The crowd sits in the small space watching a young boy sit at a piano in the middle of a library. The people watch and wait while he places his hands on the keys, then rests them back in his lap.
The hands go up.
The hands go down.
A creak sounds as an old lady shifts in her chair.
A man in the third row says in a low voice, “He ain’t that good, is he?”
With these words, the boy’s small head leans forward. His shoulders shake.
“Jesus, he’s crying,” the voice comes again.
The teacher comes over and with an arm escorts the boy off the stage.
On the ride home, the boy’s father asks what happened. His mother tells the older man to hush. The boy just looks out the window, the tears in his eyes and the red raw feeling in his chest settling.
That night he sits in front of the family’s piano in the living room.
His hands go up to the keys.
His hands go to his lap.
Over and over.
His mother comes in and sits beside him. She places her long fingers on the keys but does not push down. No sound fills the room.
They sit staring at the sheet music, the black and white keys, the red-varnished wood gleaming. He starts to cry again.
She holds him. Pulls him close to her and holds him until he stops.
“What happened?” she asks.
“What if it was out of tune?” he asks.
She laughs, but he just looks at the keys.
Years later he sits at his typewriter. A shower runs behind him and the love of his life says something he cannot hear.
He looks over his shoulder. He stares at the bathroom door, half open. He closes his eyes. He waits.
She calls out his name.
“Yeah?” he yells back.
The shower stops. The water drips and he hears the curtain skate along the pole.
“Do not say ‘yeah,’ it sounds common,” she says.
The door opens and she steps out. All legs and hair, everything in between dripping wet and covered by a towel.
“I asked if you were dressed,” she says, “But no, you are not. Get dressed.”
“I just want to...” he looks back at the typewriter, his hands twitch and inch up to the keyboard. His hands drop back to his lap.
“You spend more time with that writing than you do with me,” she says, “I wish I were that important. We need to be at the library in twenty minutes, so get dressed.”
His hands again lift toward the keys of the typewriter, then drop.
He gets dressed.
More time passes. Again he sits at the piano in the living room.
His hand reaches up to the keys.
One finger strikes down on a white block, and the tone is flat and off.
No one is left to sit beside him.
No one is left to ask him what is wrong.
No one wonders if his hands touch the keys.
He sits alone in the library late at night. The building is dark.
A child’s piano rests on his lap. A cartoon cat sticker stares up at him from the speaker on the pink electronic gadget. All the better to make the children pay attention during story time.
His ears strain. No noise, no one in the library but him.
No one but him and the pink electronic cat piano.
His back hurts. Many, many years passed since he could sit upright like this.
His hands reach the keys, already in his lap, and he begins to play.