KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Flash Fiction: 851 words

Where the Piano Stood

by Nancy Parshall
 

Esther stands back steadying her hand on the dining room table. She tries to memorize the names sewn on the men’s work shirts. Jay. Malik. Tom. They carry a toolbox, quilted blue and green blankets.

“Front door or back, ma’am?” asks Jay.

She turns to the front. She turns to the back. “I don’t know. They brought it in the front,” she says. “We didn’t have the back patio then.”

Jay lifts the baby grand’s fallboard and, standing, plays a jazz jingle or maybe boogie-woogie. Is that what the kids call rap? She’s not sure, but she likes it. Nobody has tinkled the keys in years, and to her the Kawai sounds fresh, newly tuned, but it can’t be. The piano tuner passed years ago.

“Bit out of tune,” says Jay, still playing the bouncy music. “That’s okay. They’ll need to tune it after the move anyway.” He stops in the middle of the song, tucks his chin. “You sure?”

“It’s time,” she says, rubbing the arthritis out of her hands. “I don’t play it anymore.” She catches herself before adding that she needs the money, that the ambitious funeral the girls planned for Ernest has left her strapped.

Tom and Malik move the davenport against the wall to clear a path to the front door. As they drag Ernest’s vintage La-Z-Boy to the hall, the crocheted arm cover slips, exposing cigarette scars. Lucky the house never burned down, she thinks. Maybe it’s time for the chair to go too.

Jay reaches for a tool. Together they rest the piano on its side and begin the dismemberment. For a moment Esther wonders if it’s too soon—maybe she’ll feel better and start playing again—but enough of that. On his knees, Tom gently wraps the legs in the blankets, folding and rolling, like swaddling a baby. He sets them to the side. Esther stares out the glass door at Ernest’s favorite oak trees, the ones he planted when the girls were born. How did they get so tall?

At the glass door, Fifi barks and scratches. She needs a trim.

In the corner of the living room, the peace lily droops, the one from Ernest’s funeral. So many beautiful flowers and plants, but only this one survived her overwatering. She fills the watering can at the kitchen sink. Lukewarm. Never want to shock the plants.

The disassembled Kawai, now on a dolly, is rolled toward its exit. With their hands high-bracing, the men help the piano down the front steps. It glides down the sidewalk toward the truck. She limps to the window to watch, the same window where she watched the piano arrive, where she watched it float up the sidewalk. She flashes to those old Super 8 home movies, how Ernest played them backwards to get the girls to laugh.

Maybe Ernest was right when he said they shouldn’t buy the piano. It was their first big purchase after the house, a financial impact for sure, but Esther thought the girls would love it like she did. Mrs. Crandall would teach them, and the girls would practice every day, fifteen minutes at first and then thirty. She’d set the oven timer. They’d stun at recitals in patent leather shoes. Afterwards they’d all go out to dinner to celebrate. But Esther hadn’t planned on Karen sitting on the ebony bench waiting for the timer, arms crossed at her chest, chin tucked. She hadn’t planned on Ruth spending her piano time away from the keyboard, erasing the exercise book and penciling the answers back in again. She hadn’t planned on the jolt of embarrassment at the recital when the other children played Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and “Für Elise,” and Ruth and Karen played “Chopsticks” and “Jingle Bells.” The clash of the girls becoming themselves. She hadn’t planned on that.

Esther missed Ernest now. He would know if they got a fair price for the piano. She thinks of how he fell for her, how the passion blossomed and later waned, how he passed. She thinks of how the girls grew and left, how they’d surpassed her, no longer needed her. They’re so busy, going here, going there, never accepting offers of help. She wonders when she stopped wanting to ride a bike, why she started falling. The girls say she’s not allowed down the stairs. She feels like a yo-yo, almost returned to the hand, the ride almost finished.

Jay pops back in, pulls the davenport from the wall, and returns the La-Z-Boy to its original position. He tells her the bill will come in the mail. At the window, Esther watches as the truck pulls out of the driveway and turns left, taking the piano the direction from which it came. Her eyes follow it out of view.

From the quiet emerges loud ticking—she reaches for her heart, then remembers she wound Ernest’s antique clocks that morning. Louder and louder they tick, as though competing to steal the seconds. Ernest. Karen. Ruth. Three deep depressions remain in the carpet, footprints where the baby grand stood.

Nancy Parshall
Issue 6, Fall 2016

splits her time between Northwestern Michigan College, where she teaches English, and the Lake Leelanau hobby farm she shares with her husband David. Before returning home to Michigan, she spent 16 years traveling in 41 countries, notably England, Australia, and Japan. Her writing has been featured in KYSO Flash, Dunes Review, NMC Magazine, Warmbloods Today, and 101 Words.

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