The Pianist

So I saw this writing prompt picture on a blog post by Jaylee. And because it’s really cool and random, and because I need something to write and I can’t think of anything else… I present to you a short story.

soldierplayingpiano.png

It was cold. Not freezing, but cold. That kind of cold that just sort of seeps into you and sits there. And the steady drizzling of the rain only added to the chill.

They had been marching through the woods for a while, but that didn’t warm them up at all. One of the men trudging alongside Alexei had been muttering colorful complaints nonstop for three hours, ever since the rain started. “I didn’t sign up for this,” he grumbled.

“I know, Pyotr,” replied Alexei. “You forget that I didn’t sign up at all. Yet I’m not complaining. We’re soldiers; we’re supposed to deal with this kind of stuff. Now be quiet.”

The leader of their little group held up a hand, and the five men following him — Alexei and Pyotr included — stopped walking. They were standing in a little clearing, ringed on all sides by trees. “We’ll camp here for tonight. Alexei, gather some firewood.”

“And make sure it’s dry this time!” interjected Pyotr, as he wrung the water out of his cap.

Alexei stared at Pyotr for a long second. “I’ll do my best,” he finally said. He slung his gun over his shoulder and trudged back into the woods. The sky was darkening, so that it was that time of day when there’s enough light to see clearly, but you can tell that night is nearly upon you anyway. He had no idea where to look for dry wood; everywhere was just wet. So instead he simply walked, relishing the silence, here and there glancing around, in a half-hearted attempt at pretending to look for firewood.

And then he saw it.

A piano.

Just… sitting there, in the middle of the forest. The pathetic remainders of an old fence stood by it.

Alexei just looked at it for a while. Then, shaking himself, he turned his head first to the left, then to the right, straining his eyes to look through the trees. There was no one else around. He bit his lip for a moment, hesitating, and then walked up to the instrument.

Every step he took seemed to ring out loudly in the silent forest, and he felt a bit like he was trespassing, Before, he had been a soldier, powerful because of his gun. Now his gun didn’t matter. Once he reached the piano, he looked around again, and still saw no one. He considered calling out, but then decided against it.

Now that he was closer to the instrument, he could see that it was rather beat up, almost as if someone had dragged it all the way out there and just left it. Alexei looked around for footprints or dragging marks, but could see nothing.

Then, impulsively, he pulled his fur cap down over his ears with a sharp tugging motion and pushed back the cover, so that the ivory keys glistened slightly in the fading light. Gently, but nonetheless knowing the power behind the motion, he dropped his fingers onto the keyboard, letting them fall with just enough heaviness to elicit a sound.

It was a very simple chord, and the piano’s tone was very mediocre, but it was music. The last decade of Alexei’s life suddenly vanished, and he remembered so well sitting at another keyboard, with his teacher standing over him, telling him that yes, he had to practice that scale one. More. Time.

And young Alexei had obeyed, and played the scale again. And again. And then, a week later, he moved on to playing little songs. And then minuets. And soon he was absolutely in love with the music. And then his father died, and the piano was sold, and at seventeen Alexei got a job in a factory that made trousers.

And he completely forgot about music. When he had been drafted into the army, it was as if the little boy at the piano had never even existed, except for the times he would wake up in the middle of the night, with a faint recollection of a dream just beyond the reach of his memory.

But now, confronting him boldly in the woods, so that he simply could not ignore it, was a piano. And as Alexei played that chord, he realized that it was the first chord in a song that he had played so many times as a boy. With a ridiculous excitement growing in his chest, and his heart pounding, his fingers began to remember their old pattern, and he was playing piano again, chords and notes rolling from underneath his half-frozen fingers, and then… and then he stopped. He couldn’t remember. And his ears began to correctly hear what his brain had been twisting as beautiful. The notes were wrong, the song was botched. He was no musician. He was a soldier. Many years ago, he might have been able to be a pianist, but now he was not.

He backed away quickly from the piano, his hands dropping to his sides and his face turning red with disappointed shame. He glanced one last time at the piano and then turned — crack!

The sound ripped through the silence of the forest. Several more gunshots, and then silence. Alexei tore the gun off of his back, hands shaking, and he crashed back the way he came, stumbling into his camp too late, too late.

The captain of the little squad was dead, his eyes staring like glass into the tangled mess of leafless branches above. Three others were slumped over or lying in unnatural positions, blood seeping through their ugly, yellowish uniforms.

Pyotr was sitting propped up against a tree, a hole in his stomach. He coughed, blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth, the sound causing Alexei to jump.

“Pyotr, Pyotr, what happened?” he cried, rushing over to kneel beside his fallen friend, placing his gun on the ground.

“You forgot to get firewood,” Pyotr said after a moment.

“I found a piano in the woods, Pyotr,” Alexei blurted.

Pyotr looked mildly surprised.

“I used to play piano, you know,” pressed Alexei. It was the only thing he could think of to say. “I was really good.”

“Why –” Pyotr coughed again, blood gushing from his mouth “– why did you stop?”

Alexei’s vision suddenly blurred. “Because I’m a soldier now.”

“Oh.” And then Pyotr’s head lolled forward, his eyes staring at nothing.

Alexei put the back of his hand over his mouth, trying to block the sobs. He closed his friend’s eyes and then quickly stood up. He slung his gun over his shoulder and stumbled backwards away from the clearing, then turned and ran.

He didn’t know where he was running to, but he wasn’t very surprised when he saw the piano again. He stared at it for a very long time. “I’m a soldier,” he whispered. “A soldier, a soldier, a soldier.” But he knew it wasn’t true. And he walked up to the piano, put his fingers on the keys and played. And the dam in his mind that had said he made pants, and then had said he was a soldier broke, and he knew, in the very depths of his being, that he was a pianist. He always had been.

The end.

Well, what do you all think? I know it’s completely random, not to mention a little depressing…. And don’t ask me what it’s supposed to mean, because I don’t know. (Every time I’m asked to analyze some piece of literature I wonder if the author is in reality just like me, just writing for the sake of writing, and if some meaning slips in, it’s absolutely accidental. At least in my case it is, because heck, I don’t have the skill to add meaning into my writing.) Either way, I’d love to hear if any of you have some insightful interpretation of this. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “The Pianist

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