Miss Mary Francis Lanier, my piano teacher when I was a child
was beautiful - to me at least.
She had alabaster white skin so thin and delicate you could see her
veins. She had long, elegant fingers. And, she had the palest
of blue eyes robin's egg blue eyes. She dressed like she'd just
walked off a magazine cover. I never saw her with a hair out of place.
But, she never married. That was strange in a small West Georgia
town in the fifties. The women who didn't get married were women
like Miss Rose, the church secretary, born with a hump and a withered leg.
They were women who had something wrong with them. There didn't seem
to be anything wrong with Miss Mary Francis, at least nothing we could
Miss Mary Francis lived in a huge old Southern Home, complete with
immense white columns all along the front porch. As far as I was
concerned, every detail of her life and that house was perfect.
And, it wasn't as if she was an outcast or a hermit. She had friends
and family. In fact, she lived in a town named after her family -
So, even though we sometimes wondered we never knew why she didn't
get married until we asked Pearl.
After that, everything that had seemed to perfect, started to look
just a little skewed. I started remembering things that had happened
in that house, things I hadn't thought much about before, but now remembered
I could now identify something hushed and whispering about the house.
As if, amid all the perfection, old souls and unhappy stories remained
there. Slowly, it dawned on me that the house was something like
a very formal and expensive funeral home, as if the quiet was desperately
necessary to keep from disturbing the demons.
I remembered how the little "gurls" who took piano lessons at Miss
Mary Francis' house were met at the glass windowed front doors at exactly
the appointed time, and ushered directly into what I suppose had been,
at one time, a ballroom. It had become the home of two baby grand
pianos which fit in without any discomfort along with the rest of the furniture.
At the end of this room was a small glassed sun room, through which
sun filtered onto old, fine white wicker furniture and palms.
French doors opened off the ballroom to a dining room, but we weren't
allowed to go in there, except when we were giving formal recitals and
our parents were seated there. The sun room, was likewise off-limits
except during recitals when we were seated there in rows of chairs.
In fact, after Pearl told us, it occurred to me that the little "gurls"
were escorted very carefully every time we were in Miss Mary Francis' house
and we were never allowed to stray one footstep away from the path that
led directly from the door - to the pianos. I don't even remember
ever going to the bathroom in that house.
As I was scooted through the main foyer and to the right, through the
French doors to the piano room, I would sometimes glance, to the left,
on the other side of the hallway, and try to see through the French doors
that led to all the rooms on the left side of the house. But that
side of the house was shrouded with dark opaque curtains.
The right side of the house had only filmy sheers on all the doors
and windows, but not the left. I don't know why I didn't figure it
out, but it was like there was something hidden there. We found out
I would also, when Miss Mary Francis was distracted, take a peep up
the massive wooden staircase at the back of the central hall, which seemed
to grow darker and darker, and cooler and cooler as it ascended, sweeping
up in a curve to the second floor.
I never knew what was up there. I never even knew where Miss
Mary Francis' room was, or where she slept. Those were the sorts
of questions you just didn't ask, not Miss Mary Francis.
But, you could ask Pearl.