by Peter Yule
Original text. reference only. Please see Revised edition
By Ken Feeley
School was out, vacation had begun, and the warm damp smell of summer filled my room. It was already past eight o clock, when I awoke to the sunlight entering my room through the broken window in the upper sash. The sun was my reliable alarm clock as it pierced through the lightest of bed sheets to warm each new day. Quickly up, grab some juice, a roll from the bread box, and a small box of dry cereal to snack on as I headed out that day. In the air, the glory of nature crept in from every corner. Flowers that tempted the senses with their fragrance, trees that whispered praises to the blue sky, small wisps of clouds that sailed by above, on their way to survey distant woods and fields. No day had ever been more perfect and this day would surely be remember in years to come.
We were newly settled in town, and had come there late in the school year. I had not met all of the others of my own age, and was still finding my way around. As I went down the street, heading off to shoot some baskets at the nearby playground, I noticed a new face. A stranger sitting alone on the lawn in front of a neighbors’ house. Certainly this face, this person, this girl, could not be Charly I thought. There she was, in front of me, with long blonde hair, skin so pure that it glowed, and eyes so beautiful they might only have been imagined. Is this, “The Charly, ” I thought, the one that they had only talked about. Poor Crazy Charly. I knew inside that it was her. I had been warned that one day she would be out there. The others that I had met told me that someday, living on that street and only three houses away, was Bad News. You’ll see they said. If you haven’t met Charly, wait till school is out and they send her home for the summer. You’ll see. Whatever you do, they warned, don’t, no way, no how, don’t talk to her.
Well doesn’t that beat all. Whoa feet go a little slower. Quick hide the box of cereal and look sharp. You should not appear to be un cool. Thoughts flashed into and through and out of my brain, like lightning bolts. Never, no never before anywhere, not at anytime not in any place and not in any manner had I ever seen a more beautiful or perfect creature, but I had been warned. Do not stop, do not talk, do not even think about it. Should I cross the street, start to run, or what? More flashes, more questions, but too late. She had seen me. Doomed I thought. Why did I slow down, why didn’t I believe them, and avoid this? No answers would come, and besides it was too late. She saw me and had already stood up and was walking out toward the white picket fence in front of her yard to greet me. There was no doubt about it, she was coming to meet me and I could not avoid it. In my inner most self, for a fleeting moment, at being so dumb founded at her beauty, I do not think that I wanted to avoid it. This notion quickly passed from my head as I thought how will I ever explain to the others that I did not heed their warnings.
Mixed feelings now, is my shirt clean my hair combed, why am I feeling flushed, what is happening here? The most lovely creature in the world is walking to meet me, and I want to flee. Hold on I thought, you can be nice and then run to escape. She spoke! No one told me that she could speak I thought. Now I have to speak back to her. “Do you live here? ” I asked. Dumb question, of course she lived here. “Sometimes, ” she said, “my mommy and daddy live here, but I only live here in the summer. Where do you live? ” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tell her, so I just turned and mumbled something about up the street. Not a good start I thought. What are you afraid of. More flashes to the brain, and as I turned back toward her, now somewhat humbled by her beauty and innocence. Innocence, how did that get in there I thought. Who else but an innocent would have referred to her parents as mommy and daddy at her age. How old was she? I found my voice and then it happened. In a rush of questions and answers I became aware that I was standing there, talking to Charly! What would happen next, would I be seen? “You can come into my yard, ” she said. “ you’re not a stranger because you live here, and that means it’s ok for you to come into my yard. We could go out back where I have swings. ” Out back sounded good to me. No one can see us talking if we’re out back. No Gate would slow me down, I thought as I quickly jumped over the fence and together walked with Charly to the back of her house.
I was safe now. No passerby could see us sitting there on the great swings that had been hung by chain from an old oak limb some thirty feet above us. Time raced by as we talked. Never, no never did the thought that this was Crazy Charly enter my mind again. This girl was different, but crazy, no way!
I knew what was happening, and it was a true revelation to me as most things at that age were. I was making friends, with a girl. Not just a girl, but God’s own vision of a girl. In the hours that passed, I would learn from Charly things that the others would never know. When I asked her age, she said that she was fifteen and nine. Was this a bit of humor, this answer that she gave? She could obviously see my state of confusion regarding her answer, and she quickly set about explaining its’ meaning. “My person, my body is fifteen years old, because that is how long I have lived, but my mind, my brain is only nine, because that is when it stopped learning. It won’t ever get any smarter, ” she claimed in a manner that was most disarming. What more could I handle in just one day. Would there be no end to the revelations.
Slowly swinging back and forth in unison, with the temperature rising all the while, is when I learned the truth about Crazy Charly, and from no less an authority than Charly herself. When she saw that I was a person to be trusted, and when she felt it was time, she told me her story. She talked in a slow-rehearsed manner that led me believe that she had told the story before. Her real name was of course Charlene and she had no brothers and sisters. She had always lived here in this house, and when she was little, when she was nine, there was an accident. “An accident means that it is nobody’s fault. It is just something that happens. ”
In her case, she had been struck by a car, not more than one block from where we were sitting. She spoke very slowly so as not to leave anything out. The driver of the car didn’t see her, because she was little and the sun was shining in his eyes. It was just when he turned the corner and another car was coming toward him and he turned his car to the side of the street so he would not crash. “He bumped into me all right, and I went flying up into the air and everything, and when I got better, in the hospital they told me and everybody that my body would be fine but I would probably not get any older in my head. Something was broken in there and the doctors could not fix it. It’s okay though, ” she added, because I can always play and have fun and have friends and I won’t ever have to work or anything. ”
Her parents had found a school for her, that had a lot of people who had accidents or some who had been sick. She said that she liked the school, “because it made her feel smart, even when other kids called her crazy, ” and she added, “ the people at school are very nice. ”
“I don’t think your crazy ” I intoned. “That’s because you don’t know me. ” she replied. Not to be short on words, it happened again, all at once, “I know you now, and I think your beautiful, and I will be your friend, ” and on and on I went. Well that was it no turning back now. I had been captured by Crazy Charly, just like I had been warned. I had an unusual calm sweep over me as the reality of the moment hit. We sat there for hours, swinging together without another word said.
Late that night as I lay restless in bed, I thought of what a day it had been. Surely something will come of this. I couldn’t tell anyone of the excitement or the pounding in my chest, as I fell off to sleep that night. Charly, in one short day, had captured me, and it was good.
The next morning I was up and out, before the sun even got near my window. I knew my destination for the day, no doubt about it. I had put on my good jeans, and a clean shirt, and combed my hair twice just to be sure she would like me. Charly wanted me to come back. She wanted me to walk around with her, because no one else would, and unless she were with someone she could not leave her yard. Her mother had warned her not to get bumped by another car or anything, so she had to have someone with her to kind of watch out for her. Shooting baskets was no longer of interest to me. I had a new goal in mind and was anxious to get started.
I walked down the street, not noticing the day and the trees and the sky, but just accepting them as a part of the whole process of being. Perfection everywhere around me, and there just in front of me a short distance away she sat waiting. As soon as she saw me she was up and running to the fence. “Can we go for a walk? ” she asked. “Sure where to, ” I replied. “I want to go to the playground. ” “Are you sure? ” was my response. Already a crisis in this relationship I thought. If I walked with her, with Crazy Charly to the playground, I’m doomed. The others will surely be there, and who knows what that will bring. Well, you might as well find out. That came up from my subconscious. I knew that it was the only thing that I could do. “Okay, if you want to go to the playground, okay, but Charly, please don’t do anything crazy. ” She looked at me like I had told her she would never eat again or something worse. My request had hurt her, and it showed. “I don’t always do crazy things, and besides who cares if I do anyway, nobody cares. ” Wow, what to do now I thought. You can’t hurt this fragile dream, this beautiful innocent friend. “I care, I care Charly, and I don’t want you doing anything crazy, so people won’t call you that anymore. People have to know that you are not crazy, just different. I care, so come on, let’s go to the playground. ”
The distance from her house to the playground never seemed so far as on that day. I imagined that half the population of town would be there, waiting to poke fun at Charly or at me for being in the spot I was in. Charly on the other hand seemed to grow taller, prouder of her existence. She was humming music. It wasn’t a song or anything, it was more like, classical music, the kind that don’t have words. Charly was happy, and I was petrified. She couldn’t tell. She had no way of knowing. In her mind she was a nine year old child on her way out to play.
As we arrived at the playground, I found mild relief from my wild fears. There were none of the regulars, none of my chums from school, none of those who had warned me. We were just two kids of about the same age out to play in the park. Someone in a distant group waved to us, and I waved back. The fear left and soon we became what we were meant to be. Two friends jumping back and forth over a small brook, trying not to get our feet wet. We raced each other around the dirt track several times. She was fast and almost caught me. I bet she could have if she had tried I thought. She could catch me, I was sure of it. She let me win. It made no sense to me, I mean after all she’s a girl, why would she let me win? It was hot now. Too hot to run, too hot to jump the brook. It was past noon time as we headed back to Charly’s.
Her mother who had been out shopping all morning came out from the kitchen just as we reached the swings in the back yard. She had made each of us a sandwich and opened a bottle of Coke. It was nice there. It was quiet, peaceful, no fears, just nice.
By the middle of the afternoon, Charly’s mother had returned and told Charly it was time to go. Go, go where I wondered. Her mother reminded her that the doctor wanted to see her every week, and that they would have to leave soon or they would be late. Her mother went back into the house and Charly resigned herself to the Doctors visit. “Will you come back tomorrow? ” she asked. “Sure, okay, I will be back tomorrow, ” was my reply. The rest of the afternoon was long, uneventful, and in the evening a brief thunderstorm swept through, leaving behind rain that would last all night and into the next day.
When morning came, it was still raining, no sun, just rain!
How would I get to see Charly today? She would certainly not be sitting out in the rain waiting today I thought. I sat down and ate breakfast slowly. Why hurry I thought. When I had finished I walked to the end of the walkway in front of our house to see if it were still raining. I looked at the gray clouds overhead, and the water dripping from the trees. A small brook had started to flow in the gutters next to the curb, and I looked down the street toward Charly's. I did not expect it, I could not believe it. It had to be a trick of my eyes I thought, it just had to be! I was getting wet all the way through, as I ran toward Charly's and there she was. Dressed from head to toe in a bright yellow rain suit and hat like the fishermen wear, she was even wearing the big yellow boots. Standing at the fence in the rain waiting for me. Sunshine would not have to come out that day. It was all there in Charly's face. “You had better run fast, ” she said, “your getting all wet, and people will think you’re crazy. Nobody, should be out in the rain without even a jacket. ” Charly grabbed my arm and pulled me along the front walk and up the steps to the shelter of her front porch. When we stumbled onto the porch, Charly's mother appeared in the doorway. “Well look at you, ” she said, just like a boy to be out in the rain without even a jacket, ” giving me a scowl as she spoke. “I am glad you came, Charly was expecting you, ” she added. Charly had taken off the hat, the huge raincoat and the boots, and passing by her mother, she went into the house to put them away. Her mother remained, and as soon as she saw that we were alone, she told me that it was nice that I was going to be Charly's friend. “Charly needs friends, ” she said, “it helps her to adjust you know. ” Her message was filled with unspoken words, and delivered with the proper inflection. I knew from her words that I had earned a new responsibility in life, that of being Charly's friend.
After a short while, Charly's mother reappeared and announced that she would be going out for a while. She said that she had to help out at the store. Charly's father owned a small hardware store in the downtown area and her mother always went to help out when it was busy. “Charly, ” she said, “can stay home with you here, and you can go into the parlor if you like. ” In a few minutes, she was gone and we were alone. There was a large double swing with a high back hanging on one side of the porch. It had cushions and it squeaked when it moved. Charly sat in it and started to move back and forth slowly rhythmically. “Tell me about school Charly, ” I asked. She told me that she liked school, because it was fun. She was in the green class, because that is where they put all the people like her. She was glad to be in that class, because as she put it, “the other classes weren’t as smart. ” “The blue group, their the Silly’s, ” she said. “They can’t help it you know, but they do silly things like banging their heads on the wall, or yelling dumb words, or sometimes just doing nothing except sitting and making silly faces. That’s why their called the Silly’s. Some groups are all old people, who don’t know that they are in school. They don’t know anything, and we just leave them alone. One class has just five people in it. Their too smart. They did things like figure out what the moon was made of and how old the world is, and they worked so hard that they can’t do anything anymore. My class is the best. Everyone in my class can go anywhere, as long as someone goes with us. We can play outside or anywhere. The teachers, some are doctors, and some are women, make each one of us learn something every week, and the next week they give us a test to see how much we learned. Mostly I learn okay, but I don’t remember too long. ”
The rain had increased and was now blowing onto the porch. “We can go inside, ” said Charly. I had never seen the parlor in Charly's house. It looked dark and quiet, and unused, except for a large piano on one side of the room. It was a grand piano, with a large heavy cover that lifted to one side. “I can play the piano, ” Charly said. “Would you like to hear me play. ” She positioned herself at the keyboard, and shuffled the torn music sheets that were before her. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but again Charly managed to totally surprise me. She played a piece of music that I had heard played before. It was classical music, and from my position it sounded to me as though she had played that piece to perfection. “How did you do that? ” I asked, when she had finished. “My mommy started to teach me music and to play the piano when I was very young, and when I was nine I had my accident. Before my accident I played that music at a piano recital. I always knew how to play it, ” she exclaimed. “Can you play other music, ” I asked. “Oh yes, ” she replied as she shuffled the torn sheets again. Again she played and gave a terrific performance. Charly continued to amaze me as she played piece after piece with perfection, until she had played each piece from the music before her. When she had finished she commented, “I don’t have any more music, I had these all before the accident, and afterwards I didn’t play the piano too much. ” I asked her why she didn’t get some new music. Her reply, that she did not have any money, and she didn’t need more music anyway, sounded a little weak to me, and so I asked Charly, if she did get more music, would she be able to play it. “I don’t know, ” she replied, “I have never tried to play anything different. ” “Charly, if I get you some music, could you teach me to play that piano. ”
“Boy are You crazy, ” she said. I am not supposed to be the teacher. ” “Why not, ” I replied. “I don’t know how ” she said, “I just don’t know how. ”
We had been in the parlor for several hours when Charly's mother returned. “Did you play nice, ” she asked? “Charly played the piano for me real well, ” I replied. “Oh that’s good, ” she said, adding that it would soon be time for supper. I got the hint and confirmed the next days plans to be with Charly, even if it rained again, and then I left for the day.
When I returned to my house, the search was on. I had remembered seeing a large box of old music somewhere in the house. It was old music, but it was piano music I thought. I had no idea what music it was, and after a short while in the back of the attic, I found the box. The pages were even older and more ragged than the music that Charly had, but at least I thought it’s different. Carefully I studied the pages, hoping to find music that might be played. I had to look for names of the composers, because most of the writing on the old music was in foreign languages. Some were in German, some in French and even some in Russian I thought. There were a lot of sheets by Mr. Chopin, Mr. Strauss, Mr. Beethoven, and Mr. Brahms and Mr. Wagner. Ten I thought, I will take her ten. No, twelve, twelve will be better. Twelve it is then. I threw the others back into the box, and neatly stacked the chosen twelve. I could hardly wait to see what Charly could do with this new music. She had already surprised me far beyond anything that I might have expected.
Charly was away the next morning and it wasn’t until after noon time that her mother returned her to her house. Her Mother would then drive away to work at the store. I waited to surprise Charly with the music until after she had left. Charly waved goodbye as her mother turned the corner. When she turned back toward me I handed her the stack of music, and she shouted out with surprise that I had been able to find her the music, just as I had promised. We hurried into the parlor, where Charly placed the first piece of music on the rack in front of her. “It looks funny, ” she said. “The notes are all the same as my music, but the writing is all different. ” I told her that I thought it was in German, as I looked over her shoulder. “Well it looks okay to me, ” was her response, as she placed her hands upon the keys. She stared straight ahead at the great mystery scroll before her. Her hands moved, with hesitation at first, and then as though led by a force from within her soul, her hands moved with a drive of their own, bringing to life the notes put down on sheets of paper a hundred years before. The music flowed and Charly's, excitement filled the room. “I can play this, I can do it, I can play this, ” she said over and over again. Her joy was contagious, and soon laughter and tears of joy filled both of us as each new piece placed before her yielded its’ beauty.
“Is there more, ” she pleaded, “please is there more? ” I promised more to her, as much as I could get. The sight of her amazement, her joy of being, and her absolute awareness of her triumph were overpowering. She rocked back and forth, and side to side, and played each piece again with more feeling, and more inflection and with deeply felt inner qualities that came only from her own talents, not found on the page. She filled the room with music and filled my heart with feelings unknown ever before.
Finally she stopped, and stood up from the piano and walked toward me. “Please, ” she pleaded “please don’t tell anyone that I did this. ” “Charly, your fantastic, you have to tell, ” I urged her. “ “No, not yet, not anyone, promise me, ” she replied. She took the music from the piano and quickly ran up the stairs to her room and hid it. She did not want anyone to know not even her parents. It was to be our secret. Reluctantly I agreed not to tell, and Charly moved straight toward me and wrapped her arms around me tightly, and kissed me. Again I was shocked by Charly. “Charly, ” I said, “don’t do that ever again, don’t do that to anyone ever. ” She again had a response. “If you ever tell anyone our secret, I will tell the whole world that I kissed you, me, crazy Charly kissed you. ” I headed toward the doorway and told Charly I would see her the next day.
Each day when I returned home, I would go to the attic and piece by piece select sheets of music to bring to Charly. As the days went by she triumphed at her achievements. Her world of music had survived her accident and she was aware of the significance of this. A little bit of hope was now springing anew inside of her. During the summer months, Charly had acquired an excellent collection of the worlds best music from the greatest composers, and she did try her best to teach me the simple scales and chords that were her gift. She was a patient teacher but I was not destined to be a piano player. I still can not play a single note.
Summer drew to a close, and in the fall my friend would be taken back to school. I did not know when I would see her again, and the thought of days without Charly weighed heavy on my heart. I went to her house on the day that she was to leave, and I was there as her father placed Charly's luggage in the back of his car for the ride. With one bag in particular, her dad strained as he lifted it into the trunk. “What have you got in there? ” he asked, noting that it felt like it had been filled with bricks. Charly looked at me and smiled. The music I thought, Charly had packed all of the music in her suitcase, and was taking it back to school. We walked around her house one more time and said our goodbye’s and with a simple handshake, Charly got into the car and waved as they drove off. I had an emptiness in my heart that I had never known.
It was several weeks before Christmas when our doorbell rang. It was early evening, and to my surprise Charly's father had come to our house. He talked with my parents, and then they called out for me to join them. It seemed that the school had called and asked her parents to drive down on the following Sunday, and they were asked if they would bring me. It was all a great surprise surrounded in mystery and no one was quite sure why Charly had asked for a special visit from her parents. She was not due to see them for another two weeks, at Christmas time. No one could guess why she wanted me to go with them. It was okay with my parents, and the following Sunday I would get to see Charly again, at the school that she loved so much.
It was a very long three-hour ride to the school, and there was not much to talk about with her parents. They asked about my school and my studies, and my grades in school. They wanted to know my hobbies, and what I wanted to be after school was done. Would I go on to college? They wanted to know more about my family, and where we had moved from. I answered all of their questions as best I could, and then they asked if I could think of any reason that the school would insist that I be brought there with them. I had no answers, but inside I did not care why, I was glad that for whatever reason, I was going to see Charly.
When we arrived at the school, it all made sense. On our arrival, Charly ran from the doors of the old brick building, and without even saying a hello to her parents, she grabbed me by the hand and dragged me at full speed back up to the steel doors and into the building. We were way ahead of the others, as the steel doors slammed shut behind us. Charly was out of breath, as she issued instructions to me. “You must not say a word, you must sit still and just be good. ” “What is this all about Charly? ” I asked.
“It is a surprise, so just sit still and don’t say anything, that’s all. ”
The steel doors opened and Charly's parents entered and were greeted by one of her teachers, who led them down a small hallway to an office. In just a few minutes they reappeared and after some whispered conversation, the teacher took their coats and put them aside. Charly's parents looked more confused than I had ever seen them. The teacher came near us and said, it was time. Time for what I thought. Charly took my hand and led the way down another hallway and around the corner stopping for a moment to allow the others to catch up. We stood before a large double doorway and after a few deep breaths, Charly opened it. Applause and cheers and well wishes poured out from the inner room as the doors swung open. Inside the room there had gathered about one hundred people all seated in a great auditorium in chairs that had been placed in a great circle that surrounded a shining huge grand piano standing with its cover up and glistening in soft lights.
Charly led me to a single seat in the front row right next to the piano. Her parents were shown in to the seats next to mine. I could see the music on top of the piano. Clean, new, crisp, white sheets of music with the names that had become so familiar to me. They were all there, Chopin, Strauss, Wagner, Beethoven, Brahms
all there. Charly smiled again at me as she took her seat at the keys of the piano, as the room lights went dim. A single spot light shone down from above, and Charly pushed her hair back and placed her hands upon the keys. She played the music in a way that I could never have imagined, even having heard it all before. She played with a sense of dignity and pride and joy that electrified her with every touch of the keyboard. She played the most intricate sounds of the most accomplished masters, as though she were inside their heads when they wrote it. Charly had found her gift and was sharing it with the world. Her parents wept as she played each piece to the roars, and thunderous applause of all who had gathered. Finally, after several hours, it ended. Charly stood up and walked to me, and took my hand and lifted it high for all to see. “This is my friend that I told you all about, and he is the one who gave me my gift. I want every one here to know he is special. I have a gift for him and for my parents, and I want to share it with all of you. ”
At that point, the Doctor stepped forward and announced that Charly had indeed had a breakthrough, in her learning skills. Through the mystery of the music, pathways in her brain had healed and she was learning faster than anyone else in the school. Charly stopped him and said to me, “what it means is that now I am 16 and 12, and next year I will be 17 and 15, and after that, why I will be so smart I will even be able to teach you how to play the piano. ” Charly again put her arms around me as she had before, and in front of that whole school and her parents and her teachers she gave me a kiss. “Charly, I said, I told you, that you can not do that, do you want people to think your crazy? ” Then I kissed her back.
Charly returned with us a week early for her Christmas break, and when summer came again, Charly had done so well that she came home from school for good.
The End (maybe)