Miracle at Chaparral School

STORIES that stretch your mind

The Best Metaphysical Fiction of the year from Thresholds Quarterly

Miracle at Chaparral School

by Peter Knight

Hannah Klinger used to play with my daughter, Nancy. They swam together, whispered and yelled, ran up and down the sidewalk -- two skinny, knock-kneed kids, Hannah dark haired, Nancy blonde. They fought and made up -- until Nancy tired of going like gang busters all the time. Then Hannah called almost everyday for a month, before she gave up. I never thought her extraordinary, until last night.

Hannah and Nancy attended fourth grade at Chaparral Elementary School. Last night the fourth graders put on a show. My wife made me go.

We dropped off Nancy and walked into the school gym which doubles as an auditorium. For this performance, the kids had littered the walls with a bunch of decorations for the show's theme, "How the West Was Really Won." They'd hung colored cardboard cutouts -- professional looking silhouettes of Indians, wagons, and horses. An artistic parent must have made them.

In the middle of the auditorium we found two empty seats -- folding metal chairs, the kind you always see in gyms and church basements. Hannah's parents sat a couple of rows back from us. With the kids relatives crowding the gym we started sweating, even with all the doors open -- the gym isn't big enough to hold a regular basketball court.

The show started when the fourth graders -- about sixty shinny faces, brown and yellow, black and white filed into four rows of risers in the front of the stage. The kids had dressed in Western wear -- or at least their parents idea of Western gear -- oversized cowboy hats, ill-fitted gingham dresses and leather vests. Nancy lined up in the middle of the group. She's kind of shy, she looked stiff. Hannah's a ham and she mugged, next to Nancy. When I turned around, Mr. Klinger rolled his eyes and Mrs. Klinger looked away, blushing. The kids opened their performance with "Battle Hymn of the Republic." They sang confidently -- pretty much in tune, mostly together.

After the first number they separated into groups to entertain on stage. Some groups danced, then others recited -- stories short enough to memorize, yet long enough to bore me. I didn't know Chinese railroad workers, black cowboys and Hispanic settlers developed the West.

Nancy had a little part, speaking about a female wagon train leader. She sounded polished, rehearsing at home. On the stage -- only twenty feet across -- she sounded shrill but she made no mistakes and I exhaled.

Hannah came on stage next, with a tall boy wearing his string tie askew; she'd dressed to look like Annie Oakley, I believe -- jeans, vest, cowboy hat high over curly hair and rosy face. She and the boy sang this song -- I forget the title, but she sang, "Anything you can do, I can do better," and the boy sang "no you can't," and she sang "Yes I can. Anything you can sing, I can sing louder..." And so on. Hannah sang with a clear voice and apparently, no stage fright. She did the best of all the kids even at the beginning.
About a minute into the song, Hannah -- Annie Oakley -- sang something like, "Any note you can hold, I can hold longer..." Looking toward her audience in Nancy's direction -- Hannah stretched the note longe-e-e-e-er...."

She held the note more then a minute and people around us started to clap, and laugh.
I felt happy for her.

Hannah sang facing us, standing with her legs apart, arms akimbo. Her voice faltered a little, lowered in pitch a fraction then picked up again, as strong as ever.

Then two things happened -- at the same time, as far as I could tell. Hannah's voice got a little stronger, and she started to lift.

I hardly noticed the lift at first; I don't know exactly when it started. But I noticed something different about her standing with that fourth grade boy on stage. The boy looked rigid, more nervous than you'd expect.

And Hannah's feet dangled right off the stage, about an inch above the boards.
Parents in the audience tittered. The rustle and hum in the gym changed a little -- the noise thinned, the air prickled. I looked around. The couple next to me opened their mouths. Their little girl, a two year old standing on a chair, giggled, gazing at Hannah.
Other people in the hall didn't seem to notice anything unusual. At least they didn't noticeably react -- some dad's eyes glazed. Hannah's voice got a little louder. It sounded richer, with overtones or a hint of other voices.

Hannah rose a little more, too.

Not that I could see her rising or moving at all. But when I thought about it, I noticed her cowboy boots were two inches above the floor. I shivered inside my sweat.
Some adults muttered; a few stood. They kind of squinted, or sneered. My wife looked at me pale, wide-eyed. Nancy's back was to me, so I couldn't see her expression. Most of the kids in the audience sat with silly grins on their faces -- just enjoying the show, as best as I could tell. I supposed they didn't ask themselves how Hannah could keep singing -- three or four minutes now, I'd guess -- without pausing for breath. Maybe they thought her ascension was a trick, part of the show.

The taped background music faded. Hannah sang momentarily, without accompaniment -- still mugging, happy; not straining, but glowing like the other fourth graders. Virtually instantaneously, almost seamlessly, the accompaniment started again, swelling
But the background chorus didn't come from the kids, and the orchestral strains didn't come from the loudspeaker, or tape.

The music came from Hannah.

The other fourth graders quieted, and the tape stopped. Hannah's voice flooded the hall -- as if breaching a noise dam, filling a gap I'd hardly noticed before.
That wash of sound stunned me.

I don't think I reacted typically, necessarily. I've always said, if God showed himself to me, if he ever performed an irrefutable miracle, I'd believe. I guess I've always felt, knowing God existed would somehow, solve all my problems.

Hannah's voice...opened, and her voice became a chorus. No words, no audible "message"-- strings, brass, reeds and percussion, harmonizing and counterpointing, evolving from the tune she'd started into something more profound -- lifting me, figuratively.

Hannah rose about three feet above the stage, with the same posture...defiant.

The gym is small like I said -- it's kind of intimate. So I could see there were no wires, or anything, holding Hannah. I've seen magic tricks, before -- mirrors and smoke. There was no question what Hannah was doing -- it was real, not faked. Not that I understood it. Hannah sang...or, created...melodies and rhythms I've never heard or imagined.
Words fail me.

People in the hall were screaming...or trying to scream. I didn't hear them. I'm not sure but I don't think any sounds came from their mouths.

Somehow, my senses of smell, taste, and touch absorbed the music, helped me accept the levitation. Can you imagine music as your first hot fudge sundae? Music as exploding red and blue fireworks? Your mom tickling your stomach?

Once I read about this flying horse, Pegasus. Well -- this is hard to explain -- last night I became Pegasus, soaring beyond the clouds. I looked down. Snow melted...trees burst into green. Hannah loved me. I became...Hannah...Nancy...everything.

Suddenly without warning, Hannah's show ended.

Her part of the show, that is. She stood on stage, silent, smiling.
Her song wasn't last on the program. The boy on stage was supposed to sing, the other kids were supposed to perform, the tape was supposed to play.

None of that happened. After a quiet moment, the boy with Hannah whimpered. People in the audience started yelling. Most everybody rose -- to their feet. Folks who had been grinning looked positively sappy -- lost.

Inside my body felt disappointed, drained.

Mr. and Mrs. Klinger disappeared. Not literally -- I think they went backstage and met Hannah. They probably took her straight home.

We left without talking with anyone. Nancy bubbled in the car on the way home. She said, "Did you see Hannah?"

I said, "Did you see what that was all about?"

"It was the coolest thing I ever saw," Nancy said.

My wife didn't say anything.

I couldn't sleep last night. Maybe the Klingers will help me understand. They videotaped the show. I can't wait to see.

Peter Knight is a lawyer living in Southern California for the last seventeen years. Prior to this he was a taxi driver in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an Army Ranger in Vietnam and a street person in Madison, Wisconsin.
from Thresholds Quarterly, copyright 1997, 1998, SOM. All rights reserved.

Copyright© 2002, School of Metaphysics

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