Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One Last Show

The old piano had been in Maw-maw's bedroom for as long as Joe could remember. He'd played his first chord on it when he was three. From the time he was eight he played it for hours a day. Maw-maw loved to hear anything he could produce from old hymns to pieces by the classical masters. Instead of going to college he'd travelled the country playing for silent movies, booze halls, and anywhere that would let him bang on the keys. He got the letter when he was in San Francisco. The whole family died. It had been a gas leak as far as they could tell.

He stopped and looked up at the old home place. It looked... deflated somehow. Even though he couldn't know there was no one there just looking, still he could feel it. He picked up his bag and walked up to the front porch. He hadn't made it in time for the funeral. He got the key from the bank. They'd held it for him.

The door creaked as he opened it. The smell of Maw-maw's baking and Paw-paw's pipe tobacco was still strong. The house could stand for a hundred years and that smell would remain. He imagined a thousand years from now, someone passing through where the house had stood and still catching a whiff of baked apples and cherry-vanilla smoke. "I'm home." His voice fell flat on the still air.

There was work to be done. He opened all the windows, letting in the fresh fall air. As he did, he started talking. "I'm gonna miss you guys. I told you in my last letter I got a contract to go and play in New York at some of the fancy music halls. They tell me I'm a once in a life time talent and that it's wasted on simple folks. I told them it weren't a waste. Simple folks need to tap their feet and clap their hands too. But the money is good and I'll take it and squirrel it away while I can."

He walked over to Paw-paw's desk and touched the bowl of his briar pipe. He would take it with him to the big city, when he left. "They don't need me for a month. Told 'em I needed to set things to rest back here. Just wanted to get a few personal things. Say goodbye. I hope you don't mind I'm gonna sell the place. Don't see any reason to keep it when I ain't gonna live here." His voice cracked and vision doubled as he let the tears come. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last.

Eventually, he let himself walk upstairs. The piano was there, beside the bed his grandparents shared for more than forty years. A light film of dust was the only thing marring the dark wood. Maw-maw kept the surface polished and the hardware in tune. She was just a church pianist and taught a few lessons. But keeping it in shape was just as important to her as a spotless kitchen or the secret of her blue ribbon biscuit recipe.

He uncovered the keys, the hinged lid making a soft clunk as it came to rest. His mom had played piano when she was a girl. He didn't ever get to know her. She’d died when he was a toddler. He sat on the straight backed chair and ran his fingers over the real ivory and ebony keys. This had been beyond an extravagance. Paw-paw had spent more money on it than he had on his tractor. It had been a wedding present to his blushing bride.

Joe ran his fingers down the keys without any pressure, taking pleasure in the silky feel. Then he flexed his fingers and cracked his knuckles. Maw-maw had always hollered at him for that habit, but there was no breaking him of it. He'd thought about this show for the two weeks he'd been on the road, trying to get back here. Notes floated through his brain while lying in the beds of cheap motels or while teeth rattled in his head as a bus bumped down the road. Fingers danced in the air. Distant notes rang, only in his head. He hadn't played a single measure on the trip, though he'd had a chance or two. No, this farewell would be for them alone.

He started off with chords reminiscent of “Amazing Grace”, played the way it would have been in his stiffly formal home church. Halfway through the first stanza, it took on a blues tempo and the notes took on a darker feel. Maw-maw wouldn't have approved, but on the occasion when he and Paw-paw were alone, he would play like they did in the black church. The tempo increased and the notes grew more complex and the runs faster. He thought of the memories of running through the fields with his sisters. They were both older than him and he'd chase them for hours, laughing and yelling at them to slow down. They run fast and he'd run faster.

The hand fell on his shoulder halfway through. He hit a sour note, but didn't let that stop him. Instead, he improvised and fell into a swing rhythm. Life on the farm was hard work, but there was always time to dance. He shivered as a head rested on the crown of his own in a way only Maw-maw's ever did.

Moisture pattered on the keys as it got hard for him to see again. Fingers danced and feet worked the pedals. Notes swirled into the air, calling to his family. He brought them from their rest to stand in audience. He didn't mistake the foot tapping and clapping for memory. No, his family was here, egging him on, calling him to play faster. He smiled and let his arms and hands become a blur really showing them what he'd learned in the honky-tonks and roadhouses.

After a time, the passage of which became meaningless, the tempo slowed and the minor key predominated. He hated to stop playing, but he didn't want to keep his family from their rest. "It was good that you could come for one last show." His voice was thick. He closed his eyes and the notes came fewer and farther between. The scrape of a chair joining him tempted him to open his eyes. The notes his new partner picked out were tentative at first, those of a student new to the instrument. He smelled honeysuckle, his mom's favorite flower.

"You came a long way, mom." He simplified his playing further and they ended on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn't want the time to end. Like all concerts, though, this one had to draw to a close. The last note rang in the air and he opened his eyes. It was dark, the sun having gone down an hour ago. His arms and fingers ached. Exhausted, he collapsed onto the nearby bed, satisfied that he'd been able to show his family what he could do one last time.

Art Source: Those Who Play For Ghosts by The Michael MacRae on Deviant Art
Story and Characters (c)/by Scott Roche

#Ghosts #Music #Supernatural #Haunting #ScottRoche


Post a Comment