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.