The Piano

Charles Dickens sits atop our piano. He was made out of an imperfect mold in a bust factory on Staten Island. His misshapen base gives way to instability. Whenever I play the piano with any sort of gusto Dickens bobs his head slightly so, with approval, I'd like to think anyway.

On the night of October 23, I played a song before bedtime, a nightly ritual for our house. I opened my old hymnal and found Nearer My God to Thee an anthem written at the same time Mr. Dickens was writing his best books. Before I started I winked to him. Then I played with passion. He nodded as I pounded out the tune, his angular beard back-and-forthing as I went. When the last note was softly let go, I closed the heavy piano lid so that little fingers couldn't ruin our old instrument. It closed with its usual loud thunk. Then, I turned off the living room lights and hurried off to put my children and myself to bed.

Some time in the middle of the early morning on October 24 I woke up in my bed. I could hear someone downstairs playing the piano. At first it was a few sullen notes of the deep keys, one or two notes, back and forth. Because of hearing loss in my right ear, I cocked my head in the opposite direction. To be sure, I was hearing what I thought I was hearing. Someone was in my living room playing the piano.

Then there was a song.

I couldn't quite follow along. The tune was melancholic, sweet and sad. A somber sense floated out of the piano and up into my room where I sat up entranced. With lethargy clouding my mind, the song started seducing my sanity. I became concerned as though the music was pulling at me, trying to get me to follow its source. What was it?

The haunting notes of Moonlight Sonata?

No, that wasn't it.

Perhaps the softness of Clare de Lune?


Maybe not.

I listened harder. My head dropped to my shoulders, ears astute, discernment deciding.

Was it . . .?

Could it be . . .?  

No, I thought, this isn't happening.

But it seemed as though, someone was downstairs playing a passionate rendition of Nearer My God to Thee, the very hymn I had closed the night with only hours before. I am the sole piano player in our home, there was no one else who could be down there playing the piano. Certainly not that song. Certainly not at this time of the night.

Shock made my body pound strangely to the steady beat of the hymn downstairs.

I slowly reached over to awake my sleeping husband. Only when I touched him his eyes shot open. Gasping for air, he whispered, "What is that?" The panic in his voice did no service to me. I knew one of us should investigate and I had already picked him.

"Someone is downstairs playing the piano." I said.

He quickly threw the covers off his body and dashed out of bed. As he opened the door to our bedroom, the sound traveled to my ears. Clearer now, I could tell the player was a novice, nothing professional, a player like me.

Then, the sound stopped.

It seemed like eternity until my husband returned. In the darkness I could tell he was holding something--or someone--in his arms.

"Look who I found downstairs," he said frankly, his voice no longer rushed.

I took our sleepy boy from his arms and put him in bed next to me. His eyes were shut, but his body was active-as though he were in a trance. His breathing was heavy and his little chest was rising and falling. Rising and falling. The pieces weren't anymore clear than they were a minute ago. Possibly, I was more confused.

"What . . .?" I started to ask.

"I don't know," my husband replied. "I found him sitting on the carpet by the piano."

My boy shifted his body to absorb mine. Sometime later I fell asleep.

In the morning there was confusion. The boy was back in his own bed, my husband was wrapped like a mummy in his white comforter, and I couldn't recall why I felt so tired. Tired and slightly haunted.

It was the act of  heading downstairs that jolted my memory. I stood by the piano. The hymnal was still open to 100, Nearer My God to Thee just as I left it. I looked up to see Dickens staring, his jacket snug, his beard curly, his base slightly tipping to the right. As he had always been.

But the piano lid. The heavy, thunking cover (no little hands could manipulate) had been pushed back. It was open. The keys exposed, ready to be played.

And this time, I swear on his grave, Charles Dickens winked at me.


You better hurry, you hear me?

I am Courtney Kendrick and this post was based on a true story. As in, someone really was playing my piano in the middle of the night. As Chup as my witness. Happy Halloween.
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