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Gold Key Short Story -- “Sustainability”

By Catherine Sawoski ’20.
Catherine is also the 2019 Youth Poetry Ambassador for the State of Rhode Island

When I’m older I will name my child Sustain so that she will always know that reverb is just as powerful as whatever note she is hitting. We will stand on a bench in the center of the cacophony of sounds in Kennedy Plaza and try out different melodies as passengers load and unload behind us, wondering if they think about how long we held a certain phrase.  
As she is born, I will teach her to cry in just the right pitches, so that the nurses will be talking about her for years.
When she is five years old, Sustain will hit her chin while we are in the middle of a concert and I will wonder if I will need to find a new song to sing and I will think that Cadence is a good name, but Sustain is better. The doctors will disagree about how long she needs to recover but I know an injury is just the world’s way of making sure that it will be remembered after it has disappeared. She will respect that. I will show Sustain the gash on my left middle finger from when I tried to carve a message into a tree on the East Side; she’ll learn that that is what happens when your hand slips.
I will tell Sustain that I have done things with my life that I haven’t seen yet, and we will respect them together. She will carry that with her proudly, and I will be proud of her for offering herself to help transport the weight until she has someone else to hand it off to. I will laugh when she tries on a pair of my glasses to get glimpses of the future.
We will carry on writing the same music that my parents first told me about when I was her age, and I will point out the changes that I made in harmonies and chords. I will not be entirely sure that she believes me, but when she sings it I will make her transform it, even though she will not like it. She will fight with me, and try to run somewhere else, but it will only be an hour until she is home because she did not remember to bring the album that she found on the second floor of the garage, and I will not tell her that it was mine.
One day she will go to Kennedy Plaza by herself, and she will not know that I am not with her because of how the screeches of the buses turn into a screeching head voice, and how the churning gears become a stylistic choice.
She will move to a city that looks very much like this city because she will realize that every city looks like this city when you know how to look at it the right way. She will have long, uninterrupted conversations with people just like she always wanted to, and she will see that they are new and exciting and I will think how in this city the people were once the same. I will listen to her on the phone, humming like the static on the other end of the line.
I will tell her that Cadence is just the notes of the piece -- Sustain is their memory ever after.
One day she will move into another apartment and she will find glasses in the back pocket of her purse. When she puts them on she will find that for the first time they make everything just a little bit older -- her hair will look a bit more brown than before, and the scar on her chin a bit more like the treble clef if she squints long enough.
She will catch herself one day, walking through the street, singing a song that she cannot quite place and it will drive her mad. She will tear through the piles of sheet music that fill her bookshelf, and she will finally find our family’s concerto and when she sits down to play it, an A flat will turn into a natural without her comprehending what the difference is.
Long after I am gone, Sustain will play the bits of me that are left in every piano, every tap of her feet, and every thought that crosses her mind. It is this thought that will sustain me through the years to come.

Catherine Sawoski
216 Hope Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02906-2246
Phone: (401) 421-8100
FAX: (401) 751-7674

Founded 1889

The Wheeler School is an independent coeducational college preparatory day school for Nursery, Pre-K, K-Grade 12 serving Providence, RI, Greater Providence and Greater Boston. The Hamilton School welcomes Grades 1-8 with language-based learning differences.