Replacement Theory | Mike Mulvey

“Your dress is so pretty, Eva. See how it matches those beautiful flowers?”

Eva’s grandmother, Sharon, points toward a large bouquet of flowers resting atop the waist-high wall separating the small church’s seating area from the altar. Containing pink and white lilies, blue delphinium, English lavender, and both red and yellow roses, the flowers provide Eva a moment to settle her nerves by inhaling the fresh aromas. On the left and right sides of the wall, two staircases provide access an expansive area which contains a lectern, the altar itself, and a baby grand piano. This piano occupies Eva’s attention, and she stands at attention while staring at it, her nerves still unsettled. Eva’s mother, Rachel, gently massages her daughter’s shoulder in another attempt to put her at ease.

“Eva,” speaks a voice from behind the three women, “so glad you can make it.”

Daughter, mother, and grandmother turn in unison to face Ms. Reynolds, Eva’s piano instructor. She welcomes them with a warm smile before speaking again.

Photograph ©2022 Anna Zakharova
via Unsplash

“I don’t think we’ve met,” directs Ms. Reynolds towards Sharon.

“This is my mother, Sharon,” answers Rachel.

“Three generations are here this afternoon,” adds Sharon proudly while lifting a gold, Hamsa necklace from the lapel of her blouse, “plus a fourth generation in memory. This belonged to Eva’s great-grandmother, Judith.”

“How nice,” replies Ms. Reynolds while eyeing the room for other families she needs to say hello to. As music director of Frond’s Bay Academy in addition to a part-time piano instructor at this church, she has a few ‘deep pockets families’ from the “Academy” that demand a few minutes of small talk. Not sure how long she’s been ignoring this particular family, she changes the subject. “Eva, dear, if you want to practice there are two rooms outside you can use.”

“Thank you, Ms. Reynolds,” says Eva while curtseying instinctively with a nervous smile.

Ms. Reynolds nods politely while quickly moving away to wave and smile excessively at another family. Eva shuffles her feet towards the hallway, still unsure of the environment. She holds her book to her chest and stares at the worn, greenish beige carpet directly in front of her. She walks tensely, her gait not generating enough lateral motion to shift the pink ribbon at the bottom of her braided auburn hair. The pink ribbon rests perfectly along her spine, as if it’s been pinned there.

“I hope she’s not too nervous,” says Rachel to her mother. “This is her first recital, and we don’t frequent churches very much.”

“We don’t frequent churches at all, Rachel,” laughs Sharon while scanning the pews for a place with a direct view of the piano. “I don’t even think this place is shaped like a cross, aren’t they supposed to be?”

“That’s because this is a multi-purpose building. There are offices, classrooms, and I think a gymnasium. It’s non-denominational.”

“What does non-denominational mean?” asks Sharon.

“I don’t think anyone really knows, mom. It’s one of those Christian mysteries.”

With smirks that result from feeling so out of place, Rachel and Sharon find a pew with the best available view of the piano and sit down. Loud footsteps echo through the small church as a heavy-set man stomps down the aisle before his wife signals to him. He reluctantly turns, retracing his steps to join his wife and daughter who sit close to the exit.

“That’s not a bad idea,” comments Sharon, “they can sneak out when their child’s done.”

“I don’t think that guy can sneak anywhere, mom,” laughs Rachel. “He’s either very clumsy or very drunk.” She pauses to lean close to her mother and whisper, “Given what I’ve heard, it’s probably the latter.”

“Really? It’s only two p.m. on a Thursday.”

“His son and Eva were in the same 7th grade class last year. That dad’s got quite a reputation.”

“What about his wife?” whispers Sharon. “She looks a lot better than he does. Seems like an odd couple?”

“For the money,” mouths Rachel before whispering, “which is why they attend Frond’s Bay Academy.”

While Sharon continues looking around the church, Rachel intermittently rubs her thumb across the screen of her phone. The endless scroll of various social media apps immediately blocks out her surroundings. This means that Sharon sees Eva enter the church first. She grabs Rachel’s forearm to get her daughter’s attention, applying a level of pressure that leave faint nail marks in Rachel’s arm. Sharon stares towards Eva, with Rachel quickly following her gaze. The innocent nervousness adorning Eva’s face moments ago is gone, replaced by red eyes, a flushed face, and a quivering bottom lip.

“Look at Eva,” whispers Sharon as the continued pressure from her fingers on Rachel’s forearm almost causes Rachel to drop her phone; both women’s motherly instincts tell them that something’s very, very wrong.

Rachel sees the forming tears overcoming her 13-year-old daughter and fears an emotional outburst. Rather than ask if she’s ok, Rachel walks toward her before calmly saying, “Let’s go outside,” to which Eva replies with an anxious nod. With an arm around her daughter’s shoulders, Rachel leads the way, followed closely by Sharon. Sharon smiles uncomfortably at the faceless sets of eyes who watch them leave.

“What’s wrong, Eva, are you nervous?” asks her mother once they are outside the building and a safe distance from the entrance.

Eva responds by presenting her music book, titled, Favorite Hebrew Songs for Piano, to her mother with shaking hands. Eva whispers, “Ein Keiloheinu,” before releasing her grasp on the book. Knowing Eva references the song she will play, Rachel opens to the correct page and gasps. She struggles to stay calm and manages to hand the book to her mother. Sharon looks at it with the experienced perspective of someone familiar enough with antisemitism to be horrified without appearing shocked or surprised. Across the first page of the musical number is drawn a swastika, with the phrase, “You will not REPLACE us!” written underneath. The word, “replace” is underlined for additional emphasis.

“I think it was Logan,” whimpers Eva as the desire to cry dissipates and an empty feeling replaces her initial shock. “He laughed when he passed me in the hallway.”

“Start at the beginning, Eva,” interjects Sharon, her eyes narrowing as anger becomes her dominant emotion.

“I was practicing my piece in one of the classrooms. I left to use the bathroom. The book was open to the song. When I returned, the book was closed. When I opened it up again,” Eva sobs before composing herself enough to mutter, “it was there.”

“But,” asks Rachel gently, “when did you see Logan?”

“He passed me as I returned to the classroom from the bathroom. He did it while I was gone.”

“Who is this Logan?” asks Sharon.

“The son of that drunken oaf I pointed out earlier, the one who is trouble.”

“What are we gonna to do, mom? What are we gonna do, grandma?” pleads Eva.

Eva wears the expression of one who knows she has been wronged but lacks the strength or confidence to know how to handle it. She has been instructed by countless teachers and adults that this sort of behavior is inappropriate and to tell someone. This time, however, feels different. Eva’s seen and heard so many evil words and actions go unpunished; she isn’t sure she trusts those adults anymore. All the lessons in school, all the posters on the walls about inclusion, and, yet, this happened. Even worse, Logan exhibited no shame. Instead, he snickered as if proud of his antics, like he wouldn’t get punished.

“We need to tell Ms. Reynolds,” says Rachel. She takes the music book from Sharon before adding, “she needs to see this, and Logan needs to get in trouble. A lot of trouble.”

“I mean the recital,” replies Eva softly as tears finally descend from her cheeks. “How am I supposed to play? Everyone will see it. I will see it.” After a sob she states, “it’s not fair.”

“The car is right there, Eva,” states Rachel while looking towards it. “We can leave; you don’t need to play. I can tell Ms. Reynolds what happened.”

“No,” exclaims Sharon with a tone that draws her daughter and granddaughter’s eyes to her. “She will play. She needs to play.”

“Mom, please.”

“Grandma, no, I can’t. Not now.”

“Listen, Eva,” begins Sharon quietly but clearly, “I need to tell you something, and then you can decide what you want to do. Your great-grandmother, Judith, was a young girl like you once. She played piano, too, remember I told you that—how she would play it?”

“I do.”

“She spent three years in a concentration camp, Eva. There was no piano for her to play. There was no way to celebrate her culture. She never saw her parents again. Yet, she would hum the Ein Keiloheinu to herself, so she would never forget it.” Sharon pauses to remove her necklace and holds it in front of her, so Eva can see it. “She hid this necklace, too, because it was the only connection left to her family.” Sharon steps closer to Eva. “That’s why I think you should play that song, Eva, do you understand?” 

“But the book, grandma,” responds Eva with repressed panic. “Everyone will see.”

“Eva’s got a point, mom,” adds Rachel in a whisper, trying to support her daughter without offending her mother and her family history. “There’s no way to hide what’s on that page.” 

The three women pause to try and capture their swirling emotions. The faint melody of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” alerts them to the start of the recital and the immediacy of their impending decision.

“That song lives in your heart, Eva, like it lived in your great-grandmother’s,” declares Sharon while placing the Hamsa necklace around her granddaughter’s neck and closing the clasp. “You don’t need the book.” Sharon kisses her granddaughter’s cheek before standing, stepping back, and giving Eva a moment to decide.

“I want to play,” declares Eva boldly.

“Are you sure, Eva?” asks Rachel.

“I am sure, and I’m up next.”

Eva strides past her mother and grandmother, pink ribbon bouncing from one shoulder blade to another as her pace increases. She moves quickly through the door, not stopping or making eye contact with anyone until she reaches the piano. After quickly nodding to the audience, she casts a cold stare towards Logan before sitting down, placing her hands on the keys, and playing.

Rachel and Sharon do not return to their seats, deciding instead to wait at the doorway so Eva’s entrance will be remembered. Holding hands, mother and daughter share a moment that spans generations. Warmth, love, and tears move silently between them. Sitting directly across, Logan and his father squirm in defeat. 

Eva plays beautifully, remembering every note.

©2022 Michael Mulvey
All rights reserved

Michael Mulvey…

…is a happily married father of four currently residing in Jacksonville, Florida. He recently participated in a panel discussion explaining the importance of teaching the attacks of 9/11 to high school and college students sponsored by The Friends of Flight 93. Mike also had two short pieces, “Worst Enemy” and “What Sound Does an Empty Nest Make,” published in the Florida Writers Association April 2022 and August 2022 Newsletters.


Be inspired… Be creative… Be peace… Be

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