ButBecause I haven’t really gone over the relationship between her and Carmilla. Thank you, anon who suggested it! Also, to be clear–Lilita Morgan is stil called ‘Mrs. Karnstein, because she is still married to Carm’s father. Takes place when Carm is eight.
“She already knows the basics of piano, but I would like my daughter Carmilla to be instilled with a love of the classics.” Mrs. Karnstein says. You nod and smile. She’s a good few inches taller than you–you’re rather short–and she’s not exactly a warm person, so this whole experience is rather intimidating.
“Absolutely, Mrs. Karnstein. I think it’s great that you’re giving your daughter the opportunity to learn piano–”
“Oh, she doesn’t want to, but it’s much more productive than her running around trying to act older than she is. Come. She’s in the drawing room.”
They’re so rich that they have a grand piano in the drawing room. You can’t wait to go tell Laura when you pick her up from afternoon kindergarten. She’ll think it’s so funny.
“There is my daughter, Carmilla.” Mrs. Karnstein says, opening the door. A little eight year old girl is sitting at the piano, so small that her feet dangling without touching the floor.
“Carmilla, sit up straight,” Mrs. Karnstein barks. She startles and straightens.
“…Hello,” she mumbles. You look at her mother. “I think I can take it from here, Mrs. Karnstein.”
“Good. I’ll be back in about an hour. Let me know if she gives you any…difficulties.”
“Oh, I’m sure she won’t,” you say brightly, “I think Carmilla and I are going to be friends.”
You see Carmilla roll her eyes. Mrs. Karnstein walks out and you hear her walking up the stairs.
“Hello, Carmilla!” You say, trying to look excited. You sit down and look at her, taking out the sheet music and placing it. “My name is Mrs. Summers. Are you ready to get started?”
She’s pouting. Carmilla runs a hand through dark, wavy, thick hair before unclipping and reclipping the barrette keeping hair out of her eyes. “I don’t wanna learn piano. Mom is making me.”
“Aw, you don’t want to learn Mozart?”
“No. I don’t wanna learn how to play any of them.” She crosses her arms and refuses to look at you. You smile.
“Okay. We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Carmilla eyes you suspiciously. “You mean you’ll just go?”
“Oh, I won’t do that.” You answer, taking the sheet music and putting it into your bag, rifling through your selection. “I was hired to teach you, and that’s what I’m going to do. But I do this because I want to teach children to love music, and you won’t love it if you’re being forced to do music you’re not interested in.”
“So, what are we going to do…?”
“I’m finding some music that you’ll be more interested in–here.” You take it out, placing it on the piano. “See this? It’s called ‘I Got Rhythm.’ It’s the first thing I taught my daughter and she absolutely loves it. Maybe you will.”
“How old is your daughter?””
“I’m not four!”
“I’ll be happy to tell your mother that you weren’t able to learn something my four year old plays, then.”
Carmilla glares at you for a moment. “Fine.”
“Good! I promise, it’s fun. Now, look. You want to keep your hands like this.” You show her. “Now, this is a song by a composer named Gershwin. Have you heard of George Gershwin, Carmilla?”
“Well, he wrote this song called, ‘I Got Rhythm.’ Let me play it for you, really slowly.”
As you play it, slowly, you sing softly to yourself. It’s a force of habit. “I’ve got rhythm…I’ve got music…I’ve got my man, who can I for anything more?” You stop and look at her. “Now, your mother told me that you already know how to play, so why don’t you try it? Can you read sheet music?”
“A little bit?”
“Try it, then.”
She stares at the paper, concentrating hard, her little fingers settling on the piano keys. She picks her way through the song and, like you, stars singing it softly.
“I’ve got rhythm…I’ve got music…I’ve got my man, who can ask for anything more?” She looks at you. “That was right, wasn’t it?”
You look at her.
“…Carmilla, have you ever had voice training?”
“I’ve done some for opera. I hated it”
“You have a very nice tone.”
She blinks, surprised, before running a hand through her hair again. “Um, thanks?”
You nod to yourself. “…Would you mind doing me a favor?”
“I just want you to do a scale for me.”
Carmilla places her hands in her lap, pushing on her thighs. “I guess I can?”
“Good. Now, doe, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, doe…just repeat that when I play the keys again, okay, Carmilla?”
She tilts her head and copies you. Perfect pitch. You can’t believe how good she is for an eight year old girl.
“Do you like singing?” You ask casually.
“Not the way my mom makes me.She tries to make me sing in Italian. It’s so stupid, I don’t even know what I’m saying.” She wrinkles her nose. You smile.
“Hey, what if I made you a deal?” You ask. Carmilla doesn’t say ‘no’, which you take to be a yes. “You know I’m a vocal teacher too, right? I can teach you to sing, if you want. But with songs you would like. They’ll even be in english. But only if you learn some Mozart pieces.”
Carmilla doesn’t look convinced.
“Your mother wants you to learn them, I’ll need to teach you some if you want the vocal lessons.”
Carmilla’s mouth quirks to the side. She looks so serious that you struggle not to laugh at it. Suddenly, she thrusts a hand at you.
“Deal.” She answers, “But you better pick good songs.”
You lie and tell Mrs. Karnstein that it’s normal for a child to learn this slowly; in reality you’re only actually using the last ten minutes of class for piano. The rest has been voice training. You’re surprised when Carmilla skips over all of the usual selections you bring for young girls–mostly Disney songs for beginners–and jumps straight into the musical theatre pieces.
“Carmilla, you are eight, I don’t think your voice is ready for Light in the Piazza.”
“I’m ready, Mrs. Summers, please? My mom is going to be back in, like, ten minutes. I want to try.”
“Oh, she is, isn’t she? What does she do every Wednesday for an hour anyway…?”
“Marriage counseling,” Carmilla answers.
She doesn’t sit at the piano with you anymore; there’s a couch next to it that she sits on for the lessons, and you turn to look at her. “Carmilla, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to voice that out loud–”
Carmilla shrugs. “I dunno, it’s not a big deal. Lots of parents do that.”
You realize that you’ve never actually seen her father.
“Well…I suppose it’s good that your mom and dad are working on being a family again.”
“Mom says all they do is argue ‘cause my dad’s a ‘lazy irresponsible bum’, but I guess it’s better than when they were yelling in the house all the time.”
Your heart aches. You imagine what kind of turmoil it would take for Laura to speak so casually about a broken home, vicious fighting, you calling Charles a bum. She’d break before she’d be numb to it.
You can’t help it–you reach forward and run a hand through her hair. “You are such a brave little girl, Carmilla. I’m sure your mom and dad are really, really proud of how you’re handling things. And I’m proud of you, too.”
She doesn’t answer; a blush crosses her face and she looks down and mumbles something incoherent. You withdraw your hand and assume it’s a thanks.
“Let’s placate your mom and learn a few lines of Ode to Joy, okay?”
Mrs. Karnstein walks in ten minutes later. Carmilla obediently walks up to her, squinting her eyes shut tight as Mrs. Karnstein absently pats her on the head like a dog.
“Maman, I learned more of Ode to Joy today!”
“That’s wonderful, dear. Mrs. Summers, here’s your payment for this week and next. I stopped at the bank.”
You get up and almost fall back down as you are overcome with a rush of dizziness. You have to steady yourself on the piano.
“Wow, that was unpleasant. I’m fine. Sorry.” You regain your composure and accept the money. Mrs. Karnstein walks in the direction of the kitchen.
“Carmilla, I’ll see you next week, I promise I’ll bring some new–” You’re stopped by a bone crushing hug.
“Thank you for what you said,” you hear, muffled into your sweater. You smile and return the hug.
“You deserve to hear it, honey. But my daughter is going to be upset if I’m late picking her up.”
She lets you go. You pick Laura up, make her dinner. You do some voice lessons for her–she’s only four, they’re really just Disney sing alongs–before tucking her into bed and drawing a bath for yourself.
Your husband is the one who notices the bruises when he walks in on you changing into another shirt, large, purple ones from the hug you’d been given that afternoon.
That wasn’t normal.
You should really be home, should really be preparing for what’s next, but you can’t. This is something you need to do, anyway, and it takes your mind off the fact that you have a four year old playing in kindergarten right now. One who you’ll have to sit down with, later, and explain to her something a toddler couldn’t understand and shouldn’t have to understand.
You knock on the door. Mrs. Karnstein answers.
“…Good afternoon, Mrs. Summers–”
“Mrs. Karnstein, I am sorry that this is so sudden, but I have to terminate our contract.”
You speak with her in hushed tones for the next few minutes. Mrs. Karnstein, to her credit, is understanding; and who wouldn’t be? She even lets you keep the advance she had given you.
“You’ll need it more than I do. What would you like me to tell Carmilla?”
You take a breath. “I’d like to see her. And I think we need to talk about her.” As you walk in, you see Carmilla, kicking her feet on the armchair. Mrs. Karnstein gives her a look. She stops.
“Mrs. Summers, hi.”
“Mrs. Karnstein, I need to tell you something.” You sit next to Carmilla. “Mrs. Karnstein, I have been giving your daughter vocal lessons for the past few months. Specifically for musical theatre. She said you wouldn’t approve, but I continued teaching her. Your daughter has a gift, Mrs. Karnstein, one that I have never seen in someone so young–and that was even before she started getting training. I can’t leave without at least trying to convince you that she needs to continue to hone this talent.”
Carmilla looks terrified, and you have an arm around her shoulders. Mrs. Karnstein narrows her eyes.
“…If not for your predicament, I would demand a full refund. I would certainly still terminate your employment. Unfortunately, you have beaten me to that. But do not presume to know what is best for someone’s child in the future, Mrs. Summers, just because you have a degree. I trust you will see yourself out.”
Her high heels make a dull noise as she walks up the carpeted stairs. Carmilla squirms out of your grasp.
“What do you mean, quitting? And predicament?”
You look down at your nails and the chips in the white polish. “I…Carmilla, I’m sick. I need to stay home and focus on getting better.”
Carmilla furrows her brow, appraising you with dark eyes. “That’s adult talk,” she announces.
“Adult talk. Like when Maman said she and Dad were ‘taking a little break’. You’re really sick, aren’t you?”
“I–I really shouldn’t–” Your voice catches, and all at once, you’re crying. And it’s strange and rather embarrassing, to have an eight year old, rubbing your back and comforting you, but it happens.
“I don’t know what to tell my daughter. She’s four. She’s four and she might–might grow up–God, this is so inappropriate to be talking about with one of my students.”
“Hey, you just quit.” Carmilla answers with a shrug. You force a smile.
“I guess so.”
“Look, I’m–my family isn’t exactly–y’know, warm and cuddly. You know Mom. Dad is pretty much the same way.”
You run a hand down your face, trying to regain some of your composure.
“And you’re not dead, gosh, calm down. Look, you’re sick, and you need to get better. But you will.”
“And you’re brave,” Carmilla says firmly, “And I’m sure your daughter is going to be really proud of you for fighting so hard. Right?”
You don’t trust yourself to speak just yet, so you nod.
“I’m going to miss taking lessons from you, though. And I promise, I will sneak out of the house if I have to, but I am going to keep learning how to sing. And when I get my first Broadway show or something, I’ll send you a Playbill.”
You smile. “Carmilla, everything I said before was true. You’re gifted, and I know you’ll go far.” You get up. “I’m going to miss you too, honey. You really are a sweet girl.”
You open the front door and look back at her. “And Carmilla?”
“Make sure you sign that Playbill.”
You’re happy that the last image you have of her is her giving you two thumbs up and grinning.
You wipe a hand on your sleeve, take a deep breathe, shake your head, and walk toward your car.
It’s time to pick up Laura from kindergarten.