Command Performance

Sometimes, it’s better to receive than to give.  In this story, a young woman receives a lesson in life for Christmas. – GB

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Scarcely deigning to glance sideways the two young women strode jauntily between the beds.  Several children glanced listlessly at them as they passed with their invisible retinues. They addressed a woman in white who sat at the desk.

“Good afternoon Matron. My name is Isobel McClenan and I’m from the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston.  We’re here to entertain the children.  Someone should have told you we were coming…” she paused, and continued less certainly when the matron said nothing.  “It’s supposed to be a group of us but I haven’t seen anyone else.  We were supposed to meet here at four.” This last statement sounded like a question.

“No, we haven’t seen anyone else,” the Matron confirmed.

“I’ll give them a few more minutes then,” Isobel said turning to leave the ward.

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“Anyone?” Isobel asked fifteen minutes later.

“Not yet.”

“Typical.  Why are people so unreliable? … And then they’ll walk around and tell everybody what a good job they’re doing,” she said righteously.

“Why don’t we do it ourselves? If anyone else comes we can just tell them that we’re through?” her companion suggested.

“Yes.  Let’s.” She turned to the Matron, “I’ll soon be back.  I’m just going to get my violin. It’s in the car.”

She returned after five minutes and elicited an appreciative murmur from her audience of children and their visitors when she unzipped the impressive black case and scooped a sleek violin from the blue velvet cushion on which it rested.  She cradled the instrument between her neck and left shoulder before plucking at the strings with her right forefinger smiling dreamily as if listening to music trapped in the wood.

Isobel returned it to its case and selected one of the bows that was clamped in the cover.  Ignoring the excited squeal of one little girl who noticed that the space between the wood and the hairs widened with each turn, she wound the nut.  She pulled a round plastic container from a compartment, poured the contents into her hand and rubbed the knob of honey-coloured rosin on the taut hairs while staring gravely at a poster cataloguing the merits of breast-feeding.  She refused to acknowledge the children who crept closer to peep at the violin and at the bow and rosin in her hands.

Three candy-stripers offered, tentatively, to arrange a few chairs so that the children who could manage it would get to sit close to her.

“If you like,” said Isobel turning to help them.

“That’s okay my dear… we’ll manage, you just get ready.  I’m sure the children will love this,” said the Matron, kindly.

“Maybe we should start with some Christmas carols,” said Isobel’s companion.  “We’ll let the children choose, okay?”

She turned to the gathering.

“Good evening everyone.  I am Monique McClenan and this is my sister Isobel and we’re here to entertain you this evening because it’s Christmas and you know what they say – ‘It’s better to give than to receive.’ We believe that we’ve been blessed and so it is our duty to bring cheer into the lives of others.  I’m sure you’ll agree that if more people thought that way, the country would be much better off.”

A weak scatter of applause followed this desultory little speech.

“We’ll begin with some Christmas carols.  Is there anything that you’d like to sing?” she asked.

There was no response.

“Does anyone know Hark the Herald Angels Sing?”  she asked.

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing…” began the Matron briskly, waving her hand like a conductor, urging the others to join her.

Soon, everyone in the room was singing lustily.  No one seemed to care when Isobel and Monique broke into a soaring descant part for the third verse.  The girls looked at each other ecstatically after the song. They even managed to continue beaming graciously when everyone else turned to a plump little nurse standing at the opposite end of the ward to laud her beautiful voice.

“I didn’t know you could sing Nurse Eaton!” the Matron exclaimed.

“Yes Matron, she is always singing for the children and I’ve told her that she should be on a CD,” one of the candy-stripers gushed.

The others agreed and they praised Nurse Eaton who hung her head modestly.

“What about O Come, O Come Emmanuel?” Monique asked.

“I don’t think everyone knows that one,” said the Matron.  “Let’s try The Holly and the Ivy.”

They did; and then they sang O Come All Ye Faithful, Jingle Bells and Once in Royal David’s City.  After each song the applause for Nurse Eaton grew louder, and more prolonged.

“Are you ready to play something for us now dear?” the Matron asked after a while.

“Everyone seems to be enjoying the singing,” said Isobel, depreciatingly. “Let’s stay with that.”

“Oh come now, you’ve come to play for us and we want to hear you…A command performance if you will!”

Everyone broke into polite applause.

“No, it’s quite alright,” Isobel insisted, fretfully.

The Matron glanced at Monique who rushed forward and read T’was The Night Before Christmas (A Visit From St. Nicholas). After three more songs the Matron put a stop to the celebration and sent the children to bed.

“It was good of you to come, my dear,” she said to Isobel as the girls left.  “Perhaps you’ll play something for us next time?”

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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