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The Piano in The Corner
It sits there in the corner, silent and dead. No tunes of hope emanate from its keys; it radiates no feeling of joy through the darkness of the room. Silent and dead, it sits in the corner, its uplifting powers eternally dormant. No hint of happiness does it carry through the dreary silence; no consoling sound does it echo off the walls, to alleviate my endless misery. Never again will it be a source of felicity, to save me when I am drowning in my life’s sorrows. No longer will its music ease the pain which fills my heart, nor relieve me of my eternal suffering. It is forever muted, all because of William.
I stare at the muted piano in the corner, and think that William, too, is forever silent and dead. He has, in a way, taken my soul with him, as well. It is at times such as these, when the silence of this house- this lonesome, somber house- becomes unbearable, that I begin to remember William. I stare at the lifeless piano, and recall a time not so long ago. What a wonderful time it was, so full of vivacity and glee. My world had been dark, and William brought light to it. It was a time of life, in the literal sense, as William was not yet deceased. As I mourn in the silence of my home, I find it difficult to fathom that this house, which is now emptied both of life and of love, was once filled with bliss and with cheer. And just as such cheer was a result of William’s presence, the despair in which I currently wallow is a fault of his as well. I often wonder how one man could have impacted me so significantly. I wonder how just one man could have brought both a beginning and an end to my life. To put an answer to these questions is an onerous task, for it causes me great agony to think of William. But it is my duty to do so, because to forget William and all that he was to me would be a sin. I gaze at the piano and remember.
My husband, Clark, and I had recently departed from our opulent home in Georgia. The southern sun sizzled in the sky, my alabaster skin becoming tinted a shade of crimson. Beads of perspiration dripped down my neck, which I made a feeble attempt to conceal. In spite of the September heat, my husband had forced me to wear a hoopskirt and petticoat, topped with seemingly endless layers of frills and lace. Though I had a petite figure, perfectly curved in the appropriate places, my maid, Lucille, had insisted that I wear a corset in order to obscure any potential “flaws”. As I fought to stay conscious, growing lightheaded and delirious by the second, my breaths becoming increasingly shallow, Clark seemed quite calm in his plain suit and top hat, apparently unaware of my internal struggle. Clark peered at me over his spectacles, his face bearing an expression of unease. His eyes were boring into me, scrutinizing every detail of my body, seeking an imperfection to criticize. Finally, he looked at me, his harsh features contorting into a grimace, and yelled, “Priscilla Mae, you filthy, unladylike excuse of a wife! Am I to appear in New York, my new bride the shade of a tomato, her hair unkempt and her clothing a dreadful mess? Pull yourself together woman! Don’t make me regret marrying you. I swear if this continues it could be the worst mistake of my life! You’ll make me carry the name Hamilton in shame.”
“I’m awfully sorry, sir. Please refrain from speaking in such a way. I will be an ideal wife, a perfect wife, I promise," I replied, an expression of utter fear on my face. At times like these, it seemed as if I was no more important to my husband than one of his slaves.
This was, perhaps, what I despised most about my new husband. I could put forth my strongest effort, my most sincere attempt to satisfy him, and yet, it would be of no avail. He would never forgive my alleged wrongdoings, my honest mistakes, my minute imperfections. He would never understand that, like him and each other human, I was a fallible being, and pretending that I should be anything other than that is absurd. It was eighteen sixty, at the onset of the Civil War. Despite growing rumors of the impending war, Clark had never been a prudent man and was off to New York, a dangerous place for two Southerners, amidst a sea of Yankees. In addition to his impetuosity, he was a man of great pride, and the purpose of our journey was to prove ourselves to the Northerners. I must admit, I was terrified of what might become of me should a war arise. What atrocities would I witness, what adversities would I face? I would be haunted by my uncertainty for the duration of our travels.
The grueling days that followed passed by like sand through an hour glass; They passed slowly, gradually, leaving me with no clear indication as to how much time had elapsed. And finally, we reached our destination. Though I had wanted nothing more than to escape from the confines of our stagecoach, our arrival in the North held no relief for me. The Southern view of the Yankees was one of detestation and malevolence. I vacillated between immediately assuming these views and developing my own over time. But, considering that I was a woman, I should not have held any views of my own. Though I half expected to be assailed by a Yankee at any moment, we were greeted cordially by passersby near the apartment which was to become our temporary home, and during my time in the city I was never physically harmed.
My initial feeling toward the North was one of apprehension, as I was unsure whether it should be feared or embraced. The variance between the North and South was clear. Here, the sun was not vicious, setting the land ablaze, sizzling in the lush greenery and settling atop the soil, only to provide us with incessant vexation. The sun here was rather considerate of those upon whom it shined, providing soothing warmth, gently caressing my face and assuaging any discomfort which I had previously felt. Paired with the light breeze, which rolled at me in cool, consolatory waves, it was put in further contrast with the South’s stagnant air, set afire in the blinding light of day. The most striking contrast, however, was perhaps the contrast between the people. Bodies of ebony and cream coalesced on the streets, creating a contrast as bold as a full moon on a dark night’s sky. This society contradicted the very values on which Southern society was based. Here, there was no distinction between master and slave; no duty inherent in your color to either toil in the fields, or to whip a helpless servant. Though not completely equal, both races appeared to be free.
The North and South were in total contraposition, in every way imaginable. And, despite my strong Southern upbringing, I began to develop an affinity towards the North. As I walked through the streets, my lips curved into a grin, and an effervescent giggle slipped through them. My husband immediately shot me a stern, questioning look.
“How silly it was of me to fear the North,” I stated, “Isn’t it just wonderful here, Clark? Doesn’t this place just fill you with a sense of comfort and freedom?”
“Speak no more of this nonsense, Priscilla. The Northern mentality is like a disease- once you come into contact with it, your mind begins to spoil. It spreads fast, and we are here to fight it,” Clark yelled.
On this occasion, Clark’s bitterness was not enough to quell my emotions. It was quite pleasant to be free of the ceaseless cries of the suffering slaves, for I was one with a compassionate, empathetic heart, and with each of their cries, I was struck with a pang of guilt. I could easily sympathize with these poor men, for I, too, was denied many humanly rights and was often coerced into duties I did not wish to uphold. Among these were the duties of every woman, to bear her husband a son, to tend to his every need, and to remain a lady all the while. If not for my conjugal duties, I may have openly supported abolition, but as I was married to a Southern man, doing so would be considered most improper.
My husband was a highly esteemed man, and we had ventured here with the intention of quelling the uprising of abolitionists. To Southern men like my husband, slavery was a practice innate in our society. To eradicate a practice so essential would be to end an entire way of life. My husband was to be attending a series of important anti-abolition meetings in various Northern states, of which I was to know nothing. Should a war arise, he would enter the battlefield, sacrificing his life to fight for our values. His ability to put his own needs aside for patriotic reasons was, possibly, the only trait which I admired in him. Concurrently, I was to remain in the city alone, tending to my new home.
And finally, as we arrived in front of this home, I instantly noticed differences from my home in Georgia. I opened the massive mahogany doors to reveal a beautiful interior. I was shocked when a formation of obsequious slaves assembled at once, both because slavery had been abolished here and because of the fact that they bore no resemblance to the slaves with whom I was familiar. While my Georgian servants always appeared emaciated, physically deteriorating with each passing second, and were seemingly moments away from their death, these new slaves were in no such condition. The slaves standing before me appeared healthy and energetic; their caramel faces spread into wide smiles, beaming, unlike the southern servants, their laborious fieldwork having turned them a deep ebony, who quivered upon my entrance. I was astonished by their paucity of fear, and how their servility seemed to arise from natural benevolence, rather than from fear of their masters’ whip. Their bodies were not scarred from the malicious toils of slavery, a constant reminder of their eternal bondage, but were smooth and unflawed, as if to signify freedom from such toils. I would later learn that these servants were not, in fact, slaves, but received remuneration for their labor. I had neither ownership, nor absolute dominance over these beings, and as a result of this fact, they seemed more content and willing to perform their duties. To me, it was a revelation that men and women of color could be considered people, rather than insignificant possessions, their lives at the mercy of whoever was to own them. Though I did not understand the reasons behind my feelings at the time, my introduction to this sort of freedom was somewhat of a comfort. I smiled warmly, and they smiled back. This epiphany instilled in me a nascent desire to ensure this degree of freedom not only for these few servants, but for all slaves, both Northern and Southern.
I was lead up the stairs by a young servant by the name of Constance, who carried for me my trunks. It was no surprise for me to see that the house was fully furnished, impeccably clean, and bearing a resemblance to the interior or our Main House. As everything was with Clark, each aspect of life had to be flawless, whether it was a matter of in which gown his immaculately beautiful wife should attire, or in what manner the field should be tended to. Presenting him with anything less than the ideal would leave my husband unsatisfied, and he would retaliate with a level of bitterness abnormal even for a man as malicious as himself, as a result. Those who tended to our home had obviously regarded this trait in him with caution, as it was adorned with the most beautiful of decorations, and was arranged in perfect order. The house was uncluttered, as my husband preferred, but I, myself, felt that the home was empty and lonesome. This feeling of emptiness was developed further when I entered the Great Room, in which there were two large, unfilled corners which needed to be filled.
After becoming situated, my husband turned to leave, paying not so much as a farewell to his supposedly cherished wife.
“Aren’t you going to kiss your dear wife farewell? Won’t you bid her so much as a simple goodbye? After all, we don’t know when we shall see one another again,” I batted my eyelashes fiercely, using every ounce of my feminine powers to conjure a sense of longing and sadness in him. But he simply nodded in my direction and stepped outside, leaving me quite lonesome in the superfluous space of the grandiose home.
I took no offense in his actions, as I was used to the lack of respect with which he regarded me, and the scarcity of attention which he paid me. Though I was ashamed to admit such a feeling, I was inundated with a wave of relief as my husband fled the apartment. Perhaps, with Clark, my only authority, absent, I would be able to explore the wonders of the North independent of my husband and the stereotypes which he carried with him.
Time passed, and, though I was delighted at my newfound independence, I could not help but wallow in my loneliness. If only, I thought, I had a kind, open-minded husband, perhaps a Northern man, whose presence I would find pleasant. If only I had a husband who was not so biased in his own beliefs, as to overlook an entire, possibly superior, way of life. I sighed, my despair growing with each lonesome minute. As I sat unaccompanied in the Great Room, staring at the empty corners, wishing that they, as well as the rest of the home, would be filled, it seemed as if my thoughts had been responded to by some divine power. I was startled by a nearly inaudible knock on the door. And, considering my lack of company, I could hear it as clearly as if it had been the shrill ringing of my Southern home’s bell, the purpose of which was to awaken our five hundred slaves from their restless sleep. I rushed to the door, though it was the duty of my servants, and with no hesitance, swung it open. I was so incredibly desperate to hear the voice of a person, any person, that I ignored my previous fear of Yankees. A tall, handsome man, with milky skin contrasting his dark hair, appeared in front of me. He tipped his hat in my direction, a sign of common courtesy, and I replied with a bashful smile.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the handsome man greeted, “My name is William Belmonte, how do you do? And what is the name of this lovely woman who graces me with her presence?”
I blushed, for a man had never spoken to me in such a courteous, flattering manner, “Priscilla Mae Hamilton. And good day to you, Sir. How may I be of assistance today?”
“Well, that’s a mighty beautiful name, Ma’am. I’ve been informed of your arrival, from Georgia if I’m not mistaken? You see, your husband is very well known among us Northerners, the famous slave-owner Clark Hamilton, if I am correct? I would be honored to have a moment of your precious time.”
“Well, of course, why don’t you step inside? I’d be delighted share your company,” I led him into the Great Room, where we sat on the elaborately carved oak and silk chairs.
“Allow me to explain my intentions for visiting you. You see, I am an abolitionist here in New York. Now, I am not trying to change your visions of the practice of slavery, but I would like to expose you to the ways of the North,” he informed me.
“Well, my husband is strongly opposed to abolition, but he is not present at the moment, so please, do enlighten me.”
“In the North, we see slavery as unjust. You are probably already aware of this fact, but colored men and women are treated as people here, not as possessions. Though we are aware that slavery is a practice engrained deep in Southern culture, in our eyes, we do not understand how slave-owners can justify the torture, mistreatment, and ownership of people. Do their hearts not break at the sound of a slave’s agonizing cries as they beat them with their whips? Do they not regard themselves with disgust each time they peer into the looking glass? If only the biased Southerners would open their ears, their eyes, and their hearts to the injustice of slavery, then they would perceive themselves for what they truly are- cruel, barbaric beasts. We Northerners have changed our ways, and I’m confident that you are capable of doing so, as well. We abolitionists will persist in our efforts to change this injustice, whether it is a matter of innocuous debate or violent war. As you can see, the very servants in your home at the moment are actually receiving compensation for their work. Does it not serve you equal satisfaction to have healthy, humanely treated servants?”
These words were the answer to my prayers. For years, my heart had wished for slavery to be abolished, and only now was my mind able to see abolition as a reality.
“William, though my husband may see this practice as just, I view it with the tantamount to your detestation. I am equally disgusted by its brutality, and want nothing more than for slaves to be free. You see, I understand the suffering these slaves must endure daily. Each day my husband acts as my owner, as if I am his property. He forces me to do things which I, myself, would never choose to do, and I am denied every humanly right.”
My words seemed to shock him, for I do not believe he’d expected me to acquiesce to his request quite so easily. Even so, he seemed delighted to have found a Southerner who was atypical, and I could tell that this was the beginning of a companionship, if not more.
“Well, Miss Priscilla, do you mind if I call you Prissy? I would be honored to help you in your personal struggle for freedom, and to have your assistance in achieving abolition in turn.”
For reasons I did not understand at the time, I felt an instant trust in this man.
“I feel so empty in the superfluous space of this home. You see that empty spot in the corner? I do not know why, but the emptiness of the space makes me melancholy. I am very lonesome at the time, and am in need of a companion. If you wouldn’t mind, could we possibly meet every now and then? My husband is travelling, so it would cause no trouble,” an odd sensation filled me as I spoke; I had never before felt so comfortable confiding in any male, and was somewhat flustered by my actions.
The man beamed at me, tipped his hat once again, and said, “I’ll be here tomorrow, Prissy. But remember, tell no one of our meeting.”
He turned and walked out the door, a jovial spring in his step.
As promised, the next day I heard yet another knock on the door. I swung it open once again, to reveal my new companion, William. Today, he was not empty-handed, but in his hands he held the handle of a cart, on which, to my astonishment, was the grandest piano I had ever seen. William came into my home, and ambled into the Great Room.
I asked him, “And what might this be, Mr. Belmonte?”
“A gift to mark the beginning of a companionship, of course. This piano has been in my family for years, but I believe you have more use for it than I do. I thought it might fill the spot in the corner, if you’d like it to.”
“Why, how generous of you. But I’ve not an inkling as to how a piano is played.”
“Then I suppose we must spend some time together, for I am a gifted pianist, and a patient teacher, if I do say so myself.”
He placed the piano in the corner, and motioned for me to sit down.
“What I have to say is very important, so pay careful attention. You mentioned yesterday that your husband does not allow you simple freedoms, and I do not believe that there is any way for you to avoid his authority. But I do know one way of allowing your soul to fly free, even if your body remains imprisoned. And so, I have given you this piano, on which to express yourself openly. Play not with your hands, but with your heart. Then, and only then, will you be free,” he stated.
Now, after so much time has passed, and I recall that precious day, I envision the two of us together. There sat William and I, at the foot of the piano, our hands moving across the keys as he taught me how to be free. Laughter flew from our mouths, as did the notes from the piano’s keys, our voices combining with the music to form the sweetest sound on Earth. And for a moment, we were no longer in New York, but somewhere far away; in some distant place where the troubles of life were but a fading memory and our fears could no longer haunt us.
There sat William and I, at the foot of the piano, gathering in secret to the sound of music. My husband, Clark, was absent, leaving William and me in solitude. What we were, at the moment, was nothing disreputable; what we had was no scandalous affair. We were but two friends, two best friends, who had come together to enjoy the beauty of life. But nevertheless, I would say that we were, somehow, falling in love. I could see it in his eyes, and he, in mine. But we said nothing of it, because then our meeting would, in fact, have been a scandalous affair. And so, two best friends we remained, for the time being at least.
“So William, do you have a wife? If we are to be friends, I must know,” I said, trying to contain my eagerness for the answer, all the while biting my lip to keep myself from replacing the word “friends” with the word “lovers”.
“No, I do not,” he emphasized the words, as if he could see right through to my deepest desires. I could see his desires very clearly, for that matter, as his face contorted while he attempted to keep from grinning. We inched closer to one another on the piano seat, tension building as we silently contemplated our options.
But if we were not, in fact, two illicit lovers, then why must our meetings have been kept clandestine? I reminded myself that it was 1860, and I was a woman. To most, I was but an object, a possession. I was my husband’s property, and nothing more. Though William may have inspired me to feel otherwise, I was not truly free. I was not free to do as I pleased, to see whom I most desired, or to speak even a word against my husband. The first time Clark would lay eyes on us together will be the last. This was why we met in secret. But what if we were a secret because he had other expectations in mind? What if we were to turn into two illicit lovers? I shivered as a wave of excitement passed over me. William was, indeed, an exceptional man.
If I had been in the presence of any other man, I would have been heavily corseted, my language most prim and proper. I would have been but a servile maiden, albeit dressed to the nines, to obsequiously tend to his every need. But I was in the presence of no ordinary man. I was with William, a most compassionate man. He looked down at me, and he saw me as a person. His eyes shimmering with a sense of pride in me, and an emotion none other than love set deep in their endless blue. He was, perhaps, the only man to ever see me this way. William was a bit of an iconoclast; He was my escort on the path to freedom, while my husband was the jailer who held the keys to my cell.
William urged me to, “Fly free, my dear Prissy. And never turn back,” and I was reminded of how Clark forced me to, “Stay as you are, and do nothing other than you are currently doing.” While my body may have been heavily restrained, my heart was free to fly. This was the case, at least, when I was with William.
And just as William was no ordinary man, the instrument we played was no ordinary piano. Like William, it was sturdy, yet it moved with extraordinary grace. As William sang with perfection and ease, so flowed the harmonious notes off the piano’s keys. And just as this piano was a piece of artwork in its own right, so was William, with his handsomely carved features and unique appearance. He wore not what was in fashion, but what was instead, to him, an expression of his character. In the same way, the piano’s keys were not of the traditional sort. Rather than an insipid white, they were formed of various shells, sparkling in their iridescence. William’s eyes sparkled just the same.
There sat William and I, at the foot of the piano, becoming lost together in the music. Songs of hope echoed through the halls, inspiring me to seek a better future. The song uplifted us both, eradicating the feelings of lachrymose, guilt, and regret, which had previously saturated the room. Our eyes met, and I could tell that he, too, was filled with bliss. To me, that was one of the most wonderful things about William. You had but to look into his eyes to see every emotion he had ever felt or feels. At this moment, we did not yet know that in a time not so distant, our eyes would swim not with love and happiness, but with tears. We did not yet know that in the near future, our mouths would no longer curl up into smiles, but would stick unmoving on our faces, our expressions perpetually stolid. We did not yet know that our hearts would no longer fly when we were together, but that they would not so much as beat. We were unaware of those facts, and so, our days continued in this way.
I had always been a traditional woman, prudently aware of my duties as a Christian, and as a wife. I had never been one to engage in adultery, nor to disobey my husband, my master. And so, when one day, William arrived with a new plan for our relationship, I was petrified.
As we played the piano, William suddenly turned to me and said, “Prissy Mae, I love you. And each day, when I come here and play with you, it is my strongest desire to be your husband. I know that our predicament is complicated, but would you at least consider admitting your feelings for me as well?”
And so, our feelings were confirmed. I tried to hide my grin, the joy, the rising desire inside me, but I could not. I leaned forward, and he must have taken this as a proclamation of my feelings. And before I knew it, I was kissing him, and though I tried to pull away, I could not budge, and neither could he. Clark would not touch me, let alone speak to me, even upon request. In a state of euphoria, I forgot about any loyalty to him, as I was filled with exhilaration. My body tingled with satisfaction, my mind filled with urgency, and my desires were burning so deeply that I was sure William could sense them, too. His hands traced over my hair, my face, my petticoat. My hands traced over his hair, his face, his shirt. And so the rest of the afternoon went.
But when I regained my senses, I was suddenly startled by my rash actions, embarrassed and ashamed. Though we’d both been in love, neither of us would have dared to express our feelings until this moment. I was not inclined to engage in such outrageous behavior. I was a lady, a good Southern lady, and I was immensely afraid to contradict my beliefs.
And so when William arose, I lied, “William, I do not love you. In fact, I do not even care much for you. I am just very lonesome, and I want to help with abolition. And so, I’ve allowed you to visit me each day, in hopes that I could influence the practice of slavery. But, I must repeat, I do not love you.”
I had never seen a look of such lachrymose cross William’s face, but even so, he did not attempt to contradict my statement, and simply pleaded, “Regardless of your feelings, please just allow me to involve you in abolition. You’ve mentioned before that you have five hundred slaves in Georgia? I’ve come up with a plan, the execution of which you are involved in. Will you at least continue to work with me?”
“Well…I suppose. But what is this exceptional plan?”
“On April twentieth, I will be headed off to war. This is why I have expressed my feelings for you, for I cannot leave unless you are aware of them. Set your slaves free while I am away. Write a letter to them explaining various methods of escape. You know your plantation well, and you can lead them to a life of freedom. Just imagine, you being the reason for the salvation of five hundred slaves! Please, Prissy. If anything is to happen to me, I will take comfort in the fact that you have fulfilled your duties as an abolitionist.” he told me.
I burst into tears at the thought of William, the light in my darkness, the hint of hope in my despair, being forever lost. I agreed to do as he wished, as we said our farewells. He planted one final kiss on my forehead, and I longed for more. But even so, I would not surrender, for if I did, I would only cause trouble for us both.
The months passed, and the seasons changed. The heat of the summer melted and cooled into a winter more frigid and dark than the rest. Somewhere in between, the leaves fell from the trees and died, as my hopes fell and died along with them. With each day William was gone, I found myself sinking further into a pit of anguish; with each moment away from him, I could feel a piece of my soul slipping away. I had not one moment of peace, the loneliness of my home contributing to my plight. The incessant silence allowed for constant worry, as the only person there was to think of was William. Despite my agony and constant solicitude, I fought to stay atop the pit of despair, never allowing myself to fall to the bottom. The war was being fought in our backyards. The bombs went off incessantly, smoke was more abundant than air, and soldiers clutched at wounds in the streets. All the while, there was no one to endure it with me. I was alone.
And then one day, I received a letter in the mail. It was from Clark, but his memory was no longer enough to arouse even the slightest emotion in my heart. He had gone off to war, and was now returning home on the twenty-sixth, but it mattered not at all to me. He must have, as promised, enrolled in the Southern army to fight against slavery. My thoughts were redirected toward William, and suddenly I realized that I was unaware of the date.
Before the mailman could travel too far away, I ran out the door and shouted, “What is today’s date?”
“April twenty-fifth, Ma’am. Tomorrow we will deliver information about the soldiers, if that’s why you wanted to know,” he replied, assuming I was worried about my husband. I worried not about Clark, but about William. My heart sank, as I realized that William was at war, but I remembered the promise I had made. I searched myself for the letter which gave the directions necessary for my slaves to free themselves. I handed it to him, and proceeded to return to my pit of despair.
The next day the mailman returned, and I received a notice listing the soldiers lost and injured at war. My husband’s name, which I barely acknowledged, was marked as returned from battle. I was not the least bit relieved by this fact. I found it ironic that the man to whom I was bonded by marriage had been battling against the very man whom I was bonded to by love. Suddenly, my heart skipped a beat as I read the name William Belmonte. I tried to avert my eyes from the box marked “current state of soldier”, terrified of what truth I might be forced to face. But then I decided I could not live in ignorance, and I allowed myself a glance. Immediately I froze, not wanting to believe the words. Scrawled inside the box was “wounded”. I was drained of my power, and my previous efforts of no avail, I descended to the bottom of the pit.
It seemed as if the sun had been darkened in the sky, as if the Earth was experiencing an eclipse, as though all the light had been swept from my world. As I subconsciously wailed in lament, I felt as though my soul had been ripped in half. What would become of me now, if I was eternally bound to my husband, my soul dead, with no hope of returning to life? I was desperately hoping, praying for a possibility that the paper had made a mistake. For everyone knew that the severely wounded seldom survived.
Suddenly, there was a bang on the door, as if something hard had hit it. My eyes widened with fear, as I assumed that a bomb had been thrown at my home. I rushed to the door, and opened it, and my eyes further widened in disbelief. William’s head lay on the footsteps, his body sprawled at the foot of my home, and his hands sliding down the mahogany door. I fell to my knees, acknowledging that he was brutally injured, weeping, and sighing, but nevertheless was relieved to see him. The blood dripped from his body onto the marble stairs, and I feared that he was dead. I hugged him as tears flooded my eyes, and poured down my face. He had come all this way simply to see me. But who had dared to place him in this injured state? It mattered not, so long as he was here.
“William, my previous words were a lie! I do love you, more than anyone, and I know not what I’ll do if you leave me! I’ll divorce my husband, I’ll marry you! I’ll do anything for you, but please come back to life! I showed my slaves the path to freedom, just as you did for me. I beg of you, William, your death will be the death of me. If only you had lived to hear these words, at least to know how I truly felt for you,” I cried deliriously.
And then, my prayers were once again answered, as William’s eyelids fluttered. I wondered if I was hallucinating, but then he sat up and looked me in the eye.
I cried tears of joy, as I gently caressed his face, and then bent down to kiss him. He smiled in his eyes, as if to say “I’ve known all along, dear” and he firmly grasped my hand in his. I was inundated with emotions that, with words alone, I could never express. My shattered heart instantaneously began to mend itself, as the greatest joy imaginable swept over me. It felt as if I had sprung out of my pit of despair, and was now in a state of eternal bliss. But then he began to go limp in my arms, and a shiver coursed through me as horror replaced the bliss. His eyelids began to close, covering more of his expressive blue eyes with each passing second. They closed completely, and I screamed, unable to read his expression any longer. That second was, perhaps, the longest of my life, as I waited for him to, once again, reawaken. But he never did.
With him died the future that might have been, the hopes that we had shared. Any progress I had made in those last seconds digressed, as my soul was swallowed up in mourning. My heart was shattered into pieces even smaller than before, the damage forever irreparable. And even though what was to occur next should have further contributed to my sorrow, I had plunged to the deepest depths of my pit of despair, and could sink no farther.
I did not so much as raise my head at the sound of my husband’s unexpected voice, his yells becoming a disarray of muddled words. He was in close proximity to the house, as he must have returned home, and surely had heard my oration of love. But it was of no concern to me, because no action of his could cause any additional grievance to what I already experienced. Clark could beat me, starve me, do as he pleased. He could take my body, but he could never own my heart. It would forever belong to William. His words held no meaning; the only truth that mattered was that William no longer existed. He was but a memory.
In my suffering, I could hardly make out the words that my husband’s mouth, distorted with bitterness and dripping with hatred, shouted, “Priscilla Mae Hamilton, how dare you disobey your husband! You set my slaves free, and expressed disloyalty! Your adultery was a secret not even among the neighbors! And in return for your actions, this man here has suffered and died at my hand. The man who steals my wife shall not walk free! Just as I had warned, I regard our marriage with greater regret than I have felt about any mistake in my life. Not one more time will you venture out of our home, not one more freedom will you enjoy. You are but a slave to me, and nothing more! This here, this is the end of your life.”
And how right he was.
Today, more than one year after William’s death, my soul is not yet alive. I awake each day not to a fresh morning, but to a perpetual night. And today, as I stare at the piano in the corner, silent and dead, I am filled with an emptiness stronger, more bitter than ever before. The quiet of the room is unbearable, and once again, the only thoughts to fill my mind are of William. Perhaps it is not the piano that I am mourning, but the one whom it symbolizes. Perhaps it is not the sound of its music that I long to hear, but it is the sound of William’s voice. Perhaps this feeling of sickly nostalgia arises not from my memories of the piano, but from my memories of him. I am a prisoner in my own body, and have been since my hopes of freedom died. My imprisonment arises not from Clark, for I left him long ago, but from my heart. For one year, I have been silent and dead. But today, as I remember, just one statement haunts me.
Play not with your hands, but with your heart. Then, and only then, will you truly be free.
The piano in the corner, silent and dead, is dead because of William. I think, once again, that William was a leader on the path to freedom, both for the slaves and for myself. The Civil War continues, as if to carry on the beliefs which William held so dear. Perhaps, if the North can keep William’s spirit alive, then it is my duty to do so as well. Because of William, slaves may one day roam the fields, bearing neither plow in hand nor fear in thought. Perhaps, I, too, must persist in my quest for freedom, to honor William, and all that he meant in my life. So today, as I stare at the piano in the corner, silent and dead, the icy grasp of death begins to thaw, and it comes to life once more. I sit at the foot of the piano, alive again, and play not with my hands but with my heart. The spark which William once ignited in my heart had been extinguished in the winds of sorrow. But today, it is set ablaze once more, in the hope that one day, I too, may roam the fields of life, a free woman.