Friday, February 6, 2015

The Ave Maria Story

He said to me, “My homework is to write the same story three times, using a different perspective of the story each time.” I didn’t think he’d find it that difficult, after all he loved writing stories. 

“How many words?” I asked him, flapping my leather gloves against my wrist.

My acquaintance stood in the doorway showing me the way out, “Three times three hundred.”

“Ach, easy.” I said, immediately desiring to do his homework for him. So I did, but it’s not his story.


“It’s for old nuns,” she told us. “They booked us.”
One fine spring my friend decided to gather together a program uniquely made up of  a good many versions of Ave Maria; the Ave Maria of Schubert and the Ave Maria of Gounod being the most commonly known in this choice of repertoire. Over time as a seasoned singer, all singers will understand this, I’ve learned to bark my preferred key for either of those two pieces into the phone on command.  The Ave Maria performances are carried out by a group of singing students, semiprofessionals and a few professionals dotted here and there, sprinkled in the program for balance.  As one of the professionals I knew I would not be assigned either the Schubert or the Gounod. I waited. “Piazzolla,” the organizer said in an effort to please me. A particular wailing version of the prayer, it actually wasn’t much to my liking, I had to throw all my emotional and vocal weight behind it to make it work or, in other words, convince myself to sing it well. Another singer immediately pounced on it after the first couple of concerts, when it was stated that we’d rotate repertoire. “I am really into Puccini these days,” she said to me as we walked towards the train station after her Piazzolla moment.

Obviously none of us were nuns, and when you organize a team of women for a concert, clothes count. We eyed each other up in the dressing room. The retired nuns were living in a large facility near the woods.  They wore light colored cotton blouses with high collars and favored brown vests. Only one nun wore the black habit and coif.  I thought understated make up would be best. “Primping yourself then,” one of the nuns with a brown vest remarked to me in the bathroom.  The nun in black came early to get a good seat. She read her Bible for a half an hour all alone. Of all the nuns staring at me on stage, I got a good look seated on the altar of the chapel waiting for my Ave Maria turn, she looked the dullest. “Sharp,” I thought, “These women are sharp.”

“Of course they are sharp,” my friend said to me afterwards over dinner, “Motherhood didn’t coddle their brains, slam their bodies into overdrive; no, they get up in the wee hours on a completely steady routine and have iron discipline.”



“Vanity.” She thought looking at the bright array of female singers on stage.  Each had their own style and their own Ave Maria to sing: The short fat one in the Moroccan dress with the tuning fork, the buxom plump one sandwiched in the black and peach silk, the tall one with pale white arms in the fuchsia tulle, the two foreign ones in black satin, the blond in the pleated dress looking like forlorn curtains in a penthouse, the bordeaux upholstery on the willowy woman, the one with the unruly sand colored hair in the doesn’t quite hide all the flab teal, the pale sea green with not enough bosom.  Sister Ignacio seated near the front hadn’t eaten the pudding at lunch. As usual, she claimed that it was not conducive to her digestion. She hadn’t said it so, she had said that she believed it contained egg and then she had went into the chapel early to read her Bible. The silly goose, she thought, catching her wicked thoughts about the pious Sister Ignacio into the web of her mind, adjusting her brown vest slightly to avoid the draft. There is no egg in Jell-0.

The chapel wasn’t very large and the egg yellow colored paint still looked rather fresh. The service that morning had been uninspired. Ave Maria, she thought, remembering her own mother who had been far from a saint, running off with various men and leaving her to raise her siblings. The women singing the concert looked more or less respectable; they took care of themselves, making themselves attractive for men with all their imperfections. Next to her Sister Carmen dabbed her eyes and mouthed the words of the Schubert in her wheelchair. “Jungfrau mild,” she watched her dry thin lips purse gazing at the mop of bristles shooting off the head of the singer, red faced and puffing with the effort.


Of course I loved my mother, and I spent a great deal of time during my youth trying to get away from her. Eventually hung up, caught out and punished, she lingered around my feet and was much admired.  They say you can’t dish yo momma, she’ll always come out ahead. Like the time she told me to buy fish and I came back with bread. She took a twig to my backside, but to tell the truth in the long run it didn’t hurt much. We were having company; John’s parents intended to visit our house that night. Of course they being of a higher social circle, my mother was a little nervous having them over. She ended up telling them some story about having read of an article in the doctor’s waiting room while waiting for my father to get stitched up, he’d fallen over a rock on the road, about a great digestive aid, mere bread and water but she served wine to the adults. They got pretty blasted even with the hummus thrown in.

It’s not that I don’t admire women, I just never stood much of a chance with them.  Personally I’d go for the broad in the velvet with the hooked nose. Sort of exotic, or the cute bubbly one maybe. The one in the shapeless orange with the tuning fork is a little too nervous for my taste. Anyway, it’s all a little late for this now. Gossip has been going around for centuries about whether I had ever been with a woman. I am supposed to be some sort of saint which means, other words, I never really got ahead in the game. Giving my mother the credit though, we were pretty tight and she was always there for me in the end, and besides I got all these brides, kind of like at a Chinese funeral when they burn paper money and cars for the deceased to have the full life up in Heaven. These broads sit and stare at me for hours in meditation, and I ask myself, “What’s in it for me?”

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