The Girl and The PianoA Story by John Knowles
A short story about people parting ways.
The Girl and The Piano
The girl sits at the piano, her long, curly dark hair tied back in ribbons. Her pale complexion only highlighted the worry in her face even more than it would sorrow or fright. Her fingers traced the keys, feeling the smoothness that once was but now turned to bare wood in little more than forty years of use. She played a simple one handed melody on the high keys, like a music box. The noise trickled through the house. She sat up and pulled the stool in closer, remembering a simple church song of which she couldn't remember the title. It was Friday, it was Lent. No meat for the barbarians. She thought as she flipped through a mouse-bitten music book. She could feel her phone vibrate on the stool, but paid no attention. It vibrated more, moving with each burst. Vibrate. Move. Vibrate. Move. Fall. The phone fell on the ground and the battery fell out. The dog starts to bark.
“S**t.” The girl says, picking up her phone and reassembling it. A loud knocking at the door announced his arrival. He was a short boy of about seventeen with a blonde ponytail, usually dressed in ripped dirty jeans and band tees. A chain and lock around his neck, the key to which would never be found and, in all probability never existed. The girl opens the door and welcomes him in,, along with some fresh grass clippings in the wind. They sky is blue, but rain was for-casted. She could see dark clouds in the distance.
“Hey.” She hugs him and he's off on a tangent. The dog sneaks onto the nice leather couch and lays down. She thumps her tale and begins to chew on her a*s. “Franny stop.” The dog stops and lays her head back down on the couch.
“You remember that show last month?” She rolls her eyes. The wind dies down. She fiddles around with a small coin with a square hole. She puts it down next to an old rusted chain. A coffee cup filled with pens is knocked over by the boy as he clumsily makes his way to the love seat. He picks them up and puts them back on the marble side table.
“Yes, we only talk about it every night.” He shrugs and puts his patched army jacket on the coat hook. A cigarette falls from behind his ear and rolls under the couch. The boys gets down and snakes his arm under the couch.
“I know, but I just-” She cut him off.
“I got in.” She bit her lip, holding back her excitement. After twelve perfect years of high school, she got into her perfect college. She sat down on the piano bench and started playing the beginning to 2001 a Space Odyssy.
“Got in, as in Evergreen?” He holds his hand to his mouth. The dogs yawns and thumps it's tail. Neither of them minded the dog being on the nice furniture.
“Yes, I got accepted.” She replies, smiling. She looks out black velvet curtains and onto the lawn.
“That's awesome. Does your scholar-” She cut him off again in obvious excitement. She closes
the door and locks it. She walks into the kitchen and grabs two sodas from the fridge. Her parents were at work and book club.
“Yes, it covers it, mother says she'll pay for lodging.” The boy starts nodding. After eighteen years, she was finally able to get out of her s**t town.
“That's awesome. I'm pretty jealous.” She smiles and adjusts her necklace. The wind picks up. The boy look towards the staiway, a basket of dirty laundry at the bottom, the fluffy deep blue carpet and hardwood floor, the walls painted red.
“Don't be, LMCC is a great school. Come, sit down.” They make their way through the spotless house to the piano. He sits down on the couch, she reprises her seat at the piano and starts to play, her hands once again gracing the keys.
“Play that one thing.” He says, hanging over the edge of the couch, speaking to her neck. She turns around and raises her eyebrow. She looked towards a picture of her father in the military. Sitting sraight up, staring straight ahead.
“What one thing?” She replies taking a drink of her soda. And setting the can back on the coaster. The boy turned off his cd player and the it in on the glass coffee table. A bunch of magazines, People, scientific America and National Geographic are stacked neatly on the corner next to a candy dish. The boy grabs a sucker and hands her one. She looks out of the window. The clouds are coming closer.
“You know, the one thing.” He says, “I can't remember what it's called.” She gives him a frustrated look and says,
“What one thing? Seriously, I have no idea what your talking about.” He looks up in remembrance.
“I think it was called Jesus Toy for hiring?” The girl laughed as she unwrapped her sucker and stuck it in the side of her mouth.
“Jesu Joy of Man's desiring.” She corrects him, laughing. He crunches his sucker and goes for another one.
“Yeah, that one.” He looks on eagerly. She cracks her fingers and starts. The music once again fills the house. The boy sits with his eyes closed, the girl, in her worry or excitement. She started out slow, the notes sparkling,
“You remember our plans our another Algonquin round table?” He asks when she's finished, the house is silent again, except for the two talking. The dog scratches her ear. A car passes outside, a dark blue van.
“Yes, I still post on the blog.” She replies. They had a writing blog with friends during highschool. Thespians and artists, writers and musicians. Just to kill time, noone took it very seriously, only the girl and her two friends. The boy obviously didn't. Far off in the distance they could hear the bell ring at the elementery school. Soon the streets would be flooded with children.
“I forgot about the blog.” He replies. She rolls her eyes jokingly. A few more cars pass and a man on a bycycle.
“How can you forgot the blog?” She presses the piano keys with her palms in mock disgust. He seems to be taking her too seriously. “Come on baby, I'm kidding.” It cheers him up. She wasn't normally the kind of girl to say words like baby, preferring to be as professional as possible. but in rare occasions it was unavoidable.
“I guess I just did.” They sat in silence. She begins another piece, this time a sad subtle one.
When she was finished the room is once again silenced. The girl looked down. Everyone was leaving. Highschool is over. It was time to start their lives. The wind is starting to pick up, the light in the room fades as a cloud passes over othe sun.
“Alin is leaving next week.” She says blankly. She stares at the picture of her father, upright posture, the bl;ank serious face
“I know.” He replies. They are silent. Friends of friends older brothers went to war, never had someone so close has left to gamble their life for their country interests.
“He's going to be stationed in Baghdad.” The girl midlessly figers the keys, running up and down a minor scale.
“I'm scared.” The boy says as he spins the wheels on his skateboard. He fiddles around with his wallet chain.
“Me too. Any time time it should be over.” The sound of the piano trickles through the house. Somewhere a cat knocks over a pile of books. Wind blows.
“It's been going on for four years, it better.” The boy replies. She puts her head down the the keys of the piano. A low discordent noise rolls throughout the house. The dog stirs awake.
“I bet he won't even have to go fight. Any day now, it should be over.” She replies with a fake laugh and an even faker smile. She plays random parts of Dresden Dolls songs
“There's no way it can go on any longer.” The girl stops playing and listens to the sounds of silence, wind and birds, natures music.
“Who knows, it could go on past '09 for all we know.” She replies, not even bothering with optimism.
“Ugh. Don't say that.” The girls makes random chords and looks away. Three months and he's gone. Eighteen is too young to gamble your life, she thought. So is twenty one and twenty seven and thirty and forty... She could go on and on.
“Seriously.” She replies, “It could.” She stops playing. “But I hope it ends soon.” The boys spins his skateboard wheels some more.
“I don't get it, it's an area the size of a state.” The boy says. The girl laughs. She was going to be a political science major.
“As long as they have oil, we'll be there.” The girls repplys darkly. She knew all too well of US interest in the middle east. “It goes back to John F Kennedy funding the overthrow in Iraq's government.” This political stuff bores the boy. “The same thing happened in Iran and Panama. Africa in general.” She could tell that the boy was no longer listening. It starts to rain softly and stops. This continues.
“Someone will stop them.” He replies. The girl does nothing. Even as a amature human rights activist, she couldn't hold the same optimism .
“Whatever.” She replies. “Did you register for school yet?” She grabs another sucker from the candy dish and climbs back over the couch and back to the paino bench. She scooted in, the legs screech on the wood floor.
“No, I couldn't get a ride.” She rolls her eyes. Laughter and filled the streets, great yellow school busses chugged past.
“Oh come on it's like a half a mile away.” The boys picks up a magazine. Scientific American. He flips through, past advertisments for cameras and computers. Articles on particle acceleration and one on the law of planetary orbit. One that went over his head on how the universe is leaking energy or not leaking energy at the same time. Or something.
“I need a cigarette.” The girl and her parents didn't smoke. They didn't approve of it, traditionally the boy would go sneak a cigarette behind the garage. Her parents thought he quit.
“Then go outside.” She replies as she puts her chin in her palm and stares at the sheet music in front of her. Pictures lined up across the top, the one of her as a child and her graduation photo, Sculptures made in elementery school, mishapen pinch pots, a candle stick. Another photo of her father in a military uniform, this one he's laughing with some friends.
“When are you leaving?” He asks the girl. She was going to Washington for school, she was finally leaving the midwest.
“For what?” She replies, still staring at the sheet music. She knew the answer, she also knew the coming conversation, the one she dreaded. The one that would change everything, no matter how it happened, the biggest change in four years.
“School.” He replies blankly. It was time to move on. Life had opened up a whole new avenue of interest for her.
“Oh, end of the year.” She replies, the worry growing greater with each breath. There is no way she was going to stay in St Louis, let alone Missouri. The midwest had lost alll of it's magic. The winters were cold, people were annoying.
“You think there's a community college there?” The time had come. The time to cut the first string. She looked at her parents wedding photograph and sighed. It starts to rain harder. The light in the room dims again.
“No, well, yes, but I don't think you should come with me.” She says, biting her lip once more with a sigh.
“What do you mean?” he says, taken aback. He always planned that everything would stay the same, he didn't mind St Louis or Missouri.
“I mean, it's so expensive and I just-” She tried to reason, he couldn't afford it, it would probably be better for him to go somewhere else too, just somewhere not with her. She wanted to meet new people, along with the new place.
“ thought you wanted to get an apartment” He said, cutting her off. The old plan, from before she knew she could get the hell out, start over, transform.
“Well, it's. It's just that...” She trails off. This moment was always hard for her, having never made a clean break.
“It's just what?” She was silent for five breaths, a tear forming in her eye. This was so hard. Allin is leaving to possibly die or turn callous and hard like her father, she would rather start over than take that.
“You can't come with me.” She finally says taking a deep breath and throwing her sucker stick away. She didn't want to be so forward, but there is nothing she can do. Some people just didn't get subtlty, the boy was definitly one of them.
“Is it because I still eat Mountain Dew and Reese's for breakfast?” She laughs, such a petty argument, almost fun. Like a running joke, an excuse for them to vent useless anger into something funny. She thought it was a shame that he took it so seriously.
“No, no, well, I mean, that is stupid. Completely stupid, but no, not at all. I just need-” He cut her off.
"Space?” She nods. The dog gets up and walks into the other room. Sounds of her lapping water are drowned out when the girl starts another piece, this one an original piece. A slow whirling one that gets faster and faster
“Yeah.” He looks confused. The girl looks down and a lump builds in her throat, a burning in her chest. The dog comes back and lays down on the couch.
“I can give you space.” She shakes her head. He couldn't, not in the way she neeed it. She needed no strings.
“Well yeah, but no.” He looks bewildered. She wished he could be more understanding, but there was no other way than to be so blunt.
“No?” He looks hurt. She looks towards a picture of them on the mantle from homecoming freshman year. Four year this week.
“No.” Silence. “It's not that I don't like you, I just need not a boyfriend.” More silence. The worry completely replacing the excitement.
“Will you write?” He replies. Of course she thought, as if breaking up were a grounds to hate each other.
“Yes, of course, we're friends after all. You can't waste four years.” He is silent. He takes a drink of his soda and sets it back down the the coaster.
“I don't believe you.” He says as he puts the magazine back and picks up the People. The girl twists a pencil in her fingers.
“No, seriously, I will, trust me.” He shakes his head solemnly. The busses stopped passing and so did the children, the laughter gone.
“No, you'll go off, become a famous writer and forget all about me.” She shakes her head, taken aback. She is hurt.
“How could you say that? I'd never forget you.“ He falls silent. The house is silent, save for a few ticking clocks and whirring computers. “Seriously, quit being so immature.” The boy jumps up and grabs his coat. She chases him to the door, but he's already gone. His figure a shrinks across lightly falling rain. She calls out but he doesn't turn around. That went well, she thought, That went splendid. She walks back to the piano, plays a few notes and slams her fists down on the keys. The loud ugly sound resonates around the house accompanied but searing curses.
© 2011 John Knowles
St. Louis, MO
AboutHi. I'm John Knowles, but not that guy who wrote a Separate Peace, a different John Knowles. I write a variety of different things. Mostly poetry, lyrics and short fiction more..