A magnificent piano bearing the Steinway brand was acquired with great pomp and circumstance by a new Georgian, a hick from the sticks who had moved to Tbilisi. Two people were pleased about this—not just the purchaser, but also the consignment store manager, a slippery sort who played the innocent lamb, rolling his eyes and kissing up to the customer every way he knew how. There the piano stood never making a sound, resigned to its fate. Not even five minutes after the sale, the Kurdish warehousemen had loaded it onto a truck, and half an hour later, the piano was in the sitting room of a huge apartment crammed with antiques. Toward evening, a piano tuner came, the very one who had tuned the same piano fifteen years earlier, in the previous owner’s apartment, and whose nimble fingers had first coaxed the Bach and the Beethoven from it.
There, in the previous owner’s home, the magnificent Steinway had been forced into a long, long silence. After the wealthy man’s untalented brood had pounded on the keyboard a time or two, the piano fell silent for fifteen years. Then they covered it with an expensive cloth to look like a shroud and turned it into a piece of interior décor.
Here, in its new home, the piano felt its soundboard start to throb alarmingly. Does the same lot await me here, too? It wondered. No, I don’t think God would be so hard on me. Surely my beauty can’t have doomed me to live out my days in slavery.
The tuner greeted the head of the household with great respect, congratulated him on his fine acquisition, then lifted the piano’s lid and listened to the beating of its heart, the same heart that we humans have taken to calling the soundboard. “The soundboard is splendid,” he said, with all admiration. Next, he looked the piano over from end to end, saying as he did so, “I’d like to know where it’s been and who treated it with such care. It’s so well preserved.”
The piano shuddered in reply, its keys making such a strange sound that even the tuner couldn’t tell what had caused that not-quite-a-sigh and not-quite-a-groan. The family thought he had touched the keyboard, but in fact, it was the piano protesting in its own way against what the tuner had said. “Treated with such care indeed! They took away my life for fifteen years, and you’re praising them to the skies!”
When his job was done, the tuner ran his fingers over the keys, and the sitting room filled with celestial sounds. The grateful piano responded with such a magical tone that by the end of his little performance, the tuner, the only one who could really appreciate it, was saying over and over again, “It’s a marvel, a marvel.” He stuffed the money into his pocket, said goodbye to his host, and vanished.
The unhappy piano fell deep into thought, fearing that something of what had happened in his previous home would happen here, too. If only someone in this family could play or even just strum. It was thinking so hard, it didn’t notice when dawn came. The next morning, they polished it until it shone, set two ancient candelabras on either side, placed between them an antique French clock, and forgot the poor piano altogether. From time to time, to impress their guests, they raised the lid and showed off the medals won at various exhibitions, but the greatest pride was reserved for the exceptional soundboard. Until the next set of guests arrived, the piano stood silent and forgotten, its whole being plagued by the thought that the day might yet come when its keys would be fated to sound again, but time passed.
One night, when the whole family was sound asleep, there was a terrible cracking sound. The home’s frightened occupants sprang from their beds and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, asked each other in surprise what on earth it could have been. They drifted back into a deep slumber.
Only the piano couldn’t sleep. That had been its first heart attack, and now its soundboard ached unbearably and no help was coming. The back of its soundboard had split, poor thing. The hurting went on for a month, but, praise be, there was no dying this time. The hope lingered that someone would come to break this silence of the grave and make the magnificent Steinway sound again; and in that hope, several more years passed.
Again there was that cracking sound. It had had another heart attack, the poor thing, and this one was fatal. The cause of death was a soundboard split from front to back. The piano was dead, and no power could ever bring it back to life. It fluttered just once, then bade farewell to its keys and strings, and meekly closed its eyes.
The next morning, when the family members came from their cozy beds, they saw that water had spilled from the vase on the piano. “I’d like to know what happened to that blanket-blank vase,” the lady of the house muttered, wiping the drops of water away. No one, no one but the vase, knew that those drops were tears of sympathy for a piano departed from this life forever.