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The Barn Dance

Robin Rice

There is a story as old as time, yet it happens every day, perhaps ever minute of every day. It's hard to know. Such stories don't lend themselves to numbers so well. They don't even lend themselves to telling so well, for how can a true story ever be fully told? It is like trying to catch a fruit fly between two fingers. Still, for the sake of all people with more courage than they know, I'll set my fingers a grasping...

There once was a woman with more courage than she knew. As a child, she felt this courage and expressed it proudly.

"I will not play your violin," she told the orchestra conductor. "My great-grandpapa made me my own fiddle. He said it was tuned just to me, to play to the beat of my heart, and sing out my own special laughter and my own little tears."

As it most often happens, the child was given a choice. To play the violin in the orchestra, where she was told that the grandest of music could be performed for everyone to hear, or to play her great-grandpapa's fiddle, all alone, and be heard by no one. It was a terrible, terrible choice.

Her conductor encouraged her to do what was best for all. Her parents urged her to consider her future. Her best friend in all the world said that orchestra friends should always come first. Her great-grandpapa, of course, left it entirely up to her.

Yes, a terrible, terrible choice.

Outnumbered, the child set aside her fiddle, for it would be too painful to play and never be heard. The years passed, and the girl grew up to be a woman with more courage than she knew-- and a valued member of the orchestra. If only she valued the orchestra, she often thought, knowing how ungrateful that sounded, but also knowing it was true.

In time, the woman with more courage than she knew stopped playing the violin. Oh, she came to all the rehearsals and performances, tucking her instrument under her chin and raising her arm like all the other violin players. But she made sure the bow never actually touched the strings.

It was a meager defiance, and a cowardly one in her own way of thinking. Yet in her heart, it paid a kind of tribute to the music that was not being played. The music that could have been singing out her own special laughter and her own little tears. The music which could have shown her that she had more courage than she knew.

When it was that the barn dance music began to wake her from her sleep at night, she wasn't sure. It was such a gradual thing; something that seemed to always have been there, and she only more and more able to hear it. But hear it she did. The music wooed her like a long-forgotten lover with sounds she found more glorious than anything the orchestra had ever produced.

It was odd music, as odd as if she'd found the barn that held the barn dance, and seen camels where horses ought to have been. It was vibrant, as when purple and yellow and red are all found in the same dress. I was soothing, like cool air descending upon bare shoulders when a sweater is taken off in a too-warm room. Most of all, it was magic, for which there is nothing to compare but maybe the startling joy of a shooting star or the beauty of a sun-enchanted spider's web holding tight to the morning dew.

The woman with more courage than she knew was certain that anyone who could hear such music would be filled with awe. Yet no one she knew wanted to listen to her tell of it, let alone wake up in the middle of the night with her.

Night after night, the music from the barn dance came to the woman with more courage than she knew. She longed to play along with her great-grandpapa's fiddle. She couldn't, though, for it would wake everyone up. Yet to not play along was like not scratching an itch that begged attention.

So one night, she picked up the fiddle and played it just as she did the violin in the orchestra-with the instrument tucked under her chin and her arm raised, but never touching the bow to the strings.

It was a long, long time that the woman with more courage than she knew played without playing the two instruments, one in the day and one in the night. With her childhood courage all but forgotten, her sorrow caused her blood to feel as though it moved through her veins as thick as pulled taffy.

Eventually, she realized that this could not go on. She wondered if she should give up the barn dance music altogether; plug her ears at night and try again to hear the beauty that others seemed to find in their orchestra music.

Or, maybe, she could steal herself away, into the night, and follow the music that had become her sweetest friend. But no, she couldn't. No one she loved would understand, and they had always been good to her. As good as they knew how to be, anyway. They would think she was rejecting them instead of the music. They deserved better than that from her. So perhaps she ought to let the taffy-like blood that wallowed through her finally stiffen altogether, allowing her to quietly slip into death. Again, and still, it was a terrible, terrible choice.

Each day, the choice became more important to make. Surely she was meant to play some kind of instrument! Finally, the charade was too much. There was only one thing to do. Play the orchestra's violin, then her great-grandpapa's fiddle, and see which music she played best. She knew the answer before she tried it, but she tried it anyway, for giving up either instrument would cost her dearly. She was not an impulsive woman, whatever everyone might think, in the end.

That afternoon, she played the violin sadly, wishing that the smallest bit of her own special laughter and her own little tears could find expression. Just enough to tip the scales toward staying where everything was known and safe and good enough for everyone else. She felt the kind of remorse one feels when she knows she has never been able to appreciate something that truly does hold value for someone else.

That night, fiddle music shook the roof. The music she played was so odd and vibrant and soothing and magical, she couldn't play softly. As her laughter and tears poured out, a once gentle waterfall now thunderous, she knew she could never again tuck any instrument under her chin and not touch her bow to the strings.As expected, she woke the whole house. Every concerned member of the family came running (which was every member of the family). They all told her to put the fiddle down, for God's sake. But she already knew that she couldn't, for God's sake or anyone else's. At least not for long. She played out her song, then stopped, knowing with certainty that after this night she would lay down Great-Grandpapa's fiddle-now fully claimed as her own-for no one.

The next night, when the barn dance music began, she slipped into her clothes, half thinking she could return if things didn't turn out so well. Of course, it never works that way in these kinds of stories. As it happens with every person with more courage than he or she knows, when the call is finally followed, the road behind evaporates. It is never again a terrible, terrible choice, for the only true choice has been made.

With each step, the music from the barn dance grew louder in the ears of the woman with more courage than she knew. In the dark, she felt twinges of fear. What if the musicians at the barn dance didn't want her to play? What if all of their chairs were already filled?

Well then, she decided, she would simply insist that they hear her out. She would show them how brilliantly she had learned to play out her own special laughter and her own little tears. They would surely see that she belonged there, and pull up another chair if they did not have one free. And if they didn't...well, then she would have to play alone until she found another barn dance, somewhere, somehow.

At last, after many, many nights of walking toward the music, playing alone in the dark, only as afraid as she was excited, the woman with more courage than she knew saw the barn lit up in the distance. Shivers of excitement thinned her taffy-stuffed veins in an instant. She began to race toward the music, stumbling and playing her fiddle as she ran, unable to wait another moment.

As she reached the barn door, the other's music stopped. Not one person had to hush another as all eyes turned toward the door. Slowly, an old woman with eyes like sapphires drenched in light turned toward her. Her face radiated all things good. In humble response, the woman with more courage than she knew silenced her own instrument and bent her head.

"Look!" the old woman nearly shouted, her voice vibrating like struck bells. "She's arrived! The one we've been hearing at night!"

The woman with more courage than she knew laughed a laugh that she'd never heard herself laugh before. Yet at the same time panic struck, for how could they have heard her playing? Even one night ago she'd been miles away. What if she wasn't the one they were expecting?

"You're sure it was my music you heard?" she asked.

"Of course," the old woman replied, sweeping a graceful arm to indicate that she was speaking for all, "we've been hearing it in our dreams for years."