The Gun and the Piano

"There is little, if any, difference between a pianist and a killer."

The pianist flexes his elegant fingers and weaves fairytales, crooning love-stories, beneath the pale, pale moon. The pianist does not sleep at night; he is night, and a part of the shadows.

The pianist tucks a thorny rose into his collar and keeps his gloves snow-white.

Meanwhile, the killer runs his beautiful fingers over his gun and conjures music that tint the moon with blood. He has no face; he too is made of shadows.

The killer also wears gloves of white that never touch the red of day.

The pianist and the killer are both marked by moroseness, a still melancholy found only in Mannerist paintings of skulls and gamblers' dice, in Rembrandt meditations. They deal in tarot cards and the spasmodic whims of Lady Luck. I will tell you a truth: This pianist had a name.

But he abandoned it long ago when he became a killer.

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From the very first day he arrived in town they've been telling themselves: He isn't crazy. He's just a little strange, a pallid lily among a desert of toughened ranchers. He's a fine coat of purple velvet amid dusted dungarees. His hair is blond. Can he even hold a gun? He is so polite and soft-spoken you will think he'd grown up in an ivory tower, with a damask cushion and finest rose-water for his hands. He has beautiful hands fit for a pianist.

He's an odd ice sculpture who sticks out in the town that's otherwise a hubbub of heterogeneous wooden shacks, each a random shade of red or brown. Rarely do people walk along the streets; the horizon's far as the eye can see, and the sand mirrors like a blade. Bandits have claimed every strip and corner of the random streets and so they exert their influence well, lounging within the smoky bars, the scratchy brothels, the decrepit museum.

When the pianist takes his customary walk outside, in his fine purple coat, the townspeople peer from their windows and wag tongues. They will spin tales about the leather pouch he carries by his heart. Does it contain his father's inheritance, or a lady's rose? Unpublished music, or a Holy Bible? No, it's a gun - bought for with red blood. Only Rosanna, the beautiful daughter of the Señor Paco, the girl of the haunted eyes and Madonna smile, knows this answer.

Every morning, she hums a lilting tune as she skips down the rows of her green garden, her tulips and daffodils. She bends down and snips a white lily from its stalk, pauses to smell its petals. Sometimes she can glimpse him through the fence. And when the pianist - or the killer - meets her eyes, she blushes and bends over her flowers.

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A man sold his soul to the devil once, in that forlorn town. He sold his soul for the highest ace in a deck of cards. Also, for a violin. The violin spewed fire and broke hearts; the cards cost him his life. But that is only a story, as the townspeople say.

Yet the days flee by, and the pianist practices ceaselessly to polish his music. He sweeps raging arpeggios and fiery scales across the ivory keys. He plays haunting Chopin melodies that weep, and always Bach fugues. When finished, the pianist takes a monogrammed cloth and wipes the white keys, the black cover, until he can see his reflection.

The pianist teaches a few students. He tells them, "Only God can give you hands."

Alternatively, the killer knows his guns by name and also cleans them till he can see his reflection. He is vaguely frightened of not having one because they say, men who sell their souls to the devil, don't see themselves again.

The killer is going to kill someone. He tells himself, "Only God can judge me."

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In reality, he is the finest fountain pen of the Omniscient author, an author of romances and twilit tragedies. Perhaps he has known all along as he ambles his way down the barren street. He bends his head back to glance at the clouds. He knows that the town is a parchment dipped in red.

And the love of his heart is a rose.

In the long lonely hours, the pianist makes love with the beautiful Rosanna behind the shadow of his black heart (his piano). They make love to the crooning of the moon and the swish of the ash trees outside. The killer, though affectionate, is really only making love with himself.

When they finish, he stands before the mirror to ask: Who am I? Sometimes Rosanna will lay a hand on his shoulder.

At night, in the after-shadows of her kiss, he will count his bullets and make the sign of the cross.

At night, he will play his lonesome nocturnes.

Nothing, however, can bar him from doing what he has to do. "I am a sinner," he tells the lovely Rosanna, who always gazes back with that distant look of a sculpted Virgin. He loves her because she is her father's daughter, and transparent while her father is not. (Señor Paco is a murderer.)

"Why is that?"

"Because I have a vengeance."

"What is that?-"

"A darkness."

"Look," she says. "You've made me bleed. I must have pricked myself on something, don't you think?"

"Let me see-"

"Just a red tear on my drawers. It's nothing much."

So he slides them off of her and folds them into a rose, tucks that into his breast pocket. And as he kisses Rosanna for the last time, he realizes (for the first time) that he probably loved her. But love is something that pianists and killers don't share.

"You are going to kill someone tonight. Who is it?"

The pianist says, "Your father."

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The killer (or the pianist) is now walking through a hallway of long shadows. Ghosts are watching from the corners. He forgets, though, that none of the shadows are his own.

The killer takes out a gun.

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His gloves are white as snow and he's planned everything as would a theatre director. He's set the lights so they cast oblique, angled shadows. He's mapped the concrete room within his mind, from the leaning tables to the ancient bookshelf to the window on the other end. He's already written out a dialogue. He is a true artist in the full sense of the word.

Señor Paco sits in a dank corner of the room. He wears a large sun-hat and smokes a cigar; he's a sun-burnt snapshot out of the Wild West. A curtain hangs over the window.

The killer steps into the light and for the first time his face is seen.

The cards on the table show skulls, angels, demons.

Paco asks, "Are you here to kill me?"

"Yes."

"But you've never held a gun, son. You've never held a gun. See, you're not holding that right."

"Yes, I never had. I played only the piano."

"Sensitive creature you are."

"I've never held a gun."

"And so-"

"I assure you, I will never need to hold one."

Correction: he has held a gun before. He's dealt playing cards inscribed with pictures of love and pain and death; he's fallen in love and its mysteries; he's sold his soul to the devil and perhaps will never do this again.

"And as you have taken away from me, so I shall take what is yours away from you."

At this moment they erupt. The chair smashes into his shoulder. He kicks Paco to the ground. They grip, two adversaries, hands slipping on and off the shining gun. Tables crash against the wall.

At last, freed, he rams Paco against the window and glass shatters down his spine.

The killer takes his gun and raises this black and gleaming weapon that could have been a rapier in an older age, a dagger in the one before that, a brother's malice and black heart in the oldest age of all. He slides his fingers to the trigger and recalls that this is the man who had raided his village and razed it to the ground, his mother and father and sisters in the fire. This is the man of his vengeance. The pianist aims at Paco's heart.

- And in bursts Rosanna.

Paco's daughter is flailing her hands, prepared to fall on her knees. Tears stream down her cheeks. Why is she here?

Why is she here? -

Paco blinks. The killer turns around and his gunshot spears through the wide-eyed girl instead, who gasps, falls to the floor, a ribbon of red.

Tears pool in the desert of Paco's eyes.

The pianist shoots himself.

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Perhaps, there truly is little difference between a pianist and a killer. In this case, the acts of art will lay side-by-side with the acts of death.

They say that in nights when no one's listening, the pianist still paints his melodies beneath the moon, his fairytales and love-stories. His music will rustle the grey ash-trees. And his gloves will be white as snow.

They also claim that in nights when no one's watching, the killer makes the sign of the cross. He, too, wears gloves of purest white. And he will wipe his gun until, bit by bit, his reflection emerges from the shadows.

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