On hands


During the warmer months, the piano store down the street moves one of its uprights to the sidewalk, with a handwritten sign laid out on the music rack: “PLAY ME! Don't be shy.”
       It is a brutal winter, and the pianos remain stuck inside for now. I’ve signed up for Friday lessons, 1 to 2 p.m.
       The last lesson I took was in the late 1980s. The teacher would come to the house on Sundays. When nobody else was home with me, I would hide from her. In my room, I’d watch her ring the doorbell then leave. On the days I let her in, she never brought up my negligence. All she would say, in her gentle, firm manner, was that I should be doing my exercises more. Her fingers were long, her nails polish-free and nondescriptly trimmed. Watching her play was reassuring, hypnotic, for the smooth hands of a teacher, of a pianist in particular, signaled intellectual clarity and competence.
       I hid from her because I was lazy. I was not a pianist. My hands on the keys betrayed me every time. I would play my drills for her, but the sound was too wooden, because my hands looked too wooden.
       When I play now, I look away from the keys. This is partly to encourage muscle memory, but mostly so I don't have to witness myself as impostor.
       My fingers are like an octopus’s tentacles, climbing over the keys as though sucking on their surface.