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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 16 page 19

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When he sang aloud the line I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz, a tear fell down his cheek. I figured Mrs. Maguire was ‘a bad sort’ as my grandmother was fond of saying. The ladies on the bench were as quiet as if in church at dawn. Mr. Maguire nodded to them when he finished.

“And you are?” he said to me.

“Teresa McMahon...after the saint...You know, St. Teresa and all that.”

I had the sense to stop talking. I thought of my father saying it was good to be still and quiet sometimes.

“Thank you, Teresa.”

That was the beginning of an opening in me.

“Thank you, Teresa.”

I rolled the words around in my head, dying to tell my mother or brother.

Somebody thanked me for something. He didn't say, “Wear your boots” or “Help me with groceries.” He said, “Thank you.”

I sprung into a sprint to Caruso's Market with my list a tattered mess from balling my fists in my pockets. Ketchup, mustard, paper napkins.

“They'll be linen napkins in the new house, Charlie.”

“Bernadette, we can have them now. I'll work overtime to get them.”

“Charlie, you work too much. I've got my stash. If I wanted linen napkins, we'd have them.”

I could recite their loving words to every shrink I saw after my brother Denny was struck by a bus on his way home from baseball, never to be with us again.

I could re-create my mother's shrieks and wails from Denny's room, not one item moved or changed. And how animated Denny became when he made the All-Star team. The panic that rocked me in a plush doctor's office when I started to forget the features of his face, the sound of his voice. The funds my parents received from the transport company took us places that had only been jokes among us, our ability to laugh now stunted by my brother's absence.

My mother's faith was tested, her wooden rosary worn down to a nub.

In a rare fit of rage, my father threw the rosary against the kitchen wall, a wall the color of mustard.

“Don't blaspheme the Lord, Charlie. Teresa is here,” she whispered through a strangled sob.

“I thought she was at that damned boarding house,” my father said.

Through the crushing pain of loss, I clung to Mr. Maguire as a source of strength. I learned there had been no Mrs. Maguire, only the hope for one, but she had been lost to another suitor, as in the lyrics of "The Tennessee Waltz".

He let me cry about Denny during the concerts he began performing at the boarding house. I tried to be strong for my parents as we crawled through the days without Denny, an inch at a time. Mr. Maguire also didn't give me religious mumbo jumbo like my Mom did. He just let me be sad.

Miss Perkins was fond of the music that flowed from Mr. Maguire's violin. We, too, formed a friendship of sorts, much of it unspoken. She squeezed my hand, her fingers nubby with arthritis. And when the residents scattered after the musical performance, she would remain with Mr. Maguire and me.

“I told my parents your music is beautiful, Mr. Maguire.”

“Thank you, Teresa.”

On a hot July afternoon, my mother invited Mr. Maguire over for iced tea. She asked him to bring his violin to play "Amazing Grace" in Denny's room. All of us wept openly. When my father walked him back to the boarding house, my elderly friend stood tall, his gifts to us somehow releasing him as well.

Years later, long after Mr. Maguire was playing his violin in Heaven, my mother called me from their lovely home in the suburbs to tell me the boarding house was being demolished.

During dinner with my parents for my thirtieth birthday, Charlie was still painting rainbows and Bernadette was enhancing each one with her love.