Celia coughed and gasped as the world turned black around her. She heard her name, called over and over, a tin whistle howling, shooting through the darkness. She was here again. It was night. She sat down, the ground smooth and hard. Wooden boards. Celia glanced up, waiting. A window appeared, then three more in a line, each with gauzy white curtains, blowing in some faraway wind. The tin whistle spat one last time, then faded, replaced by the thunking of piano keys. She couldn’t hear the notes, only the pearly sound of keys being pressed, slowly, aimlessly. It had become very still, quiet except for the sound of her breath.
Celia sat, surrounded by the windows in complete darkness. She wondered how she had made it all the way to the piano room. Her eyes were heavy. She couldn’t tell if they were open.
“Celia,” she heard again.
No, it couldn’t be her father calling. Couldn’t be Nana, couldn’t be her mother. She doesn’t know her mother’s voice, but she’d like to think she’d sound like how Celia sounds in her own head. Nana wouldn’t call her, not from her grave, and certainly not like this, saying nothing important and repeating herself. She knows that there’s nobody in the windows, nobody in her father's apartment but her and him. The piano thunks again meaninglessly. Its black, glossy outline comes into Celia’s view, underneath the windows.
They had a piano room in the apartment, even though none of them could play. Celia only went into that room when it wasn’t a conscious choice. Something had brought her here. She’d played the piano once, notes and chords with a feeling she couldn’t describe. Fast and angry, then all gone. The piano room had been for Celia’s mother. She played when she was golden and warm, and Celia was tiny and hated everything loud, except for her father’s laugh. Now, Celia felt her head sinking, and wondered how long until she’d hit the floor.
That left the glossy grand piano, windows, and girl on the floor, all alone except the slow, dripping notes, drifting around and playing on wind they couldn’t feel. Insensitive, cold, tapping, monstrosity. Celia grumbled on the floor. Everything was too loud. She could hear it all now: her mother’s old voice, higher than it should have been, her Nana rasping quietly, singing songs on the car radio, lighting a cigarette on the porch and smiling at her over yellowing candles. Her father sitting alone at a piano with a glass of whiskey, mostly empty because it was never full.
Celia was an amalgamation of something odd, with russet brown hair against her mother’s white blonde, and her father’s black, now grey, but actually russet brown for the first time, hiding bottles of hair dye for years and years, ever since Nana had died. She would have given him trouble about pretending like that. Celia’s mother had been gone for so long that nobody knew what she would think. Celia herself didn’t like to think too hard about her. So her father dyed his hair russet brown, only the tiniest shade away from her hair.
Celia, once again knew her eyes were closed, but she saw anyway. She lay on the wooden floor, right side to the planks, her hair fanned out. She looked down on herself, like she was perched, back pressed against the ceiling. She didn’t like the pressure, settled back down into her body. The piano never stopped. But now she heard footsteps. Someone approaching the piano room. The floorboards shuddered underneath her. Heavy, tapping, cold. The door opened inward, slowly. It brought light even though the windows should have already done it. The blackness all around Celia faded. She was in the piano room.
Celia thought she blinked, but didn’t dare move. She was awfully cold all of a sudden. The floor was stiff. She sighed, shut her eyes harder. The piano kept on playing. Footsteps again, and they tapped their way across the room, settling under one of the windows. The curtains wavered silently. Then they were closed. Quietly. The piano had stopped it’s talking. Tap tap tap, then a click as the keylid was raised. Celia felt another weight settle in her back as her father sat down at the piano. The keys started up again, clearer now, repeating and steady. Light came in through the windows and settled on russet brown, blue against near-red. Celia blinked again.
She’d become warm and lighter, laying on the floor for longer than she could remember. She hummed something in her head, then heard it hum back at her. It was wrong, wrong notes and key, but close enough. Celia opened her eyes.
She had been laying on the cool floor in a room with three windows, not four. The grand piano sat alone in the corner, with no furniture to keep it company except for the matching black bench. Her father sat alone on the piano bench. There was a blanket thrown over her, and it settled around like a nest as she sat up. She’d made it all the way to the piano room.
“Night-drinker,” she said back.
Russet-brown man smiled. He stood, pushing the bench away from the piano. Celia grumbled from her nest. Her father turned, then pressed a key with his index finger, one, two three times. Mama clapped her pale hands together. Nana laughed, grating against another cigarette. Her father shifted, making the floorboards creak. Celia began to drift, blinking again and again. One last note made its way out, quiet and unassuming. Celia smiled and rose, blanket gathered around her shoulders She looked around, piano to windows, three of them, then counted four as her father in the center, then back to herself, standing barefoot on the old wood floor. Her father walked across the room to the door, opening it all the way for her. He said nothing.
Celia looked back to the piano. A glass of whiskey had been set on the far edge, left untouched. She stayed looking.
“It’s for your Mama.”
Celia closed her eyes and smiled.
“And your Nana.”
“Even if she doesn’t need it.”
“Even so,” he agreed.
Celia’s father was a big man, quiet, but more than large enough to lift her off the cold floor in an empty room, and carry her back to bed, even if she was too old for that. But Celia liked to dream, so she was glad to be left to herself. She stepped out of the room, bidding goodbye to Nana and her mother, and a new hello to herself and her father, the last figures to leave. Her father closed the door, slowly, looking to her for confirmation. She nodded, and heard the last click, tin whistle, voices, and piano cut away. It had been a while since she had found herself drifting. She hadn’t missed it, but was glad to know everything was still there.
“What did you hear?” she asked.
“Piano. And wind.”
Her mother had liked warm rooms, tinted yellow paint, and light music. Her Nana had liked anything sweet, with an edge.
Celia’s father liked quiet rooms and halls, old bookshelves taking root on every wall. He liked ginger ale, and open windows in the summertime. Celia didn’t know what she should like. She liked fountain pens and empty cigarette boxes. Honey tea and daisies tucked into beer bottles. Celia liked music, holding hands, and the nighttime, when everything turned and twisted, dancing into notes and lines.