It sat in the corner of the antique shop, keys yellowed with age and a thick layer of dust covered the faded wood, which had long lost its varnished shine. In its time, it had been a wondrous instrument, its sleek design top-notch and proudly admired by the great masters on that glorious stage, but now it sat in the back room, hidden away from the eyes of all potential buyers with only the tiniest sliver of space through which it could view the shop beyond. It knew what was happening—it was being scrapped. Its time had ended, and in a few weeks it would be sent out to be broken down and disassembled so its wood could be recycled. The worn and weathered instrument had been on display for several years and never solicited a buyer. Now it sat, uncovered, its only company a silent tuba, a string-less guitar, and a choked flute. Among them all, its voice alone remained intact, off-key and stretched thin as it was. Despite the slight hope spurred by the fact, it knew the bitter truth:
No one wanted it.
The grand piano heaved a fatalistic sigh, hearing its wood groaning as it shifted and settled. A fine layer of dust rose from the wood's surface only to drift right back down, covering the faded ebony. The block beneath one of the three legs groaned at the redistribution of weight, and its two remaining wheels shrieked angrily. It paid them no mind. Their complaints would no longer matter in a week or so when they were removed and all of them chopped to splinters.
None of it mattered.
'But I still have so much potential!' It cried in silent outrage, strings vibrating in protest against their fate. 'A little tuning, some recovery work on my wood, and I'd be quite the sight!' But of course its outburst went unnoticed and unheard. Its voice may be intact, but no instrument could sing without the hands of a master, and the piano was no different.
The hours passed by slowly, the chimes of the antique clocks echoed through the empty store, their voices heralding the passing of time. The sun inched languidly across the sky, reddening as the day neared its end, and soon the piano felt the heat of its final rays baking its greying wood. Each day it prayed someone would remember its presence, and each day it was disappointed.
The bells on the front door tinkled, and an old man pushed the weathered door open and walked inside the old store, wincing as the wood creaked in annoyance as it swung shut behind him, its complaints easily audible over the light tinny of the bells hanging from the doorknob.
Picking his way carefully across the cluttered floor along narrow pathways between the ancient pieces, he moved through the shop, his steps slow and heavy, hearing his knees groaning from the weight they were now being forced to bear. He was not certain it would be here. But, he so hoped. And, the woman he spoke with had suggested the possibility that....
Ah. His eyes lit upon the ebony wood and he smiled.
There, bathed in a fall of golden, dusty light was the piano. HIS piano.
He hesitated in the doorway, eyeing the instrument wistfully. His fingers ached with the need to play after so many years. He could still remember the feel of the keys beneath his fingers as he played on that grand stage, the power of his music commanding the attention of all those before him. He had been a master once, but had long since given up that music. His time was ended—brought to a grounding halt by his rapidly declining physical health riddled with never-ending complications. He knew he shouldn't, but...
Sighing in defeat, he ran a worn hand through his thinning silver hair, pulled the bench out from beneath the piano and hesitantly sank down onto it. Just this once, he thought. He eyed the layers of dust on the wooden surface with disgust and, hands trembling, pulled a clean pocket handkerchief from the folds of his coat and wiped the familiar key-cover carefully before lifting it to reveal pale, yellowed keys. Fingers still reluctant and stiffened with age, he tentatively impressed a C Major chord, entirely unsurprised at the flat tone that met his ears, amplified through the hearing aid.
“You're in dire need of a good tuning, old friend.” The warmth and longing he heard in his own voice brought a small smile to his face. It had been a very, very long time. He shifted, finding a more comfortable position on the hard wood and, eyes sparkling, lifted his imaginary coattails to rest on the back of the bench before placing his arthritic fingers on the keys. Then, with a slow, reminiscent tempo, he began to play, coaxing the piano's neglected voice from its workings and infusing life back into its wooden frame.
The piano awoke as the man sat down on the bench, and grew rigid immediately. It could not, offhand, remember anyone sitting there at all in the past two years. Suspicious though it was, the piano relaxed somewhat and examined the weathered old man with crippled fingers and thin, grey hair. Such an old man...what could he possibly want with it? The man pulled out a cloth and wiped the dust from the lid gently, and the piano trembled at the light touch, hardly daring to hope it might have the chance to sing once more. The man lifted the lid and played that all-too-familiar chord. The piano strings winced as they vibrated to create the off-tune sound. The man smiled, and the warmth in the tenor of his voice reverberated though the ebony wood, awakening that longing in the piano. It wanted to be played just as much as the man seemed to want to play it. The piano felt the light touch of the man's digits on its keys and its breath caught in anticipation, keeping the wooden frame completely still.
It had been a very, very long time.
The man's expressive fingers roved over the keys, picking out a steady, nostalgic tune sprinkled with all the delight of the past, yet choked by sorrow from the loss of what once was, and the Piano could see it now: that beautiful dream—the elusive memory of that brightly lit stage and the heat of the spotlight as it sat in the centre, an artist perched on the edge of the bench, his hands gliding masterfully over the ebony and ivory contrasted platform. It recalled the thrilling sensation of truly living under the lights as its own strikingly clear voice flitted throughout the room, one moment a rushing wave of sound, suffused with all the anger of a scorned lover as it crashed against the walls and ceiling, the next a calm, flute-like melody ghosting about the great hall, painting beautiful images of waterfalls and springtime with each tinkling chord.
In those days, the piano had been loved and enjoyed by each person seated in that great hall. The masters also praised it and its bright tones—that strong voice through which they expressed the full range of human emotion. Each time it was played, the piano learned more about people—about love, life, happiness, and tears, until eventually it developed a soul of its own and leant its new spirit to the joint performances. It threw all of itself into their music, just as the masters did. The sudden partnership inspired a shining brilliance, and the stories they told together became all the more magnificent, the colours so much more vibrant, and the pitch far more lively than ever before. How that grand piano grew to love its life on stage! How it enjoyed being an instrument in the hands of the masters and their moving, passionate works!
Then, suddenly, all that happiness and joy was abruptly curtailed after one of its legs gave out, and the piano—used well, though far from exhausted—was moved into storage, only to be left alone and forgotten as year after year passed without incident. It had become used to the overwhelming loneliness, and that darkness so absolute, not even the tiniest sliver of leftover light could filter through the palpable mass to illuminate the marvellous instrument.
And now, here it sat in the back room of this ancient shop, covered in dust, but happier than it had felt in years as both the piano and the old man lost themselves in the memory of the song, immersing themselves in the music and infusing the song with life. The tempo slowed dramatically and the old man's fingers impressed each chord with an experienced—though forgotten—ease, promising an inevitable end to the reminiscence—the brief, simple moment in which both were allowed to enjoy the spirit of nostalgia.
Suddenly, a thick silence blanketed the two. The absence of sound seemed to echo around the room, as the last vestiges of the melody were consumed by the thick, impenetrable walls, which swallowed those sweet notes greedily. The man's hands left the keys, though he remained hunched over the piano, and he sighed in content. He'd forgotten the thrill of the song—the feeling of becoming one with the music—and the purity of expression, but he remembered now, and that was all that mattered.
“Thank you, my friend.”
The door creaked and the piano suddenly realised the absence of that warm hand, and flicked its gaze toward the doorway to catch a glimpse of the old man's silver hair before the door shut firmly behind his retreating back.
In the dim light of the rising moon, the piano gleamed, glowing still with all the passion of the music. Nothing had changed. It would still be sent out as scrap wood before two weeks were out—the coming storm had hardly abated, but it had been allowed its voice once more. It had been given a chance to remember—to bask in the memory of its past and to re-live that glorious time, if only for a brief moment.
And that, it decided with a small smile, hearing its wood creak and groan with the effort of mimicking a human grin, was all that mattered.
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