The Last Note

The old man told her about wood and age,

how the instrument dated back to 1906

and no amount of care could keep the

wood from drying out, the felting from

going into fine dust. They talked about

a rebuild, but time and money were

against them. She had watched as he

rubbed his fingers in the tracks made

the toy John Deere across the bench

when the middle boy built his farms.

Hovered above the silent A in the lower

octave, the sticky keys farther up the scale.

He told her the tuning wouldn’t hold,

and explained in enthusiastic detail

how to buy one that would suit her

ear and style. Worked now and then

before he finally departed for the last

time to tune other instruments at

universities, and keep the concert

pianists content. She mourned and

called the family together, then days

slipped away. Tentatively, she played

again and somehow, the music came

back, the work the tuner had done

like some infusion of new life. Daily, she

practiced the old songs, chording

hymns older than the instrument itself

for the tiny country churches. With

time, her fingers danced again across

the keys, though hesitantly at first, and

always feeling for some inevitable break

she would sense even before she heard.

Such fracture has yet to come. Neither

one of them has played the last note.