Moonlit Sonata (A Short Story)

moonlitMoonlit Sonata

Sonata’s hands danced across the keys, her soul reaching out through her fingertips. Ebony and ivory, a harmony that responded to her touch, and hers alone.

Whenever she sat down to play the piano she couldn’t help remembering the first time. Caressing the keys. Tentatively pressing a few notes. And each note came out pure and strong even though she, just a girl of eight, had no idea how to actually play the giant instrument.

Her grandfather pulled her up in his lap and she would watch as his hands moved along the keyboard playing chopsticks, Mary had a little lamb and the wheels on the bus. When she showed so much interest in the music he started moving into more intricate pieces. Fur Elise. Barber of Seville. Blue Danube.

Each song played a story in her mind. The notes moved upward in sharp angles, and she saw dragons fighting across a red sky. Soft keys flowing out in a slow rhythm were like swans lazily swimming across an icy pool of water. Each key. Each score. An image and a story that laid itself out just for her.

The memories made her melancholy, longing for her grandfather, long since passed, and all the quiet moments they spent together making music.

The melancholy worked its way into the music. Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. The quiet rhythms of the thousand year old piece slowly playing out across the dark night.

Her thoughts moved to the room, the darkness closing in around her. The piano still sat in the same room overlooking the river far below. On still nights you could see the moonlight glittering off the subtle waves. A fitting companion to her music. She matched her tempo to the rippling light, softer then faster, and softer again. Experimentation.

The home, built by her great grand father shortly before the civil war, was her second love. It had housed the sick and injured during the war, been home to a speakeasy during Prohibition, held wild and sometimes disastrous parties, all before she’d ever been born. The history was written into every piece of wood. Names carved into balusters. Graffiti stenciled on bathroom walls. Holes cut into certain walls, then repaired over and over again.

Her mother once told her the house was haunted. A laughable thing, surely. Sonata didn’t believe in heaven, or hell, demons or angels. Why, then, would she believe in something as insubstantial as a ghost?

She giggled at her own pun as she set into Presto Agitato, her fingers fairly flying across the keys. Over and over she pounded out the notes, faster and harder with each slide up the scale.

Like a frolicking gazelle, she played the notes, feeling the joy and wonder of her home around her, swaddled in the moonlit night. Happy and content. Locked together just as the notes of the song were locked together.

She glanced up to the left of the piano. Her grandfather use to stand there watching over her as she played, and even now she felt she could feel his presence there. Watching. Waiting.

If her grandfather watched over her then she would give him the best concert of his entire life, or death, she thought as she tripped across the ivory keys.

Piece after piece she played. Chopin. Lebrun. Bach. Tchaikovsky. Each one with their own virtues and difficulties. She had practiced for years, learning piece after piece to add to her repertoire. Learning the inscrutable differences between the frenetic work of Mozart, or the melancholy scores of Schubert . And she played them all with the utmost precision.

Precision wasn’t enough to be a great pianist. Being female had it’s own drawbacks. Men did not think highly of women who pursued places in the arts. Painters, sculptures, musicians. All of the truly greats in all areas were men. Sonata always maintained that she, as a woman, had just as much right to play professionally as any man, but it didn’t matter. You couldn’t sell tickets to a womans concert.

Instead she spent the long days whiling away her time in front of the piano. With her inheritance she lived comfortably, never wanting for anything, and throwing the occasional party where she would play for her guests who watched in rapt adoration as she played.

From the shadows she heard a scrape on the wood, like shoes walking toward her. She glanced up to find ghostly images walking down the corridor toward her. Faint white glimmers on the landscape that shimmered into view then blinked out of existence.

There were no such things as ghosts, she told herself again, her fingers never stopping on the keys. It was the night playing tricks on her. Old memories surfacing from the past. But the night was coming to a close. The sun would rise, and she would still be safe in her mansion. All alone.

For hours she played, song after song echoing up through the old wooden house. Memories circled through her thoughts. Her father on his death bed wishing her happiness. Her music teacher praising her for her marvelous playing. A cousin stopping in to see why she never answered her telegrams.

And always the music soothed away the troubled memories.

Then the sky grew lighter, sunlight spilling over the horizon. The warm glow splashed across the side of the piano and Sonata smiled, enjoying the warmth washing over the room as she started playing another complicated piece.

The sun rose higher, as though each note she picked along the keyboard was a signal for the world to spin, the sun rising in the west at her bidding. She watched it creeping up the side of the piano, playing faster and faster, as though trying to capture every possible note she could before the sunlight touched her skin.

Something about the suns progress across the hard wood floor sent a shiver through her. The sun was supposed to bring cheer and good will, but all she felt was panic.

Sun. Son. Was that why? Was it the reminder of the child she would never have?

At one time there had been many suiters calling for her hand. They would come to the great mansion at the top of the hill and gaze over the land with hungry eyes. And some part of her hardened. If she could not be the concert pianist that she dreamed of then she would not give into their demands. Would not give them the key to their desires.

Selfish? Perhaps. Her mother once begged her for the gift of grandchildren. But it was already too late. As the consumption ate away at her mother’s body she had no comfort of tiny feet racing across the floors, only the sound of the piano. The endless music reminding her that she failed her daughter.

Once her mother started to scream, begging that the music end. Only her fathers threats of destroyed the piano stilled the keys. Sonata would stare longly from the doorway, her fingers moving to the staccato beat across the counter, waiting, yearning for the day she could play again.

And the day came when her mother passed away, and they laid her in the ground in the small cemetery out back. She lay beside her own mother and father, and many family members from before Sonata’s birth. Men and women who lived, and loved, and died in the walls of the mansion.

And music once again filled the walls.

Light touched the keys and Sonata cringed away from it. Why? It was only light she told herself.

The keys glowed white as the sunlight spread.

Sonata played on, dancing across the keys, her eyes closed as they flew up the scale…

And screamed!

The sunlight burned. Like putting her hand into a vat of acid, the light spilled around her finger tips, burning away her flesh, the pain searing up her arm and into every nerve of her body.

She backed away from the piano, and the light flooding over it, cradling her hand to her chest. How was it even possible? How could the sun keep her from the piano. Music was her life. She had to have it or she would fade away.

The light slipped across the floor as the sun rose in the sky, a pool of it edging closer to her feet.

She took a step back, stretching her hand out toward the piano, needing the music. Feeling herself growing dimmer as the notes faded from the room.

But something was wrong with her hand. She held it up before her. There were no burn marks from the sunlight, but her hand began to twist in on itself. She tried stretching out her fingers, as though playing the scales, but they barely moved, the tendons tightening and pulling even harder.

“No!” she cried, looking down at her hands as they curled up into claws right in front of her eyes. “No! You can’t do this to me! No!”

The music long since silent, her cries echoed through the room, vibrating off the empty walls, and flooding up the stairs.

And then the full force of the sun spilled across her feet, and up her body.

With one final agonizing scream Sonata blinked out of existence.


“Did you hear that?” Janet asked, sitting up on the couch.

“What? The piano?”

“Yes, it sounded like a piano. Is there a radio on or something?”

“No, it just plays sometimes. Ever since Sonata Everson died you can hear it on moonlit night. I think it’s Beethoven.”

“Beethoven? You have a ghost that plays Beethoven?”

“I didn’t say I had a ghost,” he said, before taking a sip of coffee. “I have a home with an interesting past. Sometimes happy, a lot of times quite sad. Ms. Everson was no exception. And now you hear the piano on moonlit nights. That doesn’t mean its haunted.”

“She killed herself, didn’t she?” Janet said, settling back against the overstuffed cushions.

Anthony’s arms snaked up around her to enjoy the sunrise through the grand balcony overlooking the river below. His thumb rubbed back and forth across the bare skin of her arm.

“Yes. Her hands started turning in on themselves. Some think she had a severe form of carpal tunnel, but they didn’t have diagnosis for that back then.”

“Carpal tunnel? You mean from repetitive motion, like playing the piano?”

“Ironic, isn’t it? A simple surgery would have fixed it, but they didn’t know about it back then. Once she couldn’t play the piano anymore she didn’t want to live. Quite tragic, really.”

“And you bought the old house anyway?”

“It’s a beautiful house with great bones, and an incredible view of the water. If I have to share it with a ghost that finally gets to play the piano again, I’m alright with that.”

Janet looked out across the sun deck. There was a darker patch on the hard wood floor. Perhaps it wasn’t as faded as the rest, and it was vaguely in the shape of a grand piano. The sunlight streaming in through the window settled on the spot like a cat stretching from a long nap. Something about it made her shiver.

“Well, I hope you’re right,” she said. “If Ms. Everson is still here I hope she’s happily playing the piano still.”



1 thought on “Moonlit Sonata (A Short Story)

  1. Pingback: What We’re Reading: The Story Telling Podcast #74 | Garrett Robinson

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