Perfection

by thelirivalley

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Arthur Cohen struck a note on the piano.

It rang crisp & clean, reverberating off the barren walls of the old house but at the tail end of the note it ran flat. He adjusted the tuning lever and held his ear close to the string to pick up the slight bend in the tone. After a few short adjustments the piano was finished and Arthur stood up content that, after what had felt like forever, it was finally in tune. The music room the piano sat in was devoid of all furniture, paintings & dressings of any kind, only the stone fireplace and a large arm chair kept him company.

It had been a long time since Arthur taught music and retirement was suiting him well. He now had all the time he never had when he was teaching; to practice, to write & to just listen to music. He had spent so much of his life obsessed with the idea of perfection and as a teacher he found that the pursuit of perfection all but defined his teaching style. Retirement also afforded him the option to pick up odd jobs posted on the conservatory’s bulletin board whenever he felt like getting out and about, or if he ever needed a bit of pocket change for the week.

His current job had been a bit out of his way but it was well worth the travel. Arthur stepped back from the piano to admire the craftsmanship at a distance, before him was a Alma-Tadema grand, built by Steinway & designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema in 1887. It was a rarity to simply be in the presence of this piano, let alone to be the one tuning it.

How could such a treasure be forgotten for so long, Arthur thought to himself as he stared at the piano, his eyes tracing the gold curves and sharp corners expertly carved into the rich wood. He wiped his hands and turned to the door of the grand room just as it opened. The proprietor of the estate and thus owner of the piano stepped slowly into the room and began walking towards Arthur. He was an older man than Arthur and might have been in his ninety’s based on the way he carried himself. He heavily favoured his right leg and utilized his cane almost entirely, he stopped about 2 feet away from Arthur and cleared his throat.

“Is it finished?” He asked with a kind hearted smile

Arthur finished wiping his hands and tucked the rag into his pocket.

“It’s back to its former glory, should sound like brand new.” Arthur said with an assured nod towards the piano

The man walked over to the piano and ran his fingers along the gold carvings, dancing them as if playing a melody in his head. Arthur turned and put the tuning lever into his knapsack, which was filled with small white envelopes, he looked at them with puzzlement.

“Show me.” He said abruptly turning to Arthur

Arthur quickly stood up and looked back at the man with a puzzled expression

“You’d like me to play something?” He asked

“Very much so,” the old man said as he walked towards the large arm chair in the room, he then sat down with a groan and motioned for Arthur to play.

Arthur turned to the piano biting his lower lip. He had been wanting to play something since he walked into this room….this morning? He quickly glanced to the windows, the sun was still bright outside but he couldn’t really tell what time of day it was.

“What time of day is it?” he asked turning to the old man who only gestured to the piano again.

Arthur shrugged it off and sat down at the piano and took a deep breath. He held his hands over the keys for a moment in the formation of the first chord and after a beat, he began to play.

.

The melody was sweet yet sad, filled with rich tones that echoed in the large music room. Arthur swayed as the music would crescendo and fall back down as if emulating the rising of the oceans’ waves.

As the song came to an end a frail clapping came from behind him and Arthur spun around surprised.

“I almost forgot you were here,” he said half joking towards the old man.

“I get that quite often,” the old man joked and he stood up from the chair. He walked over to Arthur still sitting at the piano and handed him a small white envelope full of money. “Thank you,” the old man said with a smile, “that was a beautiful piece.”

Arthur had a puzzled look on his face.

“What seems to be wrong?” The old man said with a soft concern

Arthur spun back around to the piano and looked down at the keys.

“I think it’s still a little out of tune…” Arthur said examining the keys and strings in the large body of the grand piano.

“Nonsense,” the old man said turning to the door.

“Still,” Arthur continued, “I wouldn’t feel right charging you with this thing out of tune still…” he said standing up.

“Fair enough,” the old man said as he continued walking towards the rooms exit.

He stopped just before he left.

“…but in my mind it’s finished.” He said with a sad smile.

Arthur smiled and shook his head once the old man had turned away, “It isn’t finished until it’s perfect,” Arthur thought. Arthur went to his bag to get his tuning lever and put the small white envelope amongst the others. He walked to the back of the piano and began tuning, every once in a while stopping to walk back and checking the tone.

After a short while he hit the final key which rang crisp & clean, reverberating off the barren walls of the old house, but at the tail end of the note it ran flat. He adjusted the tuning lever an held his ear close to the string to pick up the slight bend in the tone. After a few short adjustments the piano was finished.

He walked around to the front of the piano, wiping his hands as he did and turned to the door of the grand room just as it opened. The owner of the piano walked slowly into the room and stopped just before Arthur.

“Is it finished?” He asked with a kind hearted smile.

“It’s back to its former glory, should sound like brand new.” Arthur said with an assured nod towards the piano.

He walked over to his bag and tossed in the tuning lever happy that he had fixed the piano. He stopped when he noticed his bag filled with small white envelopes. He searched his mind for where those envelopes had come from and before he could pick one up and open it the old man’s voice shot out behind him.

“Show me.” The old man said abruptly turning to Arthur.

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