Piano, forte by Ruth McKee

He was so eager to turn the pages I lost my place; my foot lodged between the pedals, I panicked. The stool was too high, too far from the piano; I felt the rows of people in my throat, too many colours. I was sweating, fingers murky on the keys.

He sent my stomach down an octave to love.

My performance was a disaster. I ran off the stage, standing in the wings, putting my face into the stinking damask curtain, the dust sticking to my hair. I heard the boy after me adjust the stool, the small creak in the vast hall, his confidence filling the space between himself and the piano; he began to play without music.

Unnecessary, I saw him walk off the stage. I saw his black shape against the drapes, and then he disappeared.

I never saw him again. I went to every concert for months, the nausea and headaches confirming what I already knew, but it was never him by the piano, never that bend of the neck that I knew by touch.

Only now have I discovered the truth; my brothers sent their doom merchants to him. They smashed his hands. They’d never done hands before, only knees. They pulled a cotton flour bag up to his wrists; there must have been traces of white on his long fingers, traces of white in the blood.

I’ve learned at this late hour that they sent him back to Sicily. Does he sit under the lemon tree at his mother’s house like we dreamed of? Does the afternoon sun ease forgetfulness? He took my future when he left; for that, I have never forgiven him.

At last I can send him a photograph of his daughter, a sepia infant although she is nearly thirty now. I will enclose the sheet music of that piece by Gershwin, the one I played that night, and the last I ever learned.

I don’t suppose he will have much use for it now.

Ruth McKee has short fiction in The Bohemyth, The Incubator, From the Left and other Stories and on RTÉ Radio One. Finalist in the Dublin Writers' Festival 2014 Novel Competition Date with an Agent organised by writing.ie with her work in progress, The Jealous Wall. Shortlisted for the Francis McManus Short Story Prize. PhD, Trinity College Dublin. Editor of Spontaneity, mostly tweets @spontaneity_art and @ruthmckee

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