the piano

August 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

The old man tipped his hat and entered the room. Just before him, the garden framed by the doorway and a little girl sat crouched in the corner by the forsythia and beneath the chestnut tree, which dropped its glossy maroon fruit at her feet. “Where does light come from?” she sang as the dappled sunlight danced around her. the old man sang too, but his voice was hoarse and it startled the girl. She looked up from her play and pricked her little fingers on the green tuft of the unripe fruit.

Her mother ran out for the hour, lipstick smeared carelessly over her mouth like a wide, sweeping brush stroke. So, tending to the girl’s small injury, the old man quietly followed the girl into her mother’s bathroom where she pointed out a medicine cabinet hidden by mirrors. The sink was dirty; the girl rinsed it out. The old man placed his elephantine fingers into a small groove along the edge of the mirror and slid it aside; his reflection disappeared. The girl reached, placed one leg onto the counter, hoisted her tiny pelvis up and grabbed a box of bandages and antiseptic cream. The man found it difficult to tape up the girl’s finger, with his hands so much larger than hers; little did he know that underneath the silence, the girl savored the warmth of his fingers on hers.

The old man was forced to modify his lesson that day, making sure that the girl’s bandaged finger hit fewer keys. The girl mastered her scales with the absence of usually only one note here and there, like an effortless gasp for air.  C-d-e-f-g-a-  [pause]   -c. When she played Bach’s Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring, her fingers rarely tripped. The old man listened with ease, his heart murmured each time her chords faded out toward the end of their refrain, when the strings let out a quiet whisper, or when she pounded at the ivory with an irresistible urgency. He hardly noticed the arbitrary pause in the melody each time her ring finger hovered over its key, striking a phantom string.

At the song’s final crescendo, the girl pulled her shoulders back and closed her eyes and the old man looked at her translucent eyelids and began reaching for her fluttering fingertips when suddenly, a crow flew into the house, through the backdoor that the old man had left ajar. It flew over everything, even the bookshelf, which only cleared the ceiling by a foot, which was what surprised the man when it dove beneath the ebony lid of the piano and wrestled in the treble strings and because the girl’s eyes had been closed, she kept playing. There was a tension beneath her fingers, the keys resisting each touch, a tangle of sounds, a scraping and plucking that writhed in her melodies. She fought back. And finally, when the match ended, when the final note diminished into stillness, that is when she lifted both hands away from her piano and opened her eyes.

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