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The Piano

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Claudia watched the small shiny beads of sweat tumble down the men’s faces forming thin rivers in the canyons of creases on their foreheads. They were balanced on a rusty crane carefully feeding a 1978 Chickering piano through the gaping mouth of the open window. She watched as the two men grabbed opposite sides of the sleek, cream-colored instrument, stopping it from teetering back and forth in the hot summer breeze and slid it into her living room. The older gentleman, with short graying hair streaking across his scalp asked her where she’d like it, and she pointed to the corner. "Its quite large, isn’t it?" Claudia said, "bigger than I thought it’d be. Real big." The old man wiped the sweat from his forehead with his arm.

"Ma’am, do you have any lemonade? I could use some lemonade right about now," he said.

"Yes, yes, right this way," she said.

She tightened the sash around her waist holding the polka-dotted bathrobe draped over her body. She always wore the polka-dotted bathrobe in the morning after her husband left for work. He despised the thing, when she had it on he would say, "Please Claudia, take that off, get it off it’s a nightmare, I’m really serious now the thing is hideous." So she’d have to go back into the bedroom and change to the bland beige one that ran a bit too high up her legs.

The younger man sighed and wiped his forehead with his arm. "The Chickering’s tend to run a tad larger than normal, gives them a better tune."

Claudia didn’t know anything about piano’s, besides a couple of lessons her parents forced her to take when she was eight, and she couldn’t tell if the man was lying or not, so she said "Oh."

The entire operation set her back around three thousand dollars. She had to have the windows removed, panes and all, then replaced. She had to pay the men for their labor, as well as make them the lemonde. And the piano, the piano came in at a whopping nineteen hundred dollars. She knew it would be worth it though, she could play jazz or classical, anything really, anything to shut up the stupid Sony sound system they had set up near the kitchen that played the top forties over and over again. The system was just as big as the piano and sometimes when he turned it up, the generic tones coming from the shiny speakers was overbearing. They slipped through her ears and wrapped her brain, caging it in like a pet parrot.

Bruce and Claudia Norris were the quintessential definition of mundane. They both graduated from state schools in the middle of their class. Claudia worried about children and how her body looked and Bruce worried about money and growing old and getting gray hair. They both wanted to visit Italy and live in San Francisco. They resided in the Alvanno Place apartments on the outskirts of Boston and when anyone asked where their place was, they just said the city, because it was easier that way. The only interesting thing that happened to them was Bruce winning the employee of the month award.

When she was alone and the apartment was silent, besides the clumping footsteps of the quiet couple above her and the wailing baby below her, she sat down and looked at the piano. It was like a pregnant elephant stuffed into the corner of the room, but she liked it, and she hoped her husband would too. She would tell him how much of a spectacle the whole operation was. Claudia was the type of person who would enjoy using that word; "Oh Bruce, I wish you were here, it was such a spectacle Bruce!"; "Brucie, I swear to you it was amazing, it really was a spectacle, something to admire!" and she would stress the first syllable and click her tongue on the "T."

Claudia noticed that the pregnant piano blocked the several photographs that hung from the wall in the corner of the den.

One was a picture of Bruce, his blue-black hair combed over his square head and a saddle of freckles traversing his nose, holding his first employee of the month award. He was smiling and his white teeth reminded her of the keys on the Chickering. He worked as a used car salesmen and he was good at it. Good at covering up the springs poking through the leather seats in the old Mustangs, as if trying to escape, or coughing just as the engine wheezed in the Oldsmobile’s, or resting his muscular arm, covered in a suit that looked much more expensive then it really was, over a small nick or scratch on the paint of a dirty Jeep. He could cover up nearly anything.

The rest were pictures of their wedding day, of her smiling and laughing and holding Bruce, kissing and hugging like all couples do, her hair done up in a complex spiral, like a snail shell you’d find on Ogunquit beach. These actions felt foreign to her, as if she had performed them in a past life. They never did things like this anymore, but had fallen into the same routine everyday. They didn’t have too though, Claudia knew he loved her, he really did. But the piano hid the pictures so she took them down and stuffed them into the cardboard box and wrapped them in the morning’s newspaper and put them away.

Bruce came home at six o’clock and he opened the door and dropped his suitcase—which was full of nothing, he only had it for the visual effect—and he said, "What’s that noise?" Claudia was in the den, running her fingers over the shiny keys of the piano, playing parts of the Moonlight Sonata. Her graceful fingers danced back and forth like a marionette. It was the only song she remembered how to play from her lessons.

"Bruce dear, come in here, in the den, I’m in here!" She let her fingers glide over the keys and she nodded her head back and forth.

"Where’d you get that? Where’d the money come from? How’d you get the money for that?" he said. He said, "Oh Claudia that dress, the lime green dress is so goddamn bright please change, please."

"I saved up, from our money, I took out bits of our money and bought this beautiful Chickering." She said. He ran his fingers through his neat hair and groaned, pulling it until it hurt in a good way.

"Jesus Claudia, we don’t have enough money for that, I mean, we just can’t afford stuff like this." His voice was rising, like the tone of the music. Now her fingers were all the way on the right of the piano, banging the high notes, playing parts of songs she didn’t even know, she just wanted him to be impressed so she picked up the pace and played something she would enjoy dancing too. "We just can’t be doing stuff like this. You—you need to return it, from wherever you got it from, just get it out of here and get the money back. Please Claudia, please." He was disappointed. "And listen, I mean, I work all day and come home and I just want dinner. I’m not trying to be mean about this but I just work and work and I just want to come home to a nice relaxing dinner with you, I enjoy having dinner with you and you’re a wonderful cook," he added the last part to make her feel better.

"I thought we—we could go out tonight," she stammered. Bruce sighed and pinched the sides of his nose, right along the saddle of freckles.

The piano stayed. Claudia bought several books: Piano For Beginners and How to Play Piano and Be Beethoven. She was in the middle of Fur Elise, struggling with a particularly tough part, when the phone rang. She almost didn’t hear it at first over the exciting music, and she ran to pick it up on the sixth or seventh ring. It was Bruce. "Claudia honey, can you meet me downstairs, I have a bunch of stuff I can’t carry by myself." She grabbed her sun hat and ran down the hall to the elevator.

Bruce was in the lobby, suitcase in one hand and a stack of papers under his arm, a box was at his feet. She ran up to him and hugged him and raised her right foot in the air and kissed him on the cheek. She could smell the mixture of aftershave and sweat on his face. She grabbed the box, it was heavy, and brought it into the elevator.

"Sixteen please," Bruce said to the couple already in the elevator. The man stabbed the button, his stubby finger bending on impact, and he looked towards his younger wife. The elevator slowly rose, as if there was too much weight in the boxcar, and Claudia listened to them muttering in the corner.

"Why do you have to be like this, I can’t take it anymore," the man said.

"Oh shut up Richard, you really annoy me sometimes," the woman said.

"Oh, I annoy you! Please, don’t even get me started, just don’t."

"See, listen to you, you get so mad so easily and you just yell at me. You think you’re so much better than me don’t you?"

The man looked over at Claudia, her cheeks turned pink and the top of her ears burned and she quickly turned towards the ground.

The man grabbed the woman’s arm and leaned into her ear and said, "Listen to me, don’t talk to me like that, just don’t, don’t make me bring it up again, I just want to forget about it."

The woman’s mouth dropped open, she was shocked. "You bastard," she said. She said, "You goddamn bastard." The elevator paused and the four passengers sat in silence. The doors slowly opened and the couples walked out.

When they were back in their apartment, Claudia grabbed Bruce and said, "We’re not like that Bruce, right? We’re not like them, you love me don’t you?"

Bruce shook her off and said, "Of course I love you, of course we’re not like that, why would you even think that? Of course we’re not like them. And goddamn it you don’t have dinner ready." The box was full of car brochures modeling the latest Oldsmobile’s. She humped them into the closet and on top of the pictures of them at their wedding. The heavy box crunched the pictures, folding them into themselves.

Bruce turned on the radio and the number three hit blared through he apartment. Bruce knew all the words, and they were growing on her as well, like a parasite.

The next morning, after she made Bruce his favorite coffee, she slipped on the bland beige bathrobe and found a hammer in a toolbox Bruce never opened. She grasped it by the yellow rubber handle and brought it to the piano. The radio had been on since last night, playing the same forty songs over and over again and she knew them all. The guitars and voices bounced around in her head and filled her thoughts.

She brought the hammer to the pregnant piano. She dug the claw into the lowest key, the key all the way to the left. Claudia grasped it like a golf club and dragged it up the piano. The white keys popped off and flew through the air like little teeth, scattering around the carpet. The black keys fell to the ground like scabs. After the ugly tones from the piano had left the air, she listened to the number one hit while she ate Total cereal and looked at the dead piano. She would have to dispose of it; it didn’t fit in well with the rest of the room.

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