Three Stories

The Blue Piano

“You boys are welcome to a beer,” the old man said. It was a grudging offer, because we had scratched the piano as we took it through his garage. It was a small upright painted brightly, approaching azure. We took the beers.

“Myrtle would be glad to see this going to someone who wants it,” he said as he clinked our bottles. “Music was everything to her.” He didn't like that we didn't have straps, but Dave assured him by saying he'd ride in the back with it. The old man chugged his beer. When he went inside, we stood our bottles on the driveway, ducked into the cab, and left.

As I turned onto the highway, the piano shifted, knocking off two of its wheels on the corrugated bed of the pickup. This stopped it from rolling, and I could see the old man was right to worry. Still, we got it into the living room before Dave's wife got home. The piano was one of those big gestures he was prone to at the time.

But the instrument didn't sound right, and the piano man told Dave the tune wouldn't hold for long. Apparently, the pinblock had a crack in it.

Dave's wife played a couple of songs from her childhood lessons before the piano began to drift back to its earlier state, like a radio station that turns to static as you leave the city of its antenna. By the following weekend, it sounded terrible once again.

The piano stayed in their living room for two years. They thought about fixing it, but the repairman told them it would be cheaper to buy a different piano if all they wanted was second-hand. “It's not like you're fixing up a Steinway,” he said. “This thing has junk pile written all over it.”

Whether the pinblock had cracked when we were transporting it, I couldn't say. We hadn't bothered to play anything on it before we loaded it up. After all, the piano was free, and neither of us knew anything about music. It looked good in the living room though, despite the color, despite the lack of tune, despite the blue-painted blocks where the wheels had been.

Eventually the second call came. Dave needed my truck to get the piano to the dump. Out of a sense of obligation, I brought up Myrtle. Dave said he'd put an ad in the paper—“free to first-comer.” But everyone who came knew something about pianos, and they always left after they peeked inside. It amazed him that they knew what to look for down in that nest of levers and wires.

So we brought it to the dump, and I took a video as Dave muscled it onto the concrete. A couple of people came over to watch. After all, how many times do you get to see a piano fall out of a truck? This one was quick. It cried out once with a chord of 88 fingers and then fell silent.

Dave and I got back in the cab and opened a beer. By the time we returned, the living room had been arranged to fill the place where his wife would not make music.

The Last Man Out

We worried that they knew we were in there, even as they rolled us inside the gates. We imagined the secret order spreading through the streets—to bring straw and torches, to gather the children to watch.

Ajax was the only one who could tell what was going on. He was positioned in the head, and he peeked through a tiny hole in the horse's left nostril to check on what was happening. Of course, he couldn't risk even a whisper. He had to stay unmoving in the stallion's head while I sat back in the rear.

A celebration developed. Barrels were brought forth, the bones of our comrades pulled apart and burned. There was singing and the whores were busy. We heard the children playing about the horse's legs. We heard their glee as they stepped outside the walls for the first time in ten years.

Helen made a speech. We knew her voice. It filled us with longing and treachery.

Eventually the hairline spaces between the boards filled up with dark. The torches died down. We heard the gates pulled shut with the straining of the yaks, who were encouraged to pull by boys who dangled apples smeared in honey before them.

As we had planned, we waited a whole hour after hearing the last noise. Then we unfolded ourselves from the cramped places our bodies had molded into. The secret door in the belly was pulled back and a rope fell down into dark. One by one the men slid out like spiders. We could see nothing. We followed each other's stink.

I was the last man out. By the time I touched the ground, the drunken throats of the guards had been slit and the gates were being drawn. We made a game of going from house to house and killing in quiet the ones who slept. We were searching for Helen. We would have to take her back, even after she had caused us to murder at close range the families so like our own.

Friday Night Judas

The sky feels empty above him—though it looks the same, though the moon is out. All he had to do was kiss him on the cheek, as if he were greeting an uncle who had come across the desert to eat the olives that were softening in a brine-filled jar. Now he is rich and there is poison on the air. The flowering arm of the redbud reaches down to gather him. Nourished by the god he'd eaten and betrayed, he feels the sky pressing down, twisting him inside himself, like a screw that can go no farther.  

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