My Suite – Joanna Rafael Goldberg
May 23, 2020
A discordant sound rang percussive. Mreeehhhhhhh rehhhhh buhhhhhhh. The black piano sat in a big room, the one with the best acoustics in the entire house.
She did not like the man and woman of the house, so she screamed when they touched her. Every note played of Clair de Lune rang out like a honky tonk whine.
The two who play the piano only do so out of anger, they play aggressively, usually to interrupt the other’s sleep.
“The grand went out of tune again. “
“She is yelling yet again.”
“It’s your fault— you’re too rough!”
“It’s your fault, you let dust gather on her.”
“You are the one who shuts her so violently.”
“God help this piano.”
The musically untalented and otherwise cacophonous, unharmonious couple resented having purchased this dysfunctional instrument. They rarely practiced. Mostly they ignored her, leaving her to be miserable in a drafty room pretending all was well with her as she sat in the living room all alone except when the maid came to dust her. So easy to let the piano’s sound board swell and contract, to let her wires stretch and slack. They let their skills winnow away, then when they went to play, were shocked nothing sounded right.
Some of the din could be explained away by the neglect or the atmosphere or time, but mostly she went out of tune deliberately. She screamed because she hated them, and because she knew if she did, the piano tuner, her love, will make a house call to relieve her. They found it exhausting that instead of a biannual tuning, she needed checkups about once a month. She loved to see him.
The tuner had been a concert pianist who ceased live performance for he thought it was an exploitation of the instrument. When he spoke, it was with a strange affect, having understood music before language. Although he was handsome like a movie star, he carried himself like a much less attractive men, hunched over as if ashamed and undernourished. His movements were awkward, even ghoulish. When he walked, the tuner kept his hands up protectively by his chest instead of letting them swing by his sides, keeping his spindly fingers limp. Despite his terrible posture, he played piano better than anyone else; it was his primitive imperative.
He always dressed up for his visits to the piano. She thought this was just for her, not knowing what he wore to the other instruments he tuned. On his lapel, looped where a bachelor’s button might be, he displayed a tuning fork. French cuffs peaked out from his jacket, highlighting his skeletal hands.
The couple would let him in and without offering him a glass of water or any sort of warm welcome, they started with a litany of complaints. They were insistent there must be something wrong with this piano if she keeps doing this. Sometimes he tried to offer advice.
“The air might be too damp,” he said glancing over at the plants being nannied by a humidifier just a few feet away. The couple were unwilling to make any changes.
“This is the best possible environment. Just fix her.” The husband growled as he crammed a fistful of cash into the piano man’s pocket. Then they let him work, excusing themselves for martinis on the patio.
The musician gazed at her before he began. He cleaned the fingerprints off of her frame, sure of himself and fascinated at once; he retained childlike curiosity as he has honed his obsessive expertise. Instead of pounding at her keys to make his diagnosis, looked inside. He checked her strings, her keys, her every piece, listening to her carefully, feeling her every vibration, until she sang what he wanted to hear, that resonant frequency.
Once he was sure she was in tune, he played—he played with her, not on her. He knew her intricacies and idiosyncrasies. The piano loved that the tuner spoke to her instead of about her, and so sweetly, whispering to her as he played. Their call and response made for euphoria for his ten fingers and her eighty-eight keys. The tuner was completely absorbed as he struck her keys, toes curling over her pedals, and she cried out every octave with sonic perfection.