The Immortal Bach

a beginning…

A soft voice on the radio informed me I was listening to the immortal Bach. Then she played some Mozart like what she’d just said wasn’t at all fantastic.

My sense of time has never been keen. Hours go by like seconds, a minute can seem like a week, but I could have sworn Bach died hundreds of years ago. To find out the man was immortal? I was completely blown away.

Where was he? What was he doing with his life that never ends? What would anyone do with all that time?

I’m no expert, but I have listened to a lot of classical music. That and film scores are always in the background when I’m working, so I think I would have heard if he’d written anything new in the last three centuries.

Half the Beatles were gone. Freddy Mercury, Billy Holliday, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and many more of my favorite musical legends had passed on. Bill Withers had died just that year. But Bach, by the report, still remained.

Spin never talked about it. Rolling Stone never did a piece. The guy had never been honored with a lifetime achievement ceremony on any of the award shows.

Was I, I wondered, the only person who wasn’t aware one of the greatest composers in the history of music was still among us but apparently living underground like a musical Salman Rushdie? Was I the only one who cared?

It was irrelevant, I decided. Even if I was the last to learn and the only one interested, I was going to find some answers. No. Scratch that. I was going to find Bach, the Immortal Bach, and I was going to convince him to make music again…

Sister Dorothea

She was a ghost of a woman with a pale white paper face wrapped in a black habit, cold blue eyes framed by horn rimmed glasses, and she was always watching even when she wasn’t looking. There was no escaping her between the hours from 8 am to 3 in the afternoon. From the first bell to the last, every kid at St Ignatius Elementary was hers.

But her reach extended further than that. She would notice if you weren’t at Mass on Sunday. She knew your family history. She had the power to discover all your sins, even ones you committed on the walk home from school, even ones you committed only in your mind.

She wasn’t all convent grade blue steel. She’d been known to cry, but only when telling gruesome and fantastic tales of the suffering of Capital S Saints of the canonized variety.

I witnessed this once when she read aloud a brief biography of Sainte Germaine who was treated cruelly and banished from her home by her stepmother. Sainte Germaine devoted her life to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, then died on a bed of vine twigs at the age of 22. Such is the life of saints. Occasionally they get to play with animals or write books, but they frequently meet a sad and/or grisly death.

Perhaps this is why Sister Dorothea had little affection for the well fed farm children of Lambert. They’re suffering was far too minuscule, but her devotion to rectifying these deficiencies was legendary in the hallway and on the playground of St Ignatius.

Melvin and the Sharks


Author’s note: This is not a finished piece; it’s a snippet, a little seed of an idea that may or may not grow into something bigger. I think the creative process requires this kind of work. And if it doesn’t, it’s fun.

Melvin Ziegler forgot to do his homework half the time and never paid attention in class. Instead, he drew sharks, lots and lots of sharks. Hammerhead sharks and great white sharks and sharks I’d never heard of.

“This is a goblin shark,” he told me once, pointing to a drawing in his notebook.

“There’s no such thing,” I said. “Do your math problems.”

He just shrugged and kept drawing, shading in one of the fins.

“You’re going to get in trouble, Melvin,” I said. “You always get in trouble. It makes me really nervous.”

“Goblin shark,” he said, pointing again. “Look it up. It’s in the encyclopedia.”

Part of me really liked the kid. The other part wanted to clobber him. No one else was very nice to him, so I felt like his only friend. He was scrawny and small and always seemed to need more sleep. And maybe a bottle of shampoo. His hair was slick and greasy and looked like a tangle of cowlicks.

And he really was always in trouble.

“Melvin,” Miss Grant would say, and I’d feel the muscles in my stomach twitch. Here we go again.

“Melvin, do you have your math work finished? I’m waiting for you to turn it in.”

A long silence would follow. I’d close my eyes and pray.

You could hear the sound of a bag being unzipped and a skinny hand rustling through papers.

“Sharks,” I’d think. “It’s nothing but sharks in there.”

I’d imagine dozens of them, all drawn in pencil and swimming through a sea of wide rule notebook paper, gobbling up every math assignment in their path.