Whenever she heard even the softest draw of a bow across the strings, her heart would break. She knew the music wasn’t his, but she couldn’t escape the haunting melody that repeated in her head. Over and over, without pause. A never-ending minuet bringing her to tears.
She knew his performance was never perfect: backwash on tailgating strings, pitch faulty by fingers holding naturals instead of flats, double stops only ever playing one note. But it was comforting. Only when he pressed the bow too hard—too tight— on his final number did she cringe. Her heart stop. The screeching halt on the strings was more than she could bear.
They buried him in all white on a rainy afternoon in November. The gray skies above offered no stage lights to his final performance. An opera house full of guests clashing his attire with all black. Yet, even she knew that no matter how full the audience, he would never raise up his bow to play.
Everyone said silence was his most beautiful symphony.
In the spring, she planted four white lilies upon his grave—one for each string cut short. She believed the old wives tale of their magical powers: restoring voice to those who lost it. And so she waited, day in and day out, hoping for the smallest churn beneath the earth. A pizzicato, at least. But as spring turned to summer and summer turned back to the cold and dreary fall, she felt her heart sinking deeper into despair.
How she wished for the curtains to be drawn once more. One final bow. One last solo before the lights faded out. But she knew it would never come. And on the eve of his death, she played his final number softly beside the grave, pondering what tortured her more: the melody or the silence.
A – Minor
His mother used to tell him that life was like a piano. Every key corresponded to a note when put together would create a melody—a song—of utmost beauty. She said that each day was a key, each year a note, comprising the magnum opus that would be the most beautiful work he’d ever known. And as she laid her hands atop his, stroking the ivory keys, she kissed his cheek. She told him he was her greatest symphony.
And so he practiced, day in and day out, fingers lightly pressing against the keys, singing out the childish tunes that he had come to know by heart. He was nowhere ready for the masters, but he knew in time, he would be deserving. Though she grew tired as the summer went on, she would force herself to sit beside him, teaching him each major and minor chord. Together they would study daily, shadowing one another, playing melodies so sweet it brought her to tears. But the last tears to strike the keys of the piano were his own. And the A flat was the last sound the instrument ever made.
She didn’t make it through the fall. His godparents claimed her heart had given out from ongoing sickness. A sickness she tried to drown out in the music. They sent him away, to find a new life, and sold the piano for wood. The melody stopped. All he came to know was silence.
When the years had passed and he found a new future—a family that donned him in wealth— he still spent the afternoons longing for her. Happiness was not found in his home. Nor was a piano. The only rhythm his fingers felt was from the birch switch upon his knuckles from a faulted academic lesson. He wrapped his hands in bandages and kept his head down. Piano hands aren’t to be broken and bruised.
His smile had faded, but he tried to remember what she told him long ago. As he stared out the windows, watching the snowfall, he imagined the music in each of the flakes. A note. A melody. A chord.
Life’s like a piano, she used to say. The white keys, and there are many, are indeed beautiful. They are natural and light and sweet. He told himself the white keys were his favorites—they were never flat. Battered. Broken. But the black are just as important. They’re sometimes sharp, and sometimes flat; yes, and alone they are somber and dark. But even in the specs of darkness, they are needed to make your music.
The tear that hit the pillow beneath him was silent, though he swore he heard a gentle A flat rising from the stitches. Sometimes, it’s the sharps and flats in life that bring out our melody. And create the greatest masterpiece of all.
She never had a voice. While her mother wept over broken strings and her father practiced the rhythms of birching knuckles blue, she sat in solitude. Time became her only friend, the gentle tik-toking of the grandfather clock reminding her the pain was only temporary. As all things in life were. All things but Time itself.
Though in her loneliness, she was adored. She became their golden child, though never praised for her wonders. No crowds applauding for her encore. She was simply there to ease the suffering—keep stagnant a piece of their life that was shattered. Cruel words never struck her ears, perhaps to them because she could make no mistake. There was no practice for her perfection—but she longed for a chance to fail. To feel.
Death skulked the corners of her home—cutting strings and painting white keys red. The piano never did replace the voice of the violin. Though its melody was more sought after than her own.
She spent her days admiring that clock, counting down the minutes of each hour. Though the harmony in the house turned to static, she could still see the pendulum keeping time. Never faulted. Never broken.
When spring came, she led him to the graveside to replant the lilies. His hand, though bandaged, held onto hers tight.
They would have made the greatest symphony.
But neither spoke a word. They couldn’t bear the solo performance, through shaky hands and tongues. And so they stood, in silence, allowing only the rhythm of their hearts to beat. Keep time.
Life went on, somewhere between the piano and violin.
Image – Pixabay.com