The Man with the Blue Piano

One day Daniel arrived at the bar wearing an oversized brown suit, a pair of dead man's shoes and a funny grey hat, and carrying a beat up old suitcase which he claimed to be "full of possibilities." Among the contents of this suitcase was a blue toy piano, a gift from a treasured friend, on which he would play improvised themes, which he always introduced by saying: "This is the saddest song I've ever heard." Well, they weren't really songs at all, but they brought to mind the attempts a child might have made on that same piano. You had to laugh to see him so absorbed by this pathetic instrument, but there was something poignant about the earnestness of the attempt, as if everything he played was dedicated to the memory of a departed loved one. It was completely idiotic, yet strangely profound. The music, if you could even call it that, was like the sadness which seemed such a large part of his life, and about which he used to say: "It doesn't mean anything in particular, you just have to be with it for a while, and you learn something from it." It wasn't clear what he meant by that, but he was always good with words, and at keeping things vague. He'd say things like, "I have this problem with meaning," or, "I have always been interested in the small, almost hidden, pointing gesture," or, "Philosophers should always be kept in mind."

Occasionally Daniel would sit down at the bar piano, even though he didn't really know how to play. He'd approach it the way he did all the other toys and broken instruments he was known for playing - he'd just start in at it and keep going for a while. After playing he would sit and stare out the window like a character in a French art film, looking at specks of dust on the glass or at the clouds moving by outside. But he wasn't always so withdrawn. After a few drinks of scotch (which he claimed not to like until the age of forty when a certain woman changed his life forever) he would tell stories about people he knew. He claimed to have something he called "the curse of memory." Besides the blue piano and a collection of personal letters, his suitcase contained a list of all the people he'd ever met - over fifteen hundred names - and he could tell at least one story about each of them. It was as if he was thanking them for their contributions to his life story. He wrote to many of these people, and it was obvious that this was one of the great pleasures in his life. When the friend who gave him the blue piano came in for a drink - scotch on the rocks, I believe - she told me that when they were getting to know each other he sent her the most beautiful letter she 'd ever received.

We knew that he'd leave sooner or later, that this eventuality was just another of the possibilities in that beat up old suitcase. He often made reference to his "famous disappearing act," but besides the peculiar habit of leaving the bar by climbing out the bathroom window, we didn't know what he meant by that, until one time he just didn't come back. Although there have been a few unconfirmed rumours, the only direct news we've had from Daniel was a cryptic postcard from Montréal, in which he said little more than that he had "fallen through the sadness and landed on the other side, with a clear glimpse of the future, and a pretty long list of things to do and see."

To the Pianists