The Savant by Kade Hornbuckle

In a dreary little pub overlooking a fjord sat two men sharing fine Darjeeling.  Daniel the younger and shorter of the two, forever wore an apathetic look on his pallid face.  His constant companion Arve was in comparison considerably taller.  With emerald eyes set under eyebrows resembling thistles, and an offset nose that had never been properly reset after being broken, this vagabond could not look more different then his clean shaven counterpart.   They were regulars here at the Trommehinne, and Raul, the pub’s master, had just recently accustomed himself on how to correctly heat the bottle of Republic Darjeeling Black they brought with them each night.  Other than drinking something not featured on Raul’s menu, the duo completely blended into the scene of wispy smoke.  They would continue this façade of being plebeian until the haggard grandfather clock struck nine with its single arm.  Then Arve would escort his tea-shaded companion and the warmed bottle of Darjeeling to the old grand.

As Daniel traced his fingers across the aged ivory, playing mute concertos, his once timid accomplice would suddenly boom his voice so that the entire pub might hear.  “Now, ladies and gents, you are all in luck for tonight; you all have the esteemed honor of witnessing my dear friend grace these battered keys with style and soul.  Name any tune, no matter how layered and complex, and if he has heard it even but once he shall recreate it.  I must assure you fine a person that not only is this man a human jukebox; he will perform these songs better than previously heard!”  Every night it took no less than this enticing exclamation to hook the audience in, tonight there where calls for “Beethoven’s 5th”,”Piano Man”,” any of the seasons from Vivaldi’s four part masterpiece”, and finally “Good Golly Miss Molly”.  Then with gusto to match that of Little Richard and perfect pitch, Daniel’s voice resonated out “Good Golly Miss Molly, sure like to ball.  When you’re rocking and rolling, can you hear your mama call.”  Then with a final repeat of the chorus he broke into an impromptu jam incorporating “Flight of the Bumblebee”, and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, which successfully stunned and awed his audience.  Most people where oblivious of the fact that the man sitting on that wobbly piano stool was blind, even fewer knew that Arve was almost legally deaf.  Having only the capability of hearing lower bass register he heard about a third of what Daniel played.  This didn’t matter though because Arve’s gift lay in reading lips and people, knowing just how to smith words together to sell to them.

Throughout the night Daniel continued to challenge people’s familiarity with their favorite songs, using crescendos and tempo changes like a well placed diversion.  His choice to use simple techniques restored vigor to even the most dated of ballads.  At any given point in a movement he would go from gingerly pressing keys to their adjacent string, to drastically striking away making the piano strings vibrate more furiously.  These less than subtle changes bring the pings and pangs of discords born from clunked notes.  The crowd remained completely enthralled with this rare glimpse of savantism, while he relished in doing what genetics had designed him to do.  Arve, who had long since taken the roles of announcer and manager occasionally qualified as a numismatist as well.  In circumstances such as these Arve would set his tattered fedora down in hopes that kroners would soon begin to fill the space his head had just been occupying.  To better understand the depths of talent coming from the enigma people simply knew as Daniel, and how he came to meet Arve one would have to start at the beginning, as with all stories worth repeating.

Born an incredibly twenty five weeks prematurely, baby Daniel had to undergo extensive oxygen therapy to help with his autism.  This unfortunately caused oxygen toxicity which inevitably led to his blindness, and developing severe learning disabilities.  Discovering his niche at age two he would go on to perform piano recitals well before his enrollment in London’s School For The Blind.  Upon visiting the school young Daniel snuck away from his parents to locate the source of piano music coming from the band room.  He pushed the person who had been playing off his stool with no remorse.  Claiming the piano as his own he was left unchallenged.  It wasn’t until his twenties that he met Arve while busking in Mumbai.

Arve had been exploring the side streets to get the full experience of the city when he noticed a young man playing a short scale piano on the sidewalk.  Daniel had been working on his reversed falsetto by humming along with the bass line, when the intrigued Arve stopped to study him.   Noticing an empty tip jar Arve took pity on the street musician, being the good hearted schemer he was; Arve began to formulate a plan.  Leaving momentarily he returned with a group of Turkish Dervishes from the Mevlevi order, just as Daniel began to tell a story to introduce the song he was about to play for the crowd that began to form around him.  “One of my favorite piano players Fats Waller was playing at a rinky-dink jazz club when he stopped mid song.  He turned to his band and said ‘pack it up boys God just walked through the door.’   Then he stepped away so that Art Tatum could take his place.”  With that he began playing Tatum’s rendition of the old Jazz standard “Tea For Two”.  If Art Tatum was God than Daniel must be the Holy Spirit confined in a vitiated vessel.  Even playing on secondhand piano Daniel displayed so much passion that the Mevlevi began performing their sacred Sama (which ironically enough translates to listening in English).  Before long the man behind the piano was lost in a blur of Whirling Dervishes searching for religious ecstasy, which was reinforced by Daniel’s musical prowess.  The last explosive run of articulated notes and a final chord held with sustain, carried the dancers and those who had been watching down the street, leaving just Daniel, Arve, and a now full tip jar.  The two strangers introduced themselves to one another and Daniel begged Arve to fill him in on what had just transpired.  A smiling Arve explained how throughout his travels he had met a lot of Sufis.  “You see the Dervish are often confused with the common beggar. They beg to learn humility and are prohibited from begging for their own good.  I saw that your talent was not being compensated for and simply told those Turks that you where in need of help.  I didn’t expect them to Whirl but for your sake I’m glad they did.”  They continued to talk for hours finding they shared similar interests, both fascinated with musical oddities.  They agreed to travel across India together to better understand the countries music and culture, and would continue to travel together well into their late years.

As the last decrescendoed trills finally died out to conclude Daniels most recently composed finale the majority of his avid listeners made their way to the bar to comment and critique the night’s performance.  They would say things like, “Damn, Raul why don’t you hire this guy as a house band?  You could hire a solid drummer and bassist to back him up; if they can keep up, that is.”  The old bar keep would just nod, for he knew he could never schedule around the life of a man who was so full of diverse situations.  Raul was simply glad to have him at his pub, and each night after work, on his way home, he would make a silent prayer that this would not be the last gig the piano phenomenon played at the Trommhinne.

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Categories: Fiction, Issue 1 - Fall 2011, Periodicals | Leave a comment

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