J. M. Cools

Dec 10, 2018

7 min read
Photo by Daniel Spase on Unsplash

The Keys

Cautiously, I stared at the keys as they sat, undisturbed, utterly unplayed. They taunted me with their silence. I watched them tentatively. My fingers twitched at my side. I couldn’t even bring myself to sit on the bench. I hadn’t been practicing. I knew that. They knew that. She knew that. Her words rang in my ears, “Robert James Hawkins, you haven’t been practicing, have you? I will have no son of mine be another common idiot.”

Disgusted, I cringed at the sound of her voice in my mind. How could she still affect me? Did the Devil give her a one-way ticket to my conscience? Was she here existing in these keys?

Eyeing them, I couldn’t help but think, What is it that she wants from me now? I did everything she asked of me. I should be rid of her by now.

Finally, I turned and looked around. My winning trophies from school talent shows, my diploma from high school, my Master’s degree from Julliard, and the photos from countless award ceremonies all stared back at me. I hated every single last thing in that room. Mama, or Mother as she forced me to call her, had made this room just for my accomplishments. It became a shrine that she dedicated to me, her shining glory.

Guilt made its way through my veins and an acrid taste filled my mouth. I remembered the mornings of my childhood when Mother would hurry to get me to school. She pressed all my clothes the night before and made sure I didn’t touch them. She wiped my face with petroleum jelly every morning to make it shine. When I asked her why she said, “I don’t want my child going to school looking like a hooligan. I’m no unfit mother!” I didn’t understand her fascination, but I accepted it. After all, she was all I had.

Adamantly, I shook my head of the thought and refocused on the keys in front of me. I brushed my fingers along them, barely feeling them. They were cold after days upon days of solitude. I cringed as I could envision the look of disappointment in her eyes peering down at me and then slowly peering up the taller I grew, her dark brown eyes pierced mine with a chastising sword of a look.

Bobby, why aren’t you practicing?

Curtly, I retracted my hand.

Did I just hear something? “What?” I said aloud.

Every time I check up on you, you are never doing what you should be. It’s unprofessional.

“Fu-” I started.

Go ahead and say it. You weren’t expecting me, were you?

All I could see were the keys moving. They moved in the same pitch that she used to speak, that horrible, horrible high C. I felt the breath escape from my lungs. How could this be? How was she still here?

Bobby, answer me. It’s rude not to respond when someone is talking to you.

“’Course, this would happen to me today. I’m hysterical.” I dragged my hand down my face trying to somehow gain my sanity. “All right, Mother, if this is you tell me what it’s like in Hell, huh?”

Damn hot, son.

Every ounce of blood drained from my face. Please, no.

For someone who is supposed to be a professional, you haven’t been practicing. You know, Bobby, no one is too good to practice.

“Good God!” I backed away from the piano, heading for the door. “AGH! Why is this happening to me?” I said as I reached the doorknob.

Because you don’t practice. Now, do as I told you to. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t practice. And do not give me that attitude, son! Don’t forget who made you into the star that you are.

Curling my hand into a fist, I realized she was right. It was through her rigorous training that I got to be where I am today. I slowly released my grip and reluctantly headed towards the bench. With each step, I felt that all too familiar sensation of my soul being chipped away.

Dragging my feet across the floor, I eventually made my way back to the bench. I stopped just in front of it but eventually got my feet to move.

Excellent. She hissed just as I had sat down. Bobby, honey, play me my favorite song.

“Fantaisie-Impromptu?” I asked, sighing.

Gaspard de la Nuit, she corrects me.

“All right,” I say, resigned. I hated that song. I hated all the songs she made me play, I hated my lessons, I hated this piano, I hated everything she had done to me. Regardless, I pushed on, playing the song just as I had done my whole life. My hands floated seamlessly over the keys without me having to look at them.

Better. Much better, Bobby. But you could still use some practice. You’ve made several mistakes. Your tempo is too fast and your posture is horrid.

“Could you just shut up for once?” I said a lot louder than I had intended.

Deafening silence ensued. I knew I’d messed up, disrespected her, but somewhere within I could feel the snap of my patience, and I couldn’t hold my tongue.

“Ever since I was a child you have never stopped talking. You’re on my case about every single thing I do, and I’m tired of it. I am done with you. I wash my hands of you!”

For a while, she said nothing. None of the keys moved, and the air hung with an unsettling silence. Initially, I felt a sense of calm at the thought of her potential disappearance, but I knew better. Nothing was ever this easy with her.

Gracious, she huffed. It truly is wonderful knowing my son finds me to be such a bother. Especially after everything I’ve done for him.

“Ah, come now,” I said, exasperatedly lifting my hands. “You’ve been robbing me of my life ever since I’ve had life! I thought when you died I would finally be rid of you, and yet here you are. Why won’t you leave me alone?” I banged on the keys with all my might, not sure what I was hoping for, but hoping for something. I grew limp and leaned my head against the head of the piano.

Bobby, she sighed, clearly unfazed by my outburst. I thought you’d understand by now. I made you what you are. You would be nothing without me. I am the one who took care of you. I am the one who fostered these abilities in you. Who else would have done it? Your father? Yet you have the nerve to silence me? She scoffed. Don’t, for one second, think this will be the end of me.

Choking out a bitter laugh, I rose from the piano. I wasn’t sure what exactly overcame me, but I felt weight falling from me. She was right; this wouldn’t be the end.

Daring to defy her, I left her vexatious pitches behind, no longer hearing her voice in my mind. This wouldn’t be the end, but it would come soon enough.

Early the next morning, I was ready. Hammer in hand, I walked closer and closer to that damned room. Standing just outside, I listened. Nothing. A smile curled on my lips. This would be the first time I’d be happy to see Mother.

For only a moment.

Good morning, Bobby, she sang as I opened the door. The dim man-made light illuminated that damned piano. Its keys depressed as she spoke, and the music soured in my ear.

“And a wondrous good morning to you, too, Mamma,” I said with a smile sewn onto my face.

Bobby, she said using the bass keys, warning me of how serious she was, what have I told you about calling me Mamma?

“Couldn’t care less, Mamma.” I shifted the hammer back and forth behind me, enjoying the way it felt in my hands. The power reminded me of Fires of a Revolution. I could feel the power of the keys inside me, growing louder and louder with rage.

Draining my mind of any thoughts or of any inhibitions, I lifted the hammer into the air. Faintly in the background, I could hear the music of her fear, the music of her panic.

“Enjoy every last second in Hell, Mother!”

Flog after flog, I watched the wood fly across the room, breaking and shattering the trophy cases. The glass flew through the air making cuts and slices into my skin. Yet, in my rampage, I felt none of it. Blood surged through my veins, and I couldn’t stop.

GOD, ROBERT! What was left of the piano keys screeched. Have you no love for your mother? I MADE you, you ungrateful urchin. I MADE you!

Anything she said fell on deaf ears. Blood spurted out of me as I took each swing at the behemoth. In my rage, everything around me blurred and faded. The only thing I could hear was the music of my insanity. My own deranged laugh sounded so distant and muted.

Broken and shattered pieces peppered the room. I stood breathing deeply, slowly. The hammer fell from my palm with a thud. She…was gone. She was finally gone.

“Ciao, Mother. We’re done.”