I own a tiny piano.
To be specific, it is a little music box, created in the shape of a small piano. It’s a fairly pretty thing, with clear smoked plastic with golden accents. The clear walls allow you to look inside to see the brassy inner workings of the music box. Golden music notes and painted white keys completed its elegant, yet simple look. Turning the key on the bottom causes the sweet clear notes of ‘Moon River‘ to brighten the air with music.
Before it came into my hands, it belonged to my Grandma. I spent many hours as a small child, winding up the music box and pretending to play the piano on its tiny printed on keys. I’ve always dearly wished to play the piano, but there were no extra money for lessons. So instead, I pretended, and it was good enough back then.
Grandma always treated the music box with a sense of important air. She always told me to play gently as it was important. I obeyed of course, only drumming my fingers on the keys as I wrote symphonies on my head.
It was only when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, that I learned why my Grandmother saw it as important.
Mother had stage 4 breast cancer, a rarer, more aggressive form that tends to attack younger women. Chemotherapy and surgery did nothing to halt it’s terrible advance on my mother’s body, the cancer spreading to her stomach and brain.
My brother and I were able to say our last goodbyes one cold January night, and we were sent to stay with Grandmother while father kept vigil over mother’s unresponsive form.
We sat together in the living room. Grandmother quietly prayed as my brother and I sat around. Doing nothing. What could we do but wait until bad news came?
It was then at 1am, the music box began to play on it’s own.
I could hear it, the sweet gentle tune of Moon River. However, it was playing slowly, as though the box wasn’t wound up all the way. The slower melody sounded as if the box itself were mourning, playing the now sadder tune with careful deliberation. It only played one full rotation of the song, slowly petering out with one last note.
Grandmother began to cry, holding us both.
When father came in to tell us that mother’s pain was finally at an end, he found Grandmother and us already crying together.
Grandmother knew Mom died before being told. It was only when I was older when I knew why.
Years later I was again, at Grandmother’s house. In the absence of my mother and neglect of my father, Grandmother was the one to raise me. I spent all the time I could with her, it was the only time in my life I felt truly loved since the death of my Mother.
I no longer played with the music box. I did however, help Grandmother clean it along with her other nick-nacks. At this time, my Great Grandmother had finally been placed in an assisted care facility as her advancing age made it impossible for her to live alone. From what I gathered, she was happy there, her body may have been weak but her mind wasn’t. The facility had been carefully selected and she enjoyed it there, bossing people around like she liked to do.
It was a clear summer day and Grandmother and I sat together on the couch, watching some show or whatever.
I remembered how stiff she became when again, the music box began to play by itself. It sounded so sad, as though it was hurting it to go through Moon River. The slow deliberate notes mourned and then again, were silent.
She quietly got up and sat by the phone, waiting.
It did not take long for the facility to call to tell us Great Grandmother had died.
She apparently died suddenly and painlessly. She had sat in a large reclining armchair that she had commandeered for herself and talked to the nurse in charge of her care. She had asked the nurse for a peanut butter sandwich. When the nurse called back to ask how she wanted her sandwich cut and revived no answer, she came out to find her leaned back in her chair, as if asleep. The nurse checked her to find that she, without fuss or anything, had quietly died right then and there.
After the funeral, Grandmother took me aside.
She told me that this particular music box had a habit of playing by itself whenever someone in the family passed away. She had no clue how the music box came to be in the possession of the family, it seemed to have been always there since she could remember. But it without fail, played one sorrowful bar of Moon River when there had been a death in the family. She didn’t believe it was evil, but there was something about the music box that defied explanation. It had played when her brother was killed in a house fire. It played when her father was killed on a work accident. It had played over and over, alerting the family to each and every death.
She gave the box to me and I have kept it since. I placed it on an honored portion of my shelf. I didn’t quite believe the idea of it, perhaps it was just a coincidence? I’ve heard it play twice already.
When I heard it play the third time is when I firmly believed that it was not a normal music box.
Only three years ago, one cold December night, it began to play. This time it played two whole bars of Moon River, the notes hung in the air like clear glass as the mournful tune played. I got up to look at it, watching the inner brass workings move as the raised bumps on the drum passed over the thin strips of musical metal. I watched the tune pluck out this way, until it slowed down. When the last note rang out, I sat it back on the shelf.
I did not sleep that night, nor did I the next two days.
Tuesday I was to to visit Grandmother and take her out for errands. Her eyes had gone bad, and I volunteered to drive her wherever she needed to go. But when I pulled up to her house to see that two days worth of newspapers were sitting on the porch, I knew something was wrong. The door was locked and I was forced to break in, but my worse fears had been confirmed.
Grandmother, my wonderful grandmother, who had raised me and taught me to be a good person, was dead.
The coroner had said she died two days prior.
I believe she gave the music box to me, so I would know when she died.
That was three years ago. I still have the music box. It sits on my shelf and overlooks the bed where I sleep. So far it had played for four generations worth of people.
I am not afraid of it, nor do I hate it. It would be like being afraid and angry over air. It just simply is.
But still sometimes I lie awake at night and listen, waiting for it to play again to signal another death.
Or perhaps wonder, if it would play for me when I died.