A Piano Plays Tonight
Ani K.


Outside in the blue darkness, Biggs crouches down to a round hole in the door, where a doorknob used to be. A circle of yellow light shines through the hole to his face. He squints to look inside. She is there. Biggs stands up and touches the wooden door. It is hot and a little wet, like the air. I can walk away now, he thinks quietly, and use the side door instead.

The neon-lighted Seventh Heaven sign flickers above him. Nearby, a girl and a boy breathe out musk while they touch hands and walk together along the street. Farther off, a dish breaks; a faucet runs; someone shouts, laughs, cries. A fly buzzes at Biggs’s face. He stays standing at the doorway, quiet in thought. Finally, his fingers reach through the hole to the other side of the door. Slowly, he pushes the door forward. It opens with a shriek that stills his heart. He blinks and walks into the bar with his head down.

Seventh Heaven is empty tonight. The red, wooden tables are cluttered with liquor bottles, potato chip crumbs, vomit, and pieces of vegetable and bread from unfinished sandwiches. A few chairs are knocked down. Biggs sits on a barstool. His head is drooping, but his eyes are nervously aware of the woman behind the counter. She is carefully washing a glass under a hissing stream of water. A crowd of glasses is drying beside her on the counter.

“Something hard,” he says, looking down. “Anything hard.”

“We’re closed,” she says and looks up. Her lips hook into a smile. “Biggs! Of course. Sorry about that. Decided to close early tonight.” She sighs wearily. “Anyway, what would you like?”

“A shot of Brown Ice.”


Tifa turns off the tap, dries her hands with a rag hanging from her jeans pocket, and kneels down to a shelf at the bottom of the counter. Her eyes scan the various colored glass bottles and settle on a gray long-necked one. She takes the bottle, stands up, and turns around to a high shelf lined with plastic cups and glasses. As she reaches for a glass—a simple cylindrical one marked with short, white scratches—a red spot catches her eye.

Her mouth shifts into faint, fragile smile.

A red rose. Biggs’ birthday gift to her.

Tifa turns away from the rose to pour the drink, but she feels a strange tingle up her back.

As if she has just been kissed.

As if the rose has breath of its own and blows a quiet, shivering blow at her back.

Tifa, feeling suddenly cooler, holds the glass down hard on the counter, and with her other hand, pours the gray-bottled drink into it. She carelessly slides the drink over, the brown liquid splattering like mud over the circular rim of the glass. Her eyes linger on the spotted path of liquor, but she doesn’t see it. A tingling fog is settling in her eyes. Like cool, white breath on a window.

Biggs catches the drink just at the edge of the counter. He gulps it down sloppily, spilling splashes of liquor on his shirt and the countertop, and holds the glass on his lap.

“Tifa,” he says, staring down into his glass.

“Yes?” She looks at him. A certain bright orange towel from her memory wipes away the fog in her eyes. She sees her friend drooping his head, looking blue as ever.

Her face suddenly tenses with worry. “Biggs, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he grumbles. He looks up and catches Tifa’s soft, concerned face. He shrugs and lets his eyes graze over the countertop. “Just been thinking too much, that’s all.”

Tifa’s mouth opens a little as she stares at his face. A calm, blank face, except for the eyes. But they also seem unreal, as if they were only alive somewhere else. Somewhere far away. The eyes of a man in a painting, looking at something she can’t see. “There’s something more,” Tifa murmurs, still staring at his distant face. He’s afraid, she thinks. Tomorrow...

Tifa swallows hard. “For one thing, you never spill drinks,” she says lightly, glancing at the brown spill and then returning her eyes to his drifting face. In a louder, slightly angry voice she adds, “You never look down when you talk.”

Biggs blinks and his eyes return to him from the somewhere else, the place Tifa couldn’t see. He swallows and tries to straighten his back. He looks up from the countertop and smirks at her. “You don’t look peachy yourself,” he says, the smirk hurting his mouth. “Homesick?”

His smirk slips into a slight frown.

Why did I say that? a faint voice in him wonders. When I knew it would hurt her...

Tifa doesn’t answer. She yanks out the rag tucked in her jeans pocket and slowly wipes the split trail of brown liquor. The spill doesn’t look so dark, spread on the brown counter. Like settled rain on a window.

Without consciously knowing, she imagines she is wiping a certain window with her favorite bright orange towel. Outside her old home, among the wet tulips shuddering quietly with Nibelheim mountain wind. Her dead mother’s flowers.

“No,” Tifa replies, “not really. Are you?”

“Homesick? No.”


Tifa wipes harder. Her face reflects on the shine of smooth countertop wood. Though her eyes are on the blurry reflection, she doesn’t see it. A shadow of her is still beside a window, surrounded by her dead mother’s flowers.

Shadow Tifa is looking through the window now, as if it were a picture frame and in it were a painting. The painting shows her father cooking. Soup, because it is the only thing he cooked before, when Tifa’s mother was alive. She can see the steam stream out from the pot and on the opposite side of the kitchen, her father slowly cutting celery, carrots, and mushrooms. His back is hunched, his head bowed.

Sometimes as he finishes cutting cleanly through a piece of vegetable, he holds the knife still against the counter and shuts his eyes.

Dreaming of Mama? little Shadow Tifa wonders, and she imagines what he imagines. That her loving mother is standing beside him, churning pudding-thick cake batter. She smells of lemon soap. There is a sly smile on her face. A content, secret-holding smile.

Little Shadow Tifa also imagines what he doesn’t. She imagines that she isn’t alone outside, watching her father through a window. That he isn’t a man in a painting, looking at something she can’t see.

But that instead, he is close. That she is beside him washing vegetables, and he is smiling at her.

And that whenever Tifa brings a soft, colorful bundle of her mother’s tulips into the house, her father won’t throw them out and only think of death. That he will accept them with a painful smile and remember sweeter things. He will place them in a vase by Tifa’s piano. And the whole house will smell sweet with flowers...

“I’m sorry,” Biggs says suddenly.

Shadow Tifa slips away from the window and wanders to another place behind Tifa’s eyes. Tifa blinks. She looks up at Biggs and shoves the rag into her pocket.“What?”

“I’m sorry,” Biggs says again, his finger rubbing at an arch of the glass’s rim. “I couldn’t find a piano anywhere.” He chuckles. “Marlene would’ve liked to hear you play.” He pauses and adds, “I would’ve too.”

Tifa sighs and smiles. “It was a silly of me to ask.”

She puts a white hand on the counter.

“A piano here,” she says, shaking her head. “It was a crazy idea.”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding his head a little. He remembers being surprised at hearing the word ’piano’. As if a piano were a forgotten secret from his childhood that Tifa’s request uncovered for him. Dug up, dusted, and polished to a sad shine.

Biggs only knew piano music through audiocassettes, and that was long ago, when he was a boy living with his mother in a higher sector. Their house was white with wide, draped windows and high, lighted ceilings. After dinners—which they would cook together and would usually consist of simple dishes like hot pasta in tomato sauce or cold cheese sandwiches—they would rest in the living room. In the back of the room, Biggs would give his mother a tape with small hands and she would slide it into the cassette player and press a button that had a painted green arrowhead pointed to the right. Then together, with the soft beginnings of the piano music playing behind them, they would walk to a cool cream couch. Biggs would almost be marching with his small, skinny arms slack at his sides, and his mother—she would glide across the room and smile back at him. When she sat on the couch, she would sigh, slouch, and rest her feet on the coffee table in front of her. Biggs, with proper posture, would quietly place himself next to her. The glow of piano music reached the corners of the room and would make Biggs’ body tingle and his mouth smile. And without really being aware of it, his body would slowly slacken, and by the end of tape, he would find himself close to sleeping, his head leaned gently against his mother’s shoulder.

Boy Biggs was amazed to find out that a real person made that music with their fingers, and once in a while, with a soft, eager face, he would ask his mother if they’d ever see someone play the piano.

Yes, sweetheart, she’d say. In a big concert hall with front row seats, so no one’s head will be in the way. The music will be just for us.

But as time went by and his mother returned later and later from her work at Shinra, her voice seemed to grow tired from saying those words.

(Yes, sweetheart...The music will be just for us.)

She sounded as if she no longer believed the words but said them anyway because she loved her son enough to try holding his delicate dream. Or at least enough to store the dream somewhere else, to keep it from breaking.

And Biggs, sitting now in front of a starry-eyed woman, does not want to break her dream. He tried, he really tried to find a piano for her. He asked around everywhere for one—knocked on pub doors, clothing shops, food joints, boxes in corners crammed with trash. He called out a ’hey’ to sobbing drunks, laughing stoners, gals with their skirts higher than their underwear. But they all eyed him like he was mad after he asked them, Where can you find a piano?

Or a sweet melody, anything with music?

Not home, he thinks bitterly. Home is gone.

The white walls were stained with his mother’s blood before the blue-suited men burned his home down. The audiocassette player, the tapes of music, burning. His mother’s body blackening in the flames.

But somewhere beyond the plates, Biggs thinks, there must be music...

“Tifa,” he says quietly, “tonight, tonight I would’ve really liked to hear you play.” He looks down. “Tomorrow...”

Tifa looks away and clenches her hand on the counter into a fist. Her heart feels swollen. Her blood pumps with fire. Remembers fire.

Remembers now, without her mind knowing, of the fire that shook Nibelheim and took color away from it. Bright yellow flower petals, blushing red-lettered shop signs, the bluest blue sky, all ashen. As if a hand had painted over the town in gray and black.

Her blood remembers the sickly sweet smell of burning wood, blood, and flowers. Of her climbing the Nibelheim mountains and for once not wondering, hoping her mother was somewhere there, waiting for her.

Her blood remembers the mountain bridge wheezing under her as she ran across it. And the cold wind pulling off her hat, stinging her face, making her squint.

Her blood remembers her father dying.

He is coughing blood, staring at her without looking for his wife in her eyes. She imagines he is saying Tifa in his heart. Tifa, my daughter, whom I love, I love you...

Color leaves his eyes. They become dull and pale and cold. A fly buzzes at his face. Tifa sits still. Her hands can’t stop shaking.

Sephiroth... SOLDIER... Mako Reactors... Shinra... Everything! I hate them all!

“You’ll come back,” Tifa says painfully. Her heart is beating wildly now, but she breathes deeply and thinks, I am doing something now. I am doing all I can do. The remembered fire in her blood quiets. Then louder, with forced cheer she says, “You’ll all come back safe for sure! Barret’s a great fighter, Jessie’s got brains, and Cloud—”

Her voice catches on something for a moment.

A thin gossamer thing, a web of soft memory.

Made from strands whispering of a high stone well.

A starry night.

A promise.

But just for a moment. Tifa regains her voice. “Cloud was a first class soldier,” she continues firmly. “You’ll all come back safe.”

Biggs tastes something faintly sour. He heard her voice catch at the name. Cloud. Like it gave her shivers. Like a light touch, a kiss tingling all through her.

As her smile did to him.

And her look. The precious look.

He discovered it last week, on her birthday.

She was sitting outside on the steps to Seventh Heaven, staring at strange pools of streetlight on the dark street. He was standing by the door. From there, he could see the soft drape of her hair, pale brown in the light. He would have liked to walk over and brush his hand against a few strands, but he didn’t. He kept his hand in his pocket, over a damp, red rose. Tifa, he called out in a soft, strained voice. Tifa turned around, light cast over her face like shining yellow paint. Biggs brought his hand out of his pocket. The rose bowed over his hand. Happy Birthday, he said quietly. Tifa’s eyes widened. Her look then—her parted lips, the arch of her eyebrows, the shine of her eyes—he hasn’t forgotten it. It is kept carefully in a special chest of memories. Memories he takes out and appreciates on those days when the slums are especially rotten.

Biggs feels the memory of that precious look now with shut eyes.

The sour taste passes.

He opens his eyes and looks at Tifa. He has something to tell her.

“Tomorrow, I may die tomorrow in Sector One. And that’s all right, that’s what I accepted when I joined Avalanche. I know you know all that, but I, I need to...”

He touches the tips of Tifa’s fingers. The kiss-tingle shivers through them. Tifa quietly stares at their touching hands.

“If tomorrow, if I come back alive, can...”

He moves his hand forward and clasps Tifa’s full hand.

His lips shiver. “I...”

He looks up and sees her surprised white face.

And though he doesn’t want to, he can’t help but think how her voice caught at Cloud’s name. How distant her eyes became. Faraway in a starry night.

Biggs feels his hand weaken, as if there were no bone or muscle in it. He withdraws it quickly from hers and shoves it into his pocket.

“If we come back, can you cook us a big meal?” he asks finally, lamely.

“What?” Tifa says softly. She blinks rapidly, as if dust has just tickled her eye. Her mouth begins to feel numb. “Oh yes,” she says, her cheerful voice masking a mess of confusion. And maybe a tinge of disappointment too. “Of course. A nine course meal! You are coming back.” She nods quickly, too quickly. “You are. No buts or ifs. You are, you’ll all come home safely.”

“Yeah,” he says, trying to sound sure. “I’ll take care of Cloud too,” he adds. The faint sour taste returns to him, but it’s mixed with a rising sweetness. “I know he’s important to you.”

“We were childhood friends.” Her voice has a forced lightness to it. As if she were trying to just brush past the words. “But all of you,” she continues, “all of you, just take care of each other.”

”Yeah, we’ll do that.” A strange light is in his eyes. ”Goodnight Tifa,” he finally says. His mouth feels dead.

“Goodnight,” says Tifa, looking down. She turns on the tap again and continues washing glasses under hissing water.

Blggs nods, stands up, and walks away. The kiss-tingle fades into a strange hollowness inside of him as he finds himself closer to his room and farther away from Tifa. He can’t walk back now. But I can sleep, Biggs thinks. He won’t wonder what tomorrow means or what tonight meant. He won’t wonder if he has done anything for her. He still hasn’t found her a piano yet, or music. And that rose, how long will it be before it dries up and withers? How long will this night last?

But does it really matter now? he asks himself. A sudden smile comes to him. He sits slowly on his bed and pulls the covers to his chest. He shuts his eyes, opens a special chest, and watches something...

A damp, red rose bows over his hand.

Her eyes widen; her lips part.

A face holds him in an infinite moment.


a/n: Thank you for reading. Comments are welcome.=)