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Special Mention - Deane McElree

The Piano Man

By Deane McElree

When you bought the piano, you didn’t know that there would be a man inside. No
one could have expected that, in your defence. You bought it online from what you
had thought was a fairly reputable website. But what could you do, kick him to the
curb? It was winter and he refused to wear clothes. All he had was a dirty white
beard to keep him warm. You thought of the little matchstick girl. You thought of Tiny
Tim. It was nearing Christmas, a time of charity. The piano man would die in that

Your daughter was delighted at first. It’s Santa. You reminded her that it was not, in
fact, Santa Claus, but a different man. But he has a white beard. You remind her that
Santa comes down the chimney. Santa doesn’t arrive in a piano, and he definitely
doesn’t refuse to leave.

Of course, it would have been easier if he was polite; if he didn’t vomit on the carpet
and pull the teeth out of the cat’s mouth. He strung them onto something that looked
like a dream catcher and hung it in your daughter’s bedroom, and she had
nightmares of running through a snowy wood as a wolf pursued her and snapped at
her ankles. The wolf would catch her by the heel and hold her down and hover its
jaws around her throat. Then she would wake, sweating, crying, and ask to sleep in
your room. But what could you do? Tell the piano man to go? To lie shivering in an
alley somewhere until he faded away?

You offered him a bed but he declined. He would sleep only in the piano. He said he
had always slept there, in the box behind the keyboard with all of the hammers and
strings. It was home. You tried to play it once, thinking he was in the kitchen. The
howl of pain which emerged from the instrument let you know otherwise. You
apologised but were met with silence. The piano man didn’t emerge for three days. It
was profoundly peaceful.

Now it’s Christmas Eve. You’re cleaning the piano man’s piss off your kitchen mirror
when your daughter approaches you. She’s pale. You ask her what it is and she

shakes her head, but stays by your side. You continue wiping the mirror with a salty
cloth, occasionally retching. Then your daughter’s voice comes over your shoulder,
telling you the piano man made her touch him between his legs. You stop wiping.
You notice the veil of dried piss between you and the person in the mirror. You pack
up her things right away and drop her off at her mother’s place.

You return to a dark, cold house. His faint shape stands at the end of the hall. You
ask him to leave this house and go somewhere else. He says he can’t. No one else
would take him in, and he would die in that cold. You ask him again. Please.
Anywhere else. He walks past you, brushing you with his shoulder, his wiry beard
and the tip of his penis. The piano bids you goodnight and climbs into the piano. You
say goodnight.

It is the early hours of the morning. You creep down the stairs. Your heart vibrates in
a buzz. Your reflection looks at you blankly from the inky black panel as your hand
hovers over the keyboard. You start at the lowest key. A yelp of surprise. He asks
you what you are doing. You push the second lowest key and the piano yelps again.
You continue to the next key, then the next and the next, until you reach the highest,
the 88th. His hands are banging against the inside like a drowning animal. Let me
out. I’ll go out into the cold. You hold down the lid. Then you start descending, key by
key. Chromatically. You travel up and down the keyboard until sunlight comes over
the garden fence and you blink. The shrieking and banging and panting had stopped
at some point. You aren’t sure when that was. Thick dark blood has oozed from the
dregs of the piano and pooled at your feet, sticking your shoes to the floor. You open
the top and look inside, then close it again.

You enter the kitchen to make toast. The cat is on the table. You attempt to pet it and
it bites you with its gums. It is Christmas morning, and there are bells in the distance.

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