Your fingers hit the keys at just the right time, in just the right way. Music resonates around the room, filling the corners and delighting your ears. You play the opening notes of Gestard de la Nuit with effortless grace. In the corner to your right, other pianists glower at you. On your right, the judges, sway to the rhythm of the music.
"Are you feeling okay, sir?" A quiet voice asks from the side. Your eyes open, and your head swivels to see a woman dressed in yellow scrubs next to your bed.
"I'm feeling fine," you answer, your voice cracking and scratching against the sides of your throat. She smiles and hurries off to check something that seems to be beeping too fast or blinking too slow. Meanwhile, you lean back and close your eyes.
Cheers erupt throughout the concert hall. Lights flash off the sparkling gold banisters, and people stand to clap and yell. You lean back and soak in the attention, thriving on the positive words thrown your way from eager audience members. A man stands and speaks into a microphone while the audience quiets down.
"This boy, Thomas Brown, has shown incredible talent in the matter of playing the piano. Would you not call this young man a prodigy?"
"You're all set. Would you like anything before I go?" You open your eyes and sit up. Is there anything else you want? You blink, once, slowly. "Mr. Brown? Are you okay?" asks the nurse, stepping back into the room. Her name tag reads Harriet.
"Do you ever miss the days of your youth, Harriet?" You ask. She looks taken aback, and you realize she is probably only 15 or 16.
"Um...no," She admits, shaking her head. "Um...do you?" Your head snaps, up to meet her eyes, and she takes a small step back.
"No," you say. She looks confused for a moment, then smiles.
"Alright, then. So you don't need anything else?" You turn around to face the wall, fog clouding your brain. Do you miss your youth? Your days of glory and fame? You hear the door shut behind your back and sink farther into the bed.
You stand on stage, the award in your hands and a smile on your face. The crowd is going wild, and you see your parents in the front row, just a step below crying. Next to you, the man is smiling and saying something else praising your quick mind and nimble hands. All you can think about is the award, heavy in your hands, and the music, weightless in your heart.
"Yes," you whisper. "I do." Nearby, a new nurse, not Harriet, shoots a confused glance at you, then hurries over to the machines. You pull your hands from beneath the blankets and examine them. You trace the scars that hold your left thumb and middle finger captive, and imagine that you were still in possession of your left forefinger. If you could play now, you would. But you lost that a long time ago.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be there," you laugh into the phone as you cross the Hazelbury intersection.
"Good, good," responds your mother. "We'll be waiting, dear. Drive safe!" You smile.
"I will. Bye, mom."
From behind you hear Tim, your oldest son (he's four) cry out, "Bye grandma!" You laugh and hang up. You switch your attention back to the road ahead, keeping track of the flashing lights that switch colors in a heartbeat.
"Thomas, can you slow down a little? Emily isn't feeling well," calls Sophie, your wife. Emily is your other kid. She's only 2.
"Anything for the lady," you respond, and let up on the gas. You look back to check on Emily, just to see if she's really as bad as Sophie says, but all you see are flashing lights. You hear the horn of a truck, blaring in your ears, which Sophie says have grown delicate from listening to just piano music for 20 years. A scream rips through your "delicate" ears as a truck crashes into you car from behind. You aren't sure who it was, just that they needed help. Your car careens of the highway, spinning straight into a telephone pole. Emily screams as Sophie's head snaps back. She stops moving. "Sophie!" you scream. You lunge for your seatbelt, and unclip. Suddenly, you hear a creaking noise. As you look up, the telephone pole crashes down on your car. The windshield explodes into your face, shredding your hands and impaling your leg. You scream, again. Hands pull you from the wreckage and shove you into a car. Nobody else comes out.
"Harriet?" you ask when you sit up. Caught off guard, the young nurse whipped around and stepped back. You didn't actually expect her to be here.
"Yes?" she responded.
"I don't miss my youth. I don't regret anything." She smiles, and nods.
"I understand," she says. You know she doesn't, but you don't say anything. You look down at the tube embedded in your arm.
"Whats this for?" you ask. She looks up.
"Its giving you nutrients. Don't touch it." You meet her eyes.
"Why not?" She looks momentarily confused.
"Its keeping you alive. You're 97 and you haven't eaten in weeks, Mr. Brown. No offense, but if you took that out, you wouldn't last long." You look away and rip the tube from your arm. Harriet gasps and pulls a walkie-talkie from her pocket.
"Don't," you say. "I don't need it." She steps back and nods.
"I understand, Mr. Brown."
"No. You don't. And I sincerely hope you never will."