The Death Wish

I was just stepping away from the piano when our host thanked me warmly and observed, “you have an excellent hand position; you've clearly had fine training.” She was an elderly Hungarian Jew, whose tatooed forearm bore witness to unspoken Nazi horrors. 

I acknowledged her compliment and asked if she might favor our small gathering with a selection or two of her own.”You must be quite accomplished,” I added, “judging by the difficulty of the sheet music in your piano bench.” 

“Oh, I don't play anymore” she responded. “My daughters used to play before they married and left home. I still keep sheet music for guests such as you.” 

“It's such a beautiful piano,” I encouraged. “Don't you ever feel like playing a little.” 

“Yes,” she said, “but years ago, I promised myself I never would. You see my playing once carried a death wish.” 

“I don't understand,” I answered puzzled. 

She hesitated a moment as if wondering whether to explain, then proceeded to recount the following story. 

“ When I was a young girl in Budapest, my family was comfortable, and as I showed some talent at the piano, they determined to get me the best teacher they could afford. My teacher was severe, a dour-faced woman, always in a grey suit and in her mid-forties, I would guess in retrospect.” 

“She made me work hard; I spent hours practicing and yet it was never enough. She felt I had great talent and resolved to make a concert pianist of me. And while I loved the piano, I lacked the motivation to become a professional and would much rather play the popular songs that were current at the time, a practice she expressly forbade.” 

“One afternoon, my teacher arrived unexpectedly to discuss some matter of payment with my parents and discovered me playing a popular song. She stormed into the living room outraged, accusing me of wasting my talent and of being unappreciative of the time and energy she was devoting to me Then as I trembled, she warned me were I ever to play such music again, she would drop me outright.” 

“At that moment, I hated her more than I had hated anyone before, and as I resumed my assigned exercises, wished she would die.” Ten days later she threw herself to her death from her eighth story apartment window. She had just learned she had untreatable brain cancer.” 

“Still I could not help but feel my death wish had some part in her demise. I vowed never again to touch the piano and I never have.” 

“Now,” our host continued without pause, “may I offer you some tea and cookies.” 

( Story written prior to 1970 and based on real life incident. Frank )

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