Home > A Thousand Perfect Notes

A Thousand Perfect Notes
Author: C. G. Drews


‘You are worth more than a thousand

perfect notes.’



What he wants most in the world is to cut off his own hands.

At the wrist would be best. That hollow tiredness that stretches from fingertips to elbow would be gone for ever. How sick is that? There must be something seriously – dangerously – wrong if he can lie on his rock-solid mattress at night and think about lopping off limbs and using bloodied stumps to write ‘HA!’ on the walls. He’d be a scene out of a horror movie.

And he’d be free. Because, without hands, he’s worthless to her.

To the Maestro.

His mother.

But the entire handless daydream would require action instead of fantasising, and he’s not so good at that. Even stupid small stuff – like spontaneously detouring by an ice creamery on the way home from school and treating his little sister to a double whipped fudge cone instead of keeping the strict time schedule the Maestro demands – is impossible. He won’t even try something like that. Why? A taste of fudge and freedom isn’t worth it?


He’s just not made for rebellion or risks.

Fantasising is all he’s good for. Sick dreams of mutilation, apparently. Which hand would he even cut off? Right? Or left?

It scares Beck Keverich – the way he thinks sometimes.

His digital clock reads 5:12. Still dark. Still cold. It’s always easier to batter his way out of bed in summer, but now that autumn has wrapped bare, twiggy fingers around the universe, his alarm clock feels like it’s shrieking in the middle of the night. And he should’ve been up twelve minutes ago.

It’s surprising the Maestro hasn’t rattled his door to roar at his laziness.

Beck peels his head off the pillows. He wishes he could dissolve into them. Did he even sleep last night? His wrists ache like he’s been juggling blocks of cement. Did he quit at eleven? Midnight?

His fingers moan, it was midnight, you fool. They also say get us warm and let us rest this morning and even we’re going to curl into a fist and punch the wall until we shatter. His fingers are cantankerous like that.

Beck rubs his hands together, blows on his numb fingers and curses broadly to the universe – because it’s quicker than being specific about the depths of his loathing of the Maestro right now. Then he approaches the object of his doom, his life, his worth.

He slams the piano lid open.

The Steinway upright is the sole glory of his room. Not that there’s much else in the room. He has a bed that feels like snuggling rocks, broken blinds on the windows, a wardrobe of second-hand clothes and shoes held together with duct tape and hope – and a twenty-thousand-dollar piano.

As the Maestro says, ‘A good piano is all the hope I have that mein Sohn will improve his schreckliche music.’

Beck only spent his toddler years in Germany, but stayed bilingual by necessity – he needs to know when his mother is sprinkling burning insults over his head. Although her curled lips and glares also speak volumes.

Schreckliche means terrible. Awful.

It’s a summary of Beck.

You are an awful pianist. Your music has no future. You have no talent. Why don’t you play faster, better, clearer? Why do you hit the wrong notes all the time? Are you doing it on purpose areyouplayingbadlyonpurposeyouworthlesslittle—

‘You suck, kid,’ Beck says calmly to himself. ‘So work.’

It’s his routine pep talk to get motivated in the cold pre-dawn darkness. Now for staccato notes. Double fifth scales. Diminished seventh exercises. Fumbled notes. Trills for his iced fingers to fall across.

He’ll wake the Maestro – although she’s probably already awake and seething that he started late – and his little sister. He’ll wake the neighbours, who hate him, and he’ll start the local dogs howling. He’ll shake the sleep from the weeds strangling the footpath, and the broken glass from some drunken brawl, and the homeless who lurk in the dank non-kid-friendly neighbourhood playground.

By 8 a.m. Beck’s fingers will feel like flattened noodles and his eyelids will be coated in cement.

And all the time, he dreams of sawing off his hands or even his ears.

Of walking out and never coming back.

He dreams of utter silence – so then the tiny kernel of music inside him could be coaxed to life. It’s unbelievably noisy in his head, noisy with songs of his own creation. But since the Maestro will have none of it, it stays locked away.

Play the music on the paper. No one cares about the songs in your head.

His bedroom door crashes open and his little sister appears with a howl like a wildcat.

Joey is a tumbleweed of wire and jam stains, set on maximum speed and highest volume. She’s exhausting just to look at.

‘IT’S FIFTEEN MINUTES TILL WE GO,’ Joey bellows. She solemnly believes Beck can’t hear anything else when he’s on the piano. He can hear, he just can’t multitask and answer.

His cyclone of music fades and silence pours over Beck’s fingers. Relief. By this point, if Chopin walked into the room, Beck would throttle him with a shoelace. He hates these pieces the Maestro demands he learn.

It’s past eight. He’s not even dressed or had breakfast.

‘I hate Mondays,’ he mutters and reaches for his school shirt. At least when one lives in a room the size of a broom closet everything is in easy reach.

Joey’s face puckers. ‘It’s not Monday.’

‘Every day is Monday.’ A perpetual string of Mondays – he does belong in a horror film.

It takes his aching fingers two tries to get the buttons.

‘I made you lunch,’ Joey says, spider-climbing up his doorframe. ‘A surprise lunch. A scrumptious surprise lunch.’

‘That sounds … terrifying.’ Beck balls his holey pyjama shirt and throws it at her face. She gives an indignant squeak and drops from the walls.

To prove his point – OK, fine, because Joey loves a good show of theatrics – Beck drops to his knees, clasps his hands together, and wails like an impaled porpoise. She’s giggling before he even starts to beg.

‘Don’t punish me. Please. What have I done to deserve this torment?’

‘It’s not torment!’ Joey says, indignant. ‘I’m a scrumptious cook. Even if you’re a bad brother for being late yesterday.’

That would be on account of his English teacher, Mr Boyne, having a flare up of I-care-about-your-horrible-grades-so-I’m-going-to-bawl-you-out-to-prove-it, which included a demanded display of Beck’s comprehension of the text. The ‘comprehension’ was, of course, non-existent. Hence Beck was late to pick up Joey.

The preschool teacher, whose face reminded him of a king crab, snapped at him about ‘responsibilities’, too.

‘If I was a witch, I’d turn you into a toad,’ Joey says, confidentially, ‘’cause everyone gets mad when we gotta go to the city for you, and Mama says we’re going again soon.’

Beck cringes. There’s a state championship coming up to obligingly stress everyone. Oh joy. And failure, with the Maestro hanging over his shoulder, is not an option.

‘But I’d turn you back into a boy someday,’ Joey says, warming up. ‘’Cause I like you, even if you always play the same notes over and over and over, because Mama says you’re a Schwachkopf—’

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