Runner-up in the trinity magazine fiction contest in the student-story category
By Erin Scothorn
Alone, my old piano stands, silent in waiting. I pull out the bench, wipe off the dust with so much care, it’s as if I’m still crushed under automotive steel, an accidental invalid. Not recovering. Not released from a hospital ward with a reconstructed limb, more out of time than inclination. I’ve haunted my own home without notes to cue you or my last performance, a rattled remembrance as silenced as my piano.
Now my fingers stroke ivory and my mind waits for the shock of inspiration. That will meld notes into melody, into harmony, into me and into you. That will change the striking of a set of keys into hypnotic rhythms, into us. That will let me forget. Forget and remember.
The first note is the hardest, until I reach for the next. I don’t know where to go. I fumble for a second, and then somehow find you hidden in the keys, in ebony and ivory, and in memory.
You’re waiting for me under the streetlights; snow circles in and dews your forehead. Your icicle lips brush the hands of a musician, rub the gold that twists between my fingers. The concert is over; now the slow walk home. Our fingers entwine and we set out step by step. Crunching boots, wisping breath.
It’s been too long. My swollen stumps stumble out of time. Keys falter under pounding fingers. This isn’t music; this is noise. So many years of my life bent over an instrument and now this atrophy. This creeping cold from icicle tips.
Pebbly hail makes a sidewalk out of every road. So blind, so crisp. So beautiful, so cold. My thighs isolated in their pant legs are already frozen through, thudding driftwood; all this huddling scuffling does so little good.
Broken chords. I repeat long stretches, but my fingers falter at a rest. Won’t remember the rest. They flail, they beat, but how can I control what is no longer my own? My mind can’t grasp what my fingers have known so intimately. Withered hands, now old and wrinkly and stiff, thick-nailed and numb. Thick-willed but dumb.
You tremble, you shiver, under my arm. You burrow into my shoulder. We draw each other closer, until we borrow each other’s breath, catching it as it escapes clouded between lips. We share the warmth that wells from the touch of skin on skin, faces pressed together under coats and over scarves, under streetlights and stoplights and stars.
It begins with our hands, clasped closed and frozen stiff, but spreading to caress. We tumble into our embrace, enfolding and unfolding, encircled in each other, craving the sublime, impelled by that desperate sense that knows where to stretch, bend, unfurl. That present urgency of revelation, exposure, disclosure, of knowing beyond comprehension, sensation. We shudder, we shiver, filled with thrilling, trilling, transitory grace, in the cold and in the night. I fall with you, into you, as you fall into me.
I make a staggered entry, passing melodies between voices, between hands, between fingers. For one stunning moment everything sounds incredibly clear – then I drop your voice as its melody falls from right to left. Unevenly matched, one hand collides with the other and I lose you shaking, quaking, lapsing muddled into noise.
Lungs gasping for breath on a side road, for the stabbing, staccato air that tells me I’m alive. Not even trying to remember. Headlights in a storm, I’d tell everyone later, was the last I could recall. I wish I could say that I’d tried. That I’d sealed my lips to yours and given you my breath, that I’d pumped your chest or shocked you into living. That I’d even glanced your way.
This is blind darkness, felt darkness, groping for more than a whimper. Overlapping voices linger, while new themes and variations wait for release. My foot pushes down the damper pedal, as passing strains bleed together. My song is broken: I can no longer distinguish what was memory, what was memorized, mesmerized.
Lying flat in a blizzard, the snow blows on, one moment into the next. I imagine that my hands are resting, not frozen to eternal numbness. That every sharp prick on my face is a flake melting, not blood crystallizing. That you are still beside me. That I’ll see you again. I hold out my hands, but it’s too late.