The Duet

Creative non-fiction does more than report events; it draws you into the writer’s experience and allows you to live memories and emotions along with the author. Descriptive language is at the heart of that side-along living. How you as a writer convey sensory information will decide how engaged your reader becomes.

For this week’s memoir prompt, we’re going to let narrative take a backseat. Choose a moment from your personal history and mine it for sensory detail. Describe it to us in rich, evocative details. Let us breath the air, hear the heartbeat, the songs, feel the fabric and the touch of that moment.

Let’s keep the word count to 500.


Sliding on to the cool wooden bench, I became conscious of the warmth flooding my cheeks. Glancing down I allowed my eyelashes to lightly fan the heat in my face as I batted them a few times to keep the frightened tears in check.

As I placed my fingers on the worn Ivory keys, I stole a glance to my right. So many faces I could scarcely make out any details from the overload. For a moment I tried to focus in and search out the faces that loved me; that were familiar. Minutes seemed to scrape down an invisible chalkboard and then I saw it.

The secret sign from a mother. Finger laid to the side of the nose that said “I love you.” I grabbed that moment to inhale some courage, but within seconds it exploded shakily from my chest. I turned my eyes back to the alternating black and white pattern and tried to draw low deep breaths.

In those deep breaths I drew in the heavy fragrance of the poinsettias that were placed around as decoration for the holidays. The flowery perfume was nauseating to my already churning stomach. Taking shallow breaths to try to ease the rolling and pitching feeling from within, my heart began to pound in time with the shaky feeling in my lungs.

I became aware that my hands were dampening the keys so I wiped them on the folds of my skirt. Once I was assured they were dried, I reached forward to arrange the crisp pieces of music. Glancing at the stanzas they looked strangely foreign and I could scarcely make out what all the little dots and lines meant. My eyes became blurry as the unwelcome tears began to fill up.

Mere seconds before they had a chance to spill out, a familiar touch caused me to instinctively move to the side of the bench. My twin sister was taking her place beside me. I stole a quick glance at her face and saw my own nervousness mirrored. A tight smile shared and we both turned our eyes towards the written music.

The notes seemed to shake and then take their place to where it all made sense. Two sets of hands positioned themselves onto the keys. A quick playful elbow jab to the ribs assured me that we would make it through this together. At the signal from our piano teacher we began the notes of our duet on stage.

Thoughts of a secret signal from a mother and the presence of my sister enduring it beside me propelled me through my part. There would a treat afterwards rewarding us for our performance in the concert whether it was good or not. The real treat was knowing that with my family beside me, I could make it through a moment on stage.

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5 replies

  1. Only you could make performing in a recital from the past so very real. Beautiful, my friend. Beautiful. I love the descriptions of your stage fright with the music blurring, the sweating hands….so very real, and brings back my own memories.

  2. I loved this line:

    I turned my eyes back to the alternating black and white pattern and tried to draw low deep breaths.

  3. Everytime I read you I sit in awe of this talent, of the muse that inhabits you my friend. WOW. it was so good in every way and the image of your twin sister, the elbow jab and twin fingers racing across the keys made a smile lift my lips. x

  4. What a lovely story of family, love, and sisterhood. I hope for this kind of support between my own children as well!

  5. You described the nervousness of a little girl so perfectly. This whole scene was vivid even down to the scent of the poinsettas. good jpb with this prompt.

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