Owen fell to his knees, wailing. He had not felt anything until that very moment. Overwhelmed by the event of the past two weeks, he could only wail. The pain, the sorrow, the realization that she was gone…burst from his gut, freed in an animalistic wail. Delia. His beloved Delia had died.
Owen had switched to auto-pilot immediately. He handled all of the details – calling her family and friends, dealing with their questions and grief; calling her work; planning and making all of the arrangements for her funeral, dealing with the rote questions and their sympathy. Her family marveled at his strength in the wake of this tragedy. His family waited for him to break.
The evening of the funeral, after everyone had finally left him alone, he walked to their bedroom closet and started packing her things. He carefully pulled dresses and blouses off hangers, meticulously folded each one then stacked it in a box. Drawers were opened, surveyed and emptied of their contents. Without thought or consideration, Owen cleared it all away. Close to midnight, he labeled the last box and left it in the garage. The charity truck would be by the next afternoon to pick up the boxes and bags filled with Delia’s clothes, shoes, books, anything – everything – that was hers.
Except the piano. The piano stayed.
Delia had played the piano since she was six. It was what brought the two of them together. She had walked into the Common Grounds coffee shop near campus wearing a yellow sundress and motorcycle boots, wild chestnut-colored curls hastily tucked under a Seattle Mariners baseball cap. While the sight of her definitely appealed to him, when she sat at the piano and started to play, Owen was captivated. He watched her long slender fingers glide over the piano keys, softly eliciting beautiful tones. He watched the way she swayed; how she would bend and bow, lost in her music. He bought her a scone and tea and they talked for hours.
The piano once belonged to her grandmother. Her father would tell stories of family nights in the living room, his mama playing sweet tunes. He would continue the tradition with Delia and her brothers. The piano was a gift to Delia when she married Owen, in hopes she would carry on the same tradition with her family. Delia’s playing brought color and light; filled their home with music and love.
Owen slowly opened his eyes. He had cried himself to sleep curled under to Delia’s piano. In the darkness of the room, Owen pulled himself onto the bench. He caressed the piano, felt its sharp corners and angles; exposing its keys, he let his hand touch each one from end to end. Owen lightly hit each key, listening to the sound resonate. Those light, gingerly touches gave way to forceful punches. He mimicked her swaying, her bending and her bowing. And there was no music. There was discord and chaos. There was silence and empty.
Owen stared into the darkness, the silence filling him. He caught a light fading to his left. He pounded the keys out of frustration…and light flashed. Owen timidly touched piano keys…and light dimmed. Slowly, with purpose, he struck one key at a time…and light slowly broke the dark. Splayed fingers and hands haphazardly pushed keys. With clenched fists, Owen pummeled the keys…and light burst in front of him. Standing up, kicking the piano bench away, Owen continued to beat the piano keys – rhythmically, harshly. He watched the glimmering light dance into a yellow dress; her yellow dress. He stopped; the light faded.
Owen punched, pounded and pummeled the keys and watched Delia’s yellow dress slowly appear. From his disharmony came her beauty and light. He thrashed about, tears streaming down his face, calling her name. Wild chestnut-colored curls tumbled out from under a baseball cap. That yellow dress swayed without a breeze. And there was music.
Piano broken. Hands broken and bleeding. The light faded. Delia faded.
Owen fell to his knees, wailing.
Below is the feedback I received from the judges of the Short Story Challenge 2010:
WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT - ...So much said with so few words. The visual language used in this, especially in the last half of the story while he's beating at the piano, is so lovely. Such a romantic take on a "ghost story".............Well-written. Some nice images/descriptions: "Her family marveled at his strength… His family waited for him to break."............................................................ WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - ...The only thing I can think to work on would maybe be giving the readers a few more short snapshots of their courtship and their life together to make his lose that much more devastating.............It seemed odd that Owen would arrange to have Delia's things picked up the day after her funeral. It was also odd that, being so in love with Delia, he would get rid of all her belongings (except, of course, the piano). I would have liked to have known the cause of Delia's death............................