A Strange Request at a Piano Bar

A Prompt from Write the Story 2018

Words: carnival, sprained, mask, oxidation, awkward, apple, juvenile, controversy, twirl, sassafras

The Piano Bar at 12th and Main was Derek’s least favorite service call to make. When he inherited his father’s piano-tuning business three years ago, he did not imagine he would be spending most of his time in dingy piano bars — typically dark, smoky, smelling heavily of tobacco unfruitfully masked by air freshener or cleaning products.

He entered the empty bar, the local soft rock station playing softly over the room’s speakers. The owner is here, Derek thought to himself. As the front door closed behind him, he heard the mechanic “bing bong” of the motion sensor announcing his presence.

“Derek! Good morning!” The owner slowly emerged from his back office, twirling his mustache habitually. The owner was an awkward little man — short, round and bald (save for that giant bushy mustache). He breathed heavily and had a laugh that particularly grated on Derek’s nerves. The owner’s appearance was almost cartoonish. “Can I get you anything this morning? The wife felt like making an apple pie at the bar this morning. That woman is a real piece of work!” the owner chuckled. Derek grimaced. To the credit of the owner’s wife, the scent of spicy apples, though faint, was enticing.

“No thanks, sir. I’m alright,” Derek responded dismissively, observing the piano in the center of the bar. He made a note of the oxidation taking place on the grand piano’s pedals. As he lifted the dusty lid of the instrument, he half-expected moths to fly out from between the strings and to the sky. “You know you should really call me more often to come look at this piano. I think my dad would be disappointed to learn that one of his most regular and loyal clients is taking care of such a beautiful instrument in a poor way.”

The owner scoffed faintly. “Ah, yeah. You’re probably right. Business hasn’t been the best as you well know. No use maintaining an instrument like this when no one comes in anymore.” He looked at the floor ashamedly, his hand on the back of his neck. “Anyway!” he exclaimed, very obviously changing the subject. “I’m sorry Edith could not be here to see you today. She called this morning, said she had a sprained foot and couldn’t make it in today.” He chuckled nervously.

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Derek said, taking a seat on the piano’s bench. Edith was the owner’s daughter. She and Derek grew up together and were very close until their paths diverted before college. He’d seen her in the bar periodically. To him, she seemed well. He knew she was seeing someone else, an “accomplished, award-winning doctor who gave up his big city life to save lives in a small town.” All the newspapers said the same thing.

Derek was glad that Edith was happy and in a stable relationship with a successful partner. But, even at the risk of certain small-town controversy, he wouldn’t have minded catching up with Edith at some point.

“Innit a shame? Alright,” the owner clapped his hands together and headed back to his office, whistling a bright tune.

Derek sighed as he plunked out a melody on the piano. He winced sharply. “This piano does NOT sound like a carnival, Mr. Joel,” Derek commented aloud, making a note in his client notebook. He restrained himself from recording that the sassafras leaf pattern painted under the lid of the piano was tacky.

Suddenly, the front door of the bar swung open, sending glass all over the front entryway. “GEORGE! Get out here. NOW!”

Derek got up from the bench instantly, turning around to face the bar’s intruders.

“Dr. L-Larson!” the owner stammered, once again emerging from the back of the house. “To..to what-what brings you here this m-morning?”

“Oh, spare me the niceties, George,” the man spat. “You KNOW why I’m here.”

“George, what’s going on out here?” The owner’s wife, short and round and cartoon-y as her husband, came out from the kitchen, the doors swinging behind her.

“It’s nothing, Lynn,” George said quietly. “Get to the car and go home.”

“But George-?” she replied, panicked.

“YOU HEARD THE MAN, COW! GET GOING.”

Gasping, the owner’s wife turned around and ran back through the kitchen, where their car was parked right outside.

“Alright, I think-” Derek began.

“WHO IS THIS?!” the intruder finally took notice of a third person in the bar and reached into his pocket.

Derek showed his hands. “Okay, no no no no.” He said calmly. “I’m just here on a service call. For the piano. I don’t want any trouble.”

“Leave Derek alone!” The owner exclaimed. “He has no part in this mess!”

“Oh, this…THIS is Derek?!” The man began to cackle. “Wow, after hearing all about you from Edith, THIS is not what I expected. I always thought she was a little delusional!”

“Don’t you talk about my baby girl like that!” George yelled, stomping towards the man. Wrapping his arms around the owner’s thick neck, Derek held him back from charging. “George, don’t. Stay back.”

“BOSS! BOSS! We gotta go, the cops are on the way!” Into the bar ran two young men, wearing lab coats and surgical caps.

“Dammit!” The intruder exclaimed. “This isn’t over, George. I’ll find you! You won’t know when or how, but it will be soon!” And off the intruder ran with his pair of juvenile delinquents, the distant sound of squad cars approaching came closer and closer.

For what seemed like an eternity, Derek and the owner of the piano bar stood there, looking at the front door and the shattered glass that surrounded the threshold. The faint sound of the radio returned over the speakers.

“What. Did I just-”

“Derek, stop right there. You don’t want to know and I’m going to spare you the details. I do have kind of a strange request though.”

“Yes, George?”

“Can I bum a ride home?”