Dr. Delaney visits every Tuesday, at eight o’clock sharp. It goes like this: she knocks three times, in succession, but with no particular rhythm; she calls out our name through the door, softly, and only once; she leaves. Though she intrudes on our treasured evenings together, we admire her persistence, her punctuality. Still, we cannot comply with her wishes—even if we begin to listen for the staccato of her feet outside the door.
Tonight is no different. She arrives, she knocks, she waits, and so do we.
“Levi? It’s Jan,” she announces, as if we’d be expecting anybody else. For a moment, there’s a faint shuffling sound behind the door. “I have a package for you.”
We set our cleaning rag down on the kitchen table.
“You don’t have to open the door now. Just… don’t forget about it, alright? It’s yours.”
A sharp pain twists through the edge of our palm and down our wrist, stopping just before the elbow. We curse the tendons in our hand as they spasm involuntarily; prying our fingers back open is always a struggle once they begin to curl. Cleaning—like most activities lately—will have to wait for another day. We wonder when that day will be.
As the pain ebbs away, fading into a dull ache, we trudge towards the door and open it. True to her word, Dr. Delaney’s package rests atop the welcome mat: a small box, wrapped in newspaper and tied together with string. There’s a gift tag attached to the front. We bend down to flip it over.
For your hands, the note reads, scribbled in Dr. Delaney’s slanted, crowded handwriting. Stop by next Tuesday? I bought a piano. It’s no Bechstein, but I still think you’ll like it.
In a near-Pavlovian response, our fingers twitch. It’s a scheme, no doubt, a trap to psychoanalyze us, but an enticing one all the same. We bring the package to the kitchen table. The pendant light overhead flickers like a metronome.
We tug at the newspaper until it unfurls, leaving behind an ordinary-looking box. Turning it over causes the cardboard flaps to open themselves; a pair of black gloves fall out. We pluck them from the table and rub the textured material between our thumb and index finger. The gloves are nylon, maybe something similar, for the material is smooth, but still firm to the touch.
We put one on. A second skin hovers above our own, clinging, but without the warmth of blood pumping through it. We shed it immediately, flinging the glove across the room. The light flickers again. We collapse into an empty stool. Our chest heaves, aches.
We stare at the note. For your hands. It almost stares back at us.
The waiting room carries a familiar aroma, lavender and Dr. Delaney’s lemon tea, but it’s smaller than we remember—cramped, even. Books are spilling out of shelves, stacked wherever they can fit, including unoccupied chairs and a receptionist’s desk. We feel the beginnings of an itch. Instead of indulging the thought of cleaning, we tap our shoes, and diligently focus on a crack in the wall.
The door clicks open. Two people spill out.
“See you next week!” a woman shouts, casually digging through her purse, “I’ll bring Tom.”
“Next week,” Dr. Delaney parrots back, and as her gaze meets ours, her eyes widen, if only by a fraction. The look is gone as soon as it begins. She smiles warmly, in greeting. We glare at a particular crack in the wall, ugly and thin as a hair. It nearly touches the ceiling.
The door clicks again, and suddenly the woman is gone. Silence seizes the room. We cross our arms.
Dr. Delaney stands in front of the crack. “Are you here to see it?”
We grunt. Her smile turns toothy.
She takes us into her office, shutting the door behind us, and as always, she’s right. It’s certainly worn with time, its leather bench cracked, keys a shade or two off-white, but it's a piano nonetheless. We stand, hands awkwardly tangled behind our back.
She laughs. “Pretty, right?”
Shifting our weight from one leg to the other, we swallow. “Very pretty.”
A gust of wind tears through the open window, blowing a few scattered papers over, ruffling the sheer curtains in its wake. We’re drawn toward the noise, the way sunset drapes itself over the piano bench, rays of gold and tangerine sunshine splitting across the keys where fingers would lay. Gales that strong could stampede the ivories in a rush of cacophony—a rubato phrase, played only as it was meant to at that moment, and never the same way again.
“You can go closer than that,” Dr. Delaney teases, one hand on our shoulder. We stumble forward.
Our shadow casts its shapeless form over the bench and the keys, over nature’s rendition of light, chaotic melody. Fingers still twitching, we stutter: “We can’t.”
She hums. The sound is harmonic and cruel. “Why not?”
We don’t dare look at her, or down at our hands. “You know why,” we spit.
“I told you,” Dr. Delaney reassures, slowly, patiently, “the gloves will help.”
“We can’t wear them!” we cry.
Our skin crawls. She’s humiliating us and she knows it, she must know it. She knows we’re not what we used to be, yet she’s making us play anyways.
“You’re wearing them right now.”
We look down, dizzy. The black gloves are a snug fit on both hands. We flex our fingers, testing the strange feeling encasing them. “Oh.”
“You didn’t notice?”
“Good. That means they’re working.”
Through blurred vision, we hover our index finger over a key. Everything is wrong: the sensation of nylon against ivory, the fluttering of our fingers, and more than anything else, the feeling of playing completely, utterly alone. We press down. The piano plays a middle C; it sounds out of tune. We blink around a few tears.
Dr. Delaney comes closer. “How does it feel?”
“Wrong,” we whisper. “Better.”
She hums again, but the thump of our heartbeat, a rabbit’s pulse, drowns out the noise. “Are you up for a little lesson?”
Our knees give out, and we slump onto the piano bench. Nothing feels right. “The piano’s dirty,” we mumble, a weak protest.
“You’re wearing gloves,” Dr. Delaney quips, “I’m sure you’ll live.”
A “piano lesson,” it turns out, is more than a lesson—it’s one hour, every Tuesday, at eight o’clock. It’s juvenile. It’s hell. We keep coming back.
“Play a note,” she directs, sitting beside us with a notepad in her lap, and we do. We feel four years old again, mashing the notes to “Chopsticks” with no account for poise or tempo, practicing until our fingers seek out the melody in our sleep. It's insulting. It’s lonely. We keep coming back.
We peel off the gloves early one day. “No more.”
“Tired already?” she challenges us. “You’re rusty after all these years.”
“No,” we argue, “we’re bored.”
“Then play a song.”
A breath gets caught in our throat. “What?”
“Play a song,” she says again.
We turn to her, lungs stuttering and irrevocably lost. She scribbles in her notepad.
“You don’t have to, of course,” she placates, but the thought is already implanted in our mind, like a broken record. A song. “Just a suggestion.”
Our fingers twitch. Dr. Delaney watches, then jots something down. We grit our teeth.
“Writing shit down!”
She barks out a laugh. “Would you rather I do something else?”
We freeze again, hands lying limp over the keys. Her laughter dies out.
“Play with me,” we demand, though it comes out whiny and high-pitched, like a child’s request.
Dr. Delaney sets aside her notepad. Behind her glasses, her eyes are unreadable. “I don’t know how.”
“We’ll teach you,” we propose, and our heart leaps up to our throat. We haven’t taught anyone in ages. It’s terrifying. It’s familiar. We keep coming back.
We’re playing one of Bach’s many compositions when Dr. Delaney finally cracks us. She struggles to bring her pinky to a black key—D sharp, not E flat, though she still can’t understand the distinction—and slams down on the wrong note.
“I can’t keep up with you!” she groans.
We smirk. “D sharp, remember?”
“Who cares? Sharp, flat—same thing!”
“Ascending phrase,” we correct, “so no. It’s D sharp.”
She splays her fingers all over the keys. It makes an awful sound. We laugh.
“Showoff,” she growls. “You don’t think it matters, do you?”
We spread our fingers out to a specific chord like clockwork. “Of course it matters! Leah always said—”
Our voice cracks. We feel our fingers jerk against the keys. It all comes out wrong.
“No,” we moan, and the piano is a live wire, electrifying our arms as a current crashes against them. We scramble off of the piano bench, clutching our hands, hissing with the motion.
Dr. Delaney is beside us in an instant. “Are you alright?”
A sob tears its way through our chest. Our hands begin to curl. “Please.”
She reaches for us; we slam one shoulder into the foot of the piano.
“Hurts,” we moan again. Both hands are fully cramped, now, fingers twisting and intertwining unnaturally. Another sob rips through our chest, up our throat. Everything hurts. Everything is wrong.
We sit through it, knees to our chest, Dr. Delaney’s shoulder touching our own. It’s the worst episode yet, but like all the rest, it dies down in time. Eventually, the last remnants of pain throb in our forearms, and our fingers unknot themselves. Flexing them makes us twinge with pain, so we wince.
“I’m so sorry,” Dr. Delaney cries, hands hovering above our own, “I shouldn’t have pushed you so fast. I—I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s okay,” we pant, suddenly tired, “wasn’t your fault.” The adrenaline is fading fast, draining our body's energy until all we can do is sit and breathe. We do just that.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers again, because she doesn't know what else to say. She doesn’t stop saying it until the hour is finally up. Dizzy and exhausted, we let her, as she walks us to the door and puts on our coat for us.
It’s the worst session we’ve had. It leaves us shaken, even days after.
We keep coming back.
“Can I ask you something?” Dr. Delaney requests, suddenly.
We play a single key, once, then twice, then three times. It’s lifeless, but we’re afraid of breaking again. Dr. Delaney knows this; she knows more about us than we do, truthfully, but she doesn’t patronize us with that fact. We look at her, nodding once. We play the same note again.
“I already know the answer,” she admits, because of course she knows, she always does, “but I wanted to hear it from you.”
We’re tired of questions—answering them, talking about answering them. That’s all we’ve been doing, for years, and maybe forever. We’re so, so tired.
“Have you talked about her? Before our last session?”
“No one to talk to.”
“Would you like to talk about her now?” she asks.
We sigh. “No.”
“Okay,” she responds, and the rest of the hour passes in relative silence.
We feel better during the next session. Dr. Delaney asks us more questions. We don’t want to answer them, but we try our best.
“Why do you always refer to yourself that way? We, us? Have you always done that?”
“No,” we reply, alternating between two chords. Then, we pause. “‘Dunno.”
“By ‘we,’ do you mean—”
“‘Dunno,” we say, louder this time.
“Okay. You don’t have to know.”
“Are we done now?”
The lesson ends early.
“Who taught you piano?” she asks us. This time, she’s the one playing, running her fingers across the keys in an indiscernible rhythm. Her form is terrible; we don’t comment on it.
“Leah,” we mumble, nearly choking on her name.
Dr. Delaney hums. “What a great older sister.”
“Twin,” we correct, “twin sister.”
She plays a melody—the Bach song from all those sessions ago. It feels like forever. It’s only been three weeks. “Did you like playing with her?”
“No, and yes,” we admit. “Sometimes, she—she pushes—and it’s too much.”
Dr. Delaney stops near the end of a phrase. She only needs to press the final note—D sharp, not E flat—and it’s complete. But she doesn’t. She just hovers over the black key, waiting. “Is that why your hands are… like that?”
“No, and yes,” we say again. “She broke my wrist once, but that’s not why they’re like this.”
“She broke your wrist?”
We nod. “Played the notes wrong during a recital. We used to get them all confused—sharps and flats—so we missed one. Cost us first place.”
“How old were you?”
“Jesus,” she hisses, cradling her own wrist. “Then… what happened to your hands?”
“The break healed just fine,” we affirm, “it was later on. Focal dystonia. Makes us twitch, cramp up. It costs a lot of pianists their careers.”
“So you quit playing?”
“I never quit,” we shout suddenly, standing up, hands balled at our sides.
Dr. Delaney looks at us funny. Floundering on the piano bench, she gapes, before laughing. It sounds delirious.
“You just said 'I.'”
Our mouth clamps shut. Her watch beeps; the session ends. We don’t want to come back, but we do. We always do.
Dr. Delaney hovers over us as we sketch out the final touches. It’s a crude doodle in ballpoint pen, but it looks just like her. We smile. Our hands twitch beneath the gloves. As she takes the yellow pad from us, we realize that they really have helped us. We still twitch and cramp up—far too often for our liking—but the gloves soothe us, especially when we play. It feels easier.
“So this is Leah. You did a good job.”
“You don’t even know what she looks like,” we remark, snorting, and she chuckles, too.
Dr. Delaney looks at her, then back at us. “She looks just like you.”
We want to cry; we don’t. “We’re twins,” we deadpan, but it fades into a watery laugh.
“If she’s anything like you, then I would’ve loved her.”
Our smile falls. “She wasn’t like me. She was better.”
Dr. Delaney keeps the drawing, and hangs it near the window where the breeze comes in. It’s nice. Leah would’ve liked that.
It’s another quieter day, one where Dr. Delaney asks us things and writes. We try not to let it bother us.
“Leah took care of you?”
“Did she like doing that?”
We look away and shake our head.
“Wasn’t her job to,” we mutter, “said it was Mom’s.”
“Where was Mom?”
She scribbles again. “Dad?”
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Delaney offers her condolences, and they sound genuine. “Would you ever want to do something else? Other than piano, I mean.”
“Maybe, but what else is there?”
“You don’t have to do anything. Sometimes, all we do is wait for the next good day, and that’s enough.”
We pretend that’s true. It works for a little. Then, we head home to polish off our piano.
“Her favorite piece?”
“Chopin,” we say instantly. “Nocturne. Opus nine, number two. E-flat major.”
“Why did she like it?”
“Perfect cadence—it always ends neatly. Sounds good to the ears.”
“Can you play it for me?”
We cry before we can even touch the second note. Dr. Delaney tells us that it’s okay, but it’s not. It never is. We can’t do anything right—not then, and not now. We explain this to her. She doesn’t get it.
“Leah would hate me,” we wail.
“No she wouldn’t.”
We bang the white keys with tight fists. “She would, she always did. It’s why she—”
“Why she what?” Dr. Delaney furrows her brows. Then, her eyes become misty. “Oh, Levi,” she exclaims, but she still doesn’t understand.
“It’s my fault she died.”
“It was her decision.”
Tears cloud our vision. “Then why does everyone leave?”
She doesn’t answer after that.
Dr. Delaney leaves a voicemail. In it, she says: “Our last session is tomorrow. Is there anything you want to do? Let me know.”
We think about it before bed, and the morning after. Something comes up; Leah wouldn’t like it, but she’s not here anymore. I polish the piano. I kiss it goodbye. I imagine I’m kissing her cheek—the way I used to.
More than anything, I think, I just want a good day.
Leah dies in early spring, a week before their nineteenth birthday. She is older than Levi by a minute, but the rope snaps her neck in a fraction of that time. He sleeps next to her piano as weeks turn into months. He stops seeing Dr. Delaney. She wants to scream.
She’s there for each diagnosis—focal dystonia, a panic disorder, something post-traumatic—and it’s hell to watch him become a stranger to himself. It’s hell, because even in death, she’s more trouble than she’s worth.
Dr. Delaney gives him gloves (a start, not a fix), and in turn, he plays piano (the only thing they’ve ever known). Leah mourns the nerves in her hands, the feeling of touch. He shows the doctor everything: the difference between sharps and flats, Chopin, how she broke his wrist. For the first time since she cradled Levi’s hands over a piano, Leah nearly weeps. She wants him to forget her.
They talk about the future, one without her, and about sisters becoming mothers. Apologies aren’t enough. Together, they all wait for the next good day.
Eventually, Levi doesn’t want the piano anymore; he sells it to a stranger. The thought stings a little. The stranger sparks up a conversation with him, and for the first time, he doesn’t talk about her. It’s scary. It’s new.
All things considered, it’s still a good day.