Neither of us spoke for several moments after the last note had faded away. Slowly I began to notice sounds of the outside world returning: cars driving down the street, the wind rustling tree leaves in the front yard, the soft hum of a muted conversation in the basement below us. I knew they had never stopped but I had definitely stopped hearing them.

“That was really lovely,” I said quietly, not wanting to sully the air of the room with my coarse voice. She smiled in reply and motioned for me to join her on the piano bench. I raised an eyebrow. “Is that a good idea? I’m not exactly a sack of feathers over here.”

“It’s sturdier than it looks,” she said with a pat of her hand on the black leather before sharing a conspiratorial smile. “If you don’t believe me I can show you a picture of my Thursday night student sitting on it – she could probably eat you as an appetizer.”

I laughed; it felt good, a release of tension that I wasn’t aware I’d been carrying. I joined her at the piano, gazed at the rows of keys and felt like a school boy attending his first math lesson.

“Go ahead, play a few notes,” Dawn said. “I promise it won’t bite.”

I prodded three or four keys at random and felt a little thrill at the sounds they produced. I had always wanted to make real music, not the primal drumbeat of fists on flesh, but real proper art. I could feel a dull ache in my knuckles but I pushed it away to concentrate on hearing the disjointed notes.

“What happened to your hands?”

“Oh, just trophies of the trade,” I replied absent mindedly as I jabbed at more keys. Then I glanced at her face, saw the concern mixed with fear in her eyes, and realized how that might sound. “I’m not a thug or something like that, I’m a boxer. Well, I was a boxer, I suppose. Now… I haven’t quite figured out what I am now.”

“A boxer who is hanging up the gloves in order to become a pianist? Now that’s one I haven’t heard before,” she said, her expression relaxing. “I have to admit that I don’t know much about boxers or boxing – it all seems a bit too much like caveman behavior to me.”

“Me make fire,” I grunted. “Me tickle ivories and make pretty noise.” She laughed and elbowed me in the arm, her eyes going a little wide after the contact.

“Jeez, that was like hitting a brick wall,” she said, rubbing her elbow ruefully. “And they don’t make the keys out of ivory anymore, what with the sale of real ivory pretty much outlawed. These are made of spruce wood.”

“Is that right? So I know next to nothing about pianos and you’re clueless about boxing – I think an exchange of information is in order.”

“That sounds like fun – it’s been too long since I learned something completely new,” Dawn said. “But I’ll still need to be paid for the actual lessons with real money – stories don’t pay for food, unfortunately.”

“Ah, the good old days of bartering, how I miss them so,” I said wistfully, which earned another elbow. “Alright, alright – it’s a deal. So start earning your paycheck and tell me what on earth I’ve gotten myself into here.”

Dawn ran me through the basics of hand positioning and the names and sounds of the various notes. The hour passed by in the blink of an eye and I found myself strangely reluctant to step away from the piano.

“You’re hooked, I can tell already,” she told me as I finally stood up. “Do you have any classical music that you can listen to until we meet again? I can lend you a few cds if you don’t – I think you’d enjoy them.”

“That’s very kind – are you sure you won’t miss them?”

“I can play anything I need to hear,” she said as she grabbed three selections from her music rack. She rattled them off as she handed them to me: “Mozart, with your desired piece; Bach, my favorite cd; and Tchaikovsky, I think you’ll like his style.”

I promised to return them the following week without a scratch on them and made my way to the door. She caught me off guard one final time that night as I had my right arm halfway into my jacket.

“You didn’t hold up your end of the bargain,” she said with accusing eyes. “You’re not allowed to leave until I learn something about boxing.”

“My sincerest apologies, master. Let me see what pearl of wisdom I can impart to you,” I replied as I tried to rummage up something that might interest her. “I’ll start at the beginning: did you know that boxing is one of the oldest sports in the world? The first recorded evidence of boxing is a Sumerian relief carving from more than 5,000 years ago.”

“I’m not sure what impresses me more: that nugget of information, or the fact that you knew that without having to look it up.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be getting a very good example of boxers from me,” I said with a half smile as I stepped out onto her porch. “I’m not really your typical fighter.”

“Have a good night Nate – and don’t worry,” she said just before she closed the door, “I’m not a very typical pianist.”

That much I had already figured out for myself.

The End

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