This series of short stories is dedicated to, and inspired by, my piano students. You might even have the chance to star in it, who knows? Enjoy, and after you’ve finished reading–go practice!! Love, Mrs. Stephanie. 🙂
Inside the Music Box, Part 1
Have you ever wondered what happens to music when it’s not being played? When you finish practicing for the day, then close your book and tuck it away, where do all the notes go? Most grown-ups will tell you: “Why, they don’t go anywhere, you silly-nilly! They stay on their lines and spaces on the page and never move.” But I ask you, my friends, could you sit in the same place forever and never move? I certainly could not. That would be very dull indeed!
I must admit that I did not always wonder about this question myself. I am a “reasonable” grown-up after all, and we grown-ups do not often take the time to look at things in a different way. It was obvious to me that the notes were drawn on white paper with black ink and there they remained. But, through a series of highly unusual circumstances, I would come to learn that in fact music has a whole world of its own. And that is precisely where the notes go: to the Music World, or Harmonia, as they call it.
Now, some of you might already be thinking, “How does she know there’s a Music World? She is a boring grown-up, after all.”
That’s a fair question. And my answer is quite simple: I know it exists because I have been there. Yes, I have! Still don’t believe me? Then please, allow me to share my adventure with you. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t ask for an adventure—but they have a funny way of popping up uninvited and when you least expect them. In fact, I may never have visited Harmonia without the help of one of my students—did I mention I’m a piano teacher? Perhaps I should have told you that earlier. Nevermind, for it is now time for the real story to begin…
There seems to be a general rule that says all extraordinary adventures must begin on the most ordinary and uninteresting of days. Such was the case for my adventure. I began my morning the usual way, with a cup of coffee and writing time. I then ran some errands and cleaned house before my first student arrived. Quite uninteresting, I know. But it did not stay that way.
By that evening, all of my lessons were finished, save one. I sat at the piano while I waited, knowing my last student would arrive at any moment. To pass the time, I stared absentmindedly at a very old music box on the top of my piano and thought back to the day I received it:
It was a year or so ago, when I went to an estate sale held in an enormous, old house. The owner, I was told, had become too old and senile to live on his own and care for such a large property. However, his family lacked the time and desire to look after it themselves. So they decided to put the old man into a nursing home and sell his belongings, apart from the few valuables kept in the family. And as, it turned out, he was quite fond of collecting things, there was no lack of items for sale. At any rate, the house looked very interesting from the outside, so I decided to take a look around.
There were so many unusual things inside that I stayed for much longer than I intended to. Everything not nailed down could be bought for the right price, from furniture to artwork, to tables piled with knickknacks and odds and ends. I stopped at a table of various old music books, and a few caught my eye. The price on the sticker was very reasonable, so I picked up several. As I was looking through a book of Haydn piano sonatas, checking its condition before adding it to my pile, I got the eerie feeling that someone was watching me.
I looked up to see an extremely old man, whom I guessed to be the owner of the house, standing nearby in the shadow of the grand staircase. He certainly did not look altogether sound in mind. The man wore nothing but a blue dressing gown and red velvet slippers (which had seen better days), and he leaned upon a cane for support. His glasses, which had slid to the tip of his nose, were so thick that they made his unnaturally blue eyes look far too big for his face. The top of his wrinkled head was covered in little grey wisps of hair.
The old man was staring at me—at least, I think. It was rather hard to tell, as one of his magnified eyes was fixed on me, but the other had a tendency to wander in another direction. I pretended not to notice him, in hopes he would go away. Instead, he shuffled towards me, his left hand shaking so fiercely on top of the cane that I worried if he would survive the trip in one piece.
When he was mere inches away from me, the man whispered hoarsely into my ear–or rather, I took it to be his attempt at a whisper. But as he was nearly deaf, he spoke entirely too loud and I had to step back in pain.
“Are you a Musical Soul?” he asked, not concerned with introductions.
Needless to say, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I stared back and replied, “I’m sorry?”
The old man’s bottom lip quivered in frustration. “Are—you—a—Musical—Soul?” he repeated very slowly, apparently under the impression that I might be a little slow in the head.
“I—I am not quite sure what you mean by that, sir. But I am a musician,” I ventured to say. “I play and teach piano, and I play violin as well.”
The old man squinted at me from behind his dusty glasses, as if trying to make me out better. I tried not to be distracted by the thread of drool dangling from the corner of his mouth.
“Yes…” he said in a contemplative tone. “Yes, you have the melody in your voice, but have not yet the sparkle in your eyes.”
I hadn’t the faintest clue what he was going on about, but I suspected he didn’t either. So I smiled politely and held my tongue. The drool had by this time reached the bottom his chin and looked in danger of detaching itself at any given moment. Based upon the dirty, ragged appearance of his gown, I supposed a little saliva wasn’t about to hurt anything.
“Here,” the old man said, pulling an old music box from one of his deep pockets and thrusting it into my hands. I looked down at it with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. My first thought was that there might be something dreadful inside it, so I held it at arm’s length away from my body. The box looked innocent enough. It was made out of a handsome dark cherry wood, and had musical notes and symbols carved around all four sides. Ever so cautiously, I opened it. With a sigh of relief, I saw there was nothing inside except the miniature figurine of a black unicorn with a white horn. When the music started playing, the little unicorn’s head bobbed up and down in time. It was a curious song, one which I did not recognize. I tried to place it, but before I heard more than a few notes the old man snapped the lid shut.
“Not here!” he scolded me so severely that I felt quite guilty, although of what I couldn’t say.
“It is very lovely,” I said at last. “But I don’t see a price. How much are you asking for it?”
“Price? No, no, no. I don’t want any money,” he said, pushing the box towards me with trembling hands. “I only want it to go to someone with a Musical Soul. Someone who can appreciate it and use it well.”
“That is most kind,” I said, touched by his generosity, “but I cannot accept it for free. Please, let me pay for it.”
The old man shook his head with such violence that he lost his balance and I had to reach out and steady him before he toppled over.
“Grandpa!” a voice cried suddenly across the room.
The old man jumped and looked up at me with wide, imploring eyes as though he were in dire need of rescuing.
“Quick!” he hissed, pushing the box down towards my purse. “Don’t let her see! Take it!”
Flustered, I did as he said and put the box into my purse. A middle-aged woman marched over to us with her hands on her hips and a very stern look on her face.
“Grandpa!” she said again. “Stop harassing the poor woman, and let her look in peace!” She wagged a disapproving finger in his face and spoke loudly to ensure he heard every word. “I am so sorry,” she said to me in a lower voice. “He is supposed to stay upstairs in his room. I don’t know how he got out.”
“It’s alright, really,” I assured her. “He wasn’t harassing me. We were just talking.”
“Of course,” she said in a distracted tone as she wrapped her fingers around her grandfather’s shriveled arm. “Come on, Grandpa. Back to your room with you. Did you take your medicine like I told you?” She led the old man, who was far too weak to resist, towards the stairs. He was returned to the confinement of his room, and that was that. It occurred to me then that I didn’t even know his name.
I was left in such a confused state that I completely forgot about the music box until I returned home. At that point, I decided I might as well keep it, as it had been what the old man wanted. I placed the box on top of my piano, and there it has remained ever since.
To be continued…