Month: January 2022

shortfiction24 – half a keyboard

Credit: Hello Music Theory

Harry played in the orchestra pit for 15 years till a stroke numbed his left hand.

This Week’s Story: A Stroke Disables a Theater Musician

Harry played keyboards in the orchestra pit for dozens of Broadway shows over the years. Now his left hand lay numb on the keyboard after a debilitating stroke.

Half a Keyboard

Bob Gillen

Harry spread his fingers over the keyboard. A deep breath filled his lungs. His right hand began playing a high, delicate melody. Harry closed his eyes. Let the music flare up inside him, burn out his fingers. His left arm lay at his side as melodies danced in the air.

For Harry, the piano was life. That life was cut down with the stroke that disabled his left hand. A life cut in half. There was no bass for his melodies. No bottom. No foundation. Playing melody with his right hand felt like riding a bike with only one leg. Not just difficult. Near impossible. 

Harry continued playing. His left arm instinctively raised to the keyboard, but there was no movement, no feeling, in his hand. 

Tears seeped from his eyes. Ran unchecked down his cheeks and splattered on his shirt front. He continued to play. He felt lopsided. Off balance. He closed his eyes again, this time to offset the dizziness he felt. 

Today marked a month since his stroke. They caught it early. Limited damage, the doctors said. Limited, yeah. Maybe for them. For Harry, the joy of his life cut in half. His friends told him he could still play melody. That was better than losing his right hand. He could live without the bass, they said.

Harry knew better. Bass was the bottom. The support for melody. Without the bass he felt like he was dancing without shoes. Without feet. 

His career was over. He would never play in the pit again. Eight shows a week. Eight times a week for the last fifteen years. Pure joy. He had his favorite shows, but he would play even for the bombs. Live performance was his life.

And the beauty of it. He played unseen in the pit. His joy bloomed nightly in the cocoon of the theater pit, shared with his fellow musicians. For the audience, the music was background to the stage action. They did not feel any need to see the orchestra. They knew it was there. That was enough.

After each show a few theater goers gathered at the edge of the pit, pointing out the instruments to their kids, their nieces and nephews, their grandkids. 

Harry would make their night by waving from his piano bench. Then he’d stand and head for home.

Home. Where he sat now. Nowhere else to go. Disability insurance would cover some of his previous income. The rest? Who knows? 

Harry reached deep into his memory. The muscle memory of playing for a lifetime. He began playing “Try to Remember” from the Fantasticks. “Deep in December.” This was his December, he thought. Reaching back like some old guy to recall the good times, the Septembers of his life. The times when the embers burned brightly. When life was good.

His left arm twitched. Harry moved the arm up to position his numb hand over the keyboard. The melody continued to flow from his right hand. 

The pinkie finger on Harry’s left hand ticked. Twitched. Hit a deep C note. 


Harry took his left hand in his right. Massaged it gently. Another tic. Slight. 

He let his left arm fall to his side and resumed playing with his right. 

His pinkie finger twitched again. Twice. Harry smiled. Played on with his right hand. Played on and on…


An Interview with a Film Composer

Here’s a link to an interview I did a few years back with film composer Thomas VanOosting. You may enjoy reading it. And thanks for stopping by.

shortfiction24 – a visit to the zoo

A boy visits the zoo with his dad to see his favorite animals: the gorillas and the gazebos.

Welcome to my first story of the new year. A fun piece I hope you enjoy. Much more short fiction to come throughout the year.

Giraffes, Gazelles and Gazebos

Bob Gillen

The boy tugged at his dad’s hand as they passed through the gate and stepped inside the zoo. 

“I want to see the gorillas first,” the boy said.

“Let me check the directory,” the dad said. He steered them towards a large display alongside the path. 

“There’s a gorilla,” the boy pointed. “See the picture. That must be where they are.”

The dad nodded. “Right you are. It’s down this way.”

The two headed down a path crowded with people coming and going. “Lots of people here today,” the dad said.

“No worries,” the boy said. “We can deal.”

The dad smiled. That’s my kid!

When they reached the gorilla exhibit, there was a line to get in. A long line. “Do you want to wait?” the dad asked. “This could be a while.”

“It’s the only thing I want to see.” The boy looked around. “Gorillas…and the gazebos.”

“The what?”

“The gazebos. Mommy said be sure to visit the gazebos.”

“That’s not an animal.”

“Yes, it is. Mommy said. She told me you would know where they were.”

The dad peered at his son.

“Do you mean giraffes? Or gazelles?”

“She said gazebos.”

“Am I missing something?”

The line moved ahead just a bit.

“We were reading my gorilla book last night when I went to bed. She said there were wonderful gazebos here. We should visit them.”

The dad crouched down eye to eye with his son. “Gazebos are not animals.”

“Yes they are. Mommy said.”

“Do you remember the last time we went to the park…for the Fourth of July picnic?”

Credit: HGTV


“Remember there was a band that played music before the fireworks?”

The boy nodded.

“The band sat in a white covered platform…like an open shelter.”

The boy squinted. “I think I remember.”

“That was a gazebo. There are lots of them in parks all around our city.”

The boy shook his head. “Mommy said the gazebos at the zoo were special. She said you would know.”

The line moved forward. They were close to the entrance now.

The dad pulled out his phone and began texting. 

“Who are you texting?” the boy asked.

“Your mom. I’m confused.”

“She said you would know.”

What’s this about gazebos? He wants to see one.

A reply came though right away. The gazebo at the zoo’s picnic area. Remember, the one where you proposed to me?

Oh shit. Yeah, just checking.


Gotta go. We’re entering the gorrilla enclosure. He stuffed his phone back in his pocket.

“What did mommy say?”

“The gazebo here is the place where I asked her to marry me.”


“It’s a special place. That’s why mom talked about it.”

The boy looked at his dad. “But it’s not an animal?”


“Okay.” He tugged at his dad’s arm. “Then we can spend more time with the gorillas.”

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