The music once flowed from these hands. Hundreds gathered to hear and these hands were acclaimed by critics and emperors alike. I remember the music, the fingers dancing on the bone-white keys of the piano. In the hot room, full of the silence of a waiting audience, the music began gently, and then rose! loud and beautiful and carried us away in a tide of sound. The music didn’t care about the war. It knew nothing of death or suffering.
In my room, sunlight danced on the white keys of the piano, creating a silent melody. When he came in I knew him. He’d given me the red band on my arm. -If you aren’t with us you’re against us, he’d said, smiling. I nodded, shrugged. I knew nothing of war, cared only that I was left to play in peace. He’d shaken my hand, gripping hard.
So I played. The music and the sunlight and the clean white keys of the piano. Outside people died, screamed, and killed in a frenzy of hatred, but I knew only the music.
-You do not fight, he said in my room, where the sunlight fell on my hands.
-I am a musician, I said, -What could I do?
-Remember, he said. -You are safe because of me. If I die, they will throw you to the wolves.
I did not understand. I nodded, played the lilting melody of sunlight. I did not look out my window at the soldiers. Though I too wore the red band on my arm, I was not one of them.
He was killed three days later. They found him on the steps of his home, the red band torn from his arm. The new leader came to me, where I sat in the grey light. Even in the rain the soldiers marched, but I played and didn’t hear their voices.
-You must prove your loyalty, this new leader told me. I didn’t understand his fear.
-No, I argued. -I am not a soldier. My hands are not for fighting, they are for music.
-Damn your hands, he growled. -You will fight.
I should have bowed my head. I should have learned to use the weapons, marched with the others in the street. The music would have waited. But I was foolish and stubborn.
-I won’t, I said.
I sit here now, and the streets are empty, for the soldiers have been driven away. Dead leaves blow across the grey stone and a woman cries for her husband. The new emperor sits in his throne and watches without expression as his soldiers slaughter the Red Guard, and nowhere in the Empire is there the sound of music.
My hands lie on my lap, still and lifeless. I have tried to play, but they slip on the keys. He broke all of the fingers, snapping them one by one on the edge of the piano, but the only pain I feel is the emptiness where once the music lived.