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Free Preview of Hands, a Short Story by Joe Bunting

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This is a preview of Hands, a Short Story by Joe Bunting. Click here to buy Hands on Amazon.*

I thought about a time when Robbie was fourteen years old. He was helping me clean the cobwebs off the house, and afterward we took a seat at the old piano. It was hot, late summer probably because he was still out of school.

“Now just let your hands tell you what to play. Let your fingers find the notes on their own,” I said.

“I know Ode to Joy. Do you want me to play that?” he said.

“No,” I said. “Listen to me now. Just play what sounds right.”

I had to show him. I placed my hands lightly on the keys. The keys felt soft and worn on the pads of my fingers. My hands began to play. It wasn’t fancy, just a slow clean riff in the right hand. The notes flew out like hummingbirds. It was Jean’s piano. It was never full enough for me. My left hand started to play, grounding everything, and then I was really swinging. Robbie was watching and I think his foot was tapping a little. The voicings were coming out nice and I could feel the vibrations in my fingers. The music was just buzzing all through my hands. And then Jean and I were seeing Clifford Brown at Last Word again, and he was playing something mellow between songs and was letting it out really nice. I had my arm around Jean and her shoulder felt right under me and everything was perfect even though by that point she’d already been dead a year.

Then Robbie said, “Okay, let me try.”

I let him. He played a few notes. They were halting and clumsy. He got this little crease between his eyebrows and I nearly laughed. He was trying too hard.

“It’s fine. Just relax,” I said. “Let it flow.” I moved his hands aside and tapped a jazzy little riff with my right hand to show him and then settled into a nice slow moonwalk.

The boy put his hands back on the keys. He sat up real straight and took a couple deep breaths. The crease didn’t go away, but his shoulders dropped a little and soon he was playing and it was pretty good. I went in the kitchen for a glass of water to let him play and the sound filled the old house full and I thought it was the first time since sheโ€™d been gone that it didn’t feel empty. I came back. His eyes were squinted shut. I could tell he was feeling it, that he found the music and his hands were playing on their own. When I sat down again, he stopped playing. He gave me an embarrassed smile and I nodded. “Good job,” I said.

Later, the boy said, “Does it always feel like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like the sound just… I don’t know. Never mind.”

“No. Tell me.”

“Like they…. just slide out of you. The sounds, I mean. Like they’re really just a piece of you.”

I thought about it for a moment.

“It always feels like that. Only sometimes they take a piece of you and don’t give it back.”

Robbie grew up and quit the piano. He went to college and didn’t visit anymore. Charles told me he took up guitar. After college, he moved to Georgia for some girl. Then there I was, sitting in a car alone outside a fancy restaurant and he was back and married. How did that happen? I thought time had stopped when Jean died, like an old gramophone that ran out, but the music hadn’t stopped for everyone. Just for me.

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