orphans of the harp


Uptown 110th street stop. Followed her into the park. She walked across to Harlem Meer. She sits on a fallen stone in the shadow of Fort Clinton near the footpath and begins to play. Her case open to collect coins. I am watching from the shade, a stand of trees growing near the lake. White trunks, black wire branches, wind shaking cascades of yellow leaves down around me.
Her face is expressionless as she plays, her hands a blur over the fretboard of the dark red guitar. I have never heard such music, nor have I heard a guitar played in such a fashion. She is pulling articulate notes from the fretboard even as her other hand strums the chords. Dissonance, cacophony, agony, yet deep within the structure there is harmony. An unearthly resonance. It sounds like a human voice. Her face is stone.
A crowd gathers around the prodigy. They relinquish their money in a trance state, filling her case with coins and bills. I am watching a stray cat prowl through the aspens, hunting. Silver-gray, like an overcast sky at dawn. Its eyes are silver too. It twines around my legs as I write. It has lost its master.
The cat prowls through the long grass towards the musician. It is right next to her, slinking along the edge of the stone she sits on. She doesn’t notice; she is lost in the structure of her music. It moves with purpose. Its silver eyes trained on her. Its head dances about, its gaze following her hands fluttering along the fretboard. Like a bird. The girl has not seen it. The cat creeps closer. Now it reveals its long-needle fangs and hisses, extends its claws, and slashes her bare leg beneath her white dress. She cries out in pain, and breaks a string. The cat leaps away, and brushes past me as it runs through the rushes on the edge of Harlem Meer. She pulls the pin from the guitar with her fingers and winds the broken string tenderly in her hand. Only after she has tended to her instrument does she notice the scratches. She sets the guitar back in the silver case and touches her leg. The scratch is deep, her pale fingers are smeared with blood. The cat has gone. Her strange rigidity has softened. Her hand trembles, dark red over marble skin. She glances around, as though waking up, surprised by her surroundings. She folds her leg onto her knee and wipes at the blood with the hem of her immaculate white dress. Blood blossoms on the fabric like dahlias growing through the snow. She pulls the red glasses off and I see her strange pink irises. She is wall-eyed. Her head arched back, I can hear her breathing, even from my hiding place in the aspen copse. She closes her eyes; she is drenched in sunlight. The yellow heart-shaped aspen leaves fall onto my journal as I write.

Published by isaacpeterson

Isaac Peterson is an author, artist, and educator living in Oregon. Isaac illustrates children's books for both print media and animated IOS and Android applications. Isaac is working on his first science fiction novel. You can read portions of it in the writing blog. An accomplished film photographer, he recently won first place in a group show at fotofoto gallery in New York.

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2 Comments

  1. you see the cat through most of the book— notably on the very first page! this is building up to the revelation that the cat is a witch’s familiar, and is influencing the characters and events of the book

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