When I graduated from college, my best friend Diana and I embarked upon a grand tour of Europe. Halfway through our trip, we had planned to spend three days in Prague, but had completely failed to account for poor weather hindering all of our sight-seeing plans. As a result of ensuing downpour for our entire time we spent in the city, we found ourselves aimlessly wandering through back alleys and side streets, entering every vaguely interesting shop as an excuse to get out of the rain. On our last day, we found an antique book store. Upon entering, we were blown away by the sheer vastness of the place and the overwhelming stacks of books. An elderly woman behind a desk in the front gave us a little smile and greeted us before we both separated and began exploring.
The store was impressively large for a seemingly unassuming place. I spent over an hour wandering through the aisles, before I found myself in the shop’s basement. Upon entering the basement, my eyes fell upon a beautiful, old piano. As a well practiced pianist and having not seen a piano in over two months, I was thrilled. I looked around excitedly to make sure I wouldn’t be bothering any other shoppers, but there was no one around. Grinning to myself, I strode over to the piano and took a seat on the bench in front of it. The cold of the leather on the seat bit into my skin, but I didn’t care. I ran my hands over the keys. Ivory, most likely, I thought to myself. I could tell the piano was old and therefore expected it to be out of tune, but was delighted when the chords I executed rang with perfect clarity.
“You play very beautiful,” a voice cracked behind me, and I jumped. An old man was standing directly behind me, and I hadn’t heard him approach. Smiling at the complement, I thanked him before he continued in very broken English, “She plays very good, but is missing two keys…Only 86.” I was having a hard time understanding what the man was saying through his accent and was going to ask him to repeat what he meant, but he smiled again and gestured for me to continue playing. After a few minutes, I gave up playing as Diana entered the basement, laughing at the absurdity of the scene in front of her. I had not noticed the old man leave, but was too busy excitedly telling Diana about how beautifully the piano played to put much thought to the matter.
Upon paying for our books back upstairs at the cash, the old woman complimented my playing and surprised me by asking if I would like the piano. At first I laughed, shocked by the offer. However, she went on to explain that the piano had passed through a variety of homes over the years, with no one ever keeping it long enough to enjoy its grandeur. She continued that she had been having difficulty selling it as the body cavity had been glued shut, and therefore could never be tuned. She told me that if I could cover the shipping costs to get the instrument home, I could take it for free, as she was just hoping to pass it on to someone more musical than herself. Seeing as we were travelling with nothing but backpacks, I laughed and told her I’d think it over for the night. However, Diana was ecstatic about the idea. When we returned to the flat we were staying in, we did some searching around on the internet, and placed a few phone calls, before establishing that shipping the piano home would actually be relatively cheap. As I was going to be moving in to my very first apartment upon returning from my trip, the prospect of having my own piano was thrilling.
When I returned from Europe at the end of the summer, my mysterious piano finally arrived. As I began to adjust to my new routine- new job, new apartment, new boyfriend- playing my piano became the part of the day I most looked forward to. I would practically race off the bus after a long day at work, run inside to feed the cat, and then sit down on the warm leather of the bench and begin to create my music. I remember one cold night in March, Peter was over and he was teasing me by insisting he had never heard me play.
“You’ll have to start staying over some more if you want Friday to like you,” I giggled, gesturing to my cat, who was vehemently hissing at him. “She takes about a solid month to warm up to people.” At Pete’s insistence, I sat down on the bench and smiled as the familiar feeling of contentedness washed over me. After about half an hour, I heard my cell phone ring, and answered it to hear Diana talking. She was out of breath and excitedly trying to explain that she had found an old photograph in one of the books she had bought months ago in Prague, and that she was pretty sure it was of a young girl sitting at the very piano in my apartment. I told her to email me the picture, before we started gossiping about the Bachelorette finale that had aired the night before.
When I hung up, Peter was putting on his jacket, saying he needed to go to work early in the morning. I was a bit annoyed he didn’t want to stay the night, but I pretended not to care, so I walked him downstairs. On the way back up to my apartment, I realized I had gotten the email Diana had sent me. Upon opening the picture, I could see right away that she was right about the piano being the same. It was the same leather-bound bench, the same beautiful woodwork, the same porcelain-white keys. However, something about the photo seemed a bit off. As I was trying to decide what was strange about it, Friday ran past me and bolted towards a man at the end of the hallway.
“Friday come here!” I exclaimed loudly. As I ran over the man, I was already apologizing, “I’m sorry she’s not normally like this.” When the man’s eyes met mine, I felt as though I had seen that smile before. Before I could dwell on this, Friday clawed at my leg, and I hoisted her up and carried her back to my apartment. I returned back to my phone and the picture Diana had emailed, and took a seat on the bench on front of the piano to study the picture some more. What was it? Then it occurred to me. The piano in the picture was smaller than the one in front of me right now. As an eerie feeling washed over me, I remembered something I had been told about the instrument months before, and found myself counting the keys of the piano in the photograph. 71. What the fuck, I thought.
But then it hit me. And as it did, a chill swept over me. A chill made worst by the fact that the bench I was sitting on was ice cold. The coldness swept through me as it dawned on me that my piano bench was never cold. Ever. This bench is always warm. And that was when I realized where I had seen that smile before. Friday darted towards my apartment door as I heard a soft whisper,
And you will be 87.
Credit: Satine Fenner