The Performance

Calvin’s dreams were vivid. But they were pictures of life as it was for him, not the fantastical dreams of normal sleep. Maybe it was the lingering effects of the anesthetic.

In his dream, Cal sat at a piano. It wasn’t his cherrywood baby grand from home, or even the shiny ebony piano from church. This was a full concert grand piano, a fine one. The stage didn’t look like any he had performed on, in competitions as a youth, or now in concerts, either solo or accompaniment.

Having a desire to be uniquely his own, Cal had developed a concert style that he hoped would be memorable. His repertoire was an eclectic blend of classical, rock, show tunes and standards, even ragtime. His audience was developing and growing thanks to word-of-mouth, some on-line videos, and larger concert venues. He had recently engaged an agent who was talking to – Cal still couldn’t believe it – Letterman.

Maybe that’s where this piano was, the piano in his dream. Maybe it was Letterman’s stage. Cal had played everything from an electronic keyboard to a honky-tonk upright. But this piano was the finest of them all. The stage was perfectly lit. From his position on the bench, he could only see the keys. The light on him was so bright and pure that he couldn’t see the audience, but it wasn’t so harsh as to hurt his eyes or make him feel blinded. The keys were perfect, their smoothness and their action the best he’d ever felt. He had a very high and particular standard about the feel of piano keys, but had seldom played any that felt close. This one was perfect.

Cal leaned over the keys, his eyes closed. There was no nervousness. It was just him and the music. The clarity of the instrument was amazing. Cal flowed smoothly from one piece to the next, not pausing in between. There was no sound from the audience and Cal nearly forgot they were there. He transitioned seamlessly from Debussy to Chopin to Scott Joplin to classic hymns, his body rolling smoothly with the mood of each piece, his oneness with the music the most complete he’d ever felt it.

As Cal continued to play, a strange thing happened. He didn’t even have time to fully think about it as the music rolled off the tips of his fingers, but he gradually became aware that the music he was playing was none he’d ever played before. He didn’t recognize it at all. But it was there, in him as surely as if he’d been playing it forever. It was beautiful, the harmonics and the timing uniquely and perfectly blended. His left hand worked feverishly as the tempo increased, the bass notes climbing, climbing. His right hand trilled up and down the high keys, but the bass notes carried the piece.

Had he made it up? Was it an original piece? Even in his dream state, Cal hoped he could somehow remember it when he woke. Then, in the strange way of dreams, he just knew that it wasn’t his. It belonged to the audience. It was their piece, flowing from them through him and back to them. Cal’s face reflected his peace as his whole body played the composition, his head nodding, elbows flaring out, back bending. Then in a rushing crescendo, the music almost ended, easing back suddenly into a tune he could only describe as “sweet,” the notes gentle and soothing, yet strong and sure. A sense of absolute peace and security and well-being filled him as he found his hands slowing, slowing… his left hand gently touching a low bass note as the finish.

Cal sighed. He stared at the keys. There was no applause. But then from the audience he heard a voice. It sounded strangely like the music he had just played. “You’re not finished.”

“I’m not?” Cal looked up, confused, but could see no one through the light.

“No. You’ll play for me again.”

“Will I play your music again? Like that last piece?”

“All the time.”

Cal smiled, relieved. He started to ask another question, but a different voice came to him.

“Do you need more pain medication?”

He was awake. In the hospital. He looked up at the nurse above him and shook his head. “It doesn’t really hurt after all, does it,” he said.

She smiled kindly and laid her hand on his left shoulder. “It’s not all phantom pain,” she said. “You just had major surgery.”

He looked over at where she was touching him. His left arm ended just under where her hand rested. He looked away from the stump and closed his eyes. “I’m fine,” he said, hoping for more sleep. And more dreams.

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