• Tyla McDuff

The Black & White Striped Grand Piano

Maybe it was 11:53pm on a Sunday or it was 4:05am on the Tuesday of that same week. Time had gotten so jumbled recently, not helped by the brick, four-walled, no windowed room Sam had enclosed himself in. So long as there was no hunger gnawing at his stomach or sleep induced blurred vision he would play, the black and white keys blending into a hypnotising, almost psychedelic image.

At 6 years old, the same hands, only smaller and less flawed, would tap on the ivories with childlike and furious wonder. There was no opportunity, even then, to be anything less than extraordinary if that was what he chose, and he did choose. He would hunch over on the wooden bench seat, a habit introducing bad posture that was criticised at every family meal, memorising each music note until there was no longer beauty in the songs he played, just mechanical echoes of a vibration exactly where it was told to be.

But that was a long time ago. Sam had grown to 21 years of age, 'an unfortunate side-effect of his own mortality', he would say. It was phrases like this that made him so alienated and, in turn, so driven by exclusion into the extension of his hands on a grand piano. He had played concert halls they show in movies, met famous composers and written songs, all of which he did not know the name of, or didn't really care to. You see in his talent was his greatest weakness, Sam's inability to stay afloat, to function without an instrument. Instead each chord played was his lungs absorbing air and each stomp of his foot to the pedal an erratic heartbeat.

Today, or tonight, on this Monday at 11:53pm or 4:05am on Tuesday, he played a sonnet. This was by Chopin, but not quite. There he went, eye's focused on those stripes, a single dim overhead not making it any easier, but still he played with fingers outstretched to impossible lengths. B flat minor it starts, then to D flat major, E flat minor, G flat major, and back. Each note is slammed stoccato, andante, adagio, legato, now quarter rest and arpeggio. There was not a single note on the music sheets in front of him that Sam failed to play in frantic time, and still this song was not only by Chopin but by Sam himself. There was a part of him that got lost in each vibration of sound the moment it was played, a part of him that no-one could keep hold of for it was always lost and drifting.

The sonnet had reached its third and final march. If anyone had been listening they would fiercely confirm that it was the sound of death itself: there was no white light, just this haunting melody. It was building now, the pressure. Sam's forehead had started to perspire and the line of his mouth had thinned. The joints in his hands now started to ache, but that feeling never really went away anymore, not for a long time. Quick quavers on his left while the melody drew out on his right. Almost there and presto, the finale. No more rests now, it’s almost over. Sam's breath had quickened, his T-shirt sticking with sweat to his back. His high was building and was almost at its peak, each slam of his fingers to the keys was simultaneously weightless, they left without a trace and picked up somewhere else, demanding to be heard. With the final four B flat minor chords performed in fortissimo it was over. He sat still hunched to revel in his feat, the musician and his black and white striped grand piano.


©2020 by Tyla McDuff