Ross stood before his audience, bowed, and sat at the piano. The applause, the applause, the applause is what I’ll miss most about this, he thought. It kept me going, even when I had no food. Hell, I still have very little food. But enough. It pays the bills, such as they are.
Ross lifted his hands, calling to mind the music he had been playing for the last fifty years. He began with the Strauss, waltzing his fingers over the keyboard. He looked down at those fingers, noticed their wrinkles, the veins popping out as he lifted a hand to move it up, tinkling some high notes while his left caressed the low ones. Funny, he thought, how after all this time, old Mr. Schultz’s lessons remained. Similes? Metaphors? Ross couldn’t remember. But he thought of dancing along the keys.
He realized he wasn’t paying attention, and tried to refocus. He was on the Chopin now. He didn’t even remember finishing the Strauss, or the applause. Strange. That happened a lot lately.
Wait, Beethoven. Okay, it’s the Beethoven. Focus, Ross, Focus. Up on the Bs, or was it Bb? I can’t remember, shit, they’re coming, okay go with natural, and dammit, it was supposed to be flat. Okay, it’s okay, just play around with it, make it an avant-garde Beethoven. All Bbs are now Bs. Got it. I can recover, just, look out and smile.
He turned his head to the audience, waggled his eyebrows, and grinned mischievously. The audience tittered with laughter as he covered over everything with his well-known playfulness.
He reached the end of the revamped Beethoven, and stood. The audience clapped appropriately, and he bowed, then sat again. “One more,” he said, holding up a finger to display it. “One of my favourites.”
He brought his hands up, and held them there for thirty seconds. He lowered his arms, readjusted himself, and raised them again. He leaned back, then moved forward to signify the beginning of the second movement. One audience member coughed. He could hear an elderly person unwrapping a candy; his own mouth watered for it. He could hear the glances of those around the elderly person, and her attempt to open the candy more quietly. Someone shifted in their seat. Two more people did. Someone whispered quietly, the “S”s coming out clearly.
When he saw that two minutes and twenty-three seconds had passed, Ross lowered his arms again. He readjusted himself, and the audience did the same, a small flurry of noise. He prepared himself, and signified the beginning of the third movement.
It was deathly still in the auditorium, people trying hard to be absolutely silent. No one moved. Ross’s arms started to ache from being held up. At one minute, they started to tremble. Forty seconds, he told himself. You can hold it. Come on, come on…
Someone in the audience sneezed, and Ross lost control, his hand dropping, a finger hitting an A on the way down. It was at one minute and thirty-nine seconds; close enough, but the audience laughed at his cheeky addition, and he stood, smiling, embracing it, trying not to show the error. They applauded, louder, and louder, and louder, finally standing for him. He bowed and left the stage, then returned to bow again. He sat back down at the keyboard and, grinning, started “Shave and a Hair Cut”. He played the second last note, looked at the audience, stood, bowed, and left the stage for good.