Denise Denson was a tired woman. Tired was the word that fit her best. She had been a successful interior decorator in Boston and she and her husband, Craig, had enjoyed the comfortable middle class lifestyle that they were afforded. Craig ran a little music store in the downtown tourist district that had become a well known establishment to the local musicians. She still has the picture of herself and Craig standing in front of the store with the bright red sign that read "Denson's Music." There, in Craig's arms, was little Charlie, barely a year old. She sighed when she looked at that picture. Everything looked so bright and new. It had been hard work, of course, raising a young son with two entrepreneurs for parents. But it seemed as though there was an energy in all of them that left abruptly when Craig died. Denise wished she could find that energy again. She wished even more that her son could find it. She hated watching Charlie like this. Day after day it was like watching a walking manikin. For a few months after the accident she had tried, with no success, to cajole some sort of response out of him. It was like he had flipped a switch in his brain. When she looked at herself in the mirror it seemed as though she had flipped the same switch. She had grappled with the intense emotions of loss for some time after Craig's death, but soon the demands of running the music store and keeping her clients took all of her attention. She hated to admit it, but she liked it that way. It was easier to be tired that to be alone. Soon it was too much and she had to close the music store, but with only one income she couldn't keep paying the mortgage. So, it was only natural that she started looking for residence and hopefully supplemental employment elsewhere. When her sister Diane called from Colorado and invited her to move to Ashton Grove it seemed an answer to her prayers. Charlie didn't see it that way. He had lost his father, his mentor, his hero. And now it seemed as though his mother was ripping away his last few strands of reality. That was when he quit feeling. He couldn't take it anymore. It was easier to be alone than to hurt.
The summer had become a translucent haze of existence. Every day seemed more monotonous than the last. Sometimes Charlie was so self-absorbed in his melancholy meanderings that he didn't even know what day of the week it was. He wasn't sad. He wasn't lonely. He didn't seem to feel much of anything. It was as though he had given up on feelings. But somewhere in the back of his mind he knew this wasn't his natural state. He knew there was a giant looming monster in the sitting room that would make him feel again, but he wasn't prepared to do battle with that monster. For now, Charlie was content to hide from his feelings, to hide from that monster called Music.
It was on one of these non-descript summer days that Charlie was watching some mindless show on television when he heard his mother walk through the door. He wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't heard another woman's voice. He turned off the TV and listened.
"What a lovely home you have Ms. Denson."
"Thank you. I did all the decorating myself, of course. I like to think of it as my finest masterpiece."
At that the two ladies chuckled politely.
Charlie was getting up to meet the guest when he heard the voice of someone else. It was a young boy and his only word was a hushed, "wow."
Charlie was sure his mother's decorating wouldn't impress the likes of a kid, unless she had replaced their fancy oil paintings and table plants with ninja posters and comic books. So, it was with a look of curiosity that he rounded the corner into the sitting room.
Just in front of the door stood a middle aged woman in a business suit. She had several gaudy rings on her fingers and had meticulously styled hair. In this town she was probably a real socialite, but in Boston she would be laughed at. He assumed her to be the owner of the first voice and when he turned his gaze to the middle of the room he found the owner of the other. There the boy stood. He looked to be in total admiration, not of his mother's decorative skills, but of the piano. He was probably about ten, and had his hair done up in that spiky gelled style that all the boys seemed to have. He was wearing kaki shorts and a white polo shirt which seemed a little dressed up to Charlie.
"This is my son Charlie. Charlie, this is Mrs. Hazelton, my new client." Her eyebrows went up when she said that, "And this little rascal is her son Tyler." The boy broke his gaze with the piano for the first time and seemed shocked to find another person in the room.
"Nice to meet you Charlie," said the woman with the rings.
"Same here," was his curt response.
Tyler looked up at Charlie with a look of awe on his young face. He had piercing green eyes that seemed to sparkle with youth. He asked eagerly, "do you play the piano?"
"No." Normally Charlie would have left it at that but something in the boy compelled him to elaborate. "I used to, but I…" he had never explained it out loud. Somehow his hiatus had never seemed real until this moment. "I… I don't anymore." That got a confused look from Tyler.
"Why not?" He said.
Charlie's mother, sensing her son's uneasiness, jumped in at the opportune moment. "Why don't you and I go into the living room and I'll show you my portfolio?" She said to Mrs. Hazleton. "Charlie, you stay here and keep Tyler entertained." With that the two women left the room.
"Can I play it?" The boy seemed full of questions.
"Knock yourself out."
Charlie sat in the lounge chair as Tyler lifted the lid of the Steinway. At first he was just poking around playing random notes. Then he started to play a pattern, changing one note every time around, like he was listening, experimenting, trying to find the right note. Then Charlie recognized it. He was playing a tune from a TV commercial. It was a local car dealership. He got up from the chair and stood behind the boy watching him experiment.
"C sharp." He said
Tyler gave him a confused look.
"The note you're looking for… it's C sharp."
Still no change in the boy's face.
Without thinking Charlie leaned over and pressed the key saying, "this one, see?"
Then he played the jingle, adding the simple ending that the boy hadn't even experimented with.
"I thought you didn't play the piano," Tyler said with a little smirk.
"But you just did. It was good. Charlie, please play it again."
"What do you mean you can't? You just played it."
"I can't." Charlie said with a little too much force in his voice.
Tyler's face went blank and he looked down at the floor.
Charlie sat down on the bench next to him. "Look. The piano used to mean a lot to me. It was something special. I just… you wouldn't understand."
Tyler timidly turned his green eyes back to Charlie. "It hurts you doesn't it?"
Now Charlie cast his gaze away. He sighed, amazed at this kid's grasp of emotion. "Yeah… Yeah, it does." He almost whispered.
"My mom told me when you hurt you have to let it out."
Did this kid know what he was saying?
"What if it hurts too much?" Charlie asked.
Tyler just looked at him expectantly with those big green eyes.
Then it happened. Charlie didn't make it happen, it happened because it needed to happen. With a will of there own his hands rose slowly and poised gracefully over the keys. Charlie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Without even thinking his fingers began their dance. It was Beethoven's Tempest Sonata. His hands were a whirlwind of emotion. Inside Charlie felt it begin. He felt the heat in his chest. Then it rose up to his throat as he pounded his furry on the keys. It was unstoppable now. He didn't even realize there were tears pouring out of his eyes. His whole world was reduced to eighty-eight black and white keys. All the pain, the anger, the loneliness, he felt it melt away into the timeless notes a man named Ludwig had written so many years ago. His breath came in short spurts now to accommodate his sobbing. His body was literally writhing on the bench but his hands kept going. Tyler was taken back at first. He felt like he'd been electrified. Never in his life had he been exposed to such raw emotion. He felt it. He heard it coming through the piano. It was as if he could see inside Charlie's pain. He could feel the hurt. He too began to cry.
Finally Charlie's hands came to rest in their last position and the bass note reverberated through the room. Reality came flooding back to him as he opened his eyes. His blurry vision told him he'd been crying. When he wiped away the tears he saw Tyler looking at him with that same emotion his father had when he played his first composition. His eyes were a little redder now but they still had that sparkle. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. When he turned he saw his mother with the same awestruck look.
"Charlie, baby, it was… it was…" her breath caught in her throat and her hand came to her mouth.
"Charlie" said a small voice behind him. He turned to see Tyler with a big grin on his face. "Charlie I felt it. I felt the hurt." Tyler reached out and hugged him and Charlie felt that warmth in his chest again. When they broke their embrace Tyler glanced over at his mom, who had entered the room some time during the sonata, then looked back at Charlie and held his gaze for just a moment before saying, "I want to play like that. I want to make the piano feel."