Max Pixels, Public Domain
Source: Max Pixels, Public Domain

Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.

In the wings, Sam could hear the concertmaster tuning up the orchestra.

"Damn, my hand is shaking more than usual—It's a bad Parkinson’s day. Plus, it's my last concert—I'm nervous. Glad I decided on the Grieg, but with these hands, nothing's easy.

Sam had been a concert pianist his whole life. At age 11, he finished 4th in the Midwest Regional Young Artists Competition, and now at 83, he’s performed 65 concerts, including one with the Kansas City Symphony.  He thought,

All right, that was just in the K.C. Symphony's summer festival when lots of the A players were on vacation but still...Somehow I wish my ex-wife were here. How could she have dumped me? I still wish she were here tonight...Do I play it safe? A lot of note mistakes would make the audience think I stayed at it too long, like those star baseball players who'd rather hit .200 than retire. Or do I go for a home run, a chance at a write-up in the Kansas City Star---"Roseman finishes with a flourish!"

The conductor gave Sam a forced smile and strode on stage.

This is it. Deep breaths, deep breaths. Damn, my hands are shaking more. I'm taking too long. I gotta get out there. Stand up straight. Old men hunch. Stride, don’t shuffle.

But Sam could manage only to plod on stage. He hung onto the piano with one hand as he took a modest head bow. "If I try for a full bow, I could fall."

And he sat down at the piano. "I've had this moment so many times but this is different."

Sam used his old trick of adjusting the seat up and then back down again, not because it needed adjusting but to buy a little more time to ground himself before the moment of truth.

And Sam began, and he took every not-crazy risk he could—and most of the time he won. Yes, his boldness caused a few note mistakes but only the ignorant or mean-spirited could denigrate his exciting performance. It was inspiring at any age but for an 83-year old with advanced Parkinson’s?! It gives me the chills just to write about it.

And yes, Sam got not just the usual obligatory extended applause, bestowed as much to protest classical music’s dying popularity as to acknowledge the performer, but fervent applause and then, yes, a standing ovation. Not a charity ovation, a heartfelt one. And Sam, who usually was too shy to really look at the applauding audience and so stared at the back wall, soaked in the smiling, standing people. Then he sighed and plodded off stage for what he thought was the last time.

Sam shuffled into his dressing room, closed the door, and dropped into a chair. “I survived. I did okay. I didn't embarrass myself, but I can’t go to the reception---That's like a retirement party, where everyone tries to make light it being the beginning of the end, my end."

And then, a knock on the door. ‘Daddy?” His daughter opened the door and too effusively gushed, “You were amazing. You were really amazing! Come on. They’re all waiting for you.”

Sam knew there was no avoiding it, so he sighed and trudged downstairs. When he arrived, the chatter resolved into applause. He thought, “I know I have to say something but I'll make it short. No one likes long speeches. And nothing ungracious. I should be a good boy.”

And he began: "When we play and no one hears it, the music is incomplete. We performers are complete only with you. I am so grateful to you for making my music complete. No, my life complete.”

Everyone applauded and, although Sam knew that would have been the right time to end his speechlet, the magnetism of an audience can compel a performer to keep performing. So he added, “Honestly, I can’t stand the thought that this will be my last performance.” And he teared up.

Just then, a four-year-old toddled up to him: “Do you want to play in my class?"

And Sam Roseman went on to play more concerts than he had in his entire life—in preschools and elementary schools, first just locally, then around the country. He never got paid, indeed had to pay all his travel expenses but didn't begrudge it: “My daughter’s okay financially, so I can’t think of a better way to spend my money than to teach young kids to love classical music and that old people aren't necessarily irrelevant."

HERE is a video of me reading this short-short story aloud.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books, including his just-published Modern Fables: short-short stories with life lessons, are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net

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