“She has been up there all day,” her mother said, a permanent, disapproving frown on her face.
“I see,” he said. The man stepped through the open front door, his pressed suit at home in the grandeur of the mansion.
Piano music floated down the sweeping staircase, like bits of tulle thrown into the air and left to fall where they will. It was the same set of ten melancholy notes, over and over.
“If you do not do something about this, I will be the one that needs to be committed! It is the same, all night and day.”
“I understand,” he replied, his tone patient and voice low. He held his right hand up, just above shoulder height, and without looking back he twitched his ring and middle fingers forward a couple of times. At the signal, two men in white orderly uniforms walked through the front door. They were burly men, who could probably muscle their way through anything, except maybe a book.
“Thank you, Dr. Slater,” the mother murmured. Her shoulders slumped, but she regained her stiff, upright posture as a pause in the music occurred, followed quickly by the restart of the song. She grumbled something under her breath as she followed the men up the stairs. As she set her foot down on the step that would bring her eyes level with the transom window, she turned. The lead-lined glass offered a distorted view of the medical vehicle in the growing darkness, which thankfully did not have the name ‘Stillwater Sanatorium’ emblazoned on the sides. The woman gave a slow shake of her head, careful not to dislodge the perfectly coifed hairdo. What a scandal with the neighbors that would have been, but thankfully Dr. Slater knew how to be discreet.
The men had gone ahead of her to her eldest daughter’s room, but she froze with her foot on the top step when her younger daughter yelled, “No!”
As quick as was ladylike, she rushed toward the bedroom at the end of the long hall, lit by the yellowish light of electric wall sconces. Through the commotion, the piano music had never faltered or changed in volume.
“She is not crazy!” the younger sister shouted as their mother reached the doorway.
Her older daughter was still at the piano, thin shoulders hunched over it, never making eye contact with anyone. Her dirty brunette hair was pulled back in a loose, messy braid. Bony fingers moved at a constant pace over the keys, like some kind of undead creature trapped playing the same song for all eternity, and all who heard it were damned.
Her younger daughter stood between the men and her sister, arms stretched wide to bar them from moving further into the room. She was what her sister may have looked like, if not for her addled brain. Slender of body and face, smooth, creamy skin like her mother, and lustrous mahogany hair that fell to her waist when let down. She was scowling at the men, but turned pleading eyes to her mother. They were a captivating cornflower blue just like her father’s, God rest his soul.
“Helen,” her mother scolded, “this is no way to behave. Your sister is sick, and she needs help.”
“She needs to be at home!” her daughter insisted. “She hates that place.”
Still, her older daughter said nothing, and she never would. In her twenty years on this earth, she’d never cried, not even as a baby, or uttered a single word. She wouldn’t even make any noise as she thrashed when being forced to do something necessary that she didn’t want to do, like eat, or take the occasional bath. The only person who could get her to do anything had been her husband, and the last five years after his death had been a hard lesson in her older daughter’s stubbornness.
“We cannot take care of her here. At least when she is at hospital they can get her to eat something. If we continue this at home, she will waste away and die.”
“Her body may die here, but her spirit will die there. Which is the worse death, Mother?” she asked, the words raw in her throat. Then, under her breath, “What would Father say?”
The mother rocked back as though her daughter had slapped her. As she opened her mouth to say something they would both regret, Dr. Slater cleared his throat.
“Helen, dear, this is for the best. We have doctors that can work with your sister to try and help her learn a way to communicate with us and–”
“She communicates with this,” Helen said, and gestured toward the piano.
When their father had been alive, the only thing his older daughter responded to in regards to learning was the piano. He’d tried to hire her teachers, but she refused to learn from anyone but him. They’d been working on a song together, but he’d died before they could finish it. Now, she played those same first ten notes he’d taught her, over and over, and refused to play any of the other songs she’d learned.
“She just misses Father,” Helen choked out, tears falling freely down her face.
Her mother rushed forward, and took her younger daughter into her arms, consoling her.
“Be that as it may,” Dr. Slater said gently, as the two men moved past them to the older girl, “it is too much of a burden for your mother and you to watch your sister die at home. It was bad enough for you to discover your father the way you did…” he trailed off.
The two women’s faces went white as a sheet, then they both turned to watch the men carefully pull her sister to her feet. They were relaxed, but ready for any kind of violent tantrum she might throw their way.
Nothing happened, and she shuffled docilely along with them toward the bedroom door. As she passed, Helen reached out and grabbed one of her emaciated hands, drained of all life.
“I love you, Dorothy,” she whispered, her throat closing around the words like a fist.
Her sister said nothing and continued to stare at the floor. The men–who had paused when Helen grabbed Dorothy’s hand–eased her from her sister’s grip and they continued on their way.
“I will see you out,” he mother murmured, and followed behind the sad procession.
The dam of her emotions was like a fist squeezing her heart. She was heading toward the window, where dusk softened toward night, to watch her sister go, but stopped at the piano. The music sheets, usually neat as a pin on the music desk, were askew. Helen adjusted them, brushing a loving finger over the only ten notes her sister played during the years following her father’s death.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…” she trailed off, her voice barely a whisper. For the first and only time since her sister learned to play, the lid on the piano closed. The soft discordant notes as a result of the little impact was like a small death in her soul. As though some part of them all died that night, not least of all the music, her sister’s only voice.