When I heard Barney’s body hit the ice on a frosty morning it was like a gunshot. I held the phone away and shouted into the mouthpiece, then lay in bed holding my pillow over my head as the ambulance sirens drew closer.
Barney, like me, had kept to himself. It was just the two of us in the valley and near silent, the only noises the bang of Barney’s front door and the heavy flap of the Kereru’s wings.
Barney had no family. The Public Trust put an ad in the newspaper asking for relatives to come forward. The cottage sat empty and year after year, I watched it melting into the landscape. The weeds growing higher and the paint peeling off the walls.
The young couple arrived on a Monday morning. They had a key they used to open the front door. I expected it to fall off its hinges, but it swung into the dark house and they went inside.
Days later, they used a car and a trailer to move in. I watched them lift furniture and boxes into the house.
The sun was low in the sky when the final load arrived. The car pulled to the side of the road. A grand piano on the trailer, gleaming wood catching the last rays of sun.
The man got out of the car and gently pulled the ropes off the piano. He ran his hands over the glossy lid of the instrument.
Then he climbed from the road onto the trailer. He lifted the lid and he poked at one of the keys with a finger. I imagined his hands would be oily, crusted with dirt. A note ran out over the valley
I covered my ears.
He wiped both his hands on his trousers and placed them on the keyboard.
The music was an onslaught on my ears. Notes threaded together, jumping on top of each other. I felt something in me for a moment, a small firecracker. I pulled the curtains in the kitchen and went to the other side of the house where the music became just a muffled tinkle. The tune echoed in my head long after he’d gone inside.
Later I watched him lift a box from the boot of his car. He took a few steps and the box collapsed. I watched him on his hands and knees in the mud, picking up sheets of paper.
The next day I found a stray page on the road. The paper was old and yellow, frayed from use. The name Sibelius embossed in faded gold. The day was cold, bleak. I used the music to light a fire then watched it burn. For a moment there was only ash and a glint of gold and then it was gone.
That night I sat in my dark house and watched the couple eat dinner at their kitchen table. The piano sat in the corner, dark and silent.
Annette Edwards-Hill lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has been published in Flash Frontier, Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, Gravel, Headland, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex Fiction and the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Anthology. She was nominated for the Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize and the winner of the Flash Frontier Winter Writing Award in 2017. She was recommended in the London Independent Short Story competition twice in 2019.
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