Inspired by Threnody (by Goldmund)
Dust floated in the air, meandering this way and that as a draft from a window or the crack in a doorframe influenced it to do so. The feeble sunlight coming through the dirty window of the old shed lit up the specks that passed through its path, transforming them to flecks of gold for a moment or two before they turned back into plain old dust.
Penny pulled back the tattered sheet covering the piano in the corner, adding a whole new cloud of dust to the air. The beautiful mahogany baby grand, tucked in the corner of the shabby little shed, stood majestic despite its humble surroundings. In the company of a broken table lamp with a yellowed shade, a faded chintz armchair, and dozens of cardboard boxes, the grand instrument stood nobly.
For a moment, Penny couldn’t do much but stare. The musty scent of the old furniture and the sheet in her arms was strong, but what she smelled was something entirely different…perfume. Though there was in fact no such thing present, she inhaled deeply the sweet floral scent of her grandmother’s perfume, always delicately detectable if one stood close enough to the gentle lady.
“Like a flower, darling,” Penny could hear her smooth voice instructing. “Flowers don’t try to make you dizzy, do they? Just enough to catch the attention.” For a moment, the dust still swirling around her was instead the misty puff of perfume.
Carefully, Penny pulled the bench out from under the piano. It creaked as she sat down, just like it always had. The fallboard was down, enclosing and protecting the keyboard. She rested her hands lightly on the dark wood, imagining the keys inside. She could remember exactly which ones were chipped or scratched, though most of them were in good shape, only slightly discolored by age. She sighed. The fingers she saw before her were much more haggard than the ones she had last placed on these keys. In the presence of this piano, she felt like the granddaughter she had always been, though now she was also a mother. She let her hands slide off the keys and onto her lap, remembering the last time she had sat at this bench.
The memory was clear. All the other seats in the house were taken. People spoke in hushed tones, holding small paper plates loaded with cookies and carrots and other finger foods. Many of them wore black, though Penny had chosen instead the yellow dress her grandmother had given her–a memento of her swing dancing days. Grandma hated black, so it seemed silly to wear it in memory of her.
“Penelope, sweetheart, why don’t you play us something? Grandma said you were coming along so well, I think it would do us all good to hear something she taught you,” her mother had suggested. Penny didn’t want to. She wasn’t feeling like music. But hadn’t Grandma always said when you don’t feel like playing is precisely the time you need to most? With a sigh, she swung her legs around to face the keys. She stared down at them for a moment, feeling like perhaps they, too, were longing for their old companion. Before she could raise her hands up to play, another hand reached from behind her and pulled the fallboard down over the keys. She turned to see her grandfather. He let his hand rest on the fallboard, and for a moment Penny was reminded of the moment just hours before when he had closed the casket at the funeral.
“Not yet, Penny, dear,” he said quietly. There were no tears in his eyes, but she was overwhelmed by the grief that she saw there. Not yet, it turned out, meant not for a very long time. The piano disappeared from the house the next day, and no one dared ask why or where.
Penny brushed her bangs back behind her ear and slowly lifted the fallboard. Gleaming like pearls, the keys were exactly as she remembered. She had discovered the hiding place of the piano many years before, though she had never dared reveal the secret. Waiting for the right time, perhaps when Grandpa stopped missing Grandma so much, she had graduated college, been married, and had three children. Her growing belly now pressed against the edge of the keyboard, evidence of a fourth to come. The sorrow in Grandpa’s eyes never seemed to diminish. Sometimes it shared space with happiness, even laughter, but it was always there.
“You’re together again, Papa,” she whispered. “Can I play now?”
As if in response, the light in the cramped shed grew as the few clouds that had dimmed the sunlight passed. Now all of the specks of dust seemed to glitter like gold. The mahogany surface gleamed, and the strings inside seemed to hum with anticipation. Penny smiled, and with a deep breath, placed her hands on the keys.