The Entertainer

By Amber Emanuel

May 11, 2020

The Entertainer

When my mother sits in front of our antique upright piano, it is almost always Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” Almost always only the refrain. She never stops moving around the house, except for those moments she slides onto the wooden bench. There are always mouths to feed, socks to match, bodies to bus around. But when she plays, time whirs backwards with the syncopated rhythm. A temporary displacement of beat; a jar from the expected. The syncopation is the thing that brings a song life. The tune is jaunty, disjointed as ragtime should be, but the wrong notes chop the melody up more, chucking and rattling like a jalopy off her fingers. And they’re deafening. My younger brother and I plug our ears, shout at her to stop with child-like theatrics. We are only 6 and 8. We don’t know better. But she ignores us, pushes her face closer to the brittle sheet music. Trying to remember. Forehead smooth with concentration. Mouth gentle. Hands still to our heads, we kick around the living room like ninjaballerinadancers as the same bars bounce between our ears and become the soundtrack of our childhood. Her fingers press the ivory keys, muscles straining to remember chords, shedding the weight of rambunctious children, late evenings hunched over bookkeeping, a traveling husband, reverting back to a girl diligently working through her lessons.


Amber Emanuel is a native Nebraskan pursuing an MA in English from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she also teaches first-year composition. Her work can be found in 13th Floor Magazine. At the moment, she is developing her thesis exploring the impact of growing up with a sibling with a profound disability.


Photo by Kaboompix courtesy of Pexels

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