Music and Poetry



E-Flat minor, an octave below middle-C.


The chords clash like the screech of metal.

Fiona swallows the panic that always comes with these jarring chords and grabs a cup from the dish strainer. Aidan's had a difficult day. Not that there are any easy days. She fills the cup with cold water and flicks her hand across the spice rack of medication bottles until it settles on the Tylenol.

Aidan sits at the piano. His head hangs inches from the keys, face hidden behind long, golden curls. His father’s curls. His slender fingers pound the dissonant chords. Head. Pain. Head. Pain. 

Fiona sits beside him and fishes two pills from the bottle. She wraps an arm around his shoulders and pulls him close while she holds out the medicine in her other palm.

Aidan shakes his head, and continues filling the room with his two musical words. Again, she pulls him to her, but he wrenches away, slapping the pills from her hand to clatter across the room.

Fiona’s patience--usually a strength, a necessity--fails her. “Dammit, Aidan, I’m trying to help you!” Her words haven’t died away before guilt and remorse rush in.

His fingers find the keyboard again. New notes jar the air between them, a refrain she's heard often enough lately to identify without thinking. Who am I?

How can she tell him? What if knowing about his father, about his heritage, awakens his poetry? What door might that open? If her music drew Rory, what might Aidan, with the artistry of two realms, summon?

She brushes back his hair, and after a moment he leans into her, his body a tense chord of need and frustration. She wraps her arm around him and taps single notes on the keyboard with her other hand. Mother loves Aidan.

Her teeth clench to hold back tears, but she knows she can't hold back Aidan's need, any more than someone could've kept music from her at his age. Even if knowing might cost them everything.

She clutches him to her and begins his story. 

“He’ll be special. A musical genius like you, a poet like me.” Rory propped his head on one hand and grinned at her. His soft lips and dancing green eyes fanned a current of heat through her like a midsummer breeze.

“We’ll teach him both.” She leaned up from her pillow to kiss him, but he drew back, his eyes dark with melancholy that touched her as deeply as his verse.

He shook his head. “The gods allow us to visit this world but once.”

She put a hand on her belly as if she could already feel the life they’d created there.

Rory rolled off the bed and stood, his body physical poetry to match his silken voice. “You’ve heard the old tales. We’re free folk. Self-control is not in us. When we walked your world without restraint, we brought naught but mischief. Or worse.”

“You’ve seduced me with your words, put a child in me, and now you’ll leave? That’s not mischief?”

He laughed. "It was your music that drew me here. You are the seductress." He sat on the bed and pressed a warm hand to her stomach, his voice softening as it did when he enthralled her with his verse. "This is my gift to make up for the mischief. He’ll shine like the midsummer moon, brilliant with music and poetry.”

By age eight, Aidan could flawlessly play back the most complex pieces she’d ever learned at Juilliard after hearing them once. The keyboard was an extension of him, as familiar as his own delicate fingers.

But there was nothing of his father's poetry. The doctors had a hundred names--autism, ADHD, Asperger’s--but none defined Aidan. In fourteen years, he'd never uttered a single word.

Instead, he began playing notes to match her words. Simple at first, and then more complex, until they’d developed a vocabulary of music. Idioglossia, the therapist called it, a private language. Twelve notes in an octave, dozens of chords per note, three octaves from which she could dissect chords by ear. Single notes for the most important things in his life--middle-C for him, D for her, E for Mrs. Shelley who watched him from time to time. A vocabulary of over a thousand words. A language only they understood.

As a small child, Aidan sat next to Fiona on the piano bench while she played, watching with an intensity that echoed his father. When she finished, he would repeat her notes flawlessly, head tilted and a frown pursing his small lips as if trying to understand what the music communicated.

Once they had developed their language, he spurned Fiona’s music. She mourned his disinterest, but understood. He wished to communicate. Her music created language that held no significance--beautiful, meaningless melodies. Baby talk. His new chords rang with dissonance, but they expressed his thoughts. ‘I love you, Mom,’ poured from his fingertips as a disharmonious clash of sentiment that had once spurred Mrs. Shelley into chiding him for pounding on the piano.

"Your father was gentle and strong and clever, and oh-so-full of mischief. He couldn't stay, but he left his greatest gift." Her finger pushes a single key on the piano. Middle-C. Aidan.

Aidan is still now, his face closed, his thoughts hidden. She holds him, her heart heavy with past and future. Finally she stands, sensing his need to be alone. "I'm going to rest for a bit."

In the bedroom, she crawls into the bed that she and Rory once shared as exhaustion claims her. She wakes from a dream of music, a composition she's never heard, haunting and beautiful with an undercurrent of deeper meaning. She longs again for Rory's poetry as the notes ring in her ears.

Slowly she sits up. The notes are not her dream remnants. They drift in from the living room like a fragrance, subtle and powerful. Emotion as sound.

She tiptoes to the door and peers out. Aidan sits at the piano. His fingers move across the keys with a familiarity that she, with all her training, can only long for.

The sound isn't the discordant clash of Aidan’s language, but music as she's never heard it. Beautiful. Elegant. Unique.

She moves behind him and listens. Aidan weaves his melody in unfamiliar, harmonious ways. The chords of the left hand speak in unison with the single notes of the right. Melody with harmony.

She assigns words to his chords and notes, translating the music into their language.

Hidden sadness / Mother.

Broken, frustrated / Aidan.

Alone together / Aidan. Mother.

Sun after rain / Mother.

Warm with love / Aidan.

Strength together / Aidan. Mother.

Her words are music / Mother.

My music is words / Aidan.

Our gift is family / Aidan. Mother.

He creates words and music simultaneously, and Fiona can't be sure which is more beautiful. A sob escapes her and Aidan looks up. She envelops him in her arms, crying and laughing until he laughs with her.

Let them come. He has his father's poetry after all.