The hospice – home had something about it that set it apart from the rest. It was a home filled with a number of instrument: a wayward saxophone, a distended trombone, trumpets, bassoons and dusty guitars that the master had practiced and performed in his youth. Antique wooden photo frames covered with dust rests atop of an upright piano. Most of the photos however, are discoloured and faded. One photo in particular that caught my attention; it was me, younger, holding a trophy with a large grin on my face as big as the moon. My hands wandered across the yellow- ivory keys of a piano that was long neglected, where the dust was collected at the tips of my fingers, wondering if they would ever make music again,.
“Hello Sir,” a deep voice resounded from behind, “My name is Doctor Himmerick. I am the attending physician. You are John?”
“He’s just awoken,” The doctor motioned, “please follow me.”
I followed, nervously.
The alert, blue eyes of the master that I remembered a couple of decades ago seemed to have lost its intensity entirely. Something unknown tugged at my heartstring, and I felt a sense of sorrow suddenly overcome my senses.
His fingers however, were still long and delicate, so thin and elegant as if they could produce wonderful music by simply playing in the air. Looking at those hands, I could not help but recall another time.
The master leaned over the piano, severe and alert, blue eyes flashing like sapphires; looking as if he could lunge over the piano towards me with one swift push from the points of his leather shoes.
We were playing chopsticks, and I was only four. Those long slender fingers overlapped mine and tapped expertly, exerting perfect pressure and poise. I had already learnt to play Beethoven, but the master laughed at my childish boast; complaining how I lacked fundamentals, the basics of the craft. Every mistake I made, even just simply pressing a key too hard or too soft. It was a hard time, one punctuated by his fingers flitting from key to key, and the occasional slap of the conductor’s cane.
That was two decade ago. Some would say that I would now be a master in my own regard, having played in all the concert halls that he had once done. The brief trip into memory lane made me wonder if the master would still be as critical, as unappeasable as I had always recalled. If it was at all possible to ever gain a word of approval from his lips.
“Shall we begin?” Asked Doctor Himmerick.
“Do I just play?”
“Yes, something you think the patient is familiar with,” he explain, “something that will trigger memories smothered by the Alzheimer’s.“
I folded back the black polished cover of the Yamaha U3.
I flit through my memory, seeking the greatest of master’s favourite pieces. My fingers began to dance, and soon Beethoven’s Sonata Hammerklavier opus 106 erupt into the room. As a child I could never hit the right notes in the right tempo, and every time I played it, the master would shake his head in characteristic disappointment. Maybe the disappointment will awaken his old critical soul, I mused.
The first movement began with a light tempered accelerando that tapped danced across the keys with the feathered touch of fairies. The second movement began with thunderstruck fury, and a deep, mellow and woody rhythm flowed. My fingers tapped and hammered out movement after movement. A sudden fermata ended the performance.
“Goodness,” said the Doctor Himmerick, “I am in awe.”
We both look towards the master.
His eyes were looking at us, but it did not register a moment of applause and recognition.
Ever the critic. I thought to myself bitterly. The sensation of disquiet in my chest took me back to a darker time. The constant drilling, the non stop practice. The damned chopsticks.
Doctor Himmerick cleaned his spectacles, a little flustered. “Something a bit simpler perhaps? Perhaps play a special, memorable piece?”
I thought to myself again. A simpler piece of music… hmm… But there were no simple pieces that my master approved during the period he was teaching me.
With a sense of grudge, I placed my hands upon the keys, and started to hammer out the Chopsticks.
I placed my hands on the keys and my fingers followed the memory like a guide. They moved from F and G in staccato tempo, to E and G to D and B, always a key apart. The pressure of tapping, the tempo between each strike perfect and synchronised.
Then, to my horror, I fumbled. It’s been so long since I played the damned thing that I could not recall the next set.
I felt the presence of another beside me. Almost unconsciously I moved across, and the master sat down beside me.
“Like this,” the master said with a deep baritone voice that seemed to move time itself.
I continue hitting the notes in staccato tempo.
“You’ve improved John.” He said as we kept playing in unison.
In a single moment, it was as if all the tension that I had held in my heart had been melted away. His presence beside me was like electricity, sending rolling waves of memory and familiarity through my body.
“I am sorry I left,” I said softly, my own throat involuntarily constricted. “I want to thank you for your guidance from the depth of my heart…” I continued to play as our eyes met.
“John my boy,” his blue eyes seemed to have regained some of that sparkle, his fingers as deft and masterful as I recall, “you were a pleasure to teach.”
My skin tingled, and a space seems to have opened in my chest. The music that filled the room seems to inflate me, and I felt was though I was a child again. The master and I played, unaware of the flow of time. A euphoric joy filled me from the crown to the toe.
Then a sudden stagger, a stuttering of notes. I looked towards the old master to see him slipping away. His hands pressing the keys seemingly at random before coming to rest at his side.
“I am tired,” he muttered, at no one in particular.
The music had ceased, and my eyes were wet now. I look towards his face, now longingly looking out the window, and felt the gladness of having rediscovered the past.