Sunday, August 21, 2011

The New Piano: Part 3

This is a short story that I wrote after a moment of inspiration. I was practicing piano (very badly, I assure you) and suddenly "heard" what sounded like an angelic choir coming through the music. That was enough to get me thinking: what if my piano had the power to make every piece I played sound extraordinary? It was an intriguing concept, and I immediately began formulating a plot. This story distracted me from my novel for a good long while, but I finally got it all down. 

This is the third and last part of the story.

The next school day was not an enjoyable one. Mama was at home scrubbing Pippa’s best dress for the performance the next evening, so Pippa was forced to wear the one with a stained hem and torn shoulder. Even as she walked alone toward the school she imagined the looks that would greet her.

And there were looks aplenty, especially from Gabriela’s coterie. Pippa tried to stick to dark corners, slipping along the walls and bolting into classrooms to get the most obscure seat. “How I wish….” She never let herself finish that sentence. She must be brave. She must make the best of it.
Pippa was brave, but she was also very glad to get home. Mama would be waiting for her—perhaps with a warm slice of tart or a fruity crumble. Almost skipping now, Pippa neared the flat in eager expectation, barely noticing the birds in the trees or the large wagon that was pulling away down the street. When she entered the front door she sniffed the air and decided—in the absence of a baking smell—that Mama might have fixed her a bowl of cherries and cream instead.
The piano was gone. Pippa couldn’t believe her eyes at first, but there it was. A new piano—almost brand new, by the looks of it—was sitting where David’s ancient, scuffed, brilliant piano had been that morning. She rushed into the kitchen to find Mama rolling something out on the counter. “Mama! Where is my piano? What’s happened to my piano?”
“Hush, dearest, it’s all right! You’ve got a better piano now.”
“But I don’t want it! Where is the old one? Where is my old piano?” The world seemed to be spinning around. She could see the looks of devastated disappointment—Mama, Dada, Madam Loisette—when they all found out that the “protégé” was nothing more than a talentless schoolgirl.
“Monsieur Cupide said that this one would be much better for you. The old one had gone out of tune, so he said that if you were to make any progress you’d need a really good piano. In fact, he was generous enough to trade us that old one for the lovely thing in the sitting room right now. Try it, dear, it sounds ever so much better.”
Quick and jerky like a frightened puppet, Pippa rushed out of the kitchen and burst through the front door, barely hearing Mama’s shouts to “come back, dearest”.

She ran flat out down the pavement—jumping, stumbling, and picking herself back up to keep on. It seemed as if she was running in place, or having to swim through very heavy water. Houses, gardens, trees, statues flashed by her, but the lumbering wagon that had been in front of the flat was nowhere to be seen. Heart pumping, hair flying out behind her, the stained hem forgotten, Pippa’s only thought was to find her piano and somehow get it back.
She rounded the corner of a small park near the library, and that’s when she saw it. Up ahead was a big brown horse, drawing behind him a low wagon that contained something large and bulky wrapped in brown cloth. A curly haired youth in a dirty jacket was driving, and Monsieur Cupide sat on a piano bench in the wagon bed.
“Stop! Please stop!”
The wagon would not stop. Pippa bolted out into the street, throwing herself directly in front of the horse so quickly that the driver had barely enough time to rein the animal in before it trampled her.
“What’re you doin’ that for, miss? You could’ve been killed!” The curly haired youth had broken into a sweat.
Monsieur Cupide slowly stood up in the wagon. His short, stout body and red face with the bushy eyebrows looked rather absurd up there, like a hairy potato up on a stage. “What are you doing here, Philippa? You should be at home.”
“I’m not going home without my piano.” Feet planted apart and eyeglasses glinting in the sun, Pippa was a force to be reckoned with.
“No such thing, ma fille, it is your piano no longer. Your mother traded it to me for a much better instrument.”
“But it’s not better! I have to have that piano, Monsieur. Mama didn’t know what she was doing. Just give me back my old piano and I’ll give you your new one!”
Monsieur Cupide gave a loud, purring laugh. “Non, non, it is a done deal. Fini. I’m afraid that you and your family have made me a very, very rich man.”
Pippa heard heavy feet coming toward her at a run and saw Dada flying around the corner, coattails flapping. He stopped abruptly when he saw his little daughter standing in the middle of the road in front of a wagon containing her piano teacher and a very confused driver. “Pippa, what’s the meaning of this? Your mother’s half out of her mind not knowing what’s gotten into you.”
“It’s Monsieur Cupide, he’s taken my piano!”
Dada smiled and came over to her, putting an arm around her thin shoulders. “He’s not taken it, love, didn’t you hear what Mama said about your new piano?”
Pippa shrugged his arm away. “I don’t want a new one. Don’t you see, it won’t be the same!” Dada looked confused, and Pippa knew that she couldn’t keep her secret any longer. “It’s never been me, Dada, it’s only ever been the piano. I wasn’t any good without it, and I’m not really any good now. The piano has the magic.”
“Nonsense, Pippa. Pianos don’t make musicians, it’s the other way ‘round!”
“She is right, Monsieur Walsh.” Father and daughter jerked their heads up to see a triumphant M. Cupide standing, arms crossed, beside the brown bulk that was secured to the wagon by ropes. “She is right. I have always known she was a mediocre student at best. When she began to play such beautiful music I knew that something must be wrong. Sure enough, this is in fact the piano of my student, the great David!” He reached inside his jacket to draw out a crumpled piece of paper—the illustration from the library book. David’s face stared at Pippa and Dada, and Monsieur Cupide laughed again.
Pippa looked up at Dada with tears in her eyes. “I tried to tell you….” She expected his face to fall, and look like it always did when something horrible had happened. Instead, he brushed the tear-soaked strands of hair away from her eyes and smiled down at her.
“I’m proud of you, Pippa. I’m proud that you told the truth.”
“But Dada, I’ve got to play for everyone tomorrow, and I can’t do it!”
“Sure you can. You will.”
“Not without my piano. Everyone will be so disappointed!”
He knelt down beside her in the dusty street, ignoring the impatient coughs from Monsieur Cupide. “Do you know, my father once told me a story. He was supposed to play for a very large crowd in a grand concert hall with red velvet curtains where they served champagne and caviar. There were a lot of bigwigs there, and everyone knew he was a genius. He always made music come alive, gave it wings. He sat down to a shiny, black, grand piano, and you know what happened?"
"What?" Pippa asked breathlessly.
"He felt nothing. That night the keys were dead for him, and his fingers were numb like they'd been left out in the snow."
"What did he do?"
"He played anyway."
Pippa held her Dada’s eyes for a moment, drinking in his faith and confidence. Then she slipped her little hand into his big one and they stepped back onto the pavement. Together they watched the brown horse pull the wagon down the street. “Dada?”
“Yes, Pippa?”
“Please don’t tell Mama, not yet.”

Madam Loisette’s drawing room was every bit as grand as Mama could have hoped. The floors were covered in thick pile carpets, the ceilings were very tall, and huge chandeliers hung in most rooms. Men and women with very long titles stood in clusters, sipping expensive drinks and eating things Pippa had never heard of. Mama and Dada looked rather uncomfortable at first, but then began to talk with Ms. Carlisle and were introduced to a few of her friends. Pippa hardly knew what to do with herself and just stood in a corner, until something caught her eye.
Gabriela Mason was standing by the punch table beside her elegant mother, wearing a foamy white dress covered in little rosebuds. Shrinking into the darkness of a heavy velvet curtain, Pippa tried not to lose what little nerve she had. Not only would she be humiliated in front of all these rich and famous people, she would be humiliated in front of the girl she envied most in the world. Trying to look everywhere but in her direction, Pippa saw Dada looking right at her. He smiled, and she smiled back.
Minutes later Pippa was ushered to the instrument. It was easily the largest piano she had ever seen, much less played on. The keys seemed to stretch out forever—glossy and white like so many sharp teeth—and the bench was much lower than the one she was used to at home. The room quieted as guests settled into plush furniture, and Pippa’s eyes were dazzled by the sparkling jewels and shining silks all around her. Mama and Dada, dressed simply but well, were seated in the very front row nearest the piano, with Madam Loisette on one side of them and the Mason family on the other. Pippa faced Mme. Loisette’s pinch-faced scrutiny, Gabriela’s mocking glance, and then her parents’ hopeful expressions.
Silently whispering a prayer, Pippa laid her shaking fingers on the keys and started to play one of her earliest pieces. The first line was all right, but then everything went wrong. She forgot what note came next, flushed beet red, and flailed about for a minute before picking the tune back up again.
But it wasn’t the same tune. It was something quite different—light, lively, spirited. It made her feel like the times when she had gone out at dawn to gather strawberries with Mama. She could almost taste the strawberries: plump, warm, and sun-kissed in her mouth. The melody was flowing along, taking shape under her fingertips, cascading up and down in perfect rhythm.  
When she finished the whole room erupted in applause. Mama was beaming, and there were tears in Dada’s eyes. Madam Loisette’s eyebrows had climbed halfway up her forehead and her withered hands clapped vigorously. Pippa looked Gabriella straight in the eye, and for once didn’t even notice her lovely dress or curly golden hair. At that moment Pippa felt just like her genius grandfather, like she had given something wings.

I hope you enjoyed it!
-dusted, a photo by ercwttmn on Flickr.
Chandeliers & Piano, La Fenice - Venice, Italy 2011, a photo by Mark Heard on Flickr.


Victoria said...

I just finished reading this, and I wanted to tell you that I LOVE it! It's so sweet - you know, it actually reminds me of Hans Christian Anderson. :) It also made me wish I could do improvisation on my keyboard - I'm not imaginative enough, though.

Abby Rogers said...

I'm so glad that you took the time to read this, Victoria! And I'm especially glad that you loved it :) I've never done real improvisation either--that's part of what inspired me to write this! I wish that I had a magic piano now...but maybe that's what the whole story was about; maybe it doesn't take a magic piano, just a wish and a will :)

Grace Nation said...

This short story is so sweet! I honestly loved it :)
I'm a music history major with a minor in piano performance so I really loved reading this! I'm into anything musical or vintage so this post suited me quite well! Looking forward to more!
In Christ,
Grace Nation

Abby Rogers said...

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Grace! I struggle with enjoying my piano practice sometimes, but this story brings out a part of me that loves music and the creative process :)

Best Wishes,