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A Piano's Sonata

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And it was there that I threw down his bench and stormed out of the room. If Mr. Mayin wasn't the most stubborn, pig headed, confounded piano music teacher to roam the earth, then the world must be so incredibly cruel. It would be cruel, at least for me. My parents would be horrified to learn that I quit my piano class just like that; or I would have to get my butt back in Mr. Mayin's studio and glue it on the stinking bench. He would probably have to put a cone of silence around my head to spare him of my whining. I kept my head down and shuffled out the studio and down the suburban street towards my house.

I am a patient female student, 8th grade and best grades and scores in my class. But when it comes to something that doesn't deal with writing books of essays and solving a sea of polynomials, music's my Achilles heel. I adore music, classical music especially, but God seemed to skip me when handing out the talent.

I had my music binder clutched angrily in my hand as I made a left into the Jenkins’s yard and cut through their back lawn into the woods.

From there, I entered a long overgrown path which looked as if it had been paved once, but so long ago. The birds seemed to sing of the glories of the land, and the history of the road itself. If anyone knows how to speak bird, I'd very much like to know what they sing of. I passed the old stump and the wide boulder on the side of the hill. And then I passed the ruins of an old store, this being so overgrown and overtaken with vines, it seemed to want to become part of the earth. I paused to look at it, as I've done so many times before: Beethoven's Piano Music Shoppe since 1901. I said the words aloud, laughed to myself thinking that it must have seen better days in 1901, and carried on to the shortcut to my house.

But what happened next was so... odd. The birds stopped their rhythmic chorus, and I heard sounds of something rubbing and shuffling. I've been through here 1000 times, no one ventures back here except the raccoon... I slowly turned around and saw something that made my heart stop beating.

The shop started to move from the vines and grow from its slumped position. Rotting boards from at least 10 feet away dragged themselves to a place on the building. Windows formed out of nowhere and fitted themselves. Nails drove themselves in, and whatever wood that could have disintegrated at a touch renewed it like it was freshly chopped. The two story shop finished with a final creak as a wave of white paint covered the exterior and dried in an instant. I was shocked, just from staring. I stood there for a few moments more until the door creaked as a hand appeared, placing an "Open" sign on the front, and the hand disappeared.

I feebly took a few steps towards the shop. I had no idea what was going on or what I was doing. Had I fallen and hit my head somewhere making this a dream? This was all too realistic for a dream, though. Soon, I found my hand on the door knob, and turning it as if I had no control over it. I opened the door, not knowing what to expect, and thrust myself into the waiting store. It was dark at first, until a low row of old; gorgeous chandeliers lit themselves revealing a spectacular sight. Opulent carpets lined the floor and golden columns held a small balcony overlooking the center. The ceiling was painted like a chapel with angles and music pieces bordering the center. And all along the carpets were pianos, gorgeous grand pianos with their tops resting on a stick like classic ones in cartoons. Each was made from different kinds of wood, some painted darker or lighter, and some glazed to perfection. They were all so beautiful, sitting there perfectly aligned with all 88 keys. Between all the pianos were shelves of sheet music, of any classical song you could think of. I did notice, however, that the very back of the room was curtained, and dark.

"Welcome to our shop, oh how long it's been since we've gotten anyone into here. By the looks of your music, you’re a piano player, no doubt!" I whirled around. A middle aged woman in an old fancy dress (which reminded me of one from Hello Dolly) came down from the balcony overhang to greet me.

"Can you explain how this house just magically appeared?" I asked, still thinking it's all a dream. It was an awkwardly stupid question.

"Well, I can explain it. Those Wilson boys do a wonderful job in the construction, but Mr. Penn did an amazing job on the interior. Don't you think?" She asked.

"I don't know anyone named that, and you’re in the middle of a forest!" I pointed out.

"Ha! Good gracious, now why would I be in a forest? Heavens, it is 1901!" She pointed out the window. I looked out to see a happy corner street scene. Where's the forest? I had to get out of here.

"I apologize, but I think I had better get home. My parents will miss me soon." I said.

"Oh, but don't you want to at least try one piano? I give lessons too." She looked truly sad about me having to leave.

"You see, I just quit my lessons. I can't seem to devote my time to playing anything with two hands. And I'm no good at lessons. I wish I just knew how to play." I replied. Her face lit up.

"Really? I have just the thing for you then, even if you can't play this'll cheer you right up, I'm sure of it. Follow me then!" She led me to the back part of the room with the curtain, and pulled on a chain to open it. There lay a gorgeous, but mysterious sight.

"It's a special piano, made for one person only. It was hand crafted in Germany, solid Mahogany, black glazed, so pretty for a pretty young girl like you isn't it?" She asked. But my expression told her otherwise. "Oh, don't be frightened of it, it really can play marvelously; the only trouble it gave me was it nearly threw out the backs of the Wilson boys, poor dears it's plenty heavy. Give it a try." And she smiled and put the "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven on the intricately carved stand and sat me down on the dark bench. I would have normally had trouble putting my hands in the right position, but the piano seemed to draw them into the correct cramping spot. Then I mustered enough courage to attempt to try something of the likes of it until...

Until I thought 'play' in my mind, and my fingers pressed gently on the keys, and before I could think of what was going on, my mind was absorbed in the music. I played the scales and repetitions to perfection. Music and emotion swirled around me, I used crescendos and fortes and pianos correctly and with expert timing. And an odd thing happened, my eyes started to water. I finished the song before I nearly broke down crying; emotionally crying.

"Bravo! Oh, you're very talented. This piano seems to like you, indeed. I'll send it to your house immediately."

"But, I didn't play that! Wha-what happened? And I don't have any money! I can keep it?" I was so confused. I wasn't sure if I wanted the thing or not.

"Think of it as a gift. But you can only keep it if you have the will to play. And show nothing but devotion. Give or give up, I say. Now off with you, I'll get the Wilson's to deliver it, don't want your parents to worry." And believe me when I say I flew out that door and into the forest. I could hear boards crackle behind me, like a building collapsing.

-----

I ran home after that, ever so confused. The woman, the shop... The piano... That strange instrument, I didn't know what to think of it. When I put my hands on those keys, it became part of my mind, infiltrating my thoughts and setting my deepest attention to it. This was no ordinary piano. Although being scared, I fell in love with the music, like music was life itself. Was it normal to think this?

I emerged from the woods and into my backyard. The shortcut had ended. I ran into the kitchen to find my mom constructing what looked like dinner.

"How did lessons go?" She asked, not taking her eyes off her whisking.

I wouldn't tell her about the shop, nor would I tell her I quit lessons. "Fine, mom. Do I have to practice? I just got home, and-"

"Yes, you have to. We're paying for these lessons, and you wouldn't have to practice now if you did it earlier. Besides, you have a talent show tomorrow night at school!" I hated those excuses, and I was sick of music today. But none the less, I led myself out of the kitchen, down the hall, and into Dad's study where the piano was. Dad never used his study, so it was basically my piano room. But instead of finding our electric plug in keyboard, I found the same black grand piano from earlier with a note stuck on the edge. It read, "Give, or give up." Of occurred to me that I never told that lady where I lived.

How did it get here so fast? Did my parents know about this? My dad walked past the doorway and looked in. "Come on, practice now. I'll be in the shed if you need me; I have to organize my tools."

"Where's the keyboard?" I questioned.

"Keyboard? We' don't have a keyboard." He shrugged and moved on. So odd. I was about to just not practice, until the piano... I still don't know how to describe it; it beckoned to me, lured me, it needed to be played now. It needed a player, needed attention, someone to connect to. It seemed to be calling to me, as I heard a faint melody of "Moonlight Sonata" in my mind. I mechanically walked to it and sat down. I got out my music from Mr. Mayin's last lesson called "Flight of the Bumblebee for piano." I closed my eyes, and the same feeling of being controlled swept over me. The song was made for beginners, having the basic melody for one hand, with the other playing one note at a time. I began to play scales, flawlessly, and chords, melodiously together.

I started to play the notes correctly, both hands. My eyes started to water again. But instead of playing the simple written notes, my left hand started altering the notes into something more complicated, and my right hand picked up speed. I was playing something much more advanced for my level, but it didn't stop there.

Notes started coming to me all at once; I was absolutely playing the professional version of this song, though there was no such version written in front of me. I looked up to see the music ended on my sheet music, and something started to form on the next blank page; inky lines, bars, clefs, notes of different counts and rests, the music wrote itself complicated, and I seemed to be playing it through. But it got harder to see the page, for my eyes were blurred with tears of the emotion. The emotion of the music was conveying unto my spirit with such impact!

I finished the song on the piano, and I stumbled out of the room. Beside the doorway, I found my parents, mouths gaping and staring at me. They didn't notice the piano, but they notice my new profound talent? As I thought to myself, something was playing through my head, like an echo. But it wasn't the Bumblebee song; it was "Moonlight Sonata". What was this?

-----

It was the next night that the school talent show came. I didn't know what to expect, if I could play well with that piano, what would I do without it? My act was to play chopsticks on the piano (a simple song that I still messed up on). But even if the power didn't rub off on me, then I should still have known how to play that one. I was so engrossed in worrying, that my name was called and I nearly missed it. I was half pushed out of the curtain and on stage almost tripping on my dress, but tried to play it cool. I stood next to the principal, as he made announcements on my act.

"And now Miss Alexandra Jackie, a fine student of this middle school is to play Chopsticks on the piano..." He reminisced on pointless facts like my grades, and I heard a piano being rolled onto staged. I glanced with my peripheral vision towards the piano and I nearly fainted.

It was THE piano. How did it get there? What would it do to me? What would it do to the audience? I heard clapping, which meant for me to carry on and play. I stiffly walked to the piano and took a seat. "Chopsticks" was placed on the stand, but something, some force had me crumple the paper and send it flying across the stage like a football. People murmured in discontent. But behind the Chopsticks was none other than the "Moonlight Sonata." I had no choice but to surrender myself to the keys and let the piano swiftly carry my fingers to a start.

The piano seemed lighter and happier that I let it play what it wanted. The audience gasped at how well the piece was going for me, considering most of the neighborhood knew I was no good at the piano. But this was much more than yesterday when I played the piano at the shop. More notes were added, more dynamics and tricks were done to the piece. I started to cry, my body motion was in full swing in my arms, my fingers used their speedy sense, and I was nearly sobbing out loud. Music grew louder, far louder than a normal piano and dug deep into my heart.

It seemed an eternity until at last, I finished the song. I looked at the crowed to find them either speechless or shocked. Most were crying, and others were running to the bathroom, like they were reminded of something so happy, or something so incredibly sad. I no longer loved this music.

I rushed off the stage paying no mind to my friends behind the curtain or my parents. Instead, I rushed home with that stupid song pushing me forward, pushing me to play more.

-----

I barged in my house; no doubt my parents were still looking for me at school with questions of my hidden talent. This was no talent, this was abuse, and I was indeed being used. My black dress felt awkward for my state of emotion. My heels grew heavy with every step. I could hear that song getting stronger in my head. In fact, the sonata seemed to be echoing through the house, but ghost-like, as if it was recorded and played on a muffled record player. I went down the hall and into the study. There was the piano, just sitting there like a paperweight with blank sheets of paper on the stand.

"What do you want from me? This isn't what I asked for, this isn't MY talent!" I screamed at the inanimate object. It seemed to quiver before I saw black streaks of ink on the white sheets of paper.

"Oh, but it is what you asked for," it wrote in perfect cursive, "You wanted to know how to play, and I am teaching you through me." Was I talking to the piano or that lady?

"No, you're using me to get what you want. Teaching is repetition and practice, not something that comes all at once." I stated. The sonata grew louder and louder, hurting my ears.

"Play me and I'll show you what teaching is." The door of the study slammed shut behind me. I refused to move towards the cursed instrument, so it moved towards me. It drew my fingers to the keys and I once again started to play. The song was now piercing my brain. I realized that I was no longer playing music, but banging on the keys in loud efforts that could have been "Moonlight Sonata". This was no longer an art, no longer music, but serious strives to control me. I tried to break free, but it refused.

Music flowed throughout me. I finally gave one more try and I pulled free, losing my balance and falling against the door. I staggered into a standing position and pulled strength from somewhere inside of me and brought my fist down on the keys, and that made the most teeth-clenching sound that still haunts me today. I broke the keys, and brought my fist down again on another part. The music stopped.

I was breathing heavily, but all the same in relief. Then some words appeared on the sheet again.

"Give or give up. You shouldn't give up." And with that, the keys seemed to mend their breaks and straightened themselves back into their position.

"No way." I breathed. At once, the music wrote itself on the paper and repeated the sonata by itself in a sinister way. I bolted out the door. I ran to the shed in the backyard, where my dad was working yesterday, and grabbed my dad's biggest hammer, at least two feet in length. Without hesitation, I charged back into the house. Music was weaving through my thoughts as if being read. I gripped my tool tightly and entered the room. The piano played something shrill to signify its horror. I stared at the stupid thing.

"I give up." I told it, and I brought my two foot hammer down on the center of the thing. But I didn't stop there, I smashed the keys and the lid and the strings and the pedals and the bench. And I didn't stop until it was a pile of dark, splintered wood and debris.

-----

The music was eradicated. I left the pile in the study and locked the door tight. I gathered my thoughts and retired to my room where I passed out on my bed. My parents found me there the next morning. I was surprised when they decided not to ask too many questions, which made less of a headache for me. I finally decided to open the study door that evening, where there was no piano, but my old plug in keyboard in its rightful place.

I did end up going back to Mr. Mayin's studio the next day, begging him to let me back without telling my parents I quit in the first place. With a nod of his head, I found that he can be a very forgiving man underneath his drill sergeant demeanor. He too went to the concert, but never brought it up. All I can say is that he looked at me differently from then on.

As for that shop, I went through the woods again that day on my way home and found the lump of deteriorating wood covered in foliage. As I started to walk away, I heard the familiar sound of the structure rebuilding itself, and I turned around. I saw the same building and the same hand put out the "Open" sign. But I did not walk in, for I marched away to my house, letting the building rot away once more.

I never walked through those woods again.



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