Category: filmmaking (Page 1 of 5)

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. 

Once.

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.

Mannequin Monday – I play her guitar

5:55 p.m. Supermarket checker Lari talks addiction recovery with a customer. A story bite of mine.

And I visit the songwriting doc It All Begins with a Song. It’s all about the thriving artist colony that is the Nashville songwriting community.

What I’m Writing This Week

I’m sharing another story bite, this one inspired by a real supermarket checker I knew. I hope you enjoy it.

  Five Fifty Five

Bob Gillen

Lari’s phone alarm chirped as she scanned the last of twelve cans of cat food for her supermarket customer. She dug the phone out of her jeans pocket, smiled at the display, turned off the alarm. She stuffed the phone back in her pocket.

Her customer glanced at her own watch. “5:55. Is your shift ending?”

“I don’t get off till eight tonight.”

“Oh?” Her customer gave Lari a puzzled look.

Lari leaned around the register to see that there were no other customers in line.

“Five fifty five,” she said. “I had my last drink at 5:55 in the afternoon, I’m six years thirty two days sober today.”

“Good for you,” the customer said, as she slipped her credit card into the card reader. “You must be proud.”

Lari reached into another pocket, placed a large token on the counter next to the card reader. 

“I got this at my fifth year sober. Pick it up.”

The customer handled the token. “It’s heavy.”

Lari nodded.

“Your family must be happy with your sobriety.”

Lari checked again that there was no one else in line. 

She shrugged. “No one left. I do this for me.”

“I admire your courage.”

Lari looked the customer in the eye. “Husband left me years ago. My daughter is dead. OD’d last year.”

“Oh.”

“She’d be twenty eight tomorrow, if she had made it. Booze got her.”

“I’m so sorry.” Her customer took the receipt Liza handed her, folded it into her purse.

Lari put the token back in her pocket. Filled a paper bag with the customer’s grocery items.

I play her guitar.

“How do you cope?” the customer asked.

“I play her guitar.”

 The customer picked up her bag. “Her guitar?”

“I play it every night. Her favorite songs. I don’t play well, but…” 

A new customer began tossing her groceries on the belt. The exiting customer said, “You take care.” She walked away.

Lari scanned the first item sliding off the belt, a bottle of vodka. She quickly pulled out her phone, reset the alarm for 5:55 p.m. tomorrow.

***

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Mannequin Monday – Who Tells Your Story

Mannequin Monday – Who Tells Your Story

Once again, creating the word on Mannequin Monday. This week, Africa-based fantasy fiction, with Nnedi Okorafor sharing her stories and her journey.

And viewing Hamilton this weekend got me thinking about some of the show’s lyrics. George Washington sings of Alexander Hamilton, “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.

To close, I offer my own story, “The Kiss.” You have no control after a word is spoken.

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