Charlie winced when his wife hit the wrong note on the piano for the thirty-second time that day. He knew it was the thirty-second time because he’d kept count as he went about his daily chores, cleaning the lighthouse, checking the supplies, mending the rowboat.
Charlie blamed himself for his wife’s latest obsession. He should never have taken Myrtle to attend the concert when that high-flutin’ concert pianist came to town. But it was a special occasion and everyone they knew was going. So Charlie and Myrtle went too. And Myrtle decided right then and there that what she wanted more than life itself was to play the piano.
Charlie tried to talk her out of it. No one in Myrtle’s family was any good at music. But Myrtle was stubborn. If she couldn’t find a dad-gum way, she’d make one! Before Charlie could count to ten she’d bought a cheap, used piano (that was always out of tune) and hauled it over to the island on her brother Jamie’s fishing boat. From that day on, it was practice, practice, practice. Morning, noon, and night Myrtle sat at the piano with her piano book open, plunking away at the keys. At first, there was not much to hear, and Charlie could ignore the sour sounds. But after a few months, she got better…and a lot worse. There were parts of her song that sounded pretty good; but she never, ever got that one line right.
There was nowhere on the small island that Charlie could go to get away from the sound of the piano, even when he sat in his favorite rocker out in the woodshed with cotton in his ears. Myrtle’s new hobby was the source of much contention between the husband and wife, who had never argued before in their entire lives. Now they argued every day about Myrtle’s piano playing.
“At least try to learn another song,” Charlie begged his wife. But Myrtle was stubborn. “I ain’t going to learn another song until I’ve mastered this one. You’ve got to practice to get better Charlie.” And Myrtle went back to her piano and started playing again. Dah-dah-dum-dum-BLAT/ Dum-dum-BLAT-BLAT-ding.
Things came to a head the day a nor’easter roared down on the island. Charlie and Myrtle were holed up together in the lighthouse hour after hour after hour. Charlie had nothing to do but sit and carve decoy ducks. And Myrtle played the piano. Hour after hour after hour. Around four p.m. Charlie leapt to his feet and shouted at his wife to stop playing the blasted song. Myrtle leapt to her feet and shouted that she was going to practice until she got it right. Something in Charlie snapped. Afterward, he felt bad about the way he chopped up the piano with his axe. After all, it was a valuable instrument. Try as he might, he couldn’t feel bad about doing the same to Myrtle.
Charlie put on his oilskins, took up a shovel and dug a grave out back of the woodshed. He buried all the little pieces of Myrtle with all the little pieces of her piano. He figured she would have wanted it that way. That night, with the nor’easter raging and pounding the island and the lighthouse rattling and shaking wildly in the blast, Charlie got the best sleep he’d had in months. No more piano playing, ever.
After the nor’easter blew itself out, Charlie spent the rest of the day cleaning the blood off the floor and walls of the lighthouse. After that, he did his daily duties and carefully noted in the log-book that Myrtle had been swept out to sea by a huge wave while patrolling the beaches, helping Charlie look for shipwrecks.
In the middle of the night, Charlie was startled awake by a familiar sound. Dah-dah-dum-dum-BLAT/ Dum-dum-BLAT-BLAT-ding. He sat bolt upright with an oath. It sounded just like Myrtle playing on the piano. This was impossible, since she was buried behind the woodshed.
Charlie leapt out of bed and felt around for his axe. Blast! He must have left it in the woodshed. He picked up a large piece of firewood and carefully stepped through the door into the main room. To his astonishment, he saw a glowing green, translucent piano standing in the place where Myrtle had put it. The keys of the ghostly piano were playing all by themselves. Dah-dah-dum-dum-BLAT/ Dum-dum-BLAT-BLAT-ding.
Then he heard Myrtle’s voice from the stairway leading up to the light. “Charlie. I told you and I told you. I ain’t going to learn another song until I’ve mastered this one. You should have listened to me!”
Charlie whirled around and gazed up the stairs. Standing a third of the way up was the translucent white figure of his dead wife. And in her hands, she held his axe.
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