Broken, But Still Plays

I should be asleep. I need to be awake in six hours, and the spawn is going to want breakfast.

I should be exhausted. I put kazander’s oral skills to the test tonight, and he exceeded expectations. And I was exhausted. I couldn’t make my legs work, and all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep for half a day.

Needless to say, that feeling passed. And now insomnia has returned with a vengeance. Super fun.

So I’m awake in the wee hours of the night. And of course it’s a night when my best friend (who works the graveyard shift) has off, so she’s asleep and I can’t call her and chat. So I’m bored stupid with no one to talk to. I’m restless as hell, and I’m not sure why. It’s not a normal sort of restlessness. It’s like my soul is restless. Like there’s a connection to someone out there that I’m supposed to be making, but I have no idea who or what.

A strange scene keeps playing in my head, over and over again. I see an old grand piano in an abandoned apartment building or house or something. Decrepit, neglected, vandalized from teenagers or squatters finding it and marking it up or breaking off keys, just because it’s there. I keep seeing myself walking up to this pathetic thing that is supposed to be majestic and beautiful, but is little more than a distorted heap of wood and wire.

At first glance, it looks hopeless. There’s no way to fix this thing. One of the legs has been torn away, and it sits at a grotesque angle, the lid of the piano ripped off and lying in splinters in front of it. It almost looks like the thing is kneeling there, hunched over, staring helplessly at the pieces surrounding it, and it knows that it’ll never be what it should’ve been. It’s given up.


Can a piano give up? I don’t know. In the world I’ve invented inside my head, it can. So there.

I walk up to it, a shabby, shapeless mass in the middle of a shabby, gray room. Dull light shines through a small window, but the piano remains in the shadows. Part of me is hesitant to touch it. It’s broken. Who knows how long it’s been this way? Who knows what happened to make it this way? Why was it abandoned in the first place? What kind of rodents and vermin are potentially making this thing home?

But that’s why God invented Purell. And antibiotics.

I kneel down in front of it, only dimly aware that I shouldn’t have worn my favorite black slacks on this particular day, and that I was kneeling in what must be inches upon inches of dust and grime. But there’s this new product that just hit the market to help with that. It’s called laundry detergent. Whew, and color-safe bleach. Bleach will definitely be needed.

I reach out to touch the piano, completely fascinated with it at this point. What can I say? Broken things intrigue me. Something scurries away, startling me. A mouse leaps out from amid the exposed strings and darts further back into the shadows.

Kamikaze mice were not on my list of things I wanted to experience today. But hey, at least I notice that all the strings are still attached. Looks like the hammers are all still there, too. So whoever destroyed this thing was at least smart enough not to mess with those. Or maybe wasn’t smart, but just knew enough about pianos to leave them alone. I vaguely recall my parents bringing a professional piano tuner to our house to tune my grandfather’s old piano. How they found a piano tuner in the 90s, in Vegas, without Google, I will never know. But I remember being told to stay back. That piano was old, and if one of the strings broke, it would slice skin off bone.

Part of me wonders about the strings in front of me now. There’s no lid, not anymore. And God knows how old those strings are, and what sort of shape they’re in. If one of those things snap, I could find myself in some very serious trouble.

A tiny burst of adrenaline makes my heart skip, and I reach out to touch a crooked, cracked, dust-covered key. Quite a few of the keys are missing, but the mechanisms underneath are still there. This piano is old. The keys were made with real strips of ivory, and it looks like I’m not the only one who figured that out. The ivory strips on top of more than half the white keys are gone, peeled away by someone wanting to sell them or collect them or whatever. I hope I don’t get a splinter from the raw wood underneath.


I gently, slowly press the key, and am more surprised than I thought I’d be when the piano murmurs a soft, timid A. Slightly out of tune, but beautiful.

With newfound courage and a twinge of excitement, I scoot closer, bending at a slightly uncomfortable angle in order to properly place my hands on the crooked keyboard. But at this point, discomfort is something my mind doesn’t want to register.

Still with slow, gentle pressure, lest one of those strings decide to snap and make my face not-as-gorgeous, I coax out a simple melody. I cringe once as I realize that some of the keys are painfully out of tune, but that’s another thing my mind quickly discards as my excitement grows.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played a piano like this one, and all the songs I had once memorized forward and backward are now only vague recollections, having been replaced with more important information. Like paying bills and getting to work on time.

But right now, no bills are due, no responsibilities are looming, and I’m alone in this drab and filthy room, completely enamored with this broken piano. I try a simple arrangement of Jingle Bells, then move to The Rose, and then Amazing Grace. I realize the foot pedals have long been torn off and thrown away, but I don’t care. I try Moonlight Sonata anyway. Exhiliration flows as I realize the piano is in better shape than I thought, and as memories long forgotten come rushing back. Hours and hours of practice a decade and more ago pay off. My fingers remember what my mind can’t. Fur Elise is next, followed by a jazz song I never learned the name of, and then Everything I Do, I Do For You. Another Catholic hymn, simply because I played in church and learned a lot of those. I get more and more adventurous as my confidence grows.

And the piano is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever played. Aside for the odd squeak and groan from years of neglect and misuse, it eagerly follows my fingers, follows my commands, the hammers dutifully pounding on the strings, singing to me. Smoothly. Proudly. This piano was handmade, from solid wood, back when quality was more important than making a quick, cheap buck. There’s just no competing with this kind of sound.

Finally, I decide to try my song. A song I wrote as a teenager, designed to challenge my own (admittedly mediocre) playing abilities. I wrote a vocal part to it, too. That, I designed to have such a wide vocal range, most would not be able to sing it. I haven’t played that song in years. God, almost a decade. But I’m alone, no one’s around to hear me if I make a mistake, so why not?

It’s not perfect. Not even slightly. That’s the sort of song a singer needs to warm up for, and my voice is cold. And the piano really is pitifully out of tune. But despite our flaws, it’s still beautiful.

Why was this thing abandoned? Who would’ve left it here to be so sorely abused? What were they thinking?

I want it.

I know it’ll never be “fixed.” I can have the missing leg replaced, and give it new foot pedals, assuming the mechanisms haven’t been too damaged to replace. But even if they have, I don’t care. New keys to replace the ones that are missing, although they won’t match, since these keys were made from real ebony and real strips of ivory, and I’m pretty sure piano keys are covered with plastic now. It damn sure needs to be tuned. Maybe even a new lid. Some things can be fixed, improved. But the damage is too extensive. Parts of the frame are cracked, it’ll always be more fragile than a piano that is whole. It’ll never be what it once was. A new coat of paint won’t hide the many scars, won’t take away years upon years of neglect, pain, and misuse.

But I don’t care. I want it.

I don’t need it to be perfect. I don’t even need it to be “fixed.” I think I like it better broken, anyway. Things don’t need to be “fixed” in order to be useful, and beautiful. Old things, broken things, forgotten and abandoned things are often more beautiful than the shiny new things in a storefront window. At least to me.

Will it fit in my house? I don’t care. I’ll find a place for it. I’ll toss out the sofa if I need to. Will it clash with my modern, minimalistic decor? Probably. Still don’t care. Will people see it and wrinkle their nose, wondering why I’ve bothered to keep what they consider a worthless, ugly, useless piece of junk? Possibly, but what does their opinion matter? It’s not worthless to me. It’s not useless to me. And it’s certainly not ugly. I can’t be bothered by other people and their lack of vision. Their inability to see real beauty behind a broken frame. I know it’s broken. I know it’ll always be broken. I know it’ll require more maintenance, more care, more effort. I want it anyway. Maybe even more so, because of those reasons. Don’t care. None of that matters.

I leap to my feet in a sudden flurry of motion and rush out of the room. At the doorway, I stop and look back at it. It’s still there at that grotesque, unnatural angle, still looking down at the splinters and pieces surrounding it. But for a reason I can’t explain, it looks more hopeful now. Alive. The sun has gotten lower, and now the sunlight streaming through the window has reached this beautiful, broken thing. It’s still in the shadows, but not completely. I’ll be back for it. And soon.

7 thoughts on “Broken, But Still Plays

  1. writingthebody says:

    “Broken but still plays” – that is us, isn’t it, really? Sort of. sometimes. Love this post. It is as if it were real…all you need to do is find it. In fact I am sure you could find it somewhere…that there would indeed be a reality to fit to this vision. And that you are a piano player who has not got an instrument worthy….well that is something to fix…in a period where you are looking to fix other people’s lives. You are doing a fair bit of that Jenn, all credit to you. But this vision is about a bit of looking after you. Thank you for your kind words to me….I am so glad to see you back…xx

    • Domina Jen says:

      That’s the point, though. The instrument IS worthy. So much more so than anything new and shiny and unbroken. And that it could wake up a part of me that has lied dormant, brushed off as unneccessary in the day-to-day of life, makes it far more valuable than anything else like it. I WILL find it. As soon as I find out what it is, haha.

      But I don’t need looking after, little one. Of all the people around me, all the people I see, I’m the one least in need (or want) of looking after. Being pampered and “relaxing” isn’t my thing. I don’t get looked after. I’m the one looking after others, and that’s the way I like it. Being in constant control and being under constant pressure is really where I thrive and where I want to be.

      • writingthebody says:

        Dear Jenn, I am glad to be your little one as well….I sense your kindness to me, and am grateful for it. I loved that post, really did. The image is haunting actually….it is more like a vision as you rightly say. Yea, you will find it; I do believe you!

        And of course you are in constant control. That is like the first principle….even with me 🙂

        It is nice to hear that “voice” of yours again….just love it. xxx

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  4. Polthus says:

    Would have liked it twice if allowed. Very strong writing and amazing imagery. Well played, indeed.

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