Posted by: Abe's Blog | August 15, 2010

Death by Piano

The rain falls. Constant. A misty drizzle. The streetlights are halos in the drifting spray. The man hunches his shoulders and drifts through darkness. Washing away the filth, he thinks. Washing it all away. His hat is oiled duck cloth and smells of wax and wisdom. He tilts his head forward so the water can drain and watches as it streams onto his boots. His coat is oiled too, and long. The rain is a sound on his back as he walks.

Heidi’s Haus of Coffee sits glowing and warm between O’Bannan’s Pub and The Book Shack. The man walks through the standers in front of the pub without meeting an eye. Removing his hat, he pushes open the glass door of the coffee shop and nods to the barista. She is busy with the customers of the evening, but lifts an eyebrow his way.

The man steps behind the line of customers and makes his way to the corner of the large serving room where an upright piano stands, its mahogany wood polished and shining. Inviting. Warm. The man touches the finish. Gently he lifts the hinged cover from the keys. He removes his coat, still watching the light play across the oiled wood. The coat he lays beside the bench, one hand trailing across the worn ivory keys. The piano is worn, but cared for. Tuned and melodic. The bench squeaks lightly as he sits and closes his eyes.

A few of the patrons have noticed the man at the piano and the sound of chatter quiets in anticipation. Some have come to hear him play. Others are here by chance and smile at one another in acknowledgement of their good fortune on this drizzling night. A few turn their chairs slightly that they will be able to watch the man at the piano. His eyes are still closed as he places his large hands upon the keys.

He breaths in. And out. Heart slowing. The physiology of his soul already beginning to change before a single note is played. His left hand drifts, fingers sliding over white and black before settling over a G key low on the board. He leans in and opens his eyes as he touches the single note. And a beat. And again. And the accompanyment is in his head. The sound waves resonate from within the rich wood and pierce him to his core. As they always do. The single note. Played once, and again, and again, and again. A metronome of a deep G, which becomes a minor with the addition, so softly at first, of a high B flat note. And there is the D note and the chord is complete. And he is transported.

The watchers sip their coffee and listen to the sound. To each soul, a different picture is formed. Some see the ocean, ever-present in this small coastal town. Others see a deep forest, water flowing over rocks. A storm that has swept in from the south, bringing promise. And heartache. But the man at the piano plays only for himself. His vision, seen behind lidded eyes. A woman. A child. And flashes of love. A past to be forgotten, but too painful to let go. His sins too great, he believes.  This is his cry. His meditation. His connection with the Higher Power.

He is far away from his body. Floating. This is the way. To the light, to the light, he thinks as his hands play on. The tempo has risen as has the pitch and he plays in the upper registers before pounding back down the bass, a sound like thunder emanating from the old piano. Here is his prayer, his only connection. He thinks of the sound, drifting up like the prayers of the saints, to petition the throne of the Holy.

Next door, in the colored neon light of O’Bannan’s Pub, two men stand from a booth in the back. They are fit and grim. As they walk out the front door, the sidewalk smokers part in deference. The men stand for a moment, looking into the coffee house, noting the man at the piano. Then, pushing open the door, they walk into the room.

At the piano, the man has begun to slow his tempo. His fingers glide in slowing caress and his hands drift far apart from one another. He slows until all that is left is the low G note that began this melody. And then this too is but an echo. A scattered applause sweeps through the room and the patrons return to their drinks and their quiet conversations. The man sits quietly, his fingers still resting on the keys. From behind him, he hears the voice of The Viper.

“Jack,” I always loved to hear you play. The Viper stands with his partner, feet apart, arms hanging at his sides. Relaxed and alert. “It’s really relaxing, man.”

Jack does not turn around. He thinks of his coat beside him and of the cut-down Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun strapped inside. He envisions the movements he will need to make in precise and instant steps if he is to survive. He pictures his finger squeezing the trigger, his left hand pumping the slide. He hears the sound of the blasts and predicts the movement of his enemy.

“Jack,” The Viper’s voice is calm, soothing, and full of menace, “you knew we would come for you. You knew we would find you.”

And this is true. He did know. He always knew. He could not protect the woman. Nor the child. He nearly died trying. But it wasn’t enough. Nothing will ever be enough. He thinks of the connection he has made. Can the spiritual transcend the physical? He has seen his share of death. He has dealt it in excess. He has bloodied his hands and taken vengence that was not his to take. He thinks again of the oiled shotgun just inches from his feet. 

Behind him, he hears the sound of The Viper pulling the slide back on a Glock 17, chambering a 9 milimeter round. He lowers his head. He places his fingers on the keys and begins to play, a rolling sound of light in the key of A major. His hands are steady and strong. He closes his eyes and he thinks of David, the ancient song-writer, whose life was a disaster, who was loved by God. Slay them not, lest my people forget: scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord our shield.This song he plays is his song of joy. It has not been played in such a very long time. He can feel each note. With his eyes closed, he can see them–the notes are colors, drifting like scattered rainbows across a cyanic sky. They move in harmony and dance upon the wind. The notes have wings. And hands. The hands reach down for him and lift him up. He is floating now and still the music plays. This song of joy. The light is here and brighter than ever. To the light, to the light, he thinks. “To the light, to the light,” the flying notes reply.

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Responses

  1. This is an interesting exploration of imagery. I don’t know why but the juxtaposition ‘fit and grim’ caught my eye.

    I’m curious: I once knew an accomplished musician who told me he saw the notes as colors. I never knew whether he was serious. Is that something you experience? Is it common?

    And to continue the stream-of-consciousness reply (sorry!). In a writing workshop I played an instrumental piece (on a cd player, not on the piano!) and the students listened and wrote whatever they wanted in reaction to it. It was astonishing that almost all of them came up with a similar version of the same storyline.

    I thought about that when I read the part in your piece where everyone imagined their own scene. I think music does both things for listeniers: it allows us to create our own worldview, but it also gives us a common ground connection.

    It’s late. I’m babbling. 🙂

    • Wow, thank you for the great comment! There have been rare moments when I have seen music as colors–times when I have been playing improv on the piano. I don’t think this is common, but I have heard of people who experience this.

      That is so interesting what you observed with your class and the images they saw while listening to the piece. It’s been awhile since I’ve played live improv piano, but I used to envision a story or a scene while I would play–I never knew what the listeners would see in their own minds.

  2. Wow… I knew this was something I couldn’t read on my phone or netbook. You know, it almost happened in slow motion. Does that make sense? For some reason, the way you wrote it made me SEE it in slow motion. NICE Abe. Real nice.

    Hmmm… I need to go read it again.

    • Slow motion makes sense to me Carmen–I kind of saw this as a moment that lasted a very long time. Thank you!

  3. I’m a little disappointed that it took me so long to finally read your blog Abe. This is brilliant – it’s the kind of writing I aspire to, as well. You took the time to paint the picture, instead of just bluntly stating that the piano player sat down and everyone stopped talking.

    The imagery was itself musical. This would make a great beginning to a detective or espionage novel. It’s one that I would buy and read, for sure.

    • Wolf! Thank you, man. Coming from you, that means alot. I enjoyed writing this.

  4. True artists who can manipulate the written word, be it on whatever medium, will always awe me. Thanks.

    • I appreciate that, Mike. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

  5. Very nice Abe. My guess is that you have seen that piano with more than your mind. You could have lingered there a while longer and I would have liked that just fine.

    • Thanks, Margie. Yes, I think this story ended a bit too soon. But it’s got me thinking about expanding it.

  6. we’re staying up late up in Sandy fadoodling on the internets…my friend filled up my gas tank so I could take her to government camp, and so we’re staying with Ambrosia’s friend Sarah up here. I need to read your blog more, dad. Astounding. I’m serious. I’m sleepy and can’t think of words to describe but it was just what I needed to fill my mind with before going to sleep. Beautiful. Reminds to always fill my heart with light and love and strive towards the higher power that flows in and around us.

    • Thank you, son! If you haven’t done so already, you should subscribe to my blog. The posts get sent to you via email. You should also write a blog of your own as you are a great writer! This is a good site for writing. Thank you for the comment and have fun in Government Camp.

  7. Wow. I just read it again. Man I can’t tell how much I loved reading this. The juxtaposition between joy and imminent danger is – there’s no other word for it – thrilling. The reader wants to know more – what happened? Who are the guys who are going to kill him? Are they good guys? (We imagine not). What did Jack do to deserve his fate? There’s a gun in his folded coat – was that for protection or was he on his way to another “job”?

    And the final notes here: is this him just being transported in the song he’s playing, or is being spiritually transported for real, while his body lies lifeless at the piano stool?

    It’s for the reader to ponder, and for the writer to smile.

    • Thanks again, Wolf. I thought about expanding this story into a much larger story…I may do that. I think this story helped me to find a voice and has inspired me to begin developing a story that will follow the flavor and style of this one…I don’t know that it will have this character in it, but I’m seeing a good plot developing.

  8. I love it when you write fiction. You always do it in a way that’s easy to envision and telling. You have such a talent with this. I read it twice (so far). I’m jealous of your gift to put the reader in the midst of it all. Such an enthralling read. Incredible ending. Thumbs up, my friend… two thumbs up.

    • Thank you so much, Suz! I wish I had more time for writing right now…but at least I’m working hard.

  9. Reminds me we are merely play things in God’s eyes. In the scriptures it says he created the earth and minions because he was bored. Come to the dark side we have cabernet sauvignon and crumpets or cookies and milk…..lmao

    • I do like cookies – but I am a Light Walker. Thank you for reading and commenting!


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