I reckon I’ve felt a hundred thousand whorls, loops, and arches touching me since Eli Pond carved himself up some fine slabs of maple and spruce, cast a soundboard made of iron, and worked for a hundred days sculpting ivory to put some skin on my eighty-eight fingers.
That was 1937 in Tennessee, and they don’t build us that way anymore. I’ve only been moved a few times in seventy-odd years, but you’d be amazed at the things I’ve seen.
You could call me an observer of humankind, but that might be me talking a little too big for my britches. Maybe just a counselor; Lord knows I’ve provided a solace or two over the years.
When I first came around, I was an arrogant little pup, flaunting my curves–even showing a little brass, if you know what I mean–up in front of the picture window of Eli’s shop, and if you would’ve seen the looks I got! Every man, woman, and child in town couldn’t help themselves when they passed. They’d cup their hands onto that window and peer right in and I’d give as good as I got, until the hook was firm in their mouth and into the store they came.
Eli’s daughter May would be in there more often than not, and she’d put those tender little fingers of hers to good use. I’m mighty proud to say I watched her grow from a child to a woman, starting with Twinkle, Twinkle until she and I would dance with our friends Mozart and Bach.
It was only a matter of time before the lure of my siren song caught the ear of a real buyer. He came in like everybody else but I knew he wanted me from the moment I felt the long cadence of his touch, running sweeping glissandos across the entire breadth of me and giving me shivers.
His name was Eugeny Wacht, and he took me to Europe. The felt in my dampers swells up a little when I think about being up on the big stage in ’39, nestled between the fine fluted columns and travertine pilasters, singing my heart out to a thousand folks beneath the lights, feeling the applause wash over us like a fine gloss polish.
Then the second Great War came and everything changed.
Eugeny came up to me one day, looking like his dampers had locked down. His voice was broken minor key, the saddest I’d ever heard.
“They called me a Nazi sympathizer,” he said. “They’re not letting me play in public anymore.”
I moved not long after that and passed through more hands than I remember. I ended up in a New York lounge in ’57, twenty years on and feeling my wooden bones begin to stretch out a little.
Not my best years.
I played forte when they burned me with their cigarettes and pianissimo when salt tears yellowed my fingers. I cringed when they spilled their martinis on my soundboard and cried a little when they whacked my arm in a barfight and my lid came crashing down.
Through all that craziness, I sang the chords of Monk, Powell, Tatum, and Coltrane. I watched a velvet red room thick with haze, heard loneliness croon in whispered conversation, and prayed they’d play me gently that night.
It went that way for twenty years, before they moved me into the corner of an old warehouse behind rusting metal barrels that stank to high heaven of sewer remnants and dank mildew. After a while, I felt it penetrate my skin and there was nothing I could do, nothing I could sing to make it go away.
There I sat for thirty years, no one around to put me out of my untuned misery, my action soft as a rotten apple. I lost my sense of time and had long since finished hoping when mother fate stepped in like she always does.
“Where is it?” said a woman’s voice.
“Back here, ma’am.”
“What on earth is it doing back there?”
My ears perked up as I heard them rustling past the waste barrels.
“Here it is,” said the foreman. “Not much to look at. I don’t expect it’ll be worth much to play.”
“I’ll decide that,” said the woman’s voice.
She was much older now, even shaking a little the way that old people do. But those fingers–those slender, lovely fingers–I knew them well.
She placed her hand upon me and sighed. “I’ve finally found you.”
When she sat down, I felt her fingers form firm chords as we began to harmonize together, like we had when she was a little girl. Dissonant though I was, I poured years of unrequited solitude into my voice until May Pond stopped and rested her head on my broken shoulder, listening for my heartbeat.
I’ve been a lot of things to a lot of folks, all right, but there’s no place I’d rather be than right where I am, back home again in the piano store Eli gave to May, singing a familiar melody that everyone can hear.
Raised by a wild pack of rapidly evolving turtles in the Galapagos Islands, Chaz Siu made it to shore alive and counts his blessings and a strong “survival of the fittest” instinct. Chaz has published flash and microfiction on the Net since 2002. He resides in the twilight beach town of Solana Beach, CA with his two kitties, Snoopy and Lucy.