By Ruth Hammond Barrus
A red, burning flush spread slowly over my face; hot tears made notes, once familiar, become as deceiving as a mirage -- you thought you saw something real, but when you really tested it, it was false. My hands, that had just a moment before been sweaty from fright at being asked to play for the first time in church, were now frozen with horror as they stumbled from one false note to another. "What was wrong? What was wrong?", went through my mind like a shot from a gun, leaving me dizzy, faint and helpless. Every little whisper in the audience was magnified in my ears to a loud hissing noise; the faint suggestions of laughter seemed suddenly to become derisive mockery. In place of the simple harmony of the church hymn, I was playing chords as dissonant as those contained in the most ultra-modern compositions.
What was I to do? I couldn't seem to stop; I kept hoping the next note would be the right one. Surely, I thought, the publishers didn't print the wrong notes. A piercing whisper from the chorister struck my crunched shoulders going up my spine -- "Start over again". With desperation my eyes sought again the beginning of the hymn, and then, with awful suddenness, I realized my mistake -- instead of the usual bass and treble clefs, both the left and right hand were written in the treble clef -- my left hand had been playing five notes lower than was written.
My fingers mechanically sought the notes now, my mind turning over and over the thoughts -- I've got to get out of here; I can't look anyone in the face now. They are going to separate for classes, and I can slip out that back door.
As soon as I had struck the last note of the song, before the congregation had seated itself, I left the piano and rushed to the back door, not daring to look at anyone. Outside, flying feet carried me, crying, to the exclusion of the creek, fringed by huge trees which to me were usually suggestive of fairyland. This place, a haven from all troubles, now was haunted with all the monsters and devils of my childhood dreams which drove me on with all the speed I could muster. Stockings and dress were torn, shoes were cut when exhaustion made me fall into a pile of leaves. There I lay sobbing for what seemed an interminable time.
My sobs prevented my hearing approaching steps, and two strong warm arms lifted me up off the ground. Through streaming eyes I recognized my oldest brother who was holding his ten-year-old sister tightly to him, saying words which sounded far away -- "You shouldn't take it so hard, kid; you did great -- just great".
With a convulsive sigh I let my head fall on my brother's shoulder, and instead of falling dead as I wished I might, I fell sound asleep.