For Elise

A trifle

Jim Dutton
The Lark Publication


AI-generated image, edited by the author

I stood at the edge of the stage and took my bow, as I had done many times before. Theater an der Wien had been my home almost as long as Vienna herself. The smoky exhalations of the audience perfumed the cavernous space with expectation and judgment.

Audience: A useful abstraction of a thousand messy lives — a single organism that emits applause for me and my work. Though I could no longer hear it, I imagined it was thunderous and enthusiastic. Yet my mood remained dark.

I sat alone on the duet bench and addressed a shiny, black pianoforte. It was my instrument for the evening, or perhaps the other way around. I stared at the music shelf where the score, hand-penciled by me only hours before, offered unnecessary guidance. I knew I would improvise that night, allowing my memories and muscles to express the music as they saw fit.

Music: A useful abstraction of a thousand individual sounds — a sonic distraction from grim realities and salve for psychic scars. Only the abstraction remained for me. Myriad voices merged into a single note, a bell that ever pealed in my ears.

My eyes shut and hands hovered over the keyboard in a practiced pose. As my fingers began to move of their own volition, I thought about Elizabeth and our picnic in the garden that morning. In my memory, her youthful beauty exceeded any I had…