The Piano and Her Boy
1213 words long
"She speaks with me as clearly as you and I. Do you believe me?"
Notes from the author:
Karin Tidbeck is one of those authors I want to write like when I grow up. Her short story “Beatrice” begins, “Franz Hiller, a physician, fell in love with an airship.” It only gets stranger from there. The story is contained in Tidbeck’s collection Jagannath, which I of course highly recommend.
When young Beauregard T. Vierne began kicking listlessly at the nearest leg of Monsieur Renault’s piano, none of the adults present told him to stop. His parents never told him no under any circumstances, and Monsieur Renault didn’t dare. So it was up to the piano herself to remonstrate with the child. This she did, in a voice half-heard in the reverberations of the strings upon the impact of the child’s solid footwear and half-imagined in the child’s young mind. “Why don’t you go kick someone who wants to be kicked?”
Being addressed by the piano so startled Master Beauregard that he ceased kicking on the instant. “I didn’t realize you were someone.”
In a voice half-felt through the child’s ribcage pressing against the antique wood, the piano retorted, “Had you known, would it have stopped you? Be honest, now.”
The child thought of waitstaff he’d tripped up in restaurants for the diversion of seeing them drop their trays, and stray cats fleeing with a yowl from flung stones. “I would never kick anyone who was someone,” he said virtuously.
This hardly mollified the piano. “I dare say more people are someone than you think. What are you doing here, anyway?”
“My parents are auditing Monsieur Renault’s finances,” Master Beauregard reported, “to see if it might be suitable to make him a loan.” The piano questioned him further on this, but he knew little more than that, and not even that much, as he was only repeating what he’d heard his parents say. So their conversation drifted, as conversations will, which kept Master Beauregard sufficiently occupied that he hardly noticed the time passing.
Too soon it seemed his parents were standing over him, Monsieur Renault nervous in their wake. “Beau-beau, time to go,” his mother said brightly while plucking at his collar.
Master Beauregard reacted most alarmingly to this summons. He clung to the leg of the piano and began to wail.
When gentle and increasingly desperate wheedling failed to budge him, Sir William Vierne pulled out his chequebook. “Harvey,” he said, “my son appears to be unaccountably attached to your piano. What would a fair price for the thing be? A thousand marks? Better make it a thousand five to be sure.” He extracted a gold fountain pen from his lapel.
Monsieur Renault shook his head. “I wish I could oblige you, noble Sir, but the instrument is priceless to me. It is all that I have left of my grandmother, who first taught me to play.”
The cap came off the gold pen; the chequebook opened to a fresh blank cheque. “Come now, man, everything has its price. I’m offering two thousand five.”
Lady Brianne Vierne paused in her attempts to coax peace from her son and raised a harried-looking face. “Twenty-five hundred! Why, that’s enough for a brand new piano and miles of sheet music besides. Be a sport, Harvey, do say yes.”
“You can’t seriously be holding out for that loan,” Sir Vierne scolded. “You’ve already had my answer in that regard. But you stand to make a third of the amount you requested free and clear if only you’d sell. How can you pass up the chance?”
Monsieur Renault’s lips moved in rapid calculation. Finally, he said, “Perhaps a compromise might suit. It seems less that Master Vierne wishes to take the piano home with him so much as he wishes not to leave it. Let him come visit it as often as he likes—for lessons. I’ll charge only half my usual rate per hour.”
It was a generous discount. Yet the noble Vierne couple hesitated. Monsieur Renault’s refusal to sell rankled greatly. It must be admitted that Master Beauregard’s parents had this much in common with their son: they were not used to being told no.
Master Beauregard himself decided matters. He ceased to wail, let go the piano leg, and looked up at his elders with a tear-blotched face. “That would be most satisfactory. But I want a lesson every day, not just once a week like your other pupils.” All three adults stared at him as though he were a puppy that had suddenly begun negotiating real estate. Master Beauregard ducked his head shyly. “I am starting rather late, after all.”
Later, Sir William would confide in Lady Brianne his admiration for Harvey Renault’s shrewdness. “At half off per hour, but at seven times the hours per week, he’ll obviate the need for a loan in under three years. But how could he have known our Beau-Beau would be such a dedicated student?”
“How could he not? The boy has obviously taken to the instrument as he should have to his first horse.” Lady Brianne said this ruefully, remembering Master Beauregard’s unexpected equinophobia. “Still, I wonder what it is about the dratted thing he loves so much?”
What it was, was the way she spoke to him, sharply yet so interestingly. Unlike any other adult in his life, the piano didn’t fear to tell him off. And she had such stories to tell! She really had belonged to Monsieur Renault’s grandmother, and to her grandmother as well. She had been through two wars and a neighborhood riot. He listened raptly as she shared her memories. It kept the endless scales and fingering drills from growing tedious. And it must be said that he was nearly as good a student as Monsieur Renault was an instructor. Man and boy got along famously.
It was on the eve of Master Beauregard’s first recital that the student at last steeled himself to reveal the truth to his instructor. “The reason I fell so in love with your piano,” he said. “She spoke to me. She speaks with me every lesson. As clearly as you and I can speak to each other. Do you believe me?”
“And why wouldn’t I, when I’ve been listening to the two of you gossips jabbering every day? But I’m glad she spoke up in her own defense that day. You’re not the only boy who began a habit of kicking her, and her polish is getting quite scuffed about the ankles.”
Master Beauregard could only stare.
“My boy, did you not wonder why I refused to part with her even for such a sum as your father offered?” He lay a caressing hand upon the smoothly finished wood of the piano’s lid. “She is the luck of my family and the great love of my life. We will be together until I die, and my successor will play her at my funeral. And I hope they will be as happy together as she and I have been.”
At last, the boy found his tongue. “Monsieur Renault, I would be honored if you would consider me a candidate for that role. I think I am falling quite in love with her myself.”
“I had hoped you would, Master Beauregard. And,” he added, saying to the boy what he had never said to his parents despite their presumption, “you can call me Harvey.”
“If you two have quite finished,” said the piano, “it’s high time our Beauregard gave the sonata another run-through. He’s still hesitating on the transition from measure thirty-two to thirty-three.”
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