A Miner’s Canary
Father walks in from the cold, grey day that is February 10th. His aged and haggard face is covered in soot from the coal mines. His black cap used to be red; his heavy stone wool jacket is streaked with coal dust. His hair is graying, his beard holding onto the last touches of auburn brown which used to crown his head. The snow follows him inside like the dust which covers him. He picks me up and I hold him close. “How are you doing, Ambrose, my son?” he asks in Russian. “Fine Papa.” Setting me down, Father sees Mama, and kisses her. She does not ask him about work, she never wants to know what happened. Safety is not exactly a cause for concern of the owners. 75% of the town works in the mine, out here in western Pennsylvania, Braddock, close to Pittsburgh.
Papa sits down in his chair, a sturdy oak chair he made himself, next to the radio, which has been silent all day. Father takes off his coat and lays it over the back of the chair. He goes into my parent’s room and pulls out his violin, as I have seen him do many times before. Deep amber brown and scuffed around the corners; the instrument sits in his scarred gnarled hands softly.
I sit down, my younger sister, Anna, in my lap, for she is but a toddler. Father turns the dial, as Mama goes about preparing the last remaining portions of supper. The fire is burning strongly from the hearth, and the mix of wood smoke and baked bread fills the room. A piece comes on the radio, “Ah! I love this piece, Tchaikovsky, I’m sure” Father exclaims, and picks up his violin and begins to play. He turns down the radio and plays along. Father has been doing this for as long as I can remember. His hands, still covered in soot from the mine, move like black footed ballerinas upon the strings. The violin fits him as well as the jacket and hat. Too quickly the song is over.
Another piece begins, this time a violin concerto. Father’s eyes close as he focuses upon the piece. I have seen this only a couple of times in my short life; Father has yet to hear this song. He sits, violin still in hand, and listens. The concerto starts slows, building, building, and building towards this great finale. Father’s fingers twitch along, as if guessing what notes will be coming next. The piece ends in a crescendo. Father picks up the bow. An exhale, then he begins.
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I feel warmth enter my bones, as if my Father has brought spring early. The black footed ballerinas continue dancing upon the strings, the bow glides back and forth like a block of ice thrown across a frozen lake. His eyes are still closed; his concentration is at its peak. The crescendo begins. Like birds in flight, the music rises higher and higher. Sweat drips down his face, the music gets faster and faster. No music sounded sweeter. The music stops. He coughs, again and again. Bent over, trying to get a hold of himself. It is over. The mine wins again. He puts away the violin. Dinner is ready.