Schroeder stood at his favorite piano, hands on the keys but unable to produce a single note. He couldn’t think of what to play, or even how to go about starting it! Usually he could ring out a few notes of Beethoven or Chopin with little ease, but right now, he couldn’t even play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” if requested.
The reason behind his musician’s block; he didn’t have a muse. When he was younger, Lucy had become sort of a muse for him. Sure she irritated him with her romantic advances (none of which he reciprocated) but she was always there lounging at his piano, and he had unconsciously grown accustomed to having an audience, as obnoxious as that audience was. But now that they were older and Lucy’s feelings for him had all but vanished, he sort of missed her lounging by his piano, asking rhetorical and even downright mediocre questions. Heck he even missed when she insulted Beethoven (leading him to swipe his toy piano out from under her).
Speaking of Beethoven. Beethoven has always been a muse to Schroeder; an inspiration. But now, he was finding it hard to play anything with only the cold marble eyes of Beethoven’s bust watching him. He wanted to be able to hear Beethoven praise him, to congratulate him on his hard work and constant practice, how touched he was to know that there were still people in this day and age who still enjoyed good music. But Beethoven had been dead long before Schroeder was born, so he would never get the praise that he so desperately deserved.
He hated to admit it, but he realized that without a muse, without a physical being right there, watching him, he couldn’t make any music.
NO! That was Ridiculous! He had never needed anyone watching him before and he certainly wouldn’t need one now! He just had to concentrate. If he just sat here at his piano long enough, inspiration would come to him. He reached for the pencil and the sheet music he had discarded, staring at the blank, note-less paper. He twirled the pencil in his hand, lost in thought as he tried to think up something to compose. He thought about all the best symphonies he had ever heard, the best composers, the best melodies and tones, closing his eyes to better picture it in his head.
And that’s when he found it! Like a light flicking on, inspiration lit up in his head! It was glorious! It was Beautiful! It was perfect! The perfect idea! The perfect composition!
He slammed the paper down on the piano, a little unceremoniously for someone typically like him, and poised the pencil to write. He couldn’t believe something so great had never come to him before! He was just about to scribble down what he had come up with; it was too perfect! It was a masterpiece! Maybe the best composition in centuries! It was amazing! Stupendous! It was-
Gone! ….IT WAS GONE!
And just as soon as the idea had sparked a flame in him, it went out like a candle in the wind. Now instead of the harmonious symphony his mind had constructed after weeks and weeks of nothing to go off of, all that flittered through his head was the annoying buzz of his doorbell being repeatedly pressed. His cheeks burned scarlet, the sheet paper crumpling in his hands as they slowly formed fists. He shook in his seat, teeth gnashing together painfully as the doorbell continued to sound off. He got to his feet, charging for the door at full throttle. He swore if it was a salesman or a girl scout who had made him lose his inspiration, he would not be liable for his future actions. He nearly tore his front door from it’s hinges, his mouth snarling the words, “What?”
He was shocked to find not a salesman or a girl scout, but his childhood friend Charlie Brown standing on his porch, his clothes ripped and dirty, his left eye swelled shut, his cheeks and forehead caked in dirt, and a goofy smile on his usually goofy-looking face.
“Charlie Brown? What are you doing here? And why do you look so disheveled?” Schroeder asked, eyeing the state of his friend. It looked as if he’d been hog tying- and he had been the hog.
“Our school was having football tryouts today. I tried out….I didn’t make the team.”
“Well obviously! That still doesn’t answer what you’re doing here?”
Charlie Brown placed his hands behind his head, his expression suddenly bashful. “It kind of hurts to walk. One of the football players tackled me really hard, and your house was closer to the schools than anyone elses. I was just thinking I could stop by and say hello...”
“And rest here, hun?” Schroeder surmised. Charlie Brown was not an expert on subtlety.
A nervous chuckle responded back.
Schroeder sighed, but stepped aside to allow Charlie Brown to enter. He watched as his friend stumbled into the house, noting the slight limp as he walked. “You would think someone with no coordination would learn to avoid sports.”
“I know, I just thought that now that we’re older, maybe I would gain better reflexes and balance. We’re in middle school now and ever since I quit baseball, I thought I could find a new sport to get into.”
“Oh yeah, you did quit, didn’t you? How come? I thought you liked baseball?” Schroeder asked, reclaiming his spot on the piano stool. Charlie Brown eyed the white loveseat next to him. It looked so inviting, but he decided against sitting down, despite his muscles protesting. He knew Schroeder’s parents wouldn’t be happy with him if he got it dirty.
“Yeah, well, my teammates didn’t really like me on the team. I know we would have done better all those years ago if I wasn’t the pitcher.”
“You shouldn’t listen to what others say. If you do what others want, you’ll never be able to make your own decisions. You’ll always be a pushover.”
“Thanks for those words of encouragement.” It wasn't so much of a snide comment, or sarcastic retort, more of a defeated acceptance; he accepted the previous statement as fact. This once more proved to the young man how much of a pushover his friend really was.
“Just being honest with you Charlie Brown,” Schroeder finished, fingers once more on the keys but making no attempt to play. He eyed his guest, who was shuffling from foot to foot, looking conflicted. “Why so fidgety Charlie Brown?” He asked.
“Hun?…OH! It’s just…well um…I-” He stuttered, running his hand through his thin caramel-colored locks.
Schroeder was growing impatient, “Well spit it out blockhead!” He snapped. Maybe it was a little rude to snap at his friend like that; it wasn’t like Charlie Brown was being annoying on purpose, he was just generally like that. It wasn’t his fault.
“I just….is there anywhere I can sit? Somewhere that won’t get dirty?”
“Oh!” Schroeder looked down, suddenly embarrassed. His mother would throw a right fit if she saw his hospitality. But then Schroeder was never very good with guest. That’s why he stayed in his room when his parents had dinner parties; that’s why he made awkward dinner conversation at family gatherings when he was forced to socialize; and that’s why he couldn’t stand when anyone asked him to play a little “Mood Music”. His talents were far superior to be wasted on “Mood Music”.
“Um….Schroeder….you there? Hello?” Charlie Brown waved a hand over his face, snapping Schroeder out of his thoughts.
“Hun? I’m sorry Charlie Brown, what was that?” he asked, having completely forgotten what the other boy had asked of him.
“Ummm…I asked for a place to sit and you went “Oh!”, looked down, and then went into some kind of a trance,” Charlie Brown said, wringing his hands together nervously. “If I’m bothering you, I could leave," he added, eyes already shifting to the front door, and body curving as if to make a quick exit if needed.
“Oh! No, no, you’re fine. I wasn’t doing anything of importance before you arrived. Ummm, a place to sit, right? I think we have a fold out chair in the closet.” He got out of his seat and headed for the downstairs closet. He returned moments later with a blue fold out chair in his hands. Handing it to Charlie Brown, who mumbled a sheepish thanks, he reclaimed his spot on the piano once more.
“Are you sure I’m not interrupting?” Charlie Brown hissed as he lowered himself into the chair. The cuts and bruises from tryout were a lot more painful than the one’s he earned from Lucy pulling the football away from him as a kid. “I know how you don’t like to be bothered when you’re practicing.”
“I’m not practicing. I was composing when you arrived.”
“Oh? and that’s….?” He didn’t know much about music. He didn’t know much about a lot really.
“I was writing music.”
“Oh! You write music?” Charlie Brown sounded impressed. Though it didn’t take a lot for him to be impressed.
Schroeder nodded, “Yeah. I mean, if I ever hope to be as world renowned as Beethoven, I can’t just cover his music. I have to write my own too.” He stretched out his fingers and prepared himself to play a little diddly, since he now had an audience. Maybe a little impromptu performance would light something in his heart, and he’d find the inspiration that he had been without for weeks. Before he could even start though, he was interrupted.
“You want to be renowned musician?”
Schroeder rolled his eyes; the question was so stupid he couldn’t help it. “No, I want to be a world famous soccer player, Charlie Brown. Yes, I want to be a musician! Did me playing the piano for years not make that clear?”
Charlie Brown looked down at his shoes, his feet not even touching the floor. He swung his legs back and forth and Schroeder watched him with growing irritation. “I just thought you…well, I mean, you don’t really like playing for other’s anymore, do you? I just thought it became more of a personal passion, something you wanted to keep to yourself. You don’t perform for our school play’s anymore, so I just…” he stopped there, twiddling his fingers, looking uncomfortable.
Schroeder opened his mouth to refute the claim, but realizing that Charlie Brown was right, that he hadn’t offered to perform for their school in quite some time, or for anyone as a matter of fact, his mouth snapped shut. Frustrated that he had been bested, especially when it was to someone like Charlie Brown, he crossed his arms and huffed, sending his bangs airborn for a few short seconds. “It’s only because no one enjoys the classics anymore. Everyone wants to play something new age. Even teachers today don’t appreciate the classics.”
“I appreciate the classics,” Charlie Brown said, jumping in with his his two cents. Then, realizing his opinion hadn’t been wanted to begin with, he sucked in his lips and went back to staring at his shoes.
“Yeah, me too.” Schroeder said, smiling softly, letting some of the hostility he was feeling disappear. Even though Charlie Brown was a blockhead, he always knew what to say to make Schroeder feel a little better, even if the other boy didn’t realize it, or wasn’t purposely trying to. He was just so comically awkward that anything he said or did was enough to put a smile on the musician’s face. He rolled his shoulders, relaxing the muscles. Placing his hands back on the keys, he started to play–
–only to be once more interrupted by the boy next to him. Okay, right at this moment, Charlie Brown was not making him feel better!
“Hey Schroeder, um…can I get a glass of water?”
Schroeder sighed, “You don’t need to ask me Charlie Brown, just go and get some if you want some.” But upon saying that, he realized his mouth felt incredibly dry. He couldn’t remember when he last had a drink of water himself, and, suddenly parched, he held up his hand to stop Charlie Brown who was already making a move to get out of his seat. “Never mind. I’m thirsty too, you sit here and I’ll bring you some water.” He got up off the stool and headed into the kitchen to pour them both some refreshments.
He drank his cup of water by the sink, not wanting to bring the cup and accidentally spill it on the piano while he was playing. Finishing it off, he wiped his mouth, then returned back into the living room to hand Charlie Brown his drink. “Thank you,” Charlie Brown said, taking the cup from him and taking a large gulp. He must have been pretty thirsty because he finished that cup in 3 seconds flat (Schroeder knows, he counted). “Thank you,” the older boy said again when he finished, placing the cup under his chair. Nodding his head, Schroeder sat back down, turning his body until he was facing the piano again. He cradled his fingers together and pushed them outward, cracking his knuckles in doing so. Shaking out his wrist, he threw his hands dramatically into the air, ready to strike down some sort of lyrical rendition on his piano. Anything, just to make some sort of progress in his artist’s block.
Instead he made a loud ‘plink’ against the piano when once more he was interrupted. This time, by the low growling coming from Charlie Brown’s stomach.
Schroeder whipped around to glare at his friend. Charlie Brown chuckled nervously, “S-sorry. Should have mentioned I haven’t eaten yet.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that when I was getting up to get us some water?” Schroeder snapped, temple pulsing. Charlie Brown shrunk into his seat until his feet were actually touching the ground.
“It slipped my mind. I forgot I was even hungry.” Another loud growl punctured the tense air. Charlie Brown patted his stomach, trying to shush it, but it replied with another loud groan of hunger.
No use for it now, Schroeder sighed, and once more got up from his seat. He thought Charlie Brown coming here might help create that needed drive to play, but so far, the boy was being a bigger road block then his own mentality. He retreated back into the kitchen, motioning Charlie Brown to follow as he went. “Come on, might as well get some food. I don’t need to hear voices from the peanut gallery, especially if they’re coming from your stomach.” Besides, now that he was up, he realized it was already past lunchtime and he hadn’t eaten either.
Charlie Brown followed him inside, and Schroeder commanded him to sit down. Hesitant at first, because he didn’t want to ruin anything with his dirty clothes, he scrambled to sit down when Schroeder pointed at the barstool of their kitchen island, mouthing the words “Sit,” with a somewhat threatening air. With Charlie Brown seated and out of his hair, Schroeder opened the cupboards to pull out the peanut butter and jelly. Then he open the bread box to remove four pieces of whole wheat bread. “Want yours toasted or not?” He asked, sticking his own slices of bread in the toaster.
“Oh, Um…I don’t really care?” Schroeder turned around, hands on hips his eyebrow raising and the frown on his face tightening.
“Not an answer Charlie Brown!”
“Um…well, knowing my luck…not toasted please.” Nodding, Schroeder set to work on CB’s sandwich first since his own would need a little time to toast. He slathered one half in peanut butter, then used a different knife to spread an equal amount of jelly on the other side. Slapping the two pieces together, he dropped the finished sandwich onto a paper plate, then headed for another cupboard.
“Potato chips alright with you?” He asked, opening the cupboard and pulling out a new bag of potato chips.
“Yes please!” came the enthusiastic chirp. At least there was one thing Charlie Brown could make a decision on. Tearing open the side, Schroeder watched the air deflate out of bag, before pouring a decent amount of chips onto Charlie Brown’s plate. When he was sure he had supplied enough, he headed to the island to hand Charlie Brown his food. Then he went back to the counter to prepare his own meal.
A few minutes later, he was sitting next to Charlie Brown, his own lunch prepared. He had also taken out the pitcher of lemonade from inside their fridge and brought it as well. For awhile the two sat in comfortable silence, just enjoying their meal.
“So why’d you decide to try out for football again?” Schroeder asked, the first to break the silence. He chomped down on his sandwich, took a swig of lemonade, then continued when he was sure he had washed down all the peanut butter that had gotten stuck to the roof of his mouth. “I mean, after what Lucy did to you so many times, I would think the last sport you would try out for is football?”
Charlie Brown shrugged, “Well, Lucy wasn’t the one holding the football, so I didn’t feel so afraid of kicking it…not that it mattered. I slipped on a wet patch of grass and sent myself flying.” Schroeder tried, oh he tried, but the thought was too much to bare and he bursts out laughing. Charlie Brown didn’t seem the least bit bothered or upset by it though, as he too ended up laughing. “Yeah I know. I don’t even have Lucy pulling the football away from me, and I still manage to mess up. And after that, well let’s just say, I’m not only terrible at baseball, I’m terrible at football too!”
Schroeder stopped laughing, taking on a more serious tone, “Hey, you know, for what it’s worth, I didn’t think you were that bad on the team. You were a great manager.”
“I led our team to failure.”
“I led our team to failure…most of the time.” Charlie Brown corrected himself.
“Still, you weren’t the worst player–we all know that was Lucy! And even when we were losing, you never lost your determination.”
“Thanks. You’re the only one who ever gave me any encouragement. Everyone else always told me I’d be more helpful not showing up for a game, but you’re the only one who was actually glad I was there.” Charlie Brown turned to look at Schroeder, smiling sweetly at him. Schroeder felt his cheeks warm up in embarrassment, not used to having someone other than his parents or some girl after his affections compliment him. And his parents were supposed to do that, while the girls who complimented him wanted more out of him for it. No one gave him a compliment just because they wanted to. It was a strangely fuzzy feeling in his stomach.
“Well, you are my friend Charlie Brown. After you left, the team lost most of it’s motivation and spirit, that it became unbearable to play. I ended up quitting soon after. I decided to focus my interest elsewhere, like hockey and playing piano…obviously.”
“Hahah, yeah, obviously…how is it going? Your piano playing, I mean? I haven’t heard you play anything in awhile. I miss it.”
Schroeder sighed, resting a hand on his cheek. He looked as tired and drained as he felt. “I’m a little uninspired at the moment,” he admitted. “I haven’t been able to produce anything worthwhile in a couple weeks. No matter how hard I try, nothing I play sounds good to my ears. I woke up early to try and see if I could push through this musician’s block, but so far I am as unsuccessful as any other day.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Schroeder…am…am I distracting you? Is the reason you haven’t been able to play anything today because I came over and interrupted you?” Charlie Brown sounded guilty, and just the saddened tone made Schroeder feel guilty for ever getting so annoyed with the boy at every turn.
“No, Charlie Brown, you haven’t done anything to prevent me from working,” Though a bit of a lie. Schroeder did have a grand idea for the perfect sympathy which he would have been able to get down if Charlie Brown hadn’t stopped at his house and rang his doorbell. But this was a lie that Schroeder had no problems committing. He placed his hand on Charlie Brown’s shoulder, giving the boy a reassuring squeeze.
“Yeah! In fact, I think after talking with you, I feel a lot more inspired than ever. Why, I may even have figured out what to play!” Another complete fib, one that Schroeder wished he hadn’t committed to this time.
“Oh? C-can I listen?”
“L-listen?” Schroeder pulled his hand away, holding it instead, his eyes darting nervously to the piano and back. “S-sure! Come on!” He answered, picking up his half finished plate to dump it out. Charlie Brown followed suite, grabbing his empty plate, save a few bread crumbs and headed for the trash. They discarded their plates and returned to the living room, reclaiming their spots; Charlie Brown on the fold out chair, and Schroeder on his piano stool.
“I can’t wait to hear you play,” Charlie Brown said, yawning loudly as he said it. With food in his belly, and his cuts and bruises stinging his face and other parts of his body, the full excursion of tryouts catching up with him, he hadn’t realized how exhausted he had really been. To get more comfortable, Charlie Brown scooted closer, resting his arms on the top of the piano and laying his head in between the crook of them. He let out another yawn, and with heavy eyes, he continued, “I bet it’s going to be good.” He wondered if he’d be able to better enjoy the music with his eyes closed? He decided to test this theory, burrowing his head deeper into the warmth of his arms, ignoring the smell he was emitting from himself.
Sweating bullets, Schroeder hummed in response to him, but in all honesty, he hadn’t been paying attention to Charlie Brown at all. Inside he was berating himself for promising a concert that he couldn’t perform. On the inside, his head scolded him: look what you’ve done! You’ve made a fool out of yourself. Now you’re going to humiliate yourself in front of Charlie Brown- Charlie Brown of all people- and he’s going to jeer at you. Or become perturbed when he realizes you lied to him! Why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut? Haven’t you heard the expression ‘Open Mouth, insert foot’? Obviously not, because you’ve done just that! Maybe you can improvise, play a mashup of different pieces from different artist and call it original. The thought of plagiarizing other artist work left a bad taste in his mouth, but he had no other choice. He was sure Charlie Brown wouldn’t notice if he mixed and matched a few symphonies together and pretended he had come up with it.
“Okay….Okay….I hope you’re ready. Cause I’m g-going to blow you away with t-this piece. Are you ready Charlie Brown? H-here I go….my piece…all my own…I wrote it….just mee!” This was pathetic. It was obvious by the nervous crack in his voice and his stuttering that he was already blowing this. Reaching up, he wiped the sweat from his brow and placed his shaking fingers against the keys. “Alright….here…”
He hadn’t meant to, but that was the last straw. Being interrupted once was alright, being interrupted twice was enough, but being interrupted five times??? It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “Charlie Brown I would appreciate it if you–”
The anger died in his throat when he found the other male laying against his piano, fast asleep. The boy’s chest rose and fell softly with each soft snore that left his lips. He had gone to only rest his eyes, but as soon as he allowed his eyelids to close, he found himself fast asleep.
Schroeder stood there, watching him sleep on for a few minutes before he felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips. He reached over and tousled the light, thin, sandy blonde strands of Charlie Brown’s hair. “You blockhead,” He whispered affectionately. Count on Charlie Brown to always make him smile, even when he wasn’t trying to.
Charlie Brown, despite his clumsy and dimwitted personality, there was something lovable about the boy. Even though he was often the butt of humiliation and misfortune, he always had a little determination left in him, a little fight left to give. He didn’t give up, no matter how many times he’d been knocked off his feet. He always got back up. He was persistent, resilient. He was the true underdog story, and Schroeder admired his inner strength and perseverance, even when the whole world seemed to be against him. Schroeder had been here, complaining about a little musician’s block, allowing it to keep him from doing what he loved. And yet here was a boy who always had the rug pulled out from under him, but never did he give up, or allow the obstacles in his way to stop his passion.
And that was it. The boy in front of him sparked a fire in him that he hadn’t felt in weeks–no, in months. With lighting quick fingers, Schroeder began to play something he wasn’t used to playing. It was clunky, and awkward. It wasn’t the classical music he was used to. It was, in it’s essence, perfectly Charlie Brown. Taking one hand off the piano, he picked up his pencil and the half crumpled sheet music to scribble down a quick title: “The Ballad of Charlie Brown.” Smiling, proud of his accomplishment, Schroeder dropped his pencil and once more reached over to gently ruffle the sleeping boy’s hair, before returning back to his music. He would end up playing and replaying the song many more times throughout the evening. He wouldn’t stop until he got it down perfectly. He was…finally…inspired.
Well, would you look at that? You’ve become a muse, Charlie Brown!