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Text № 6 piano

By William Saroyan (1908-1981)

I get excited every time I see a piano, Ben said.

Is that so? Emma said. Why?

I don’t know, Ben said. Do you mind if we go into this store and try the little one in the corner?

Can you play? Emma said.

If you call what I do playing, Ben said.

What do you do?

You’ll see, Ben said.

They went into the store, to the small piano in the corner. Emma noticed him smiling and wondered if she’d ever know anything about him. She’d go along for a while thinking she knew him and then all of a sudden she’d known she didn’t. He stood over the piano, looking down at it. What she imagined was that he had probably heard good piano playing and loved that kind of music and every time he saw a keyboard and the shape of piano he remembered the music and imagined he had something to do with it.

Can you play? She said.

Ben looked around. The clerks seemed to be busy.

I can’t play, Ben said.

She saw his hands go quietly to the white and black keys like a real pianist’s, and it seemed very unusual because of what she felt when that happened. She felt that he was someone who would be a long time finding about himself, and someone somebody else would be much longer finding out about. He should be somebody who could play a piano.

Ben made a few quiet chords. Nobody came over to try to sell him anything, so, still standing, he began to do what he’d told her he wasn’t playing.

Well, all she knew that it was wonderful.

He played half a minute only. Then he looked at her and said, It sounds good.

I think it’s wonderful, Emma said.

I don’t mean what I did, Ben said. I mean the piano. I mean the piano itself. It has a fine tone, especially for a little piano.

A middle-aged clerk came over and said, How do you do?

Hello, Ben said. This is a swell one.

It’s a very popular instrument, the clerk said. You can have terms, of course.

He noticed Ben wanting to try it out some more.

Go ahead, he said. Try it some more. I don’t play, Ben said. I heard you, the clerk said. That’s not playing, Ben said. I can’t read a note.

Sounded too good to me, the clerk said. Play some more, the clerk said. Nobody’ll mind.

The clerk pushed up the bench and Ben sat down and began to do what he said he wasn’t playing. He fooled around fifteen or twenty seconds and then found something like a melody and stayed with it two minutes. Before he was through the music became quiet and sorrowful and Ben himself became more and more pleased the piano. Then he stopped playing and stood up.

Thanks, he said. Wish I could buy it.

Don’t mention it, the clerk said.

Ben and Emma walked out of the store. In the street Emma said, I didn’t know about that, Ben.

About what? Ben said.

About you.

What about me?

Being that way, Emma said.

This is my lunch hour, Ben said. In the evening is when I like to think of having a piano.

They went into a little restaurant and sat at the counter and ordered sandwiches and coffee.

When did you learn to play? Emma said.

I’ve never learned, Ben said. Any place I find a piano, I try it out. I’ve been doing that ever since I was a kid.

He looked at her and smiled. He smiled the way he did when he stood over the piano looking down at the keyboard. Emma felt very flattered.

Never having money, Ben said, keeps a man away from lots of things he figures he ought to have by rights.

I guess it does, Emma said.

In a way, Ben said, it’s a good thing, and then again it’s not so good. In fact, it’s terrible.

He looked at her again, the same way, and she smiled back at him the way he was smiling at her.

She understood. It was like the piano. He could stay near it for hours. She felt very flattered.

They left the restaurant and walked two blocks to the Emporium where she worked.

Well, so long, he said.

So long, Ben, Emma said.

He went on down the street and went on into the store. Somehow or other she knew he’d get a piano some day, and everything else, too.