The Piano: Short Story.

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Victoria Brown’s first short story for The Gown. Photo Source: Odyssey. 

Victoria Brown, Arts and Entertainments Co-Editor. 

The piano was nothing remarkable.
Not that James Burton knew anything about musical instruments. Hidden between vintage wooden chairs with plush velvet seats and boxes of World’s Fair collector’s pins, the old grand piano rested beneath a musty tartan sheet in the back corner of Holland Antiques. It was a deep rich brown, still full of shine despite what James assumed was old age, with all its ivory keys intact and barely any scuffs. Pushing his horn-rimmed glasses back up his nose, he leaned in close to inspect the make.
“John Broadwood and Sons, London. Short grand,” he muttered to himself.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”
James looked up and tried to hide his startled state by straightening his brown tie. The man who had spoken with a strong Bronx accent was stocky, with balding greasy black hair and a stubby nose with blackheads like brail. He regarded James with eyes the colour of a storm cloud and he was rubbing his chubby hairy hands together.
“I guess so, yeah.”
The man held out his hand. James noted that the store’s dull lighting did not do the fellow’s cheap Rolex watch any favours, “Richard Holland, proprietor.”
James, always the gentleman, shook Richard’s hand, “James Burton.” He tried, and failed, to hide his grimace at Richard’s sweaty hands.
Richard didn’t seem to notice. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his faded jeans and wandered around the grand piano, “John Broadwood and Sons. Made in London around 1892, 93. Shipped over here in 1912, been here ever since. I don’t play myself, but I think she’s a real beauty considering her age. Do you play?”
James shook his head, “No, but my daughter does. Or did. Or does,” he cleared his throat. “How much are you looking for it?”
“Well, another store, or even one of these new internet stores, given her age and current condition would probably try to swindle you for three, maybe three and a half grand. But I’m a humble man, sir. I just run this shop, like my daddy and my granddaddy before me. I know nothing about the real price of antiques. This thing has been here longer than me. I want shot of it. I’m looking,” he stroked his stubbled chin, “$1700 for it.”
James considered this. He ran his hand along the keys, pausing to play a C minor. He hadn’t intended on buying anything today. He hadn’t intended on visiting Holland Antiques at all. But he had been thinking about Mary; their anniversary was fast approaching, which would mark his seventh year without her. He bit the inside of his cheek. Seven years without his wife meant his daughter was seven years without her mother. Elizabeth had loved to play when she was little. James used to arrive home late from the university, not having realised it was time to retire for night, to the sound of his teenage daughter’s piano drifting through the Long Island house. The memory produced a flicker of a smile.
“I’ll take it.”

***

          Elizabeth was tired. A three-hour long seminar at 9am, on top of three hours studying in the university library for an exam on contagious diseases, and a four-hour placement shift at the hospital made for a long day. She could feel the tiredness in her bones. Her feet hurt in her cheap sneakers, and her blonde hair was frizzy from the misty autumn rain. She fished her keys out from her coat pocket, only to discover that her door was unlocked. It couldn’t be Dan; after they had broken up he had thrown his key into a storm drain like a bad-tempered toddler. Only one other person had a key.
“Dad?” she called, shuffling into the one-bedroom apartment. James greeted her with black coffee in her favourite pink mug and pulled her into an awkward one-armed hug.
“Hi Lizzy,” Elizabeth hated being called Lizzy, “I’ve bought you a present.”
Elizabeth accepted the mug and pulled her red scarf from around her neck, “Oh Dad, there was really no need, I hon-“
She stopped. Behind her father sat a grand piano that looked enormous in her small living room. She slipped past him and ran her hand along the piano keys like he had. She was glad her back was to her father because her eyes started to sting. She could still remember all the notes and chords and could briefly recall about five songs that she had learned off by heart. But that was a long time ago. She opened her mouth to say something, but James spoke first.
“Do you like it? I saw it and thought of you, I just couldn’t resist.”
Elizabeth gave him a small smile and gripped her mug tight. She did like it, but she didn’t play anymore. Not since her mother had died. Playing the piano had been something they did together, and it was too painful to play without her. Despite his many qualifications and dozens of academic achievements, James’s single parenthood was lacking. When her mother had passed, James had buried his head in work and hadn’t noticed that when he returned home late the piano was no longer playing. But Elizabeth wasn’t going to say that. He was her dad, and he meant well.
“I love it.”

***

          James left in a hurry – “I have test papers to mark,” he had said – leaving Elizabeth alone. She had never minded being alone. In fact, she enjoyed it. But tonight, looking at that piano brought back painful memories of her mother, and all the things that she had missed; Elizabeth first boyfriend, her high school graduation, James’s tenure, her acceptance into medical school. Elizabeth got up from her second-hand sofa and sat down on the piano’s wooden bench. She could feel the cold through her trousers. She lifted her hand to play, remembering her hand positions and balances after all these years, but before she could press down on the keys, her eyes welled up and her throat went dry. She couldn’t do it. She got up, lifted her textbooks and retreated into her bedroom to study. She closed the door.
It was 11:40pm when she heard the footsteps. She was hunched over her desk with three textbooks open in front of her, and a cheap ball-point pen that was almost empty. Her writing pad was filled with notes for her upcoming exam. She paused for a moment, shaking her hand in the hopes of warding off an oncoming cramp. That was when she heard the floorboard creak.
She froze.
She sat still for a few moments, and when she didn’t hear anything else she went back to work. She was underlining a passage about tuberculosis symptoms when she heard it again. It came from her living room. Then she heard footsteps, hard and heavy on her wooden floor. Even over hammering heart she could hear them clearly. It was then that she realised why she found the sound so odd; they were squelching. She glanced at her bedroom window and saw that the night was dry. She took a shaky breath. If it was a burglar – what else could it be? – she had to call the police. But her mobile was in the living room. She stood up slowly, careful not to make a sound. She tiptoed across her bedroom, and slowly opened her door. She peered out. Her living room was empty, as was her small kitchen, but she could see large wet footprints on her wooden floor. She slipped through the small gap in the doorway and walked quietly towards her bathroom, lifting her mobile phone from her coffee table as she passed. When she passed the kitchen, she lifted a knife from her drawer. She reached her bathroom, and slowly pushed the door open. It creaked ominously. But the room was empty. She glanced towards her blue shower curtain and creeped forward, knife raised above her head. She ripped the curtain back. No burglar, no Marion Crane to go all ‘Psycho’ on. Nothing. Empty. Elizabeth lowered the knife and let out a breath.
There is no-one here, you idiot. You need sleep, that’s what it is. You’re imagining things because you’re sleep deprived.
Elizabeth returned the knife to the kitchen and stared at the wet footprints. Someone must have been here, but apart from the footprints there was no sign of an intruder. She didn’t have anything of value to steal – except maybe the piano. She bit her lip, went back to the bathroom and striped. A shower will clear my head, she thought. She stepped into the shower and turned it on. She stood for a few moments and let the hot water wash over her skin. Hot showers had always made her drowsy, so she hoped this would help her sleep. She ran her hands through her hair and was about to lean down to get her shampoo when the water turned cold. Ice cold.
Elizabeth gasped. The water burned her skin, more than hot water ever had, and her skull felt tight. She scrambled away from the water and tried to catch her breath. The steam from the hot water had vanished and was replaced by a mist she had only ever seen with dry ice. She wrapped her arms around her head, closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to reduce the pressure in her head. It was like brain freeze dialled up to a thousand. She opened her eyes, grimaced, and stuck her arm into the freezing water. It burned her skin and turned her arm numb almost instantly. She fumbled before finding the knob and turned it off. It took her a moment to realise that her entire body was covered in goose-bumps, and she was trembling violently.
She stepped out of the shower and wrapped her white towel around her, thankful that she had left it on her radiator yesterday. She embraced its warmth and allowed herself a minute to stop shaking. When she felt steady, she approached her sink and tried the hot water there and found that it was working fine. Must be dodgy plumbing. She made a mental note to call the building’s superintendent tomorrow.  She splashed her face with warm water and began to apply her seaweed clay mask to her cheeks, nose, chin and forehead. She observed herself in the mirror as she did so. The older she got, the more she began to look like her mother. She had Mary’s big hazel eyes – “the colour of good scotch”, her grandma used to say – and her long eyelashes. She had her widow’s peak hairline and dirty blonde hair. Mary had worn hers short and spikey, whereas Elizabeth’s hung loose around her shoulders. She even had Mary’s small pink mouth.
After five minutes passed, Elizabeth ran a face cloth under the hot water, squeezed the excess water from it, and began to rub off the clay on her left cheek. As she rubbed, the clay began to change colour. Where she rubbed took on an almost blue-green tinge, and then the skin beneath the clay began to turn a pale gray. Elizabeth, still tired, thought she had simply missed a bit of clay so she rubbed harder. She winced as it began to sting. A small squeak escaped her as her skin started to wrinkle and rub away, revealing the muscle and blood underneath. She checked her facecloth and found it had only clay on it. She looked back at her reflection and gasped. The skin on her left cheek had fallen away in bits. The fragments of skin that were left had turned a horrific green-brown. Elizabeth shakily lifted her hand to touch the skin and her breath caught in her throat when it came away in her hands. It looked and smelled like wet mould. Her stomach turned. She looked back up at her reflection to discover that her cheek was fine. She leaned in and lightly touched it, disbelievingly. She checked her hand but there was no sign of the mouldy skin that had been between her fingers a moment ago.
I need to go to sleep.

 

***

It was 2.20am when Elizabeth heard the piano. After tossing and turning in bed for almost an hour, she had managed to drift off into a light sleep. She thought she was dreaming when she heard the music at first. The notes were light and soft. She recognised the music: Debussy’s Clair de Lune. She loved that piece. She turned over in her sheets, a small smile playing on her face. Then she sat bolt upright. There’s someone in my apartment. A cold sweat broke out over her skin, and her heart felt like it was going to burst out of her chest. She pushed her sheets back, threw on her dressing gown and tiptoed to her bedroom door. With a trembling hand, she gripped the handle and slowly pushed it open. She was wary of it creaking, so she held her breath and hoped. She peered through the small gap she had made, and her hand shot up to her mouth.
There was a man sitting at her piano. His back was turned to her, but she could see the movement of his hands as he delicately, almost professionally, played the French composition. His clothes reminded Elizabeth of Victorians that she had seen in her high school history books; his trousers and peak cap were a tattered brown and his leather boots were scuffed. He wore a dark green waist-coat over a light green shirt with the sleeves rolled up. It was his hair that struck her the most; it poked out from beneath his peak cap, a brilliant deep red. His clothes seemed to lift and float ethereally around him, as if he were trapped under water.
She leaned forward and pressed her hand harder against her mouth. He is see-through, she realised. At first, she thought it was her tiredness, but the longer she watched him the less she could deny it. She could see the piano through his body. She could see the ivory keys through his long fingers. If someone had asked her when she was fourteen if she believed in ghosts she would have answered with a harsh no. But that’s the thing about the death of a loved one; it opens your mind to the possibility, or at least the hope, that there is a way for them to still be with you. Elizabeth had no doubt that the man she was watching was a ghost.
She had gotten so lost in his appearance that she hadn’t realised he had stopped playing. The man sat upright, placed his hands on his knees, and looked ahead. As she shifted her weight from her right foot to her left, the floorboard she was standing on creaked. Her hand pressed even harder into her mouth. She could feel herself shaking as the ghost began to turn around. His eyes locked on her, and her eyes widened in response. It was only then that she realised his skin was a wrinkled blue, with mouldy green bits slipping from his cheekbones, forehead and neck. His lips were white. His face twisted into a menacing snarl, and he shot out of the piano bench with superhuman speed, his arms outstretched towards her.
Elizabeth screeched and slammed her bedroom door shut but the man’s wrinkled blue hand reached through the door and clutched a handful of her hair. She kicked out, tugged and scrambled away. She collapsed against her bed, shaking and sobbing. The hair the hand had grabbed was clumped and wet. Elizabeth looked up. The hand was gone. All was quiet. She rose slowly and opened her door. The man had disappeared, leaving only puddles of water on the piano bench and keys.

***

          Elizabeth had seen enough horror films to know she had to get that piano the hell out of her apartment. She called her dad the next morning but kept the details of the previous night to herself. James was an Economics professor and the idea of the supernatural was completely unfeasible to him.
“It was, er, Holland Antiques,” James said, “Down in the Bronx.”
Elizabeth held her phone in place awkwardly between her ear and shoulder as she fumbled with her sneakers, “What were you doing in the Bronx?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking about your mom and just walked. I guess I got a little side-tracked.”
“That’s a hell of a walk.” Elizabeth could hear papers rustling. She glanced at her digital alarm clock beside her bed. 08:46 it read.
“Look sweetie, I have to go, I have a seminar. Can I call you later?”
“Sure, Dad. Goodbye. I love you.”
“I love you too.” He said in a rushed breath.
Elizabeth hung up. She held her phone tightly as she looked at the piano.
“Holland Antiques, huh.” She said to the empty apartment.

***

          It was after 2pm by the time she arrived. The building was old, she knew that much, and the window was so grimy that it had taken her a second to even realise she was in the right place. Dirt and age had caused ‘Holland Antiques, New York City, Est. 1884’ to fade to a dull black. A small bell chimed lightly as she pushed open the heavy wooden door. Any chance of natural sunlight was destroyed by the grubby windows, and the lights in the store were dull. The air was heavy with dust.
She shuffled past a table of metal clocks towards the cash desk at the right-hand side of the store. Behind it sat the reason the piano was in Elizabeth’s possession in the first place – Richard Holland. He was wearing a faded pink striped shirt with a brown stain on the collar and was reading a battered copy of an Agatha Christie novel Elizabeth hadn’t heard of. She tucked a strand of loose hair behind her ear, adjusted her jacket, and approached the desk.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you had a moment?” her voice sounded dense in the musky air.
Richard didn’t look up from his book, “And what would this be regarding?”
“My dad was in here yesterday. He bought me an old piano, and”  “Oh yes,” Richard slid off his stool and held out his hand, “You must be the daughter. Richard Holland, proprietor of Holland Antiques.”
Elizabeth shook Richard’s hand, “Elizabeth Burton. Charmed.”
Richard squeezed himself from behind the desk, not noticing Elizabeth wiping her hand on her jeans.
“Are you enjoying the piano? She’s a real beauty, ain’t she? She was here longer than I’ve been alive!”
“That’s actually why I’m here,” Elizabeth crossed her arms, “how old is the piano?”
“Around 1892, 93, I believe.”
“And how long has it been here?”
“1912.”
“Right,” Elizabeth nodded, “So it had been in this shop for eighty eight years, and no-one, in all that time, wanted it. Why?”
“I, er, I don’t know. That happens sometimes, antiques can sit for almost a century before some lucky customer snaps it up.”
Elizabeth took a step towards him, “And I take it you’ve run this store for a long time?”
He puffed out his chest proudly, “Twenty six years and counting, sweetheart. This store has been in my family for almost four generations.”
“And in all that time, did you ever notice anything weird about the piano?”
His expression wavered, “Uh, no, not that I know of. She is a real beauty though, isn’t she? I’m glad someone-”

  “Please don’t lie to me.”
Richard looked at the floor, and tugged at his rolled up sleeves. He glanced behind him at an empty spot at the back of the store.
“Sometimes. Just…things.”
Elizabeth followed his gaze. The wood on the floor was lighter than the rest. Whatever had been there hadn’t moved until recently. She didn’t have to guess what it was.
“What kind of things?”
“Look sweetheart, I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in ghosts, or ghouls, or goblins or any other of that garbage. But I grew up in this store. I’ve seen things. And I know my daddy saw things too.”
“What kind of things?” Elizabeth persisted.
Richard cleared his throat, sweat beading on his oily forehead, “Music. At night, when the store was empty. Wet footprints, but no intruders on the security cameras.”
“What else?”
“Singing. I’ve heard…a man’s voice. Singing.”
“Can you remember the song?”
Richard looked at her and bobbed his head as he sang softly, and horrendously out of tune, “’Tell my ma when I come home, the boys won’t leave the girls alone.” That’s all I can remember. It don’t sound like any song I’ve ever heard.”
Elizabeth didn’t recognise it either.
“You’ve heard him too, haven’t you?” Richard asked her.
She nodded.
“That’s why I wanted rid of it, you see. It’s been sitting in this store so damn long because people get a bad vibe from it. Your dad was the first person I’ve seen who actually went more than ten feet close to it. I watched him when he came in, he seemed drawn to the thing. I was just so desperate to get rid of it.”
Elizabeth smiled sympathetically, “So there’s no chance of you taking it back?”
“Not in a million years,” he blurted.
“Well, can you do me one favour instead?”

***

          Elizabeth read the notepaper for the hundredth time: ‘Amelia Gracey, Belmont Care Home. Brooklyn, New York.’ She looked up at the stone building and took a deep breath. Richard had been more helpful than she expected. The pair spent hours going through Holland Antique’s files until they found the piano’s documents. The papers were cheap and thin, and the ink had faded, but they were able to make out that it had been shipped from Ireland in the spring of 1912 by James Young. The only other information they found was that the piano had been shipped with a letter, detailing that if James was unable to collect the piano, that a woman named Amelia O’Connell, whose address was listed as somewhere in Queens, would collect it instead.
Eighty eight years the piano had stayed in Holland Antiques. Elizabeth couldn’t believe her luck when she phoned Information and they revealed that Amelia, now Amelia Gracey, was still alive and well in New York. They gave Elizabeth her address, and now there she was. She shoved the paper into her jacket pocket and went inside. The care home was bright with harsh florescent light, and it smelled like musk and urine. The smell didn’t bother Elizabeth anymore. Hours in the hospital had made her oblivious to the odour.
She approached reception. A young Asian man sat with his legs up on the desk, and he appeared to be engrossed in a re-run of Seinfeld.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for a woman called Amelia Gracey.”
“Are you a relative?” he asked.
“Er, no. I’m just here to visit her.”
He looked her up and down before returning his attention to the television, “Room 281, second floor, first left.”
She thanked him and followed his directions. When she reached Amelia’s room, her stomach knotted. She didn’t know this woman, and she was about to bother her with something that she had more than likely not given a second thought for over eighty years. But her determination to get rid of that piano was stronger. She knocked.
“Come in,” a soft voice croaked.
Elizabeth pushed the door open gently. Amelia’s room was a warm coffee brown. Her bed was neatly made and had a large painting of a magnificent black and white ship hanging above it. On her dressing table stood a large silver mirror, which was surrounded by photos of young kids Elizabeth assumed to be Amelia’s grandchildren. On her bedside table sat a framed aging sepia sheet of music.
Amelia sat at a small table by the window overlooking the home’s courtyard, beside a glass vase of lilies in full bloom, with a well-kept crossword book in her hands. She was a small plump woman with a cloud of curly white hair and small blue eyes, like sunlight on the sea. Her skin was light and freckled, and it looked as soft as crumpled tissue paper. She wore a pair of large glasses on a chain around her neck.
“How can I help you, dear?”
She’s Irish, Elizabeth realised.
“Uh, Hi. I’m, er, Elizabeth. Burton. I’m really sorry to bother you,” her voice shook.
Amelia laid down her crossword book on her lap and smiled warmly at Elizabeth. She felt herself relax.
“Why don’t you sit down, dear?” Amelia gestured to the empty chair on the other side of the table.
Elizabeth sat sheepishly. Amelia laid a hand on the table, and Elizabeth noticed a golden wedding band.
“This is going to sound ridiculous. I’m not even sure if you’ll remember, or if you’ll even believe me, but…” Elizabeth found her attention drawn to the painting of the ship above Amelia’s bed.
“Do you recognise it?” Amelia asked gently.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. I feel like I should.”
“That, pet, is the most famous ship in the world.”
It was then that Elizabeth noticed the date in the bottom left of the painting.
“1912. That’s-that’s the Titanic, isn’t it?”
Amelia nodded, almost smiling to herself.
“I hope this isn’t a rude question,” Elizabeth cleared her throat, “but were you on it?”
“Goodness, no,” Amelia waved her hand at the painting, “But I knew someone who was.”
Elizabeth looked back at her, and saw that her attention was now fixed on the framed sheet music on her bedside table.
“Do you mind if I ask who?”
Amelia looked at her, and absentmindedly fiddled with a large ruby stoned ring on her right hand, “It was a long time ago now, dear. My husband-to-be was on that ship. He never got the chance to ask, but I knew he was planning to. He was never good at hiding things, my James.”
Elizabeth’s stomach flipped, “James?”
“Yes, James. My James. We were sixteen when we met. We were going to get married and start our lives in the New World,” she shrugged, and a flicker of a smile played on her thin lips, “Everyone was doing it. We saved for years. But James’s mother grew ill a few months before we were set to leave. I had enough money saved so I went ahead to America to set up our lives. We were going to live right here, in Brooklyn. I even found us a house.”
Her voice grew soft, “James was due to arrive in April. His poor Ma had passed away just after Christmas, and that was all the reason he needed to leave Belfast as soon as possible. He worked in the shipyard, earned a lot of money. Or what was a lot in those days, it wouldn’t amount to much now. He sent our belongings ahead on a separate ship, and he was to arrive in New York a few days later to collect them.”
Elizabeth felt her eyes sting. The pain in Elizabeth’s voice was obvious; she had not talked about this for a long time, and it still hurt.
“James never made it. I never found out what happened to him but it’s not hard to put two and two together.” She croaked, gesturing towards the painting, “Unsinkable, they said. What a joke. Nineteen years old, he was.”
Elizabeth placed her hand on Amelia’s wrinkled one. Amelia looked up at her with wet eyes.
“This ring,” she wriggled her right hand, and then nodded towards the sheet music on her beside table, “They’re all I have left of my James. Obviously I married a few years after. A single woman in the city at the time didn’t last long. But I never loved Lucas the way I loved James.”
Elizabeth squeezed her hand gently.
“That sheet music was our song. Clair de Lune.”
Elizabeth bit her lip, and she could feel the blood draining from her face.
Amelia’s eyebrows knitted together in concern, “What is it, dear? I apologise if I made you uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s not that.” She said, “I, uh, I don’t know how to say this.”
“Just spit it out, pet. I’m an old woman, nothing can shock me anymore.”
Elizabeth sighed, “James’s belongings. One of them ended up in an antiques store. An old John Broadwood & Sons piano. I believe you know it.”
Amelia removed her hand from beneath Elizabeth’s.
“What did you say?” she breathed.
“James’s piano. The song that he would have played your song on. It’s in my apartment, right now. It was in that antiques shop for over eighty years and now it’s mine.” Elizabeth leaned forward, “And I’ve seen him.”
Amelia’s mouth hardened and her eyes welled, “You’ve…seen him?”
Elizabeth nodded, “Yes. I think-I think he’s trapped. I think he’s somehow bound to that piano. I’ve seen him, and I’ve heard him playing. I’ve heard him play Clair de Lune.”
Amelia cupped her wrinkled face in her hands as the tears started to flow, “James, my James. I knew it. I’ve felt him, dear. We Irish, we’re very connected to our dead. I knew I felt him. People told me I was crazy, that I was going senile. But I knew it.”
Elizabeth glanced at the Titanic painting a final time and asked, “Would you like to see him?”

***

          Amelia had asked for a few minutes alone before they left the nursing home, and Elizabeth had obliged politely. It was after 10.30pm by the time they arrived in Elizabeth’s neighbourhood. Amelia had walked slowly but proudly, her bright blue eyes sparkling as she took in the sights of lower Bellerose. Elizabeth had walked beside her in silent respect with her hands deep in her jacket pockets. Part of her hadn’t expected Amelia to come, but she knew her father would give anything to see her mother one more time. She was yet to experience a love like that, and she wished for it more than anything. Elizabeth didn’t know much about the supernatural, but she knew that ghosts often appeared at the same time each night, and she felt absurdly calm at the prospect of seeing this man again
When they arrived at her apartment, Amelia asked if she could have an Irish coffee – “Mine and James’s favourite” – and she sat down stiffly on Elizabeth’s sofa. Elizabeth had expected her to pine over the piano, as she and her father had done, but Amelia simply smiled to herself and glanced at it every now and then. She asked Elizabeth about her plans for the future. They talked for over an hour about Elizabeth’s college degree and her desire to become a doctor. As it turns out Amelia had been a nurse at Pearl Harbour during the Second World War. Amelia had put her delicately thin hands on top of Elizabeth’s and said in a soft voice, “It takes a special kind of person to do that job. Make sure it’s what you want – helping people.”
Elizabeth asked, “Is it worth it?”
Amelia smiled, “Always.”
The dollar-store clock on Elizabeth’s living room wall reached 11.40. The music started first, the delicate soft notes of Clair de Lune. Amelia looked down at her Irish coffee and ran her bony finger slowly around the rim of the glass, her small mouth raised in a smile. Her eyes were wet. The room grew cold, so cold that Elizabeth could see her breath in front of her.
James’s body materialised slowly, like the fade-in of a silent movie. His back was to them, and he played as if he didn’t know they were there. Elizabeth could see the water on the bench where James sat, and the keyboard keys shone wet in the moonlight streaming through the window. She felt her eyes sting, and her chest filled with warmth. She wasn’t scared this time.
Amelia handed her almost empty glass to Elizabeth and rose. She turned to face James, and Elizabeth saw her put a single hand on her chest. She walked slowly towards him, as if she were moving through the sea. Amelia reached the piano and sat down on the bench beside him. He did not stop playing as he looked at her. Despite his shallow and rotting complexion, his smile lit up his face. Amelia let out a breath of joy and raised her hand to his cheek. It slipped right through but James’s smile did not waver. Instead, he gestured his head towards the piano. Amelia adjusted her posture, laid her fingers on the keys and began to play with him.
Elizabeth watched them. They played beautifully and never took their eyes off each other. When the song finished, James laid his transparent hand on top of her left and eyed the ruby ring that was to be their engagement ring.
Amelia turned to Elizabeth. Her face shone with tears, but she grinned like a teenage girl.
“Thank you, pet.” She breathed.
She turned back to James, who was beginning to fade away. She placed her other hand on top of his. She sighed deeply, and as the last remnants of James faded away, she slumped forward onto the piano.
Amelia Young, as she had always thought of herself, died with a smile on her face and North Atlantic seawater beneath her fingertips.

 

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