He starts by constructing the harpsichord spine, the tail, and the cheek. He steams the bent-side curve over the whistling kettle, moulding it to a jig. The triangular shape appears—tight flushed dove-joints perfecting the sharp corners.

I help to hold the pieces in place, widening my eyes, a smirk on my face as he names the parts. He laughs and pretends to linger, tender, puff-chested as a cooing dove, tracing a finger, cupping a cheek. I flush—perhaps from the heat of the steaming kettle.

He planes the Northern spruce for the delicate soundboard, curling the blonde slithers of shavings to achieve the resonant thinness.

Sometimes I help by sharpening the blade of the plane, grinding it on the whet stone as he’s shown me, being careful to keep my movements consistent—no nicks in the blade—to keep those curls falling in elegant whispers, paper thin. Curls falling like the hair I once had.

He asks me if I think the boards are thin enough? He says he needs flex but there’s a danger of the boards splitting.  

We both know what too thin looks like. I sense his anxious glance as he holds the boards, like x-rays, up to the light.  I indicate the darkened areas where he needs to shave a fraction lighter.

He builds the rib supports, and to prevent vibration—the soundboard buzzing—he uses animal glue and D-clamps, spinning the nuts for a tight, snug fit.  

I help to tighten the clamps and wipe away excess traces of glue.  

I won’t know, he says, if it’s fitted tight enough. Not until the instrument is played.

Won’t it ruin everything I wonder, if he finds then a buzz or a hum? I can see it irks him.  Despite his skill—his care and attention—he cannot change what’s ahead. Neither of us can change what is waiting for me.

He secures the bridge and cuts the rose hole in the soundboard. He layers the rose discs in wood and parchment, carving an intricate, infinite arabesque pattern.

He bends over his work, imitating the drooping heavy heads of the damask roses I’m painting, a wreath to surround the sound hole.  

I want the same roses when the time comes. They will be in bloom as they’re budding now, promising musky perfume.   

He marks the keyboard pattern and cuts the precise pinholes. He frowns in concentration as he cuts out the jack rail. He cuts and shapes the keys.

It’s one of the keys to helping him, I’ve decided—repetitive tasks to distract from the cutting and needle pricks in my skin. Tasks to concentrate on, creation giving him respite from my decline.

He uses a jig to cut out his jacks and waxes their sides to prevent them from sticking.  

I lie back on the feathered pillows while he recites his progress. I close my eyes to see better the uniform waxed jacks. 

He uses a scalpel, cutting the quill of the feather to shape the plectrum. 

It’s a precision blade, the scalpel—I sense his distaste—but it’s the tool for the job. We both know he’s shaping the voice I no longer have. The voice taken from me. 

He attaches the tongue to the plectrum with a pivot and a spring to the body of the jack. He checks the action to make sure it plucks, then hits the jack rail that he lines with felt to muffle the impact. 

I know he takes great care with this task. These are blows he can soften; pains he can stifle.

He strings the instrument running the brass wires in pairs, precise parallel lines over the bridge. 

I sense his sorrow, stringing pairs, now I have passed, and he thinks he is all alone.  

He trims the plectra to find the perfect harmonic voice.

I help him to hear the resonant tone. I guide his hands shaping the tip of the tongue. 

He tightens the strings, turning the tuning pins to achieve the correct pitch.  

The tension is terrible—hands poised over the keys—but when he plays, he weeps with relief to hear my sweet singing.

Emily Macdonald was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. Fascinated by wine as a student, she has worked in the UK wine trade ever since. Since going freelance at the start of 2020, she has started creative writing. Emily has work published with Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, Virtual Zine, Globe Soup and Hammond House. In writing and in wines she likes variety, persistent flavour, and enough acidity to bite. https://www.macdonaldek11.com

photo by Thomas Quine (via wikimedia commons on a CC BY 2.0 license)