He was definitely young, seventeen, barely a head taller than my teacher's own fourteen-year-old. His deafness was a queer spot -- in both ears, some obscure disease had taken his drums, the delicate hairs that balanced waves between each other -- anything necessary to hear, he had lost it. Though what was most concerning was his wish to be taught the piano.
'Your hands,' he had signed (and I thankfully understood -- to think a little whim years ago would have paid off so beautifully!) 'Your hands intrigue me. Most pianist's fingers look different on and off a piano, but yours are still slim when you talk, graceful when you walk.'
'That rhymed.' I had signed back, hoping to stall the conversation, and my heart.
The desicion to teach was not yet in my grasp; I'd barely sprung out of a five-year concert piano course that spring, auditioned for perhaps 12 separate groups before landing the one event that I formally performed at. Nothing, in my repitoire, screamed teacher. I was a cake, not a recipe.
'I can pay your price, or anything you need, really.'
I was also an avid baker.
'Sold at 200 a-'
'-month. No way, that's too much.'
'I can afford it.' He pulled back a sleeve to reveal a glittering Rolex. 'Trust me.'
'Alright, but it'll be 150 at most then. You prove the worth through your own practice, yeah?'
He beamed, hands waggling in excitement.
'Thank you, so much.'
'How about Mondays, after, say, 7 o'clock?'
'Yes. Perfect. I'll write it down.'
"Roger Davners." I held out my hand, matching his smile (with what I hoped was a proffessional glint).
"August Moon." He mumbled, accepting the handshake.
I laughed, clapping a hand on his sholder. 'Nice doing business with you, August.'
'You as well, Mr.Davners.'
"Roger! What's with you, staying so late in the studio?" Pete nearly shouted down the hall. "Lost your place again?"
"Good evening to you too, Pete." I muttered, quickening my pace.
"Hey-- Hey! C'mon bud, I'm just about to head out--" A solid clack on the floor and a flurry of apologies followed. Evidently, the man had fallen.
I turned a corner and made it to the men's room -- perfectly empty -- where I proceeded to block the doorway with the rusted little trashcan.
It's not like I don't want to talk with him, I thought, but I don't.
"Hey, bud. Uh, I know by now that you're blocking it on purpose, but I actually gotta go."
"Third floor is always open." I tighten my grip on the door handle.
"You and I both know exactly why that is." He responded darkly.
"The Cockshaver." I sighed.
"The Cockshaver." He agreed. "C'mon. Lemme in."
I released my grip on the handle hesitantly.
He quickly entered, shutting the door quitely behind.
"Now, in a tough spot again, Roge? You know I got some good opportunities-"
"No, I'm just teaching some kid piano now," I mumbled to my shoulder.
"No need for excu- wait, some kid?"
"Don't be so scandalized. You're teaching like, five kids."
"Yeah! But, I got the stuffs. The books. You're all-- geh."
"I'm also all very good at piano." I said, ruffled.
"Teaching is pretty dang different from performing," he continued, "you gotta- gotta tend to the student's needs, ya know? Be a responsible role-model."
"I'm glad you realize that as well."
"I- well, look, I dunno what you see in that kid, but don't expect so much out of yourself. In fact, tell em that I can guarantee em a place at our hall. Well, the junior hall, but ah..."
"Joke's on you Pete, they requested me. They literally walked up to the booth right after the performance and asked if I was available."
Pete stared, mouth halfway through a scoff.
"And the real ticker, Pete? He's dea- Oh my God, he's deaf."
Of course, I had forgotten the most important quality.
"He's what?" Pete boomed. "Well, I mean, that doesn't really stop em, bu- good lord, you got a problem." He shook his head with a laugh. "I really- now isn't that somthin."
Pete helplessly backed his way out the door.
"We'll talk 'bout this again, Roge, no bathroom can hide you from it."
I sighed, slapping myself mentally for getting myself into this predicament.
"Cake, not recipe." I groaned.
A flush of a toilet interrupted my self-pitying, as another man stepped out of a stall. We stared at each other.
"I really hope that whole conversation wasn't some huge euphemism or something." He said.
No matter what I did, I couldn't get the practice room to look right. A painting here was much too crooked, the desk a bit too far left, a trashcan with a crown of crumpled pages in the corner, the piano itself seemed to sway on a weathered base, the keys shining from the wear of a thousand fingers. It was a burst of old and plastic.
The books and notepads weren't worth much to mention.
Despite my wishes, Monday evening had come before I could even attempt at making the room a proper meeting place. After a series of defeated sighs, I scavanged around the room for a beginner's book (Burgmüller and a stapled book of scales, printed by yours truly) to get some planning going. At 6:45 sharp, the door knocked.
"It's open-" I hollered, then cringed in afterthought. I fumbled for the doorknob.
'A little early.' I signed, meeting a shellshocked August.
'I hope that's alright.' He signed back, stepping in.
I waved him off, pulling out the piano bench and the desk chair.
We sat and began the "lesson".
There was much less communication than I had anticipated and more of knocking hands around and gesturing. I first showed him how to curl his hands to match the piano keys, balancing a penny on the back of his hand to explain how he could practice at home. Thumbs on C, pinkies on G. A simple C major chord. An ornamentation. This, a quarter note. This, a half note, a whole note -- eighths and sixteenths can wait. No metronome, only a steady tap of my finger on his shoulder. Now, a C scale.
August, to say the least, was a terrific student. He paused, often, and watched my own fingers spread along the keys, almost effortlessly playing the notes. He mimicked rather than controlled, waiting, then playing.
The teaching ended at 8, and he departed with a glowing smile, hazy.
Hell yeah, I could be a mean baker.
A year after, August had become addicted to piano playing.
I couldn't tell if it was the touch, the mere vibration of the piano -- all I could see was the way his back straightened on the piano bench, face slack, musing.
He wasn't gifted, per say, he still fumbled through little phrases, requiring guidance at every measure of a new peice he desired. But once he did get down a peice, it was lovely.
La Chasse. A bold start, by my opinion in terms of August's predicament, but he just as easily prevailed. At the start of each lesson, he'd play the peice; little dropplets, first, then a gallop alongside some sort of dog or fox. Lively, golden-green -- you could feel the wind grappling at your back with every jumping chord, hear the surprised squawk of a bird at every flourish, every climb up the scale, finally ending with a cooling splash of a lake, where the whole chase had undoubtedly taken place. His fingers just as gracefully leapt to each note, acting as though the characters of the play.
'It's a shame that you can't hear what you make,' I signed after one occasion, 'I can't imagine not being able to hear my own hard-earned performances.'
'I enjoy the motion of it enough.' He shrugged.
Despite August's rather latent introduction to music, he pushed for harder, longer pieces. He attempted Chopin's Nocturne (down and finalized by a month -- I could never understand the rigor he held for his practices). By two years' time, he'd requested to learn Debussy's Arabesque, and for three months I'd reveled in deep trances under the influence of flowing triplets and eighth notes, a little stutter here, a little drag there. Waltzes, dances, always some sort of flowy, one-three piece. Wandering, but not lost.
Then came a lesson where he wanted to perform an original piece.
'Composing a piece is more difficult than you might imagine,' I had signed, shuddering at the thought of my own first half-eaten efforts, 'it's half talent and half math, really.'
'I know,' his hands had rushed, a bit of a blush climbing his cheeks, 'but I'd like to try. I have a friend that writes music pretty well, I'll learn from them too.'
'Well then. Time to crack out a pencil and paper.'
I dug out all I could remember of my music theory days -- mind-grating days, curl-up-under-a-nest-of-blanket-and-sob days -- and started back at the basics: quarter notes and quarter rests.
Overzealous to a fault, August had scrambled through the review, silently bursting with a new sort of excitement. His hands were more likely to jump to questions then, bouncing up and down like he would on a piano.
'Why does it have to be in a circle?'
'Why are jazz chords a "whole different story"?'
'Is it easier with a program or a pen and paper?'
'May I publish my own?'
Towards the end, I had forgotten everything I knew about theory, and ushered him to a piano to vent his excitement.
Instead of the usual floaty waltz, August jumped on each key, scampering down in layers of chromatics and arpeggios and sextuplets, imbalanced. His eyes scrunched together, head bobbing to some inconsistant beat. It wasn't grace that he portrayed, but something more raw, unplanned. If a recently tuned piano could crack a note, it certainly had then.
As per final lesson of the month, August shuffled out a stack of money. I counted, carefully, realizing that he had given me a hundred too much.
'Extra.' I held out the bill to him.
'I can't, it's not in our contract.' I joked.
'It's for Mr.Peter, then.'
I should have never introduced the two.
'Alright, but this is just to make sure that this money doesn't go to Peter.'
He beamed in response.
The next song was an original.
In the late of July, August came wading through the sweltering heat with a positively brimming grin on his face.
'It's called Ou Chanter. I... was working on it for a few months and I think that it is good enough now.' His fingers fumbled fantastically.
'This doesn't look like something a beginner would write,' I signed, looking up from the ruffled pages, 'did your friend help you?'
'Yes, but this is also not the first formal piece that I've written. Aside from the practice ones.'
'I see. It's very complex. I don't know if I can play this.'
'Can we try it?'
I stared at the pages before me. Nearly all the notes were on some sort of upbeat or thirty-second note run. The chords were either purposefully discordant or forced the hand to stretch to unlikely lengths. Though there was a short ballad toward the end, I couldn't possibly see how it would tie the piece together at all.
'But of course.'
Cake baking time.
August was invited to perform that year's concert hall. Undoubtedly, his deafness was a selling point for us -- perhaps even if he wasn't as skilled as he was now he would be invited, though the fact of the matter was that he was good, and he was deaf.
Though his admiration of piano had stemmed from my own hands (I never really stopped boasting about them since), the most extraordinary value he brought to his own performances was his sublimities -- a quirk of the shoulder, tilt of the head; lean forward at a slow shamble; sway at a rest; every blink, every hesitation, was a part of a dance, a dance that no one could join but himself, no one could join but watch. And it was demanded that one did.
The piece he was to perform was, of course, his own. August didn't even need to insist upon it. The opportunity was too grand to miss: the public's first look at August Moon's Ou Chanter.
I found the next few lessons (now two or three days a week; I was much too fond of him to find other students or other commitments) to be packed with a nervous energy, much more sobering than August's usual dreamy nature. Clocks always seemed to click along too fast, the walls themself shuddered at the speed that the Earth revolved at. The work needed on this (frankly difficult) piece seemed to be disbarred by the universe. Like something was deliberately keeping me from walking August through each lesson, though I doubted that he even needed me there other than to listen to him play.
By the 26th, two days before the performance, he was more than ready.
August 28, an important date.
The grand hall was tittering with anticipation. Small talk, bouts of,
"Oh, how are you?"
"Good evening, good evening,"
"Yes, I do recall."
Little musings that tiptoed, skimmed their eyes around the orchestra, the piano to be raised on a platform at the very center.
The conductor of the evening recounted the night's performances,
Rite of Spring, of Fantasia.
A Letter From Home, Copland.
A special performance: Ou Chanter, Moon.
Finally, Africa op.89, Saint-Saëns.
And the orchestra started.
August Moon walked across the stage at 9:55pm, August 28th. His hands did not tremble to meet the crowd's roars of applause, they did not waver until he faced the crowd with a low bow and lowered himself on the piano bench. The lights dimmed, centering on the grand piano at the very center of the stage, allowing stark contrast between the plain oak of the boards and the deep ebony of the piano. From the nosebleed, one could see his brow scrunch together at the glare of the spotlight, how he shifted on the seat in front of unfamiliar eyes.
At 9:57pm, he raised his hands to play.
Sickly sweet and low, the first chords emerged as roots, digging. A few flourishes conducted the movement. Then the flourishes became a syncopated rythmn, bouncing up and down the keys. Still, chords persisted underneath, the only remaining reminder of a tempo. Then those too dissapeared in a blissful rain of eighth notes.
August's hands leapt and dashed across the piano, touching every key. His left hand often crossed his right to complete a phrase, easing his sides into an even flow from left to right, left to right. His back jerked backwards at heavy chords, caving forward slowly at silky runs.
A smooth transition -- chords, in a quarter note triplet -- eased August into a quiet lullaby so charmingly familliar yet completely new to ear.
F# minor. C major six.
Applause. Deafening applause.
August stood with a new hazy glow, pinked from the obvious whooping and cheer of the audience. He raised his right hand and stood, mouthing Thank you. Thank you so much.
August bowed, and left the stage, basking in an applause that he could not hear.
On September 2nd, 12:32am, August Moon shot himself.
I recieved a letter from his mother inviting me to the funeral.
A gun, where did he get a gun?
His wealth, his father, his brother.
This year, he was to turn twenty-one.
He didn't deserve this. How could he ever think that?
Why wouldn't he talk?
Why didn't he reach out to me?
I recieved a second letter from his mother, a note stuffed under a pile of notebooks and sheet music addressed to me.
Mr.Davners-- please, hear the world for me.