The Heart Asks Pleasure First
Herman Bischofberger had been born, he knew, but he could only recall a few of the details. He remembered a man in a white a coat. He remembered blood. He remembered feeling his mother dying around him as he was pulled free. He remembered music playing softly. He did not think on the day often- he did not care for half-formed memories.
When Herman was nine, he had seen an orchestra play. The conductor had worn a black coat that reached his knees in the back. The woman to Herman’s left wore strong perfume, too much makeup, and sighed loudly whenever the music threatened to become truly beautiful. A percussionist came in a half beat early during the Gavotte in G. Herman remembered all of it. When the concert hall burned down that night, he remembered that the flames were the exact height of the oak trees across the street.
When Herman was twenty-four, he spoke to a woman for the first time.
“Hello.” Her voice came out smooth, a razor so sharp it didn’t even pause to feel the skin part.
“Hello.” His voice came out gravelly, a man just awakened while his dreams have been smoking cigarettes.
“You have wonderful hands.” He hid them in his pockets, but even there they would not stop running scales.
In her bed he remembered the fugues and the flames, and his fingers and her heart both skipped a beat. Only his fingers resumed. He did not notice, his mind already lost to different melodies.
When Herman was thirty-seven he awoke in a bed too soft to possibly be his own, in an ugly city filled with ugly people. He abandoned it immediately in search of something more familiar, and found an apartment with a weak lock on the door. This bed smelled of perfume and carbon, but it fit him well. The apartment had a piano in the living area, and not too many pictures on the walls.
Herman remained unharried, no one returning to claim ownership of the rooms he occupied. Whether it was a few weeks or a few minutes, who could say. But day by day (or minute by minute) he drew inexorably closer to the piano. The perfect black of the body showing thin in places when he inched close enough. The rich smell of varnish on wood. The years of sweat-soaked arpeggios thick enough to taste. And finally! His first feel of a single note, reverberating behind his eyes as he sat down to play. His fingers worked the keys feverishly, music pouring forth not in lines or measures, but in sonatas fully formed.
The melody did not fade after he was done. The thundering left hand and the melodious right stabbed at the dust motes that drifted in the light; the music echoing and bouncing out of his mind and all around the room. The notes ignited and took shape inside the piano’s body, starting to flicker and dance. By the time the first string snapped, Herman was waltzing down the stairwell, his fingers leading the way.
He was long gone when the first picture fell from the wall and shattered, broken glass splintering the light that poured onto the image below; a woman who might have been familiar to him, might not have. A woman who might at one time have taken joy in dancing fingers.
Herman strained to listen, oblivious to the firemen rushing around him. He had made it several blocks before the sirens had called him back. Now that he was here, he thought their tune was shifting. He picked up runs in between the notes- more jazz than he liked, but with a unique melody.
As he watched, the flames rekindled themselves. He was half aware of the firemen hauling hoses back out. He saw them crank the first one on, but no white-water deluge sprang forth. Instead the hoses blasted out a simple yet elegant etude. A-minor if he wasn’t mistaken. Panic grew in the square, but new hoses connected to new pumps produced only harmonies or solos. The first spitting flame struck the neighboring building with a jarring symphonic. B7-sustained.
He crossed the street, ignoring the shouts of the emergency crews, and re-entered the building. Up the stairs, he found her apartment again, and sat down at the piano stool. His part was about to begin.
Herman Bischofberger had died, he knew, but he could not recall all of the details. He remembered a man in a heavy coat. He remembered blood. He remembered an entire city on fire. He remembered music playing loudly. But that was long ago, the oldest of his memories, the least exact. He preferred to remember the piano.