Broken Piano – Anthony Statham

Susan sat at David’s piano bench, in front of his stacks of sheet music. The burning glare of the setting sun sent a radiant wash of Mars atmosphere across the marble floor. She didn’t have the nerve to touch the crinkled papers- the Chopin and Mozart, or David’s favorite, Claude Debussy. They were always there when she did her monthly dusting, rumpled edges, and smudged with pencil jottings. She had never given much thought to the music he loved so much. Now the missing music felt like a heavy curtain keeping out necessary light. She pressed the lowest octave D key. The damper came off the string as the hammer struck. She removed her finger from the key and the damper fell back onto the string. The sound ceased.

Everyday since the funeral she pressed the same note and felt something inside her diminish. It sounded nothing like when David played. The resonance that usually accompanied a thrumming key was gone.So many mornings as she cleaned vegetables or made sweet tea, David would clear his throat and sit down on the piano bench, and always the first thing he did was strike the lowest D. He told her clearing his throat was a joke, seeing as the piano would be doing all the talking. And she loved him for it. Striking the D was just the ritualistic way he let the piano know that he was there, that now was the time.

He played well. Almost every dinner party they hosted ended with David playing miraculous piano pieces. Guests sat still and watched, drinks temporarily forgotten. In the right hands, the eighty-eight keys of a piano could control the will of men.The obscene port of Los Angeles seemed meaningful when accompanied by his rendition of a Mozart Menuetto. Before David, there were no such things as preludes, allegros, or prestos. Names like Debussy would have made Susan blush. Her entire life before David, she had lived a thirty-minute drive down the 110. Her grandmother used to warn her not to stay out past dark, that it wasn’t safe. Compton was the kind of place a stray bullet might snipe your life at any moment. Now she spent her afternoons in a glass room, the silent mass of the Pacific Ocean hundreds of yards below. Her neighbors rode horses through the trails and waved up at her while she plucked ripe tomatoes in the garden. She often wondered if they thought she was the hired help, an attractive black woman that was handy with a kitchen knife.

She struck the D again. The room shuddered. Light muted a degree further toward nightfall. The silence was all consuming. She looked at the keys on the piano, not understanding the significance, helpless of the correlation.She lifted her gaze toward the simmering sunset. A peacock stood outside the glass doors. It twiddled its head and looked at her briefly before it turned suddenly down the slope toward the riding trails.

When Susan moved in with David she was surprised and scared by the presence of the birds. He told her the peninsula was known for wild peacocks. He had a way of telling her things in such a way that made them sound unbelievable. She thought peacocks only existed in zoos. And when David told her they couldn’t fly she thought surely he was lying. What kind of bird can’t fly?

She jumped up from the stool, knocking it sideways. It toppled onto the marble with a crack. She ran to the sliding glass doors. The warm evening air pushed her hair back over her shoulders. She was down the slope in pursuit of the peacock. The peacock ran. Susan ran after it. She stopped before the fence as the peacock sprang from the grass and took flight. Its tail erupted into ultraviolet swirls, a gasoline rainbow. The bird became a fan that consumed the sky. Susan fell to her knees and closed her eyes. The sun was almost gone now, only a thin slice of grapefruit resting along the horizon. She tried to collect her breath and looked for the bird. There was no sign of it. Her eyes stung and in a rush of emotion she wept. She cried so hard her voice would be raw for days to come.

She missed David so badly. She wanted to sit in his arms and smell the nape of his neck. It was unfair the way he was taken, sitting down to play piano on a Sunday morning. She had been in the kitchen looking through the spice rack for sage when she heard the low D ringing through the house, an enchanting reminder of hope and the love they shared. And then it died out, swallowed by a silence that now seemed inescapable.

She found him on the floor next to the piano bench, still in his robe and slippers. For a moment the piano looked liked a sinister alien bug leering over a fresh kill. Now it was just an expensive box. The piano knew him, and David knew it. A piano was only as wondrous as the mortal soul that sat down to influence it.The sun disappeared entirely. The dark slope of the hill dissolved into the distant twinkle of Los Angeles – the enormity of it so near and yet a world away. She cried for a long time. She wanted one last chance to hear him play, one more goodnight kiss, a final smile, just a touch from his warm hands.

More than anything she wanted to tell him that peacocks could fly.

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