Between Ivory Keys

Music was my refuge. I could slip into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

-Maya Angelou

When he was younger, Rodney had always rather enjoyed piano. Listening to others play or tapping things out himself on the pristine white keys- it hardly mattered. The clear, sharp tones had soothed young Rodney's sharp-edged soul. For a moment, while the music played, he could forget the myriad doubts and insecurities that seemed to have taken permanent residence in the hollows of his mind. For a moment, he could lose himself in the mind the composers, long dead and dust-turned in their grand (or not-so-grand) tombs. Mozart has never stood, silent and smarting, while his father screamed at him over some imagined transgression. Chopin has never been stared at and shunned just for his genius. The Great One's were praised, revered even, for their talents. One day, Rodney tells himself, he will be too.

He tries not to think about the other composers, the ones like Bach and Giles, the ones who only got famous after death. He won't be like that. He won't let him be like that.

When he's eight, Rodney's grandmother notices him playing the piano, and convinces his parents to get him proper lessons. He's been plunking away on their own little antique keyboard down in the basement for so long, it feels strange and alien to be sitting there in Mr. Anders' sitting room at his shining, well kept piano. But the keys are familiar, and his fingers seem to move without any input from him. When he's finished, Mr. Anders stares at him. Rodney almost flinches, but then the young man smiles and pats his head carefully, like he's a small child. Rodney pushes him away.

Mr. Ander's calls him his prodigy after that.

His lessons become a refuge for Rodney. When things get bad at home, when his father's drinking, when his sister Jeannie is being a brat (or more so than usual, because Jeannie's always been a brat. Unlike Rodney, their parents actually wanted Jeannie.) Whenever things get too hard to bear, too hard for even Physics to comfort him Rodney can find solace in his music. He can drown himself in scales, in the ebb and flow of the dynamics, and simply forget himself for a while. He always has to come back, though. Sometimes, he thinks that's the worst part.

When Rodney is twelve, Mr. Ander's enters him in a competition. If he wins, he'll get a scholarship to one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. Rodney's heart soars at that. Maybe his parents will finally be proud of him. But when the night comes, and he looks out into the audience, his parents aren't there. There's just Mr. Anders, sitting right in the front row with a gleam in his eyes that Rodney's never seen before. He doesn't think it's pride, though. Rodney thinks it might be greed.

He does his best, of course, because Rodney cannot stand to be anything less than the best, but the keys seem to blur under his fingers, and the music rings flat and horrible in his ears.

He gets third. First place gets the scholarship, and second gets the prize money. Third gets a plaque. Rodney doesn't even bother to go up and get it. He just walks out, feeling Mr. Anders' eyes burning disappointed holes in his back the whole way.

At his next lesson, he tells Rodney that he has no heart for the piano. Rodney thanks him for all his efforts, and quietly leaves the house, and his half-expressed dreams of one day joining the Greats behind.

Later –much later– Rodney learns to find that same comfort in Physics. And he grows up, and gains infamy in his chosen field. But it's not till he's nearing forty that he gathers up the courage to touch a piano again. Much has happened between now and then, he's become a person that he never imagined he could be. But as his fingers ghost over the keyboard, a wisp of a smile appears on his lips. And even though he's out of practice and the old baby grand he's playing on is woefully out of tune, Rodney closes his eyes and once again lets himself fall into the music.