“I feel like my life is all chopped up,” said Mr. Smyth.
“How do you mean?” asked Mr. Callahan.
“Does it ever seem to you like we’re here one moment and gone the next?” A long moment passed.
“No.” Mr. Callahan turned back to examining an expensive vase he found in the piano room. The vase’s art had struck a chord with him.
Mr. Smyth sat down at the baby grand piano and played a dissonant chord. He cringed.
“Do you know how to play that thing?” inquired Mr. Callahan.
“I took piano lessons once,” responded Mr. Smyth.
“When you were eight?”
A pause, as Mr. Smyth pondered if he could come up with a witty retort. He could not. He answered, “Yes.”
“So you don’t know how to play piano.”
Still no comeback. “Right.”
“That’s a shame.”
“I guess.” Mr. Smyth ran his fingers over the piano keys, occasionally playing a few random notes.
“Please stop,” said Mr. Callahan, looking at another vase.
“We can take the vases, if you like them so much” suggested Mr. Smyth.
“They look too similar to the ones we stole from the last house. I’ll pass.”
“Aren’t you going to take something?”
“Besides the useless trinkets? We’ll see if something catches my eye”
“You seemed pretty infatuated with that dirty, old book from the living room,” said Mr. Smyth with a laugh and a smirk.
“Well that would be even more useless than taking a duplicate vase,” replied Mr. Callahan too quickly to appear calm and collected.
“Are you hiding something?”
“Why would I do that?”
Mr. Smyth took both hands and began hitting random piano keys. Cacophony erupted from the instrument.
“Please stop,” Mr. Callahan said, more urgently this time.
“I remember this song from my lessons,” said Mr. Smyth whimsically. “It goes something like this.” He continued bashing the keys.
“Stop,” begged Mr. Callahan. “Now.” The playing, if it could be called that, continued. “At least think of the elephants!”
Mr. Smyth stopped. He pondered. Then he got up from the piano, still staring at the keys. “Sorry.”
“Are you apologizing to me or the piano?”
“Neither. I’m apologizing to the elephants.”
“They’re dead. That’s why this piano exists. They were poached.”
“I can still say sorry to them. It’s not an empty apology.”
“Fine. And I’ll request forgiveness from my dead fish.”
“Were you eight when you had it?” asked Mr. Smyth slyly.
“Were you eight when you had it?” asked Mr. Smyth slyly.
A pause. “Yes.”
The Elephant Who Wouldn’t Stop Playing the Piano
Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin. If you could name the composer, you could hear his music pouring out of the Elephants’ home. Daybreak through nightfall, day after day, a relentless stream of the most beautiful music you had ever heard came from the piano situated in their living room. But contrary to what you would think, Mr. and Mrs. Elephant wanted this music to cease. The culprit was their son Junior. He was a child prodigy, able to masterfully play any piece of music without any practice. He was talented, and his parents acknowledged it. But that wasn’t what they had a problem with. They had an issue with the piano.
Yes, the piano. That magnificent instrument capable of a range of melodies and harmonies, from classical to jazz and back again. Made of dark wood that encompassed hand carved keys. Keys made from ebony and ivory. Ivory that came from elephants. And that was precisely what the Elephants were up in arms about.
“Why couldn’t Junior have become a prodigy with some other instrument?” Mrs. Elephant often lamented.
“The saxophone would have been fine. The trumpet, too. Even an oboe! So why did it have to be the piano?” Mr. Elephant would chime in.
Every day, Junior’s parents asked him to please cease and desist from playing that perverse instrument. Every day, Junior denied their request and continued playing his wondrous music that emanated from an immoral encasing.
Finally, the Elephant adults decided enough was enough. They would remove the piano from their home to end Junior’s playing once and for all. That night, after their son was fast asleep, Mr. and Mrs. Elephant hauled the piano out of the living room, through the front door, and down the street. They knocked on the Monkeys’ door and asked if they would be willing to take the instrument. The primates gladly accepted and bid their neighbors good night.
In the morning, the Elephant parents woke up, anticipating a peaceful day free from relentless piano playing. However, as they got out of their oversized bed, they heard something disturbing. It was Haydn. But it was not the Haydn music that was troublesome; it was the fact that they knew it was their son playing it. Mr. Elephant ran into his son’s room, but he was not there. Mrs. Elephant stampeded into the living room, but it was empty. Junior must be with the Monkeys.
Sure enough, Junior was at his neighbors’ house, giving them a magnificent concert. The Monkeys were quite enjoying the morning entertainment, so they were befuddled when the Elephants came over, huffing in anger. They scolded Junior and ordered that he return home immediately.
“Please, just let him stay a bit longer,” pleaded Mr. Monkey. “He was just beginning a Bach fugue.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Monkey, but Junior should not be playing the piano. It is simply unethical,” replied Mrs. Elephant. Without further explanation, the Elephants took Junior and returned home. They questioned him as to how he knew where the piano was, but he did not understand the issue.
“Mother, why won’t you let me play the piano?” asked Junior.
His parents hesitated. They had tried shielding him from the unpleasant truth, but they knew they had no other option but to explain the physical origin of the instrument.
“Well, son,” began Mr. Elephant, “What do the piano keys look like?”
“They’re white, and shiny, and—”
“And what else looks like that?”
“Marble!” shouted Junior. He was excited that he knew the answer.
“No, Junior. Not marble,” said his mother. “What is by your trunk?”
“My teeth!” He thought for sure he got it right this time.
“That’s not it either.”
“Just tell him, dear.”
Mrs. Elephant sighed. “The keys are made from elephant tusks.” She peered intently at his face to see what his reaction would be. Junior was impassive.
“So?” the young elephant asked.
“You can’t in good conscience use something for pleasure that’s made from your dead relatives!”
“How do you know they were related to us?”
“Well, they might not be exactly related to us, but they’re still fellow elephants.”
Junior pondered this new information for a while. When he felt he understood what his parents were trying to tell him, he let out a small “oh.”
His parents looked at each other, then, satisfied that they had effectively performed their duty, left Junior to go work on adult things, like taxes and grocery shopping.
Junior stood rooted to one place. He reached up to his tusks and gently felt them. Then his elephant hands began to twitch. He was having piano withdrawal. But he was conflicted over what to do. He wanted to play so badly, but he felt guilty about disobeying his parents, let alone playing on a piano constructed with elephant tusks. Then his brilliant little mind had a brilliant little idea.
The young elephant ran over to the Monkeys’ house, where they had left the piano. Junior stared at the keys for a moment, then in swift movements removed every ivory key from the instrument. A few minutes later, the ebony keys were all that remained. Junior smiled to himself, satisfied. He sat down on the piano bench and began to play. Being the prodigy he was, his music still sounded amazing.
When Mr. and Mrs. Elephant heard the music, they furiously stormed over to their neighbors’ home. When they confirmed it was their son at the piano, their rage increased tenfold. Then they saw what Junior had done. They paused. They thought. They looked at each other and shrugged. Junior’s parents sat down on the couch and relaxed, truly listening to their son’s music for the first time. The notes Junior could play were now limited, but his music was not.
Junior went on to become a professional concert pianist. He played the classics, but his pianos always only had the black keys. His parents attended every single concert. Junior later became an advocate for elephant rights and an important proponent in the movement to use wooden white keys. His work for this cause was featured in the documentary Piano Keys: The Elephantine Problem of the Music World. Junior is currently working on his sixth studio album full of music that only uses black keys, titled Elephants Never Forget.
No elephants were harmed in the making of this story.