silence and sound

The hours she spent were long, each note a destination, the black and white keys an endless, global ride.  Each day she practiced, each minute, a lifetime of sound.  Those days, months and years, were a constant escape.  Her world were those intrepid notes, scales and allegros, her fingers, a rollercoaster of fight and flight.  With each new challenging opus she scribbled more notes atop the masters, the game of perfection, a deepening drug. 

Not by surprise, her ride of success was it’s own daunting climb, her work paid off with the most prestigious of heights.  The industry welcomed her as their ears feasted upon delicacies only geniuses and masters procured.  Her diamond earrings glistened along her long neck, her slender body always clothed in a classic black gown, matching her grand piano with absolute success.  Never was there a ticket unsold as each new successful night leapt into another. This labyrinth of unlocking more complicated notes and keys was her life, and she carried a picturesque stature to match.  “A perfect pair,” the authors would praise in their reviews, the world’s grand piano’s and her.

Every night the crowds would cheer, the conductor would wink, her sweat of success would bead along her forehead under the hot stage lights. "I'm almost there." she would whisper to herself, "I'm so close," she would remind herself.  Every new performance, to her, almost perfect.  But to those who listened, she was their "World's Best.”  Hour after hour, night after night, perfecting this grand scheme she played on. Her hands would ache, her back and torso tightly upright, a sliver of humanity they became, but on and on she would play.  Her whole life was this great obsession.  She wanted so badly to live up to their words, this “Best”, this, perfection, she could almost feel it, right at the tip of her fingertips.

Night after night, the crowds filled the seats to hear her play the world’s most beautiful music. “BRAVA!" they would yell through the thunderous claps engulfing every musical hall.  Again, the reviewers only doused her with the highest praise for her devotion to such classic work and musical tact. 

After a long performance playing another long, stunning piece on a piano worthy of such sound, she slowly rose from her seat behind the keys and softly graced her left hand once again, on its polished corner.  As usual, she bowed to her cheering crowd, touching her right arm to her heart and thanking them with her smile.  The excited crowd stood tall from their seats, giving her their best standing ovation. Their cheering, clapping and whistling engulfed the music hall, causing an unfamiliar ring within her ears.  Overwhelmed by this almost terrorizing and deafening sound she bowed again with haste and grace, smiling only slightly this time, up at her maestro, his eyes and smile beaming with pure musical bliss.   The muscles in her face felt tight and she turned around, making her way off stage behind the giant curtains.  A desperate and eerie sigh came out of her, and her chest muscles caved in, making it hard to breathe.  This marathon she had created of notes and keys was running away from her and she couldn’t keep up.  Each note inside her head a long, desperate stride, longer than the next, swallowing her whole, from the inside.  Her panic and short breath shook her that night.

As usual, she found herself in front of the keys again, but this time, only with salty, puddles of tears. She pounding her fists in anger on the keys. Something was wrong. “It wasn’t... perfect" she screamed desperately into her hands, her nails biting away at her face, her moth open wide, yelping away at such disgrace and disappointment. "It wasn’t perfect and I am not the worlds best!  They are mad!  All of them!" she screamed again.  That night, her hands felt too heavy to lift, her eyes too swollen to read the music, her spine too worn out to sit up straight. She left her piano untouched that night and cried herself to sleep.

Later on, our prize pianist would fall away from the music, the articles, the cheers.  Her hands no longer found their voice among the music halls.  Her fans found new muses to cheer for, to stand for, their ovations were given to another.  The conductors shrugged in disappointment and more auditions were held for their “next.”  She fell away from public view finding solace with a family.  Her hands and delicate fingers found a new, soundless art form.   Orchids of all kinds found their home around her, her new skill became one which made no music, created no crowds, no articles and no praise.  Her orchids simply required her patience and time.

One slow afternoon, her very young daughter sat down at their tattered, upright piano.  Only the lonely living room could console it’s sad state in the far corner.   She couldn't even muster the energy to grace it’s meager presence with her orchid handiwork.  But her daughter felt obliged that day to disturb the dust and hack a few notes to fill the living room. Hearing this, she peered into the living room and saw her daughter’s new found curiosity.

With no one else home that day except her and her daughter, she decided it just might be ok and carefully lifted its cover.  The piano’s wood was dark brown and quite old, yet it’s keys still held their valiant magic. To her eyes, their bold black and white color still felt very primal.   “I used to play a very long time ago, my darling” she said to her daughter.  “Would you like me to play you something?”  Her daughter turned to her, looked up and smiled like it was the greatest day on earth and nodded her head, Yes.   Our prize of a pianist sighed and with a heavy heart, for her daughter’s sake, lifted her hands above the gallant patterns of black and white, lowered them and played.

As she played her daughter listened and watched with intent.  Her fingers floated ever so slowly and strategically about the keys.  She played a piece by Chopin, a nocturne she had studied for many years.  Her arms moved around liked water, as graceful as the tides.  As her fingers swept through the chords like a ballet, she caught herself remembering.   The keys felt like feathers under her fingers again, even though their sound was slightly off-key.  The song was not perfect given so many years of strings left untuned, yet the sound was very new to her ears.  There was no crowd behind her, no stage lights in her eyes, no diamond earrings falling off her ears.

As she struck the last, long chords the piece came to an elegant end, more beautifully than ever before this time.  As the last note found its final vibration into the quiet air of the living room there was, simply, silence.  She looked down beside her at her daughter, her daughter’s smile as wide as the sun.  She could hear the soft rustle of their clothing and a faint car passing by in the background.   The quiet silence of the living room overwhelmed her.  She lifted her left hand off the keys and gently stroked her daughter’s hair.  She breathed in and as she sighed she bent down, closed her eyes and kissed her daughter’s forehead.

She realized in that moment, within the silence of her living room, how she had gotten it all wrong.  After all those years of praise and practice, articles and performances, she realized she had been chasing a ghost. 

In that one moment, she realized how beautiful the music really was. It’s sound had brought tears to her eyes that day.
In that moment, she finally understood, she had never been truly, listening, to the music.

Short StoriesASHLEY CHILDS