Hitting the Road

“We’ll need to find someone to move it,” Mark said in that casual tone of his that can be so maddening at times.

            “No,” I said.

            He gave me his classic look of suspicious puzzlement.

            “You are planning to bring it, aren’t you?”

            “No. I’m staying. And it’s staying with me.” My voice echoed my mental state, somewhere between a toddler bent on self-destruction and a teenager in revolt.

            He put down the books he was packing from the shelves of our music room/library, came over and took me gently by the shoulders, looking at me until not meeting his eyes was undeniable cowardice. With the wisdom gleaned from years of discerning when stating the obvious was called for, he said, “Honey. It’s my job. I have to go. You’re my wife, and you have to come with me. I need you. Staying isn’t an option.”

            I couldn’t answer that, not without repeating all the words we’d exchanged on the matter. Commuting three hours each way had seemed feasible for about one week. Living apart hadn’t lasted more than three nights. He was right, of course. He was always right.

            But my piano was like my first-born. My solace, sometimes my ecstasy. And it had lived so happily in the corner of the library for the past ten years, I couldn’t bear to throw its life, too, into chaos.

            My silence gave him encouragement to drive home his best argument.

            “You’ll have your own music room in the new place, Jill. Better acoustics and all that. We talked about this.”

            I scowled, my teenage angst turning into full-blown rebellion. “You said we’d never have to move it when we bought it. You promised!”

            But deep inside, I knew it was my last volley. He did too. As if he’d planted it there as a prop, he reached into another packing box, pulled out a phone directory and handed it to me. I shoved it back at him.

            “No strangers. Someone at the conservatory gave me the name of a moving company.”

            After a long silence, he offered, “Would you like me tocall them?”

            “No! No! No!” This time I sounded like the two-year-old who just learned the word and knew it was one worth practicing. “It’s my piano, Goddamit.”

            I rarely swore. He backed off gracefully.


            “What size, lady?” The voice on the end of the line was guttural, uncouth. No one with a voice like that should ever be permitted to touch any piano, much less mine.

            “A Steinway B. About ten years old. Matte black. In perfect shape, not a scratch. And it’s been tuned just recently. I definitely want—“

            “I ain’t gonna buy it, lady. Just move it. Where to?”

            “Saltonbury. Three hours away. It will need to be well-cushioned. Do you have a climate-controlled moving van?”

            His silence was unsettling. Then I heard a deep, breathy sigh.

            “Look, lady, it’s spring, okay? The temperature’s the same inside and out. It’ll only be on the truck for a few hours.”

            His logic was mind-boggling. Humidity control was just as critical. But they had been recommended.

            “How many men will you send?”


            “Two! Are you sure that’s enough?”

            “Look, lady. We do this all day long. Every day. Two’s enough. We have a sling.”

            I was beyond discussing it. With that surreal acceptance candidates for surgery call the hospital to make an appointment to have their bodies ripped open and cut apart, I made the arrangements. Then I headed down the hall to my bathroom to cry. But Mark’s long, muscular arm reached out and pulled me in, held me close.

            “It’ll be okay, honey. I promise you.” He cooed into my ear, rubbed my neck with his thumb. All the tricks he’d learned to settle down a skittish horse in his riding days. It worked.


            I always needed tranquilizers for moving day, one reason our last move was ten years ago. I discovered it’s not as easy to get discretionary sedation these days, but fortunately the buzz words “panic attack” and “debilitating migraines” still have some magic in them. On moving day, I was very calm. The strains of my favorite Mozart Sonatas and Bach Inventions filled my mind. With my music packed away, what I held in my memory was all that remained. Mark stayed home to see me through it all. He was the one who answered the door and let them in, while I sat at the piano like the captain on the prow of the ship ready to beat back marauding pirates.

            They were thick. Their bodies, their hands, and, I feared, their heads. I could see a demonic thirst for demolition written all over their faces.

            “Honey, I’ve got some papers I need to show you before I leave,” Mark called to me and headed into the kitchen before I could object. I knew it was a diversionary maneuver, but I I followed him anyway. He really did have papers for the other movers coming in an hour when he’d be gone running last minute errands.

            “Here’s the list of everything we asked them to move and their estimate. They’ll make their own list of whatever they put on the van, and you’ll have to initial each page when they’re done. Here’s the check. Don’t give it to them until everything is loaded. Can you handle that?” My drugged haze helped me overlook the way he spoke as if I were the village idiot.

            “Sure,” I shrugged.

            “That’s my girl. I’ll be back to pick you up around one, and we’ll head on over. If the traffic cooperates, we should get there the same time these guys pull in the driveway.”

            “Righto,” I said with mindless cheeriness. Then I heard a hammer wallop something in the library. Hard. I ran.

            How they did it so fast, I’ll never know. It only took them a couple of minutes to turn my piano into a pile of rubble. One of the movers held up a piano leg in each hand as if they were spoils of war. The other was kneeling—kneeling!—on my magnificent, pristine, polished-weekly-with-a-special-piano-polish-imported-from-Germany piano lid that was laid flat on the floor, upside-down, encased in moving blankets, and he was taping it with enough strips of duck tape to make it look like a drunken checker board. I gasped. Mark took me in his arms and held me tight.

            “Honey, they know what they’re doing,” he whispered in my ear.

            I knew what the hell they were doing, all right. With a good lawyer, I could win a lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress. But the die was cast. If I shouted them out of the house at the top of my lungs, I’d never get my piano back the way it was. What’s more, I needed them to put it back together.


            The rest of the day was a blur, and I blessed the lorazepam more than once for its amnesia-inducing effect as well as its anti-anxiety properties. Mark came home at one, as promised, packed me into the car as carefully as he’d put away his treasured trophies from his golf tournaments, and we left our old home behind. I slept all the way.

            At our new home, the piano van was waiting. I awoke to find Mark sitting behind the wheel, oddly quiet. It took a few seconds for my eyes to focus enough to see the raindrops on the windshield.

             “We can’t move it in the rain.”

            “We’ll see,” he said, looking doubtful himself. “You stay here. I’ll talk to them.”

            He walked to their van, his shoulders shoved into his executive-going-into-board-room posture, which I suspect was more for my benefit than the movers. I did my best to read hand gestures, shrugs, scratched heads, glances at watches, perusals of the dripping sky, more shrugs. The last was unfortunately Mark’s.

            “They’ve moved in the rain before,” he came back to explain. “They can’t wait until it stops. They’ve got another job to get to.”

            “You think I give a damn what else they have to do today?” I snarled.

            “If they don’t deliver it now, they’ll have to put it in storage, which will triple the cost.” He was using his be reasonable, darling tone of voice which we both knew would inevitably bring me over to his side, but I still wanted to kick him for caving in so easily.

            “I’ll sue them if it’s damaged. Tell them that!”

             He nodded, but I knew he’d never do it.

            “Just don’t watch, honey. It’ll be over in a minute. Once they’re inside, you can tell them exactly where you want it.”

            Oddly, that felt like the smartest thing I’d heard all day. Close my eyes. Deny reality. I popped another lorazepam, knowing it would make me worthless for any unpacking later in the day, but this was as big a medical emergency as I’d ever experienced.

            And it worked. My God, it worked so well, I couldn’t believe it. The most relaxing thing in the world has always been the high I get from making music, and it was sounding better than ever as I filled my brain with the steady, mesmerizing beat of the right-hand triplets that frame the lovely left-hand melody of the Moonlight Sonata. If I played it adagio enough, it would get my piano off the van, across the stone drive, into the—

            The most horrific sound I’ve ever heard in my life blasted through my reverie. A cacophony as noisy and irritating as an orchestra tuning up consumed the air around me. Wails of disharmony rose from the ground like methane gas, their echoes banging against each other inside my fuzzied brain. I jumped out of the car, and the noise grew louder, even as it dissipated. My piano was screaming, crying, shrieking in its own form of mechanical pain, one I would never be able to feel.

            “God damn stones!”

            A man I didn’t recognize was squirming violently as he tried to free his foot, pinned under the main body of my piano, still encased in its blankets, but lying upside down on the driveway, where it had landed when it fell out of the sling. It looked and sounded like a felled elephant whimpering its last death rattles. Thick-Head was struggling to lift it up.

            “Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to the man making as much noise as if he’d been caught in a bear trap.

            “Get it off me!”

            Mark pitched in to help, and together he and Thick-Head freed him. The man rose awkwardly to a standing position and after a few contortions of his lower limbs proved that at least there were no broken bones. Then he attacked his attacker. He swore at the piano with words even I’ve never heard before and looked ready to kick it. I stepped in between quickly.

            “Who is this man?” I demanded of Thick-Head.

            “One of our helpers,” he said. “The other guy had to go home. His wife or somethin’…”

            “You dropped it,” I said dumbly. “My piano…how could you—“

            “Take it easy, lady. The driveway’s slippery with all these wet stones. But they got insurance. They’ll make it right.”

            “But…you dropped it,” was all I could say. Over and over and over until Mark led me away.

            To his credit, Mark has a commanding general gene he can pull out when required. It expressed itself with full-blown gusto. He got on the phone and demanded they immediately send out two more men to complete the job. Within an hour, my abused child was sitting in the music room, reassembled by their chief piano technician, who set to work tuning it. Mark kept an eye on me from a distance as I sat in the corner on the floor, listening to every note, every hammer strike, feeling in my own body every minute adjustment of the tension of the strings, like a parent listening to her child’s breathing, praying for its recovery.

            “A couple chipped keys—we’ll fix those. No crack in the soundboard. That’s the most important thing. Except for those chips and a couple of bruises on the wood it’s as good as new,” was the technician’s diagnosis. “I’m really sorry it happened, but it could have been much worse. They’re pretty rugged, you know. You don’t know half of what happens to those concert pianos on stage. And, of course, there’ll be no charge for moving it.”

            I refused to play it when he asked me to try it out. I told him I needed time to recover myself. The next wave of movers came, and as soon as my favorite chair was delivered, I crawled into it and slept off the drugs. It wasn’t until evening that I woke to the smell of pizza.

            Mark looked at me warily as I walked into the kitchen.

            “Thanks,” I said, still weary but coming alive as I realized how famished I was. Pepperoni with mushrooms and green peppers; it was my favorite. I picked up a piece from the box and took a bite.

            “You okay?” he asked.

            “Sure. Why not?”

            “It’s been a tough day.”

            I shrugged, took another bite.

            “Look, Jill. I have to tell you, maybe this was all a big mistake. Maybe we should never have moved. Maybe if we’d tried—“

            I stopped him with a kiss smothered in tomato sauce. I love it when I can take him by surprise, but he quickly caught on. He pulled me onto his lap, and we ate and kissed in silence until we were sated.

            Finally I said, “I need to check on the patient.”

            He tensed, then nodded. “Of course. I’ll clean up.”

            It looked lonely, but not forlorn, in its new corner. The piano light hadn’t been unpacked yet, so I had only moonlight to check it over with. The two chipped keys were both in the lower register. One was so minimal, all it needed was a rough edge sanded smooth. The other was near the front end of the key where I’d never feel it.

            I smoothed my hand lovingly over the sensuous black and whites I knew so well. Then I sat down. No tentative testing of tones in different octaves. I’d already heard every one of them, many times over, as they’d been tuned that afternoon. I could tell from his first touch the piano technician was an expert. He was right too; the piano was as good as new. What he didn’t know was that it was better than new. Better than it had ever sounded before.

            My mother had a talent for spouting homegrown words of wisdom. My favorite Mom-ism has always been, “Life needs a good shaking up now and then—it usually does more good than harm.”

            “This one’s for you, Mom,” I said, and I played her favorite Brahms Intermezzo as I’d never heard it before.

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