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“It was the darndest thing,” George Crowchild told his family at breakfast on Christmas Day. “Tom and I were out checking our trap lines yesterday when we heard this piano music. Yeah! Out in the bush!
“You know, it sounded pretty good!”
The prevous day, Christmas Eve, several miles away another man had been driving his truck towards an address in the city.
Richard thought the job would be simple enough: pick up an upright piano and deliver it to an address on the nearby First Nation reserve. The caller said it was to be a Christmas surprise for a young relative who lived there.
No problem, he thought.
Richard pulled his truck up to the address he’d got over the phone, next to a foot-high snow bank on the side of the street. It had evidently been left by a city snowplow earlier that morning following the overnight blizzard.
He was counting on the help they had promised to load the piano onto the flatbed of his newly-polished red Ford one-ton.
The woman who answered the door was a head taller than Richard’s 5 foot 11 inch height and built like a sumo wrestler.
Good gracious! he thought. This lady could load a piano all by herself!
“My husband and I will give you a hand,” she said. A man the size of the Incredible Hulk joined her. The two filled the double front doorway of the bi-level bungalow.
“You can back your truck up the sidewalk to the door,” The Hulk told him.
Richard looked around the front yard at the expanse of deep new snow, searching for any sign of a sidewalk.
“Yeah, it’s under there,” The Hulk chuckled. “Somewhere.”
“Just back up to the door,” The Hulk repeated. “I’ll guide you.”
This guy could be The Hulk’s surrogate brother, Richard thought. But for darned sure The Hulk would be the handsome one of the two.
The scarred and bruised old upright piano was on the lower level. The three
wrestled it up the five steps to the landing at the front door. At that point, Mrs. Hulk insisted they stop for a break and a coffee.
Steaming coffee mugs in hand, the pair of Hulks literally plugged the steps leading up to the kitchen.
A slender Richard sat on the piano bench trying to resist the siren call of the piano keys. He caved.
“Wow!” said The Hulk, gulping and wiping at drips of unswallowed coffee dribbling down his chin. “What was that?”
“A bit of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2,” Richard replied looking regretfully at the new scratches on his fingers. The piece was a favorite. He thoroughly enjoyed playing classical compositions at home on his pride and joy, a huge shiny black grand piano.
Both of The Hulks gushed their unbridled amazement at Richard’s musical prowess while helping him wheel the heavy beast up two sturdy metal ramps onto the flatbed.
“You got ropes?” The Hulk asked.
“Tie downs,” Richard replied.
“I’ll help you,” The Hulk said.
“Thanks,” Richard replied, not meaning it. He much preferred to secure for himself items he hauled on his truck.
Richard threw two big ‘moving blankets’ over the piano, thinking them redundant considering the scrapes and scars on the piano’s woodwork. He secured the blankets with bungee cords and then got The Hulk to help him push the piano around so its back was toward the truck cab.
He tossed the ends of four sturdy two-inch tiedown straps to The Hulk. Two went around the front of the piano, securing it to the steel uprights at the front of the flatbed. The other two went over the top of the piano, crisscrossed to help prevent slippage.
“You sure you know where to go?” The Hulk asked as they secured the last of the straps on either side of the upright piano.
“I’ve been on the reserve a few times,” Richard replied. “I know where the town is; I’ll get someone to show me the house.”
“Okay,” The Hulk said. “My niece Maria lives there. She’s nine. The piano’s for her. It a Christmas surprise.”
“I’ll take good care of it,” Richard said. “Gotta stop and pick up a helper and then I’ll be on my way. You said a couple of guys at the the other end will help unload?
“Yeah,” replied The Hulk. “My brother and his friend.”
Richard stopped at Bruce’s house and then headed out into the country. The overnight storm had left the roads treacherous. When they entered the hilly tree-covered Indian reserve, they discovered the road was even worse.
The narrow gravel roadway, not much more than a trail, was icy and followed a winding river, visible down a steep bank below them.
“Let’s just take our time,” Bruce said, nervous about their adventure and clearly regretting having agreed to help Richard… that was before the snowstorm had blown in overnight.
Richard was too busy concentrating on the road to offer solace. It was hard judging the snowdrifts, deciding which he could drive through and which were so deep and hard he needed to drive carefully around lest they force the truck over the side.
“Look out!” Bruce shouted.
Richard instinctively swerved the truck to the right to avoid a deer that had leapt across the road from behind a grove of trees.
Oh oh, he thought, feeling the dual rear tires slide to the left and then over the side of the road.
“Shit! Richard muttered. “Double shit!”
The truck skidded to a stop. It wouldn’t move. The rear wheels spun helplessly. The truck was high centered on the sharp edge of the road. Richard felt a perverse sense of relief for a second, knowing the truck was unlikely to slide down into the river but also well aware they were stuck. He’d need a tow truck!
“Shit,” he muttered again. He would have said it still again except he was interrupted by a skidding sound, then four loud snapping sounds, then a loud scraping as the truck shook and rattled.
“Oh shit!” Richard said. “Shit… shit… shit!”
Richard caught a brief glimpse of the piano in the side mirror as it slid off the back of the truck. He quickly opened the door and watched helplessly as the piano skidded on its back through the snow down the steep slope, flattening small trees and shrubs as it went.
With visions of it floating down the river, Richard jumped from the truck and began stumbled and sliding down the slope after the renegade piano. Bruce followed, cursing all the way.
A few minutes later and half a mile away, George Crowchild had stopped snowshoeing along the trapline he shared with Tom Cardinal. The two men squatted to re-set a weasel trap sprung by winds from the overnight blizzard.
He lifted his head and looked at his friend:
“Tom, do you hear that?”
“Yeah,” Tom replied. “Is your cellphone playing music?”
“Naw,” George replied. “I turned it off. Yours?”
“Can’t be,” Tom replied. “Left mine at home.”
The two First Nation trappers listened carefully and then pointed their snowshoes in the agreed upon direction of the music.
They soon came to the road, crisscrossed with snowdrifts of various sizes. Between the drifts ice made it treacherous to use snowshoes. They stopped to take them off. The music was closer now.
George and Tom walked toward the sound. They couldn’t see past where the road curved around a hillside. Half way around they saw a truck, it’s back end hanging in the air over the edge.
“Nobody’s in the truck,” Tom said. “Hope everyone’s okay.”
“Let’s go see,” George said.
Both men walked to the truck, looked over the edge of the road and down the slope.
They saw one man just above the bank of the rushing river. He was leaning against a tree and drinking from a thermos. Later they discovered it wasn’t coffee he was gulping down convulsively.
Then they noticed the other man. What they saw startled and amused them.
There was Richard sitting on a piano bench in front of an upright piano tilting awkwardly to one side. It was partly hidden by a recently damaged bush and leaning precariously against a sturdy poplar tree. Richard was playing some complicated melody that George and Tom knew instinctively was extraordinarily good, but had never heard before.
“Sure sounds good!” George said, smiling at Tom.
“Yup!” Tom replied as both hopped up on the flatbed and dangled their feet over the edge to the tempo of the wonderful music.
They enjoyed all the rest of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 , so they learned later.
Postscript: Marie got her piano for Christmas. Richard made it into the city before the music store closed on Christmas Eve and found an electronic keyboard. It was exactly what Marie wanted and needed so she could ‘jam’ with her friends at their various houses.
“A Piano for Christmas” is Copyright 2017 by James Osborne. All Rights Reserved