Chopin Beneath A Starry Sky
by Tony Noland
Once upon a time, a squirrel was coming home from the last rehearsal but one before a piano recital. The recital was to be on the following Saturday afternoon, at two o'clock. The final rehearsal was to be that same Saturday morning, and would be conducted in full tuxedo dress. The squirrel had never worn black tie and tails, and was afraid that he would look rather ridiculous, not to mention old-fashioned.
His instructor, an old cocker spaniel with an excellent ear, had assured him that a cutaway coat would not only catch him around the armpits, thus hampering his reach for the arpeggios, but would ride up in back, exposing his suspenders. The squirrel doubted this, but acquiesced. Although his ear was indeed excellent, the cocker spaniel was quite advanced in age and tended towards the cantankerous during rainy weather, when he was troubled excessively by arthritis as a consequence of the damp.
The tuxedo was a worry that compounded the squirrel's anxiety about the recital. He had, naturally, performed for his family and friends at dinners and parties, and had achieved the successes consequent to diligent practice. It was no small source of pride to him that personal invitations to great-uncle's mansion had increased quite notably in recent seasons. He had been (he flattered himself) the "toast" of several weekend parties last summer. At Christmastime, it was quite the crowd that had gathered round the fine old Steinway to sing carols and hymns as he played. Then, when the older set had taken to their beds, the younger members of the party had enjoyed themselves thoroughly into the small hours, cheering on Father Christmas in his flight with the remainder of the holiday nog, half a case of champagne and a few bottles of port. All throughout, the popular tunes he played (and even a few uncharacteristically bawdy pieces) had filled the Great Hall with a rosy glow of the muse Thaleia's beneficence.
This Saturday, however, was to be Chopin and Hayden. The squirrel's own selections had been by Brahms and a difficult piano concerto by Bach, but his instructor would have none of it. With a low bark, he had made it perfectly plain that he felt it was time for, as he put it, "the real playing to begin". Why this new phase in his musical education must involve such an excruciatingly high probability of public embarrassment, the squirrel could not begin to understand.
It was, therefore in a morose and distracted frame of mind that he reached the M-91 road and stepped out to cross the macadam without watching for traffic. Naturally, you will hardly believe this, as you know the instinctually cautious nature of squirrels perfectly well! However, it is a measure of the squirrel's mental and emotional disquiet that he was fully in the middle of the road before he realized that a low-slung sports car, lemon yellow, was fast bearing down on him in the eastbound lane. A panicked glance showed him a tractor-trailor truck in the westbound lane, going almost as fast as the sports car and similarly almost upon him.
You can guess what happened. While it is the innate caution of squirrels which so typically affords them a long life and a happy retirement, it is the innate indecisiveness of squirrels which, sadly, too often brings them an unhappy end. The squirrel jumped to complete his trip across the road, thought better of it and turned back, then turned again in panic.
He escaped the fender of the sports car by inches, but the powerful draft of air flung him bodily into the path of the truck. His body was broken under the tires on the left hand side as the truck sped over him. So overwhelming was the squirrel's terror that the sensations of his body betrayed him. For a moment - for one, glorious, starburst moment - he thought that he had been missed completely, and that he had suffered no more than a scare. The stars flashed in the sky overhead, brightly twinkling in the darkness. If he felt a flicker of pain, it was gone in an instant as, softly and tenderly, death came for him, as He does for all squirrels. How lucky and how blessed the squirrel believed himself to be, to have so narrowly escaped. If there is a mercy associated with his demise, it is that he died with this vision of starry, celestial beauty before him.
With his last breath, the squirrel lay twitching on the M-91, his fingertips running through the end of the Chopin with a flouirsh and then, with his broken and bleeding body, bending low to receive the applause of everyone he knew as the last chords echoed and rang through the world.
===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.