BY MILES WHITE
Copyright is held by the author.
AT THE end of the second set he got up from the piano, walked out of the club and never went back to finish the rest of the gig. He walked around the city for the next three hours smoking cigarettes. When he looked up and realized he was hungry he walked the 67 blocks over to Debbie’s place. She made a pot of coffee and fixed him a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich on white bread. This was becoming more of a habit, him dropping by like this, but that wasn’t saying much. She had not seen him in a week and asked him if he was coming from a show and how it went. Only then did it occur to him that he did not return to finish the third set. Since it was a piano trio he had no idea what they might have done to make up for his truancy. It just never occurred to him. “I don’t know,” he said half in amazement.
Debbie was a waitress at a 24-hour tavern in midtown and she needed to get ready for her shift. She left him there staring out the window, smoking cigarettes, watching the dark fade to light. Outside the window he could see remnants of the last snow covering the street like frosting on a cake. She spent the next twelve hours pulling plates of scrambled eggs, hot pastrami sandwiches, and meatloaf off the serving table and sliding them in front of the night denizens, working-class heroes, and people living on the streets who begged for enough change to come in long enough to get something to eat and clean up in the restroom. Those were the lucid ones. The ones that were too bat shit gone to spoon sugar into a cup were met at the door by the manager. Sometimes he would give them a paper cup of hot coffee and a doughnut. Sometimes Debbie would watch them stand outside the window peering in at customers eating plates of hot food and wonder how they got where they were. You start out as somebody’s precious innocent little baby child and end up standing out there in the cold watching other people eat eggs.
When she got home it was already dark and she didn’t see him. What she did see was a baby grand piano sitting in the middle of her cramped studio apartment. He had pushed aside the coffee table, the stuffed arm chair, the milk crates of jazz albums, the sofa and TV, and sat a baby grand up in the middle of the chaos – and he wasn’t there. She had brought groceries and he wasn’t there. She put some macaroni and cheese in the oven and fried some hamburger meat in a pan. She changed her clothes and took a bath. He had not come back and did not come back for three more weeks. He had neglected to tell her because he had forgotten himself that he had three weeks of one nighters along the eastern seaboard all the way down to Key Largo and back up through New Orleans and Chicago. He didn’t call. After three weeks she called a moving company to come and get the piano and take it back to his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen or to hell, which ever they got to first. When she finished her shift tonight and walked in the door he was standing at the window in boxers, smoking a joint. He looked around at her, smiled and asked her if she liked the piano.
“Take your fucking piano and leave, now.”
He took a toke. “Don’t be mad,” he said. “I wrote a song for you. You’ll like it,” and she did, and then she made him fuck her because she liked him. All the shit he pulled, he pulled it all the time, but she liked him anyway.
She cooked spaghetti smothered in sardines and Parmesan. It was still early. He sat down at the piano.
“I need to sleep,” she said.
He asked her not to. “Stay up with me. I’ll play for you. What do you want to hear?”
She didn’t fuss. She liked when he played for her. She cuddled up in the chair. “Play something weird.” He thought about that for a second and played a C chord sans the root and added the 6 and the dominant 7. He stuck an F-sharp on top and doubled it in the bass. They had a bottle of wine, a bag of weed, and all night to figure out where to go with that.