After six years of piano lessons, I’d come across the name Schumann more than once. But I’d never heard of Clara Schumann, wife of the better-known Robert Schumann, until years after my lessons stopped. I was stumped writing one of my first short stories, and I started looking for some of Robert Schumann’s piano works, hoping to find something is his music that would spark an idea.

It was then that I found Clara Schumann’s piano variations. The recording above is brief, but after hearing it, I felt I really found my character, and I knew just where she was and what she liked. I knew how she moved and what she liked for dinner just because I could see this scene so vividly while listening to the Schumann piece:

When the nurses would leave her alone, usually on Sundays for an hour or two, Martha popped in a cassette of Clara Schumann piano variations, wrapped herself in a chenille throw and walked across the house barefoot. Though her hair had thinned and she rarely washed it, she liked to pull it up with a small claw clip. She danced sometimes and always hummed. Even when it was chilly, she threw open the sliding glass doors that led to the English ivy-filled courtyard around which the house had been built. The only neighbors who might have heard lived across the creek.

From “Martha’s Place,” a short story by Michael McGuire

In this story, my first short fiction since maybe the eighth grade, I wrote of a woman near the end of her life terrified by the fact that her children are starting to see her as a child. She is full of a quiet desperation, hoping they’ll notice more about her than the things she forgets. Martha’s life still has rhythm; it’s not chaotic, though the seams may be wearing in some places.