JOSHUA ROBERTSON - PIANO MAN
The snowfall blanketed the world outside of the windows. A wall of white for as far as the eye could see. Luckily for me, the local watering hole had some decent heating. As I sat at the bar eyeing up my glass as if the answers to all of my problems lied within its amber depths, I pondered the actions that led me here. I mean, look at me. It was Christmas Eve, and I was sitting alone at the bar. I guess I figured it was better than seeing that look on my wife’s face again. That look she always gave me when she found out I’d lost everything. Gambling’s a bitch man, but hey maybe if I was only better at it I wouldn’t be in this situation.
As I was lost in thought, I heard someone playing on the piano. A beautiful sound resonated through the room, bouncing off the walls and filling the room with its alluring tone. In all the years I had frequented this bar, I had never seen that old hunk of junk do anything more than collect dust in the back of the room. I didn’t even know it could make a sound like that. The sound was vaguely familiar to me as well. I'd heard this song before. I turned to catch a glimpse at this mysterious pianist who had taken to playing such a run-down instrument. What I saw threw me a bit. An old man, had to be mid to late seventies, his fingers dancing across the keys as if they had a mind of their own.
As I staggered over towards that worn-down piano, a smile found its way to my face. As I sat down across from the old man and watched as he played, I couldn’t help but wonder why the old man was here of all places on Christmas Eve. An old man as talented as this should be off entertaining his grandchildren rather than a bunch of drunken bums.
“Old man, you don’t have anywhere better to be on Christmas Eve than entertaining a bunch of drunks?”
“Haha, suppose not,” the old man spoke. His voice was strained, as if his throat was full of sand. “The wife always used to tell me I always found my way to a piano wherever I went,” he added, his eyes taking on a wretched quality,“Guess she was right, though she always was.”
The old man told me that some fifty years ago he was an aspiring pianist. He traveled all across the world to play music for whoever would listen. He told me that his only regret was that he had to leave behind his newly-wed wife for months on end to pursue his dream. It was a hard life, and he could feel himself drifting away from the love of his life the more time he spent away from home. So he decided that he needed to do something about it.
He planned a trip back home for Christmas, against the behest of his manager, to see his wife after months of being apart. He didn’t care what his manager said, Christmas of all days is a day to be spent with the ones you love. As he was loading his car and preparing for the cross-country drive back home, he received a call from his hometown hospital. His wife has been in a terrible accident. She had been hit by a drunk driver and was in critical condition.
He was in shock, though eventually, as the reality of the situation set in for him, he got in his car and rushed home. Driving for 41 straight hours until, after an excruciating drive, he pulled into the hospital parking lot and rushed to his wife’s room. He arrived to see her hooked into every kind of machine imaginable. He approached her, not wanting to believe what he was seeing. His wife opened her eyes and beckoned him to come closer. The man leaned in as his wife spoke into his ear.
“Sing for me,” she whispered, he voice weak and fading.
“I...I’m so sorr…,” the old man tried, his voice failing him. His wife looked him in the eyes and smiled the brightest, widest smile the man had ever seen in his life.
“Sing for me,” she commanded. And the man did as he was told. He sang for her. He sang and sang. For hours upon hours he sang with everything that he had. Until his vocal cords bled and his voice grew horse he sang for her. He sang for her until she closed her eyes for the last time and died in his arms. And even after, he continued to sing as it was the only thing that keep the tears at bay.
As the old man’s story grew close to its end, I sat listening on as the tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to say something, anything, that could convey the sorrow I felt for his troubles, but words failed me. For the English language, in all of its complexity and depth of meaning, did not possess words that could convey the sorrow through which this old man had to go. I tried to speak but the old man interrupted me.
“Young man, you don’t have anywhere better to be on Christmas Eve than entertaining the stories of an old man?” he spoke, a warm smile forming on his face.
With that, I stood from my seat, grabbed my coat and headed out into the snow. As the sun began to rise, signaling the beginning of Christmas, the old man’s message hit me. Life was far too short to let my inner demons keep me from being with the people I love. Who really knows how much time you’ll have? With that, I began my trek home through the snow. Hoping I would get back before they started opening the presents.
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