In the 1990s, Caroline Catz (Louisa) sang with the band, Monoland. The song in this story refers to the lovely “If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful” by Jermaine Jackson and Whitney Houston, from Jermaine’s “Precious Moments” album (1986), written by Elliot Willensky. The song is also included in “Whitney: The Greatest Hits” (May 2000).
Happy Birthday to my daughter!
by Karen Gilleland © 2015
Louisa heard the tinkling sound of piano scales when she entered the music room. “It’s so kind of you to practice with me,” she said to Roger Fenn, who stopped playing and pushed his unruly hair away from his eyes.
“My pleasure, Louisa. You have a gifted voice. I’m surprised you haven’t sung in our talent show before.”
“I wouldn’t have signed up this time, but your wife caught me singing to the children and twisted my arm. Maureen assured me she’d be in the program herself. I was nearly scared off when I found out performers were coming from as far away as Penzance.”
“Blame Bert Large. He insisted on promoting the show in the Cornish Guardian.” Roger slid his fingers across the keys. “Let’s get to work.”
“Would you look after James while I clean up in the kitchen?”
Reaching for the infant, he said, “Come on, James, you can watch this heart transplant video with me.”
“Wouldn’t want you to miss that program, would we, Sweetie?” she smiled at the baby, who was waving his arms, and handed him to Martin.
About to turn away, she stopped and picked up the empty cup on his desk. “I’ll bring you some tea.”
“Thank you.” Martin snapped his fingers. “Oh, I ran into Roger Fenn at the harbor. He said something about a talent show tomorrow night. I don’t see a notation in my diary.”
“I know how busy you are with the taskforce,” she said, starting to turn away again.
“What time is it?” he asked, glancing at his diary and picking up his pen.
“Seven. It’s going to be a rather long program. Performers are coming from all around Cornwall. It could be a waste of your time.”
She noticed his eyebrows arch and knew he was puzzled by her coolness. “Would you rather I didn’t come?” he asked. “I’m not crazy about the idea, but you keep telling me we need to do things as a family.”
The baby began fussing, and Martin jiggled him and pointed at the monitor. “Okay, here we go. See, the surgeon is making the first incision.”
Louisa rolled her eyes, but left quickly, thankful for the interruption.
The sky was a washed-out blue as she strolled down to the harbor in the morning. “James, if Daddy comes to the talent show tonight, I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous to sing.”
“I’ve never performed in front of an audience.”
“And people from across Cornwall are coming, not only the locals.
“I knew you’d understand, Sweetness,” she said, stooping down to hug him, and flinching at the sharp twinge in her knees.
In the afternoon, Louisa sliced asparagus, zucchini, bell peppers and onions, tossed them with oil, and set the pan in the oven. When the vegetables were nearly ready, she added the fish and set the table. By the time dinner was ready, she felt herself relax and the stiffness in her joints ease.
While they were eating, Martin asked about the concert, “Did you find someone to mind James this evening?”
“No need,” she answered, fiddling with her fork. “The ladies set up a child-minding service at the hall.”
The telephone rang, and Martin went into the office to answer it. He came out with his bag and said he had to go and see Mrs. Farraday. “I won’t be able to go to the concert with you.”
“Oh,” she gasped, surprised by the sudden pinch in her shoulders.
Martin squinted, tilted his head. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” she said, but her eyes widened. “Give my best wishes to Patrice.”
He nodded and hurried out the door.
“James, what’s the matter with me? I didn’t want Daddy to come, but–”
The baby’s eyes crinkled in a smile, causing her to laugh.
“You’re right. We’d better hurry and dress.”
The sun was lowering over the bay when she and James arrived at the center. Lifting him out of the stroller, she glanced into the crowded hall. An usher handed her a program, and her throat tightened when she found her name first on the program.
She looked at James. “I’m not going to panic,” she whispered, gaining confidence from the expression in her son’s eyes, which reminded her of Martin. She carried him into the adjoining room, kissed him and left him with one of the mothers in charge.
Scanning the audience, Louisa spotted Maureen Fenn in the front row and walked over to her.
“Louisa, I’ve saved you a seat. Look at this packed house!”
Louisa turned and noticed Roger, mobile phone in hand, sidling past people near the door and heading in their direction. “Janice Carter has a sore throat,” he whispered. “She was to be our closer with the aria from ‘Madame Butterfly.’ I’m switching you to her spot, Louisa. That means you’ll be first, Sweetheart.” He kissed Maureen lightly, went on stage and sat down at the piano.
“Whew,” said Louisa. “I was terrified of going first.”
“Now I’ve got the jitters,” said her friend, but smiled and added, “at least Roger’s here for me if I bomb.” She stood up and walked toward the stage steps. Louisa looked at the empty seat and sighed, wishing Martin were sitting beside her.
Bert Large, elegant in tuxedo, introduced Maureen, who did a rousing rendition of “A Wonderful World.” The audience sang and clapped along. As she came back to her seat, Louisa stood up and gave her a hug. “You were terrific!”
The next performer, Cadan Chenoweth, played the banjo and sang the Cornish rebel song, “Trelawny,” again to enthusiastic applause. Louisa felt her pulse quicken. I’ll never measure up to these performers.
One after another, the talented singers and dancers continued to please the audience. She glanced at the program. Only one singer ahead of her. Her hands felt clammy, and she struggled to catch her breath.
As Kayna Grenville, in traditional bonnet and apron, walked on stage, Louisa noticed Maureen slip out of her seat, walk over to the entrance. Martin, she breathed. Maureen spoke to him and pointed to the chair. He bent low, came over and sat down.
“You came,” she said, grasping his hand.
“You’re flushed.” He felt her wrist and said, “Take deep breaths.”
Kayna, playing the guitar and singing “Lamorna,” a Cornish folk tune, finished and took a bow, Louisa said, “I have something to tell you—“ But before she could say more, she heard her name being announced.
Martin squeezed her hand, whispered, “Deep breaths. Swallow.”
She felt her feet taking her up onto the stage. Her breathing ragged, she looked out at the audience, heard the opening notes of the piano. Her eyes locked onto Martin. Somehow she found her voice. She began softly, built to a powerful crescendo, then faded again as gently as a shadow.
“If you say my eyes are beautiful
It’s because they’re looking at you
And if you could only see yourself
You would feel the same way too . . .”
When the last, lingering note dropped from her lips with the softness of a sigh, and the whispering keys of the piano stilled, the room fell into a hushed silence. Then a low rumble, rolling across the room, swelled into a roar, as the audience burst into cheers, jumped to their feet. Louisa’s eyes stayed on Martin, who sat motionless, eyes fastened on her.
She felt Bert Large catch her arm, and she looked at him in surprise.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “this year, we invited all of Cornwall to join us and added a bit of spice by making the show a competition. You saw and heard fabulous acts all evening.”
The audience responded with wild applause. “Our judges,” and he gestured to two men and a woman in the corner, “have signaled me that the winner of tonight’s competition is Portwenn’s own Louisa Ellingham.” He handed her a trophy and kissed her cheek. “Congratulations, Louisa.”
“Thank you. I’m honored,” she said, her voice trembling, her eyes glossy. As she stepped down, Martin rose, walked over, wrapped his arms around her. They stood in a close embrace, unaware of the applause and the people swirling about them with congratulations.
Louisa and Martin collected James and slipped out of the hall. The car was parked in the driveway since he had come directly from Mrs. Farraday’s. They drove home in silence, Louisa soaking in the energy of the evening.
She sat down on the sofa with James. Martin went into the kitchen, came back and handed her a glass of wine. “I’ll put James to bed,” he said and took the baby upstairs.
Louisa was leaning back, eyes closed, when he returned and sat beside her.
Tilting her head to the side, she asked, “Did you know I was going to be in the program?”
“Not until I arrived.”
“What made you come?” she asked, sitting up straight. “You hate these things, and you had a perfect excuse to stay away.”
He set his elbow on the arm of the couch and propped his chin on his hand before answering, “The terror in your eyes when I said I couldn’t make it. I’m no stranger to panic, remember.”
She laughed, slipped her hand into his. “I wasn’t sure I could go on stage with you there. As it turned out, I don’t think I could have managed without you. When I was singing, I wasn’t aware of anyone else in the room but you.”
Nuzzling the back of her hands against his lips, he sighed. “I’ll remember the look in your eyes, the sound of your voice, the words of that song for the rest of my life.”
Louisa heard again the thunderous applause, then realized it was the sound of her own heart thumping.
— THE END –
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