The Piano's Shadow

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a creative exam which I really liked, so I'm posting the story.
For those of you who read on and enjoy, you might be pleased to know that I got 100%.

Submitted: July 26, 2012

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Submitted: July 26, 2012




Since the age of seven, more so since the age of twelve, the shadow of my father has loomed over me like an ominous God.

I am thirty-five. The stage is set. The lights snatch at my eyes; the audience is waiting for me. Across a gaping distance of two metres is the piano. Its keys swell with possibilities. I sweat; the piano takes a deep breath. Sweat down your spine; you're a failure, Thierry. My father's ghost is waiting in the wings.


When I was seven, my brother Duncan, fifteen-year-old piano genius, died in a car accident.

The funeral lurks, shadowy; white petals shiver on his grave. My father's hand sits heavy on my shoulder.

"Son," he says, "you will have to learn the piano."

You're a failure, Thierry. You always have been.


My father enrolled me in piano lessons. On my first day, I stood before the instrument. The black. The white. My finger crept out and jabbed at the keys. A single cream-coloured depression.

"Reach for the stars, my son," my father commanded. "Make me proud."

Even then, I understood. There was never a way to say no.


When I was twelve, my father died. He drank himself to death. Used to be, when he walked I could hear the alcohol sloshing in his stomach. He'd stagger into the house, bottle in hand, at two in the morning. The drink made him merry.

"Reach for the stars, my son! Make me proud."

Whenever I tried to shirk my piano practise, I could feel the whisper of his hand clamping down on my shoulder.

I tried and tried, but I was no Duncan. My father knew it, though he kept pretending, and one night the drink made him angry and sad by turns.

"You're a failure!" he yelled.

"Why, why, did they kill my darling boy?" he sobbed.

You want a pianist in the family, Dad? Play the damn thing yourself!


After his death, I felt even more the weight of my father's shadow. I'd sit at the piano for hours, but no hidden talent emerged. I was no Duncan.

I've always loved fixing things, seeing how things work. I could probably make a piano, but I couldn't play one.


Where is my mother in all this? you ask. She's the opposite of my father. She fades into the background. Even when present, she was a whisper of a whisper. A human-shaped hole peeking timidly out at the face of reality.

She was a mumble to my father's roar.

A few years after my father's death, I asked her if perhaps I could do something else with my life. Woodwork, for example.

She never raised her voice.

"It's what he wanted," she said, the disappointment in her eyes.

Of course, of course. It's what he wanted.

You're a failure, Thierry.


Now, I stand on that stage and they want me to play. I sit down, awkwardly. The piano stool is smooth and cool.

Make me proud, Thierry.

No offence, Dad, but I'd rather make myself proud.

You're a failure, Thierry.

Sweat down my spine, in my armpits, at the back of my neck. Where's it all coming from? I almost stand up and leave. I strain to straighten, to walk away. My muscles ache; my arms are braced. My ears are ringing.

My father's hand on my shoulder.

I look down at the floor.

I can almost picture my father's ghost on the floor, his head between my feet. He reaches up to me.

Come on, Thierry. One last song.

My elbows are bending, as is my will. I never could resist him.

You're a failure, Thierry. You're a failure, a failure, a failure, a failure.

It seems to me the universe is expanding; my mind is collapsing.

Make me proud, my son.

I lift my hands to the heavens and begin to play.

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