Pianissimo by Sarah McPherson

The final curve of a sweeping staircase, rubble and debris littering each step. An empty room, no footprints but mine in the muck that covers the floor. The scattered corpses of furniture; table cracked down the middle, couch with its seat torn and innards spilling out.

Then, under the stairs, a baby grand piano – whole and heavy with dust. I sling my rifle, brave the three-legged stool, lay hands tentatively on the filthy keys. It has been so long.

I coax forth a chord, notes shivering into the air around me. Memory stirs and my fingers move almost of their own volition, picking out a melody. Slow, slow, then faster, with growing certainty.

An old favourite; beautiful, brooding, melancholy. It conjures an image from childhood; the old house, me at practice on the instrument my parents scrimped and saved for, while the other boys run and scream outside. Mama, I want to go and play. She raps at the score with her knuckle. Again.

That house is long gone. The day we fled, I cried because we couldn’t take the piano.

For a long moment there is nothing but me and the music I have found, impossibly, in this god-forsaken place. Then a shattering, an ugly, ill-formed chord and my fingers fail as shouts and gunfire ring out above. 

I close the lid over the keys, smeared with my fingerprints, and don’t look back.

Sarah McPherson is a Sheffield-based writer, published in Ellipsis Zine, Splonk, STORGY, Janus Literary, and elsewhere. She has been long/shortlisted in various competitions, nominated for Best Small Fictions, and had a story selected for Best Microfiction 2021. She tweets as @summer_moth and blogs at theleadedwindow.blogspot.com.

Image: unsplash.com