Welcome to the first edition of Creative Sundays on Apt613: A monthly themed showcase for short fiction and creative nonfiction pieces by local writers. This month’s theme is, of course, the holidays. We hope you enjoy these stories, real and imagined.
By Christine Young
A heavy snowfall in this town isn’t anything, but today, it’s excuse enough to cut through City Hall. I’ll often take any excuse to pass through, with a hope of catching someone playing on the baby grand piano permanently installed there in the back of my mind. It usually sits idle while I rush past.
This time, I take three steps in and stop. Someone is playing and the sound has me moving forward in a haze until I’m standing, a melting pile of snow in the middle of the atrium, stopped in time and barely there at all.
The upright piano at my house was relegated to being a piece of furniture or scenery. Sometimes, I’d catch my mother in one of her rare free moments, sitting at its keys, eyes closed, playing something familiar and by heart. I would draw in close to listen and watch, but too often her spell would be broken. “Well, that’s enough of that,” she’d announce, “dinner’s not even started yet.” Lingering too long on things past, even the beautiful, was never something to be encouraged.
Christmas was the exception. Carols were my mother’s specialty, and her own mother had a golden voice, you know. My grandmother, she told me, sang to beguiled crowds and taught others to sing as well. And so my mother played for us kids and sang, adding embellishments and trills off the cuff to our applause. She shone and glowed while we grinned and hung off her like the admirers we were. It was beautiful and perfect.
She told me once that she had always wanted a baby grand, that they were so shiny and beautiful. Still, she smiled ever so perceptibly when recounting that my father had bought the piano in our living room for her as a gift. And I loved it, too—the curve of the side arm bookends, the typeface of its name on the fallboard, and the old-book smell when you peeked under the lid to watch the hammers tap on the strings. Then there were the round, warm tones that floated out of it.
As much as I loved it, I never did learn to play. There might have been an impromptu lesson or two, but I remember only that near the centre of all the keys is a “C,” and it’s where one begins. How one got from there to music was always too much of a mystery to me.
My mother’s piano—a singular gift from my father so many years ago—now resides in a house and a city that is not mine, with the one sibling who learned to play. I tell myself that it only makes sense. I only ever listened. And watched. And sat beside it with my cheek and hand pressed tight against the wooden cabinet.
Later in the day, I get an email telling me about an acquaintance of a friend of a friend who is moving to a new city, leaving their old piano behind, and do I know of anyone who might want it? There’s a photo attached and I recognize it immediately. The legs are different, I think, as is the music stand, but otherwise it’s like seeing a ghost.
I beg a friend with a truck, and bribe two brawny types to help me rescue it and bring it home. We drive across town through a blizzard, struggle, curse, and trudge through the snow with the piano bundled in blankets in their arms. I’m nervous and I fuss and fret while guiding it into my house to the space I created for it.
I ignore the piano as best I can for the few hours that the guys settle in after a job well done. “For all our trouble, the least you could do is play us something,” the driver of my crew nudges. I dodge with a comment about the amount of pizza they’ve eaten being payment in full, and then usher them out the door.
The cold and wet are outside my window now, behind curtains drawn, but I’m still nervous and unsure of what to do. In the quiet of my living room, I walk over and sit at my mother’s piano to watch and listen. Then I place my awkward hands over the keys, both thumbs poised guilelessly over middle C, and just begin.
Christine is definitely not a writer who finds herself writing from her home in Ottawa.