What took place at the exhibition, to this day, still fills me with fear and wonder. It is for this reason that I now confide in you the occurrences of that particular evening, for, something of the like, I had never encountered before. Nor since have I felt such a disturbing mix of emotions. Let me confront this tale by first describing the circumstances in which it all came to be.
In the National Gallery where I work, a rotation of guards takes place every hour. So it was that I eventually came to watch over the rooms housing the music exhibition. Amongst portraits of famous composers of eras long past, and the various glass casings of aged sheet music, was showcased the centerpiece of the entire exhibition. An ancient grand piano, vestige of a glorious epoch. Its sanctity was unquestionable. Inside the instrument’s walls had resonated countless musical illustrations of unique states of mind and emotion. The keys, which now smiled a weathered yellow smile, had been caressed and struck in combinations innumerable. For centuries the strings had held spellbound entire crowds, and had, in rare moments, succeeded in restoring a select few to the emotional beings nature had once intended them to be. I imagined the great masters of old, alive only in the paintings that now adorn these walls, working on their many compositions; giving private concerts; maybe even charming lovers with their meticulous skills.
What joy, what inspiration to be in the presence of such a historical monument! Yet how unfair for it to be merely presented and for it to be refused us in such a fashion. For although my mind can imagine a great amount, my eyes beheld the piano in all its armor, closed. My hands were warm with sheer desire. Not that I fancy myself a master worthy of breaking its imposed vow of silence, but how could one resist? How unbecoming it is for an instrument of such repute to be merely displayed for the contemplation of the paying general public. How shallow our understanding of value, of beauty. The old masters would surely laugh at how, through our obsessive and rather distasteful need for conservation, we have brought about the slow death of all passion.
The time then came for me to leave the music exhibition. An hour had passed and I was called upon to patrol the permanent collection. Relying heavily on my sense of duty to overshadow the pain with which I parted from my dear instrument, I moved on. The day dragged on slowly. As did the few visitors of the museum. The hourly rotations will, eventually, allow me to make my way back to the music exhibition, and there my day would end. My last hour, spent in the company of my beloved piano. Thus, lost in dreams of its magnificence, the last hour approached, and I felt a certain warmth in my hands. The day saw me walk through all the other exhibitions, a prisoner in a cell, awaiting release.
In all my restlessness, I nearly missed the hands as they finally struck the hour. I paced out of the room, sharply greeting the other guards as I went. Crossing the doorway, however, I caught up with myself and became aware of the state I was in. Did I really long for the piano’s company, or was it rather a fear that somehow, under the supervision of another guard, it had come to disappear? I smiled at how irrational I had become as the had day progressed. Nevertheless, as I turned the corner into the room, I felt a strong relief at the sight of the instrument. It had not moved a note. I realized that my desires towards it had not lessened in the least. I took a step back, knowing that, considering my emotional state, I was not to be trusted. I finally walked away, resigning to, from then on, pay only short visits to the piano room, and it worked, for as I distanced myself, I noticed that my hands grew colder. As long as I keep away, I thought.
Time passed. Outside, night had fallen. My day was coming to an end. I felt cold and hungry. Eventually, the time came to visit the room again, so I made my way, all the while trying to acquire some mental resolve to help restrain myself from the temptation of breaking the immaculate silence. No one had come since I had begun my last shift. I turned the corner into the room looking away from the piano. I closed my eyes. The calling was strong. I could swear I began hearing notes resounding softly in the air. Torn between my duty and my sanity, it took a cluster of seconds for me to turn and face the piano. By the time I had managed to do so, notes were clearly trickling into my ears. Like a light rain of soft colourful music.
There, sitting at the piano, was a young man. The music his fingers brought to life soon filled the room with sound. Filling me with vibrations. So seamless was his playing, so naturally beautiful, that it seemed the music came from within me rather than from the instrument itself. For a second, I was lost. Again, torn between my duty and this moment of wonder, it took me some time to react. When I did, it was only with great regret. I stepped forth, and, as he did not cease, I put my hand on his shoulder. As this gesture still did not suffice, I pulled the young man away from the piano. It was then that I realized that there was something odd about his hands. It was as though they had melted into the keys. However strange this was to me, however disquieting, the music had to stop. Soon the other guards would hear. As I went to pull again, the sight of my own hand, this time, caught my attention. Panic struck me like a dive in icy waters. I felt nauseous. My hand too had melted into the young man’s shoulder. I recall feeling no pain at this, only blinding fear and disbelief. I could not separate myself from him.
The music grew louder and more erratic. Within seconds, someone would come in and witness this whole affair, I thought, I could not let this happen. With my free hand, I grabbed his other shoulder, in an attempt to free myself from the madness. To no avail. No sooner did I touch him that this hand too began merging with him. I wanted to scream as my body slowly drew closer to him; as my arms gradually fused in with his, inch after inch. His limbs soon became my limbs. I was losing control of myself, breathing wildly with great spasms that shook what was left of my own body. In the last moments before I was to be fully assimilated, I closed my eyes and drew a huge breath. I was going in.
Then, of a sudden, my sense of panic left me. I felt relieved of my fears. The most wonderful thing had happened. There I was sitting where the young man had sat, playing what the young man had played. In all respects, I was now the young man, consuming my passion on the keys of the instrument of my desire. In me, there no longer was any trace of shame, nor fear of getting caught, nor even the call of duty. I played to my heart’s content. Time elapsed. My shift came to an end. No one had come. I finished on my favorite ascending scale, fulfilled. Merry as a child. I shut the small light next to the piano and closed the lid with utmost delicacy, such was my respect and thankfulness for it to have allowed me to share with it such a strange and unique moment. For it to have reached out to me.
As I left the room, I looked back at the portraits on the walls, and, in all their seriousness, it seemed that they were now concealing an ever so delicate air of approval.