This Great Society - Writing


Illustration: Alicia Gonzalez

Charlene Kwiatkowski: First Hand Love

Illustrations: Alicia Gonzalez


            Her hands hover over the keys, looking to land. It’s been a while and it feels rusty. Not the piano—her. The piano’s brand new. She didn’t have space for it before the purge, but it wasn’t just a matter of space.
            The keyboard reminds her of the desk that got her through nine years of school. It’s even the same height. She sits at it, not sure how to begin. Neighbours look in from outside, her hands arched over the keys, and they guess the wrong furniture. They think she’s still pounding out her thesis, poring over books and papers and other people’s polished words, looking for a small space, even a crack, to squeeze her voice inside. They don’t know if she found it. They don’t know she’s finished.
             She knows, because her apartment looks different. Bigger. The desk didn’t survive the purge. Neither did four outdated editions of the Norton Anthology of English Literature that she will regret giving to the Salvation Army, but it was time for spring cleaning. In the fall. Friends ask her where she’ll do her work when she starts teaching, and she points to the kitchen table, or the couch, or the floor. A laptop can go where a piano can’t.
            The black Yamaha stares at her, waiting to feel her weight. She treats it like an old acquaintance, about to shake hands. Taking up the home row position, her fingers alight on C, E, and G. She hopes the triad will invoke the muse of a song she stored somewhere since her childhood lessons, but it doesn’t come.
            She closes her eyes and waits. Her feet rest on the pedal, her hands on the keys. They start to twitch, familiar with this curved position but not with being unused. They press letters, not blanks. She feels something crawling up from her chest, digging its way out of the rust. It comes slowly at first, picks up speed in her arms and breathes out her hands, a song spilled on the keys like a glass of milk on the table. Her body bumps it before she can analyze it, pouring life into still life. Hands reach for the unpolished notes—diminished sevenths and suspended chords that smudge a clean drawing, force note after note, sustain play. Her feet stay on the pedal, lines blurring into each other in every possible way. Eyes still closed, she reads a song she can’t see but presses into the keys with black and white clarity. The thunderous timbre of B minor leaves the apartment and the neighbours know what she’s up to now.
            Twenty minutes, half an hour, maybe an hour goes by. She feels an ache in her bent hands, but she’s not finished with them yet. Deep in raw material, they no longer pound the surface of secondary sources. She hears the room grow bigger. Floorboards crack. Sound splits from commentary. Seams undone, the apartment stretches to fill the weight of its furniture. Hands first, leading the way, her body breaks the piano in time to the space.


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