A Piano For Christmas

  “But it’s almost Christmas Eve,” his wife complained. 
  “I know, Marion,” Richard replied. He hadn’t expected a call for his delivery business on the afternoon before Christmas. 
  “This man really needs a piano delivered to a small town, way out in the country. He’s offering triple my usual rate. Besides it’s a surprise Christmas gift for a little girl who lives out there.”
  “Well, hurry home, so we can enjoy the evening,” Marion said with a sigh.
  “No problem,” he replied.
  Richard parked his aging one-ton pick-up in front of the address the man had given on the phone. A woman answered the door. She was at least a head taller than him, with muscles to rival a sumo wrestler.
  “My husband and I will give you a hand,” she said. The man who joined her could have been a brother of Incredible Hulk. 
  “Back your truck up on the sidewalk to the door,” The Hulk said.
  Richard looked around the front yard through the heavily falling snow, searching for any sign of a sidewalk.
 “Yeah, the sidewalk’s under there,” The Hulk chuckled. “Got buried in the snowstorm. No problem, I’ll guide you.”
  Truck in place, the Hulk led Richard to the lower floor of the bi-level. There sat a scratched and bruised upright piano. The three wrestled it up five steps to a landing at the front door.
  “Time for a break,” Mrs. Hulk insisted. She rustled up some coffee and cookies. 
  Richard sat in front of the piano on an offered chair. He lifted the keyboard cover. One look and he yielded to the seduction of the white and black ivories. His nimble fingers produced a few bars from Rachmaninoff, a favorite he played at home on his big black grand piano, surprised that the aging piano was in reasonable tune.
  “Wow!” The Hulks said as one. “What was that?”
  “A bit of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2,” Richard replied. 
Both Hulks were still gushing compliments as they helped him wheel the heavy old beast up two sturdy metal ramps onto the flatbed.
  “You got ropes?” The Hulk asked.
  “Tie downs,” Richard replied.
  “I’ll help,” The Hulk said.
  “Thanks,” Richard replied, hoping The Hulk wouldn’t. He much preferred to secure by himself the items he hauled.
  Richard draped two moving blankets over the piano, thinking them redundant considering the scrapes and scars on the aged woodwork. He secured the blankets with bungee cords, and then tossed the ends of four sturdy tie-downs over to The Hulk. Two of the three-inch straps went around the front of the piano, securing it to a heavy steel grid behind the cab, welded to the flatbed’s frame. The two other straps were crisscrossed to help prevent slippage.
  “You sure you know where to go?” The Hulk asked.
  “It’s been a while since I’ve been out there,” Richard replied. “But I’ll get someone to show me to the house.”
  “Okay,” The Hulk said. “My niece Maria lives there. She’s nine. The piano’s for her. It’s a Christmas gift … a surprise. Speaking of surprises, my brother George called this morning and said the storm is leaving the roads out there quite tricky.”
  “Thanks for the heads up,” Richard said. “I’m going to pick up my helper, Bruce, then be on my way. You’ve arranged for a couple of guys at the other end to help unload, right?”
  “Yeah,” replied The Hulk. “George and his friend Tom are expecting you.”
  “Good. Thanks.”
  Soon after reaching the forested hills leading to the town, Richard encountered increasingly heavy snowfall and drifting. The road had become icy and crisscrossed with snowdrifts. It followed a winding river, visible down a steep bank fifty feet below.
  “Let’s take our time,” Bruce said, clearly regretting having agreed to help.
  Richard found it challenging to judge which of the snowdrifts he could drive through and which he needed to drive slowly around, lest a hard packed one force the truck over the side. He erred on the side of caution.
  “Look out!” Bruce shouted. A group of deer had jumped out in front of them. Richard instinctively swerved the truck to avoid them.
  Oh, oh, he thought, as he felt the dual rear tires on the driver’s side skid to the left and then over the side of the road.
  “Damn,” he muttered. “Double damn!”
  The truck wouldn’t move. The left rear wheels spun aimlessly. The truck had become high centered on the road bank.
  Ironically, he felt a perverse sense of relief for a second, knowing the truck was unlikely to slide into the river below, but also painfully aware they were stuck. He needed a tow.
  “Damn,” Richard muttered again as he got on his cellphone. Just then four sharp snapping sounds interrupted his call. Then he heard a loud scraping noise. The truck shook and rattled wildly.
  Oh no! he thought. Damn … damn … damn!
  Richard caught a fleeting glimpse of the piano through the side mirror as it flipped down onto its back and then disappeared off the rear edge of the truck. He watched helplessly as the piano skidded through the snow down the steep slope, flattening small trees and shrubs as it went.
  With visions of the piano floating down the river, Richard ran stumbling down the slope in pursuit of the renegade musical instrument. Bruce followed, cursing all the way.
  They learned later that about that time, half a mile away, The Hulk’s brother George was snowmobiling with his cousin Tom, who were Richard’s designated helpers at the piano’s planned destination. The two had stopped for a rest when they heard music.
  “Is that your cellphone?” Tom had asked.
  “Naw,” George replied. “I turned it off. Yours?”
  “Can’t be,” Tom replied. “Left mine at home.”
  The two told Richard later they had listened in surprise and then set off down the road looking for the source of the attractive sounds. The road curved around a hillside. Halfway around they saw Richard’s truck, left rear wheels hanging over the edge. The men walked to the truck, looked over the side of the road and down the slope.
  There was Bruce leaning against a tree just above the bank of the rushing river, drinking from a thermos. He admitted later it wasn’t plain coffee he was gulping convulsively.
  Then they spotted Richard. He was sitting on a bench in front of an upright piano tilted awkwardly to one side, partly hidden by a damaged bush, and propped up precariously against a sturdy poplar tree. He was playing more Rachmaninoff. 
  “Hey, what else is there to do until the tow truck gets here?” Richard shouted up to answer their unasked question.
  “Sure does sound good!” George called down.
  Bemused, George and Tom hopped up onto the flatbed and dangled their feet over the edge and swinging them to the sound of the music, seeming to enjoy every bit of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2.
  Later, when Richard phoned The Hulk about what had happened, the big man surprised him. Richard offered to pay for a replacement out of his business insurance, but The Hulk refused. He asked Richard to meet him at the music store. There he handed Richard a gift-wrapped package containing an electronic keyboard and sound system to be delivered to Marie. 
  Marie got the piano she wanted for Christmas, after all. Turns out what she received was exactly what she really wanted so she could take it with her to ‘jamb’ with her friends at their various homes. 


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