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Two Girls At Play - flash fiction by Caroline Dinh


They used to be prodigies; not quite Mozart but not quite the size of their slender fingertips, the smallness of their knuckles and bones, either. These girls performed for each other at one of their houses once; for each other, for their parents, for their friends. Playdates and bedroom parties and sneakers scattered in front of the door. Gaggle of girls sitting before a glossy piano. Waves of applause like a crescendo bouncing off the walls.



They used to be passion; used to laugh and play and slide their fingers into the keys the same way Beethoven and Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff had done centuries and decades before. They used to follow in the shoes of the names printed in their scripts, footsteps laid out in black ink against five-lined staves like the lined paper on which they doodled in class. Hands like maturing snakes. Not yet wide enough to reach an octave or swallow a mouse but they stretched them over the ivory anyways. Funny how the keys are one size fit all. There’s no outgrowing them.



They used to be persistence; graphite scribbled over Urtext editions of ballades and scherzos and sonatas. Like cobwebs. Like the rippling of their fingers arpeggioing over the keys. Growing up against the ever-steady presence of the sleek upright in their living room. The piano watched them age; like wine or like milk, no one could tell. The tears fell all the same, as did the crumpled pages, as did the stockings and lace after the fine recitals they managed to put on in the end.



They used to be pianists until they were not, until the chisel wore them down from marble slab to Pygmalion sculpture. An hour a day became forty minutes and then half that until the keys became dusty and cold. Until the legatos and staccatos and deep, sagging chords that their muscles had memorized became a thought of the past and the vibrations underneath their fingertips came not from slick ivory but a screen. One day in the fluorescent hallways of high school they both noticed that their fingers had grown a little stiff and they looked up and looked at each other and realized what they had become.



They came home to play that day, coming into the room where they both used to perform and setting down their fat backpacks where they both used to sit to watch each other. They blew the dust off the keyboard and pulled back the bench and sat on the edge of the seat. Gaggle of girls before a glossy piano. When they placed their hands on the keys, their fingers felt like old machinery, screeching and oxidized and in need of an oiling. Gears stuck. Chains brittle. Wires snapping. So they took apart the aching machine and put it back together bit by bit.



They used to be children. They still are.



Caroline Dinh is a high school student from the D.C. area. Her favorite things to write are speculative short stories and oddly-structured poems. Aside from writing, Caroline enjoys painting, programming, and proving that STEM and the arts aren't mutually exclusive.

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