what an orange or a grape would do to her physical body. All this, Anita observed. But she did not know what to do with it.

No one else had mentioned anything specifically. At school, the child was considered “different,” but on account of being clever in her work and keeping out of other people’s business, they had not (so far) expressed any particular concern. But Anita knew better. She saw what others couldn’t see; she knew what others couldn’t know. She had four other children. She knew. She knew for instance that her youngest daughter hated to be touched by anyone, even by her and James or by her siblings. Indeed, she couldn’t remember a single instance when Lucy had asked for a hug or a cuddle or not recoiled when offered one. She knew that her daughter cowered when spoken to by people she did not know. Or that she herself, would often go days without speaking to anyone at all. Sometimes, however, Anita knew that she spoke to herself, or to “things.” For example, once when Lucy was having breakfast, Anita witnessed, hidden behind the dining room door, her daughter seemingly conversing with her boiled egg. It appeared to Anita that the child was apologising to it, for its imminent fate. This particular incident had admittedly only happened the one time, but there were other things too. Like the bath time ritual, which involved Lucy singing to her rubber duck as it floated sedately beside her in the ice-cold water (Lucy didn’t like to bathe in water that was not frigid). The singing part, Anita didn’t consider particularly unusual when considered in isolation, in some ways, it was quite sweet even, but in light of all the other things, Anita found it strangely worrying. She noted it all, like a good mother should. But she didn’t know what to do with it.  It was no use discussing it with James. James, Anita knew, had long given up, having tried to make some sense of his daughter and then gotten tired of being endlessly disappointed in his own lack of progress. Anita naturally couldn’t afford to do that. She was the mother. Mothers are not meant to give up on their children. And so, it made her worry. Yes, Anita worried about Lucy.

But never so much as after the arrival of the white rabbit.

Lucy was ten when the white rabbit entered their lives. No one actually knew where it came from. Neither Anita nor James had bought it. Nobody, as far as they knew, had given Lucy any gifts recently, and it certainly didn’t belong to any of the other children – none of them were the sort of person who would want play with a white rabbit. It simply magicked itself one afternoon, the top half its head popping out of Lucy’s book bag, one ear dangling out the side, and when Anita tried to enquire how it had found its way there, Lucy stared at her mother blankly.

“Well,” Anita said, “you must have some idea. After all, that is your book bag, and that – she pointed at the rabbit – is inside it.”

Lucy continued to stare.

“So, whose it is?” Anita asked.

“Mine,” Lucy replied.

“Who gave it to you?” her mother said.

Lucy shrugged.

“Lucy, how did it get there?” Anita asked.

“I don’t know,” Lucy replied. “I already told you.”

“Well, you can’t just take someone else’s things.”

“It’s not someone else’s. It’s mine.”

“How did it get inside your bag?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s a stuffed toy,” Anita said puzzled, “it couldn’t well have walked.”

“Maybe it hopped,” Alfie offered.

Lucy glared at her brother. “I hate you,” she muttered under her breath,

But Alfie being Alfie, ignored the comment entirely. Instead, he made a big show of picking the animal up by the tips of its ears and dangling it in the air. “And it’s nasty,” he said. “God knows where it’s been, it’s positively beige. If you’re planning to steal it, at least put it in the wash.”

“I did not steal it,” Lucy said, her hands clamped tightly over her ears.

“Washing it is a good idea,” Anita said hastily. “Let’s do that. And then you can return it to its owner. That would be a nice thing to do, return it to whoever it belongs to, clean and smelling nice.”

“It doesn’t want to smell nice,” Lucy screamed, snatching the thing from her brother and running out of the room, “or returned,” she added, glaring at her mother. “It’s mine.”

“Boy,” Alfie remarked, “how can that much crazy fit into someone that small?” He then put his hands in his pockets and began whistling a tune, for he clearly did not expect, from his mother, a suitable response.

After that, Lucy and Stanley – as Lucy duly announced the white rabbit was to be called – were inseparable. Like glue, Anita noted. She had heard of cases where children were known to display particular affection for a favourite toy. But this… this was… different. Where Lucy went, the rabbit went with her. She insisted on taking it to school, into the playground, out to lunch at the high street diner where it sat next to her, upright, on the red-leather chair, while Charlotte, the pretty, curly-haired waitress indulgently placed a menu in front of the thing. At night, she would tuck it carefully into bed, its white furry head on the pillow next to her dark one, its long, floppy ears carelessly caressing her cheek.

“I find that thing really creepy,” Lucy’s sister, Joanna announced one morning. “I don’t think I can handle it.”

“You don’t need to handle it,” Anita said, “it isn’t in your bed.”

“She’s obsessed with it.” Joanna said.

“She’s attached to it. I don’t see why it should bother you so much.”

“I still have to look at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night,” Joanna said with a petulant frown. “I shouldn’t have to look at it.”

“Turn the other way,” Anita said.

“Mum, you can’t ignore that it’s a problem. She takes it to the toilet for god’s sake. I don’t want to have to deal with it. It’s your fault. You make me share a room with her. I want my own room.”

“You’ve said so a hundred times,” Anita said.

“And you’ve not listened a hundred times,” Joanna replied. “I want…”

“Yes, yes,” Anita said. “You want your own room. I know.”

“Why can’t I have Harry’s room now that he’s in Uni?” Joanna said.

“Because Alfie has Harry’s room,” Anita replied.

“Why can’t Alfie share with Jake?” Joanna whined. “Wait. Don’t answer that. It’s because he’s a boy and boys get preference in this family.”

Anita let out a small gasp. “Jo, do you really believe that?” she said looking her in the eye.

“It doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is that I have to share a room with her and IT.” Joanna said with a shudder.

“It’s just a transitional object.” James said later.

“What’s a transitional object?” Anita asked.

“It’s the scientific term for what you’re describing with Lucy and the white rabbit. Basically, it’s a phase. She’ll outgrow it.”

“It’s too much,” Anita said. “It’s not normal. Even Jo said it wasn’t normal.”

“Yes,” James replied rolling his eyes. “Jo would know what’s normal.”

Anita frowned abstractly. “You’re missing the point,” she said.

“Clearly,” James replied. Then he too, like everyone else, turned his attention to something else and Anita was left pondering the problem alone.


The next time the white rabbit was mentioned was not until several weeks later.

It was a cold, blustery afternoon, the sky dark with clouds threatening a return of the storm from the previous night. Anita had left all the windows open; she loved the smell of rain. Along the ledge were a row of window boxes, overflowing with bright pink and purple petunias. Anita watered them daily with a dedication that could only be admired. It was the one thing about the flat that gave her joy, a kind of glimpse into the freedom of the outdoors, even when she was dying of monotony indoors.

The children had, only moments ago, returned from school, all claiming to be “dying of hunger,” and she was getting sandwiches ready in the kitchen when Lucy entered, clutching the rabbit in her arms.

“Can you shut the windows please?” she said. “I don’t want him to catch cold.”  

“Who, the white rabbit?” Anita said puzzled.

Lucy opened her green eyes wide. Not for the first time, Anita wondered where that striking eye colour came from; neither James, nor her, nor any of the other children had green eyes.  It made Lucy look, Anita thought, rather like a doll from some far-off exotic land, especially when they were wide open the way they were now.  “I do wish,” she intoned, “that you would stop calling him that. It’s so disrespectful.”

“But,” Anita replied, “it is a white rabbit.”

The others had trickled in by now, elbowing each other at the kitchen table, so many little fingers in the bowl of crisps, it was impossible to tell whose were whose.

“He’s called Stanley,” Lucy said stubbornly.

“Who?” Joanna said, “The white rabbit?”

“Stop butting in,” Lucy said. “And stop calling him that.”

“Whatever,” Joanna said rolling her eyes, “that thing in your arms is a white rabbit-shaped stuffed toy.”

“Hate to say it,” Jake said, “but this one time, she’s right.”

“You’re a cunt.” Lucy said.

Jake whistled in surprise.

“Lucy!” Anita said in horror. “Go up to your room this instant. You will never, ever use that word again in this house, do you understand?”

“I bet she doesn’t even know what it means,” Joanna said.

“It’s a bad word,” Alfie said. “Don’t use it. It makes you sound cheap.”

“Especially,” Joanna added, “over a stupid white rabbit.”

Lucy, Anita noticed, had gone pale as a ghost. She stood alone on one side of the kitchen, a tiny, frail thing, visibly shaking with rage. She opened her mouth, then shut it, then opened it again.

“God,” she said finally, “you are all so stupid. Not just some of you, but all of you. Harry’s the only one in this whole family who’s not stupid, but of course, just my luck, he’s not here. And the rest of you are all stupid, one more stupid then the other. Why are you all so stupid?”

“Lucy…” Anita said, “I think that’s enough for one day. Please apologise to your brother and then go to your room. And take that thing with you.”

“Can’t you understand,” Lucy cried, “that he can hear you? That you are hurting his feelings? His essence.”

There was a short silence in which nobody knew quite what to say.

“His essence?” Anita repeated.

“What on earth do you mean?” Joanna said.

“If any of you lot knew that,” Lucy said looking defiantly at the rest of her family, “you wouldn’t all be so stupid.”

“Wow,” Joanna remarked, “just wow.”

Anita opened her mouth in disbelief, but before she could conjure up the right words, Lucy said, “I know what you all think of me, but I don’t care.”

“Oh really,” Jake said, “what if I took your silly stuffed animal and threw it in the washing machine. Would you care then? Would you care if the blades whipped your rabbit about, and you saw it being tossed endlessly round and round the thing?”

Lucy screamed and clamped her hands over her ears. “You make me sick!” she yelled as she ran out of the room. “The lot of you make me physically ill.”

“It’s killing me,” Anita said to James at night.

“Stop being so dramatic,” James said, fluffing the pillow and crossing his arms under his head.  “It’s not killing you.”

“It’s killing me.”

“Throw it away. Wait till she’s out or something.”

“Impossible. She takes it wherever she goes. This is the entire point – she isn’t ever without it. She sits it on the bathroom window ledge when she’s having her bath. It’s too much. It’s killing me.”

“Do it when she’s asleep.”

“She’ll kill me.”

“Well then,” James said triumphantly. “Pick your poison.”

Then he laughed. “Relax, it’s proving to be a bit of a problem, I get it. But it’ll pass.”

But Anita was sitting up, her back straight against the headrest and James could see that she was more than usually flustered. She shook her head.  “She’s not some inherited problem like a faulty pipe or a bad debt that we just need to grin and bear and then plan meticulously how to rid ourselves off. We are the reason she is the way she is. We made her.”

From James, she heard a faint rumble and a snort.

“Christ,” she said. “Stop snoring and wake up. This is important.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” James mumbled. “I’m tired.”

“But James, you’re her father,” Anita moaned, “I can’t take it alone. It’s killing me.”

“Right,” he said, sitting up next to her and putting his hand over hers. He had big hands, long, thick fingers, the nails, smooth, pale pink rectangles. “What exactly is the problem?”

“I think,” Anita said slowly, “that she can’t tell the difference between living beings and inanimate objects. I mean, I think she truly believes that everything lives and breathes. Including, obviously, that rabbit that she’s currently obsessed with.”

“Like anthropomorphism?”

“Yes. But in an extreme way. Especially with that rabbit. I think she genuinely believes that it’s alive.”

James sighed. “She’s a child. Children get silly ideas into their heads all the time. Maybe she thinks its magical. Children believe in magic. It’s endearing in some ways, you know. When I was a child, I thought that if I closed my eyes and willed it strongly enough, I’d become invisible. Just a childish fantasy, a kind of insecurity in some ways. She’ll outgrow it, just like I did. Sometimes I wish I didn’t. Sometimes I wish I still believed in magic.” He patted her arm. “I really think you should stop worrying and just let her be.”

“Yes, but,” Anita said, “what have we done to make her feel insecure? Maybe we haven’t been patient enough or gentle enough or loving enough. Maybe she feels neglected or overlooked or ignored by the others or forgotten because she’s the last of the lot. Maybe that’s what she’s looking for in the rabbit, some kind of comfort or emotional security she’s not getting from her family. I mean, we can’t just dismiss it like this, this is a serious matter that could affect her for her whole life, and we need to understand the root cause of this bizarre behaviour and address it. We owe it to her to do that. After all, she’s our daughter!”

She turned to James, a deep frown clouding her face, but James was fast asleep. She noticed then above his tightly lidded eyes, his eyebrows, so bushy and unkempt, sprouting everywhere like overgrown ivy. For a long while, she just looked at him, this man who was her husband. Then she sighed, reached across his body and flicked the light switch off. It was never quite dark in that room, the silver moonlight, the golden streetlights, the diffused glare of headlights – light – always finding a way into the darkness. She lay in the shadows, listening to the sound of the cars, slick tyres on a wet road. Just let her be, he had said. Maybe he was right. Maybe she should just let her be.

But life, as it turns out, doesn’t always just let people be. No, life usually finds a way to stir things up and bring them to a boil and then it’s up to us if we are able to save the thing in time. Up to our smarts and our agility and our quick-wittedness. And our luck. Always, there’s luck.

And so, on a bright, sunny Saturday morning, while Chopin was spreading his jouissance on the gramophone and Anita was getting the usual breakfast things ready, Lucy came shrieking into the room.

“He’s dead!” she screamed and then let out a blood curdling yell.

The sound of her daughter’s voice, not just the ominous words it was uttering, but the sound of it – its volume and timbre – made Anita stumble backwards. She reached a hand towards the kitchen table and managed to grab the corner to steady herself.

“He’s dead!” Lucy repeated in that same terrible voice.

“Who, what?” Anita managed faintly.

“Stanley,” Lucy said wretchedly. “Stanley is dead. Dismembered. Mutilated. Maimed.”  

“The rabbit?”

At that, Lucy let out another scream and ran out of the room, colliding headlong into Jake. She let out another little screech and disappeared.

“What’s bitten her bum?” Jake said, walking into the kitchen rubbing his eyes.

“I think something happened to the rabbit,” Anita said.  

“Oh yeah? Did it die?”

“That’s what she said.”

“Cool, but I was joking actually,” Jake said.

“Well, she wasn’t,” Anita said. Then she sighed deeply as if bracing herself for battle. “I should go check on her,” she said.

“Good luck confronting crazy,” she heard her youngest son call behind her, “you’ll need it.”

When Anita arrived at the room her daughters shared, she found Joanna standing outside, silent and unmoving. She seemed rivetted by the high drama unfolding inside: Lucy sitting on the edge of the bed, trapped in a slanting sunbeam, whimpering, clutching the rabbit to her body, performing it would seem, some sort of elaborate ritual of mourning.

Anita felt the pang of a single emotion – a powerful, undulating wave of fear.

She tried at first to quell it, putting a hand to her stomach, as if she could hold it there, restrain it, prevent it from travelling to any part of her body where it might become real.  But fear is an emotion one cannot choose not to feel. One can feel fear but choose not to acknowledge it. One can acknowledge fear but choose not to act on it. But fear, like love, like yearning, like desire, is something one cannot choose not to feel. Anita felt it, pure and unfiltered. She stood next to Joanna, unable to speak or to move or to do anything at all.

For a long while, the three remained exactly where they were. Then, Lucy turned around. On spotting her mother, she emitted a low cry, which grew louder and louder and did not stop until it had summoned all the remaining members of the family from different parts of the flat to her room.

Jake wandered in first, shirtless, his chest smooth and hairless at twelve.

Alfie came in next, in striped, blue pyjamas, as tall as his father, almost a man.   

James completed the line-up, slotting in nervously between his older daughter and his wife.

All five of them standing there just watching her.

Lucy didn’t move. She didn’t stop wailing. She continued to sit on the very edge of the bed, holding the stuffed animal to her chest while she rocked back and forth.

“He died,” she kept repeating over and over again, “He died. He died. He died. He died. He died. He died. He died. He died. He died.”

Alfie was the first to speak.

“But what happened,” he said, “how did it die, your white rabbit?”

Lucy shrieked.

“Shhhh,” Joanna said, glaring at her brother.


“Stop saying that.”

“Stop saying what? That her rabbit died? Well, isn’t that what she’s saying over and over? That the rabbit died? Well, how did the rabbit die is what I’m asking.”

Lucy shrieked again.

“Stop! She doesn’t like it when you use that word.”



Lucy let out a scream that made James jump. His hand landed heavily on Joanna’s shoulder. “Ouch,” she said, grimacing. “Sorry,” James said, “sorry about that.”

“Please.” Anita said, biting her lower lip so hard it was turning white. “Can we all just call him Stanley.”

She took a tiny tentative step into the room. “Lucy,” she said in a soothing voice.

The child looked up. Her face, James thought, looked desolate.

“Lucy,” Anita said again, putting an arm around her very gently, “Sweetie, what happened?”

Amazingly, the child didn’t push her away. Instead, something about what Anita had done seemed to calm her down. She stopped the screaming. She stopped the rocking.

“Look,” she said very quietly. “Just look at him.”

She separated the toy from her body and held it up for her mother to see.

Despite herself, Anita gasped.

Lucy was right. The thing was dead. And how!

The head was no longer attached to the body but dangled limply to one side as if the neck had been snapped in half. One arm hung precariously from a thread. A leg had been totally severed and appeared to be missing. Both eyes had been gouged out.  Miraculously, the ears appeared to be intact, flopping down absurdly from the mangled face. Where what had once been its stomach, was a gaping hole from which miscellaneous stuffing materials were spilling out, squares of foam, cotton wool, fabric scraps. As everyone watched, Lucy pulled out from it, what looked like a long piece of discarded pantyhose.

Joanna made a faint gagging sound.

“Who could have done that?” Jake whispered

“He was in the garden,” Lucy said to no one in particular. “I found him in the garden, lying on the grass. Disfigured. Destroyed. Dead.”

“How did it get in the garden?” someone asked.

“Could have fallen off the bathroom window ledge.”

“Or the balcony railing.”

“Maybe it fell out of her bag.”

“Must have been a cat.”

“Or a fox. I’ve seen one slinking around lately from my bedroom window at night. Horrible, mangy creature.”

“Why would a fox do that to that?”

“Um… it’s a rabbit?”

“It’s not a real rabbit.”

“Well, maybe the fox didn’t know that until it tried to eat it.”

“STOP!” Lucy yelled suddenly, another hair-raising scream. “The lot of you! Just stop!”

Once again, she began sobbing violently, burying her head in her hands.

Then just as suddenly, she stopped crying. She pushed the rabbit brusquely off her bed onto the floor and stood up.

“You don’t understand,” she said, looking around the room, her eyes ablaze with some kind of indecipherable emotion. “None of you. None of you understand.”

Finally, James spoke. “Understand what?” he said, looking dazed.

“Me,” Lucy said quietly. “None of you understand me.”


The next morning when Lucy was still asleep Anita gathered up the rest of her children.

“Did any of you have anything to do with this?” she asked.

She watched the look of horror as it passed from one to the other.

“Not me,” Alfie said promptly, “No chance.”

“I hated the thing, it was freaky, but I would never do that to her,” Jo said.

Anita looked at Jake. “Me? Are you kidding?” he said, “I wouldn’t touch the thing with a barge pole. It’s disgusting.”

Anita nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I believe you all. I just needed to check.”

“But how did it get there,” Alfie asked, “in the garden?”

Joanna shrugged. “Who knows,” she said. “Just like no one knows where it came from. Maybe it’s magic.”


Later that same morning, Anita took Lucy aside. She had pondered the move all night, sleepless, fraught with indecision, shared her feelings with no one because no one she thought, would understand, and then in a rare display of valour, decided to take the plunge. Now, with the child standing next to her with an anxious look on her small, pale face, she felt suddenly afraid.

“Mummy?” Lucy said in a sad, soft voice.

Anita swallowed. Then she opened her mouth and waited for the words to come.

“Would you,” she ventured tentatively, “like me to try and repair it?”

Lucy stared up at her, her pretty green eyes wide open, alarmed.

“Repair it?” she said, repeating the words slowly.

“Treat,” Anita said hastily. “Sorry, I meant, treat. Treat him. Stanley. I could… umm… try to perform…umm… surgery on him and then we could try and rehabilitate him, you know… I mean I can’t promise he’ll be exactly the same, he’s lost a limb, and well, both his eyes and…”

But she couldn’t finish the sentence because the child had flung herself on to her body. And now she was hugging her, wrapping her long thin arms around her mother’s neck. And now they were both crying. And then the child was saying something, her breath hot and wet against her neck. It was the first time since she was a baby that Anita had felt her daughter’s body so close against her own.

You can’t bring back the dead, Anita thought. But it’s never too late to try with the living.


A funeral is conducted for Stanley. An elaborate ritual involving coffins and hymns. Harry returns from university for it, he doesn’t completely understand why he’s been asked to come but he comes anyway, without complaint. They have always been close, her eldest and her youngest, tied together by some mysterious bond.

Stanley is buried in one corner of the communal garden where his wounded body was first discovered, under the cherry tree, which is now bare, but will in just a few months burst into the most spectacular blossom.

Lucy sobs silently the whole way through, her little body shaking with emotion. Anita looks at the puffy, tear-stained face, the lips open with shock, the eyes swollen with sadness.

I wish, Anita thinks, that there was some way we could help her.

What, she wonders are the rules of mourning for stuffed animals? It is a week for a cat, she knows that much, two weeks, they say, for a dog, thirty days for distant family members, three months for grandparents and siblings, six months for parents or children. 

Lucy takes a year.

A year.


Around the time of the death anniversary, Lucy announces that she wants to learn to play the piano.

The sentiment surprises Anita because she has never thought of her youngest daughter as particularly musical. She never, for example, makes requests for songs to be played on the turntable like the other children, who fight over it and try to outshout one another constantly. She is the only one of the five not to have expressed an early interest in learning – or even listening – to an instrument. When Joanna practices the oboe, Lucy leaves the room, she can’t bear the noise, she says it sounds like someone has stepped on the toes of a canary. When James listens to the opera on the radio, Lucy has been seen to her stick her index fingers in her ears. Anita has never heard her sing (except in those hushed tones for the solitary bath ducky.) She hasn’t even heard her hum.

But then, there it is. “I want to talk to you about something,” she says one evening at dinner.

Anita looks up, alarmed by what might follow.  “What’s the matter?” she says, “did something happen at school?”

“No,” Lucy says – and the word is an accusation.

“Oh,” Anita says, blushing. “It’s just that I thought… nothing. Sorry. What would you like to talk about?”

“I want to be able to play the piano,” Lucy says.

“The piano?” James repeats as if he does not understand the word.

“Where on earth did that come from?” he asks Anita later in bed.

“I’m not sure with her I know where anything comes from,” Anita replies, lying on her stomach, propped up on her elbows.

“Does she even like music?”

“Heaven knows what she likes,” Anita says. Then she lets the weight off her elbows so her body collapses heavily onto the bed.

“But we should be encouraging,” she adds.

“I suppose so,” James says, “if it gets her mind off all that awful stuffed animal business.”

Anita nods. “Yes,” she says. “It’s more important than ever.”

A few days later, she says to James. “Apparently, she’s pretty good.”

James makes a face. “According to whom?” he asks.

“The piano teacher,” Anita replies.

“Well,” James says, “she would say that. How much do the lessons cost?”

“It’s a he,” Anita says, and when James looks startled, she says patiently, “the piano teacher is a man.” She continues without pause, “He said she’d be ready to do a solo performance in six months if she keeps up regular practice.”

“Solo performance, like Jingle Bells?”

“Like Schubert,” Anita says.


Six months later, at her first ever solo performance, Lucy performs Schubert’s Impromptus composed by the great Austrian in 1827, while Anita and James and the other four children sit cramped next to each other in their seats with the same expression of disbelief on their faces.

The performance is divided into four separate pieces that Lucy plays without pause. A beautiful, uninterrupted miracle. Like a kind of magic. James is crying, despite himself. Is this music coming from his daughter? His troubled, neurotic daughter? But, how? There’s no discord in her fingers. No bloodshed in her beat.

Lucy, he whispers to himself. Her name is a kind of confirmation, necessary for him to process what is happening. On that stage as her fingers fly over the keys, his daughter looks unrecognisable. Her carriage is erect, her face locked in total concentration. He has never seen her look this way, so poised, so self-assured. The pieces played in sequence are twenty minutes long, but the music feels boundless, like it could go on forever. It cannot be faulted.

“My goodness,” James manages eventually, “it’s magical.”

After the show, the piano teacher asks Lucy some questions. He is tall and heavy-set and towers over the child. He wears a black suit, and his red beard lends him a serious, almost austere look. He speaks into the microphone, then holds it under Lucy’s chin for her to respond. He already knows the answers. The questions are for the benefit of the audience. 

How long – he asks – has she been learning the piano.

“Six months,” she replies. She speaks into the mike with confidence, like she is accustomed to this kind of thing, like she has been doing it for years.

“Six months!” The man exclaims, “why that’s impossible!”

Lucy says nothing. The remark, she knows is rhetorical. She has, after all, just proved it.

“That’s extraordinary,” the man says. “You must practise for hours at home!”

“We don’t have a piano at home,” Lucy replies.

“A keyboard then.”

“No,” Lucy says, “no keyboard either.”

But then, where does she practice, he wants to know. At school?

“A bit,” Lucy says, giving him the recognition she knows he’s after. “But I don’t need to practise very much, because mostly they do it themselves.”

“I’m sorry?” The man asks bemused.

“The keys,” Lucy replies. “They play themselves, really. I ask them to play, and they play. I have to ask nicely, that’s all.”

The audience rumbles. There are a few subdued laughs. But the piano teacher looks startled in a genuine way. Perhaps he has not asked her this before, not ventured in so deep. Perhaps she has replied differently before. But it is clear he is surprised by her response. It is not what he was expecting.

“Like a kind of magic?” he asks.

She agrees. “Yes,” she says. “Like a kind of magic.”

“But, when you say, you ask them,” he persists, “you don’t mean you actually speak to them.”

“Oh yes,” Lucy says. “I speak to them all the time.”

He wipes his brow. His discomfiture is obvious. “I see,” he says thoughtfully. “You mean metaphorically, of course,” he adds.

Lucy holds her chin up. There’s a certain dignity in her aspect. “No,” she says. “I mean literally. I speak to them, the keys. They all have names. All eighty-eight of them. When it’s their turn, I call their name, and I speak to them. I ask them to play. And if I ask nicely, they listen.”

There is a collective gasp from the audience, a few claps. They seem torn. They don’t know if she is toying with them. Or if they both are, pupil and teacher alike. If it has all has been planned, part of the performance as it were. Gimmicks like this are not uncommon after demonstrations of such virtuosity, cleverly orchestrated to add to the drama of the thing.

The piano teacher has gone pale. In the incandescent glow of the stage lights, his red beard looks orange.

But Lucy looks magnificent, magical. There is a little smile fixed on her face mocking a world that is too stupid to understand.

About ami rao

Ami is an award winning British-American writer who was born in Calcutta, India and has lived and worked in New York City, London, Paris, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ami has a BA in English Literature and Economics from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is the co-writer of a memoir and the author of three novels.

Ami is an award winning British-American writer who was born in Calcutta, India and has lived and worked in New York City, London, Paris, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ami has a BA in English Literature and Economics from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is the co-writer of a memoir and the author of three novels.

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