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Short Story - The Right Key

This one has been sitting unfinished for a while, so I took the opportunity presented by the recent enforced downtime to go back and try to breath some life into it. 

I wrote about writing this one a little, as it wasn't a story that came easily.


(Image: Concerto by Zalas on Deviant art)
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The Right Key 

It was one of those moments where time seemed to stop. Not in a good 'meet the love of your life' way, but in a 'can the ground please swallow me up' way. 

"Is there something special about your piano?" 

Rebecca regretted it almost as soon as the words had rolled off of her tongue. 

Here she was, backstage, feet away from possibly the most famous face of the moment, and she had one chance, one question … and she asked about her piano. 

Damn it.  

Fuck my curiosity she thought to herself. 

She had just asked Veronica Carter about her piano. 

Her piano. 

Then the entourage stopped. Veronica Carter stopped half way up the short ramp that lead to the stage. She turned around slowly and looked back, locking eyes with Rebecca. 

"What did you say?" she asked, her tone soft, yet strangely firm.  

The slender frame of the young ingénue was strangely more imposing than you would credit from pictures or streamed video. She had a presence. Not an intimidating one, but a presence none the less. Her long dark swayed slightly as she stepped forward. 

Rebecca drew breadth. The part that tried, usually in vain, to keep her out of trouble, was screaming at her not to repeat the same inane question. The question however would not stay unasked. Another part of her wanted it to be the question. The one that she would be remembered for. "Is there something special about your piano?" she repeated. 

"I thought that is what you said," the star said quietly, "what an unusual question." She seemed amused, or momentarily intrigued, but any connection passed quickly with her next smile, a slight shake of her head and a simple "No." as she turned away again.  

With that the entourage moved on. Whisking Veronica Carter up towards the stage. Rebecca returned to considering whether it was possible for the ground to swallow her up. A couple of the hangers on and assorted assistants looked back at her, judging with their shaking heads and confused looks. No doubt asking each other something along the lines of 'who was that strange girl?' or 'who asks a question like that?' 

Rebecca was left alone. Not swallowed up, but she may as well have been. Her inner dialog turning over the same thought again and again, why did she ask that question? 

Then, rather strangely, the voice in her head was suddenly male, deeper, older. 

 "Why did you ask that question?" 

It took her a moment to register that someone else was standing behind her. The voice belonged to that someone else. She spun around and saw him standing there. The man that had made her even think of that stupid question in the first place. 

He was tall, a slight figure, whose tightly cropped grey hair could have hidden an age anywhere between his late forties to his early sixties. His face was hard to read, it lacked the lines. It was a face that had been looked after.  

"You made me ask that question!" She snapped, "sorry, just you did, you own the piano right?"

The man raised an eyebrow, " and how do you know that?"

"I did my job, I followed a lead." 

"That sounds impressive." the man smiled, sinking his hand into his pockets and leaning against the frame of the stage door. 

"At first I mistook you for one of the road crew," she admits, "You looked like one. I saw you out on the stage before the sound check, at the piano. You weren't doing anything though. Just sitting there on the piano seat. Occasionally you stroked the piano. I could have sworn you were talking to it. It was almost like you were coaxing something out of it, preparing it for something. It just struck me as, well," she pauses, smiling at him slightly, "it was odd." 

"odd?" 

"No offence intended. It caught my interest. So I asked about you." 

"What were you told?" 

"That you were, and I quote here, 'Some old guy who owns the piano.'”  

“That's accurate.” He nods. 

“The road manager told me that you travel with the band. You were here at the start of the tour, and have traveled with the band, and are always here at the side of the stage for each gig. Other than that no one seemed to know much about you." 

"and that was interesting to you?" 

“You might finally be the one.” 

“That sounds like a compliment, but I’m not sure what you mean." 

"You're my story." 

"It’s not often a fifty something year old man hears that from a bright young thing. Outside of a bad romance novel that is.” 

“Or bad porn,” She smiles, “but don’t get your hopes up.” 

“I presumed you didn’t mean that. I mean, look at me. So fill me in on what you did mean.” 

“Sometimes the most interesting characters are just out of view when the camera frames the moment for posterity.” 

“That`s a good one.” He nods. 

“My journalism professor.” 

“Sounds like a smart man.” 

“He was, the bastard. An old idealist fighting hard against progress. Hell, they probably won`t teach ‘journalism’ much longer will they?" 

"Progress they say." the man smiled, tapping the top of his smartphone that poked out from his pocket. 

"I always thought it might just have been a thing he said that sounded smart. The type of witty quote that resonates with impressionable young minds. It was something that inspired me, I think, but up until now it's also continually frustrated me.” 

“Up until now?” 

“I think your story might be the story I’m meant to share.” 

“Mine? Sorry, but right here, right now, you think my story is the most interesting? You struck me as a smart young lady. No offence.” 

“None taken,” she beams, “I have the suspicion that it would be an awesome story.”

“Really? Surrounded by all this talent, by all this adoration and fame, you think I’m the interesting one?” 

He waved out at the stage, the band were in the middle of their encore. The crowd rapturously hanging on every note, every word sung along with raucously, almost as one heaving mass of hysteria. She watched as the young starlet, the lone female member of the quartet, played on the old stand-up piano. She seemed oblivious to everything but the moment, the next note and phrase all that guided her hands. 

“You don’t think your part in that is interesting?” Rebecca asks. 

“I think I was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a dubious connection with someone who may or may not be a sociopath, and claim one last unexpected adventure out of life.” 

“I don’t think for a minute this is your last adventure, or your first, that’s why it’s a good story.”
  
“You really aren’t going to bite are you?” he grins. 

“What do you mean?” 

“I just told you that Veronica Carter might be a sociopath, and it didn’t even raise an eyebrow. I just gave you a headline most would kill for.” 

She shook her head, pointing out at the stage, “No, see that’s what I mean, if that was true it would come out one way or another. Hell, it’s a story that most of them, even her fans, half expect to be told at some stage. There is nothing to news that everyone expects. News just informs, explains. I want to inspire. I want to tell a story.” 

“I hardly think my story is inspirational.” 

“You haven't told me your story." 

"That's right I haven't." he smiled, "I'm not sure you've actually asked." 

Rebecca laughed, leaning back and smiling, "I guess I haven't have I? I haven't even asked your name have I?" 

"You haven't." 

"So let's start there." 

"I'm Michael." 

"Michael, a pleasure, I'm Rebecca." 

"Rebecca the journalist." 

"Rebecca the wannabe journalist would be more accurate. I'm not sure the blogging and editing I've done so far qualifies me." 

"You are what you do, whether you have been recognized for it yet or not." 

"Reassuring thought. So what is it that you do?" 

"Nothing in particular." 

"I doubt that." 

"You do?" 

"You’re the guy just out of the frame. I’ve always known what the advice meant, it`s not like the message was ambiguous or anything. I've just never met anyone that fit the bill." 

"and I do?" 

"it looks that way. Short of you telling me your actual story."

"Maybe you just need to find that person who sits just out of the frame. Maybe this is your story. I'm just a guy who owns a piano." 

"You're more than that. I can tell. I mean Veronica Carter could have any piano she wanted just about. Why this one?" 

"It's a good piano." Michael shrugs 

"That has a chaperone?"  

"It does." 

"That's why it's interesting. It's not news, it's a story." 

"Those aren't the same things?" 

"Everything these days is about the spotlight, being the star. It’s about the fame, whether it’s a fleeting fifteen minutes, or lifetime appreciation. It’s the glitz, it’s the glamour. That`s what leads views, clicks, sales, eyeballs, demographics and demagogues. That`s what we're told the news is." 

"You think differently?" 

"It doesn`t really reveal anything. It might excite passing conversation, serve as a foundation for opinionated views , or help spin partisan beliefs into a platform, but it does not reveal a story. It doesn’t inspire.“ 

“Sounds to me like your old professor wasn’t the only one fighting against progress.” He suggested with a wry smile. “I'd wager there's a fire in your belly to match." 

“I’ll admit to that. The modern news cycle is at once open to interpretation and immediately undeniable. Everyone`s opinion as to the meaning of events may vary, but they all invariably agree that they happen, except when they want to deny something that may or may not have happened. Either way something happened.  Only the motivations are called into question. What is reported is what is presented. Nothing more, nothing less. No thinking required.” 

“You want to be different?”  

“Hell yes. I want to dig out the other stories, the untold tales. The stories that avoid being told like shy teenagers suffering from a painfully unrequited love. Full of passion but hidden from view. That’s where things get interesting.” 

 "So why on earth do you think my story matches up to all this?" 

"Because it fires the imagination." 

"It does?" 

"it made me ask that question." 

"… and you thought that was interesting?"  

"I thought that was interesting."  

"I couldn't have just been a guy with a piano?" 

"There is a story here you aren't telling me." 

"What if there isn't?" he laughs, "I would hate to disappoint you."

"Oh, there is a story. Even by the standards of the music industry, it is far from normal for the owner of a piano to join a band on tour." 

"Maybe I'm just really possessive of my piano." 

"That's hardly normal behavior in and of itself." 

"Maybe it's just another whim of an eccentric rock star. I mean I've heard of far stranger things. They tend to get what they want." 

"Sure, but that usually just means they pay more. She could have bought the piano from you." 

"Maybe I just wanted an adventure, and seized an opportunity not usually presented to my type." 

"That's what I want you to tell me," she smiles, "it fires off so many possibilities. Is he sleeping with her? Does the piano have some sentimental value and he couldn't bring himself to sell it? Did you take advantage of the ego of an up and coming rock star and got himself a world tour of his own. Maybe she is secretly your daughter. Maybe it's a tragic story, your daughter died and she used to play the piano. Your wife perhaps. Maybe you fought in the war with her father and promised him you would look after her. Maybe she is just crazy and brings her old piano tutor on tour with her." 

Michael was smiling broadly, "Wow, that's some list. Maybe the piano is magic." 

"Is it?" 

"That would be telling."

"There has to be a story there." 

"You sure you want to be a journalist?" He says, raising an eyebrow, "sounds to me like you'd tell a good story yourself." 

"Come on, you can't deny that there must be a story here." 

"Does it matter which one it is? You already have your story." 

"I have half of it. You could tell me. I can just go and do some digging, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to piece more of it together." 

"Maybe, maybe not." 

"In this day and age? You'd be amazed what we can dig up." 

"Good job I didn't tell you my last name then I guess." 

"I'm sure I can find out." 

"That would be a shame. I think perhaps that your professor would be disappointed in you." 

"I don't follow." 

"Maybe, just maybe your story is just that there is an old man who gets to go on tour with an amazing young band because he has a piano." 

"but that is only half the story." 

"I think," he smiles, leaning back against the stage wall then pauses, "how do I put this ... Think of it like the songs. The band write songs. Some of it is rooted in personal stuff. Love, loss, ambition, regret, music runs the gamut of the human experience no? Yet each fan can take something different from the same song, depending on where they heard it, what it means to them, or who it reminds them of. Hell it's what leads people to play a song at their wedding that was written about stalking someone, or cheating with another man's wife." 

"Clapton." 

"Exactly," he nods, "You know your stuff." 

"My dad." 

"Another wise man. You get what I mean though right?" 

"I already have the story." 

"You do. Like a song, the reality of a story isn't always relevant. The magic often lies in the holes between what happens, the facts, and the events. So sometimes half a story is better, the rest lives in our imaginations."  

"The story is in the not knowing." 

"Exactly." 

"See Mr Piano-man, I knew you were the one." 

He smiles again, and looks out across the stage. "Glad to be of service. Time for me to go." She looks out at the scene as the band is breaking into another song, the noisy crescendo of fans singing along echoing around the theater. 

"Whatever the reason," she calls out after him, "I'm glad she has you around." 

He turns his head and smiles, "Maybe that's my story."   

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