I play the piano (I think so)


My name is Emma. At least, I think so. I mean, Emma is my name. Yes. In my life I’ve done many things, and I remember all of them quite well. I really much loved a man, or rather two. Those love have pierced me. I still remember when I was pierced, as if it were now. I couldn’t breathe, at either time, while the light was penetrating into the wound, enligthening me from inside. My heart stopped, and then it started to beat very fast. My love gave birth to two sons. No I mean, three. Three children. And then from my children, some grandchildren were born. I’ve been looking at my love branching out and giving life to all those miracles that now live just because that day, at that time, many years ago, love pierced me. I made those miracles play and I watched them look at the world and say so many small truths. My small grandchildren, with their big eyes, like magnifying lenses, would turn any prejudice they encountered into ash.

I remember that I was always spoiling the tablecloth with coffee. Every time a small brave drop would leave the mocha, dripping down to the edge, so that after a little indecision, if it felt like it, it would jump on the tablecloth. My husband enjoyed this. All those things that showed my inability to reason inductively seemed to amuse him. One day my son drew circles with a blue pen around all those stains of coffee that I could not wash away properly from the tablecloth. I was very upset. It was as if each circle was underlining each of my mistakes, and at that time I was very susceptible to the mistakes I had made in my life. My husband laughed. Maybe it was not my son, but my daughter. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been so angry.

Now I’m in this sort of residence and I’m about to go to play cards with my friends. One of them is wearing an apron that makes her look like a nurse. I don’t really like this fashion trend of dressing up like nurses. Not that fashion has ever interested me. I’ve always only bought what I’ve liked and what made me feel myself. The result was a bit quirky, sometimes. I was proud anyway, because I felt like myself. Now someone has put some sort of blouse on me that I don’t like at all. I haven’t figured out yet who put this on me.

Oh yeah, I’m doing physiotherapy. I broke a rib… No I mean, kneecap. I’m in this kind of physical rehabilitation place. It’s sad and tedious as if every day were a Sunday. Nobody ever comes to visit me. None of my children. None of my friends. There is only a stranger I met at the post office the other day. She’s now standing here in my room and she doesn’t want to go away. I told her several times that I was not pleased by her presence. Yes. Straightforwardly. She was irritating me. But she didn’t move. She didn’t go away. I think she wants me as a reference to go to study music in England. I should tell her clearly that she can’t go anywhere because I heard her playing and I know that she’s one of those ambitious people who wait for a miracle from heaven. Great ambitions!

Indeed it was great when my performances were listened to by the finest Polish ears. I still remember those deep blue curtains. Beyond them was an indistinct jovial chattering. The curtains were the borderline between relaxation and tension. Between dry palms and sweaty palms, normal coloured faces and red faces, normal eyes and dilated pupils. The curtains were a line between slow thoughts and hectic thoughts. Between coloured clothes and black suits. Then at some point, our hands, our feet, our eyes, our whole body, would give birth to music. A breach. The junction point that would make the borders collapse. Right before there was always absolute silence. So respectful and irreverent together. Full of expectations. That kind of silence that respects the performers and together asks them to fill the room to be entertained – and to judge.

“Do you hear this noise?” “No mom, which noise?” “The sound of a violin. Out of tune.” “No, mom. I can’t hear it.” I don’t understand why this lady keeps calling me mom. It makes me feel really nervous. I met her the other day at the post office and since then she hasn’t left me in peace. Maybe she wants to sell me something. Today the weather is beautiful. “Shall we play tennis?” “You broke your hip mom, you can’t play tennis”. Oh, right. I’ve done many things in my life, and I remember all of them quite well.

It’s just that some times I forget what has just happened. It’s just a bit of confusion. Recently it occurred that I payed the same bill three times. But then people don’t believe me when I’m not being confused. The other week some thieves came to my house every day at the same hour. I called the police and they didn’t want to come to check. Result: the thieves stole everything, day by day. They didn’t come to my room only because they knew I was there. I hid behind the door holding the wooden statue that my uncle carved many years ago, in case they entered. Neither of my children believe me. They keep saying that all the precious things are in their safes. But there were thieves! I know what I saw, ah! A bit forgetful, yes, but not a fool! I’m not stupid. No, never stupid!

There’s a dog that barks constantly. It’s really annoying. It’s because there’s a kennel here on the ground floor. All the dogs are very quiet. Except for one that barks really loudly. I always ask to go to visit the kennel, but they never take me there. I’ve never visited a kennel. And in life, whatever you did not do, it’s gone. Now I could visit a kennel, but I’m always locked in this room. Worse than a cheesy song. It upsets me even more than seeing people moved by that immoral music that touches the weakest parts of their souls, and make them so lame and cowardly.

“Mom, do you want to play some piano?” “Is it my turn?” “Yes, it’s your turn. What do you bring today?”. I’m very well prepared. I feel ready. I’ve trained every day of my life. I’ve dedicated every moment to this. Every day I sat until my back was hurting, my fingers burning and my posterior falling asleep.  Until my eyes would become red and tired. I’ve trained until my friendships no longer surrounded me. Until they couldn’t recognise me in the street – or pretended not to recognise me. Until people who did not know me, stopped me in the street. I must admit, I’ve become a very good pianist. I became good because I’ve committed to knowing myself better. I tamed myself with discipline. As when a horse stops every two steps to eat grass, a part of me reacted and rebelled. That part was constantly evading. Backing out of commitment. Getting up from the stool, drinking coffee, chatting for hours, reading books for hours, going out. So I had to identify my weaknesses and to creatively give to myself reasons to remain seated. Glued to the stool, handcuffed without handcuffs.

Now they bring me to the piano by carrying me there, straight on the stool. Indeed, they increased the reverence towards us old pianists! Those steps to reach the piano had always given to me the time I needed to get psychologically prepared, though. But this doesn’t matter now. Now there’s nothing that scares me. I got old. Each performance gave me a further layer of skin. I got harder. Stronger, more assertive, with a more subtle taste for joy, with a more delicate tongue for the good things, and with a sharper tongue against slanders, cowardice and avarice.

“Tonight I’m bringing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto no. 2”. “Please”. Here they are. My keys. White and black. Deep silence. And then I start. I must not make mistakes. Not even a note, not a frequency. I can’t slur the pace, I can’t miss a shot. Because you can fool anyone, if you go forward unperturbed, after a mistake. But you can’t fool the jury. They know every note. There’s the jury there, but I’m concentrated. Alone with myself. With my music. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it’s miserable. If it’s beautiful, it’s mine. If it’s miserable, it’s still mine. Music is responsibility. And concentration. Which means being ready, being prepared for the next note at any time. Your hand has to be ready at the next position, it always has to be where it’s helpful.

Concentration brings awareness. A weird awareness of yourself in a sort of trance. You can’t think of anything else but the result. Your creation. So volatile. Immediate. Sudden. Flashing. You become aware of your body, completely subservient to the execution. You’re aware of your body as a total – your breath matters as much as your hands. My hands fly over the keys, and colour the piece, in such a way that is completely mine. The great thing about this art is that it requires respect. I’ve always liked respect. You must submit humbly to the score, as if the borders within which you have to stay were drawn in black. But the paper is white, and then you can paint within the borders. And the colours you choose are yours, and they make your performance different from those of everybody else – and from all of your others. Every performance is unique.

Wait. There’s not a grand piano in front of me. No blue curtains. No jury. Just an upright piano, close to a wrongly painted wall. There must be something wrong. I feel pain in my leg. I’m on a wheelchair. I feel a slight tremor in my hand. What is happening to me? Where am I? I feel so young, so strong, so energetic. But I don’t understand. There is also this senility. I’m stuck in the wrong place. In the wrong body. What is happening to me? Where am I? Where am I? Where am I? What happens? Oh God. I remember now. The first forgetfulness, doctors, disability, my first fall, the caregiver. I remember now! I want to get out of here. Now! From this flabby body and this brain that is not working! I’m not this thing! This is not me! I’m too tired to concentrate. I think it’s too painful. I just want to play, or die.

“Nurse, I’ve finished”. Mrs. Post Office let me go gently on the pillow. There’s not a piano in the whole room. Was I playing? Her face is close and I can see it in detail. Her nose. I touch it. With the other hand I touch mine, instinctively. It’s the same. I look into her eyes. With amazement I see that she’s beautiful. “You’re beautiful, my love”. Her gaze. That look. She starts to kiss me on the forehead. She doesn’t stop. I see, it’s that I recognised her. But all of this is too painful. It hurts me more than I can bear.

“Enough, enough, stop it now please”. She gives me one last kiss and pulls back. She stares into my eyes. I close mine, because that look is too painful. That look. So mine, so not mine at all. I ignored it so many times for my keys. Now that I could look more into it, more deeply, more committed, my mocking brain recognises the keys better then it.

I open my eyes again. A lady I met a few days ago at the post office who doesn’t leave me alone is watching me closely, in a worrying way. God, this woman is making me crazy.

“Excuse me, I wouldn’t like to be rude. But what do you want from me, exactly?”


Published by silvialazzaris

Italian writer based in the UK.

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