Friday Flash Fiction: The Piano
Ten years. It had been ten years since you’ve come back to your hometown. You finish breakfast and glance at your watch. You still have a couple hours before you need to be at the train station. You’ve been here a whole week and managed to avoid thinking about your old home. It doesn't hold a lot of good memories, but the pull is there all the same. Why not drive by? You’ve heard stories about the area. It’s become a blight on the town and is about to be demolished for a new housing development.
Now that would be something; to see it all crash down and bulldozers scoop it all away until nothing is left. God, when had you become so maudlin? You leave a tip on the table, head out and drive across town. The place has grown with dozens of mini malls and business parks, manufacturing plant and is almost unrecognizable.
You find the right street and there it looms, the huge tenement building with crumbled bricks and broken windows. Memories wash through your mind, good and bad. Grandma’s cooking, the beating from your dad in the basement, your aunt soothing your hurts, cradling you when dad died, the rage when your wife left you, grandpa teaching you how to fish, parties with the whole lot and all the laughter and tears. You thread your way through the old building, over fallen crossbeams, around bricks and glass.
A smile breaks through the grimness when you see your initials carved in one of the old timbers. Your first kiss. You had a lot of firsts here too; first job, first car, first baby. You skirt several piles of salvaged bricks and iron work, step through the hole where the back door used to be and stop in shock. Amidst the rubble, in the middle of the yard, is your grandpa’s old upright piano. You pick your way through the debris to where it’s been discarded with the rest of the junk.
Yep, it ‘s grandpa’s. You recognize it even though the top is missing, the maple wood is all scratched and pitted, and the keys are covered in grass and dust. You brush off the keys and run your fingers over the ivory; the black and white scarred from age and use. You plunk one of the keys and of course, it’s stuck. What’d you expect out here exposed to all the elements. Your happiest time had been standing round the stupid piano, singing show tunes with your grandparents. You never would admit it back then, but now with no one to share it with; yeah, it’d been fun.
You left, after the divorce and never looked back. Your grandparents passed, your aunt and uncle moved to Italy and all your cousins dispersed around the U.S. You’ve lost touch with all of them. Out of anger, spite, ignorance; who knows. Why have you held on to the anger for so long, let that love slip through your fingers? The words to Moon River echo through your head as you stare at the old piano. Life had revolved, evolved, devolved, shattered, left in ruins and discarded, just like this old thing. You shake your head and turn to go, then stop. You walk around to the back of the upright and crouch. Brushing off the dry, baked mud, you find it. Your name, alongside dad and grandpa’s.
You'd made a pact one night when grandma was out, something about brotherhood and manliness. Then etched your names on the back of the old piano. You pull out your pocket knife and pry off the wood. You pat the old girl, then walk back to your car. You turn and take one long, last look.
You have survived, made something of yourself. You look at the wood and trace all the letters with a fingertip. It’s time. Time to put the ghosts to rest, track down your cousins, forgive and make new memories. Heck, maybe even buy a new piano. You climb into the car and don’t look back as you drive away, leaving the sorrows of the past behind.