In between his daily word-slinging sessions, Damien Roos trains as an amateur boxer, hikes the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and skips stones with Julia, his partner in life and crime. He has two pets and drinks more beer than a boxer should, yet less than most writers.
He finished the piece and stepped away from the piano, backpedaling, watching it as one watches a lion in the wild. He wasn’t sure what had happened, what his hands had done or his ears had heard, but when he escaped that room with the dark blue curtains and crimson walls he felt relieved and vowed never to return.
The following morning he returned and played the song again, and again he did not trust his mind as capable, did not trust his hands as worthy, and thought his ears might melt from the gorgeousness of the sound. This time he wobbled as he stepped from the room, drunken from the melody and only a little sure the piano wouldn’t follow him to the door, spring forth, and tear his throat out.
He tried to think of other things. But the piano stalked the halls of his thoughts as he shuffled down the stairs. The boy felt good and depraved and unworthy. A yellow sedan rolled by, a bell tolled in the distance, and the sky hung low and gray above the chilly air. A policeman held his hand out at the crosswalk, even though the street was bare, and the boy waited, wondering if he should tell someone about the song. Yes, he should. He should tell anyone who might listen. His hands trembled as he crossed, and as he drew near he saw how the policeman’s chest expanded, blue tufts of linen moving out. He decided he’d better not. He’d tell no one and never step foot inside that room again.
A shop on the next corner sold warm bowls of meringue. They were good and fairly cheap, better than the boiled chicken in the stinking shop he’d just passed. He walked up to the shop—framed in bold green stripes—passed through the door, sat in a booth, ordered the meringue, and waited. When it arrived he took two bites, felt much better, and turned to a man sitting on a nearby stool.
“I believe it’s the best song ever written.”
Someone in the corner overheard. They dropped their spoon and it clanged in the bowl. The entire shop waited for something more. The boy had nothing more. He paid his bill and left. A young woman stood on the corner and grinned down at him. She held her hand out, but the boy refused to take it. He did not know the woman, nor her hand.
“Please do,” said the woman. “I’ve followed you since yesterday. I heard your music through the window.”
The boy took her hand and his own ceased to tremble. He took the other hand and felt her warmth and the weight of both her arms.
“It’s the middle of spring,” she said. “And yet such a chill.”
She pulled him into her bosom. Her scent made him feel good. When she let go he found his heart yearning to inhale each inch of her flesh.
“Tell me you’ll play that piece for me,” she said. “When the bell chimes the hour.”
“I will,” said the boy.
The young woman left and the boy felt foolish. He regretted his promise, but now had no choice. He kicked along the sidewalk, watching his feet. He sat on a bench and studied the design painted on a door across the street, two red lines with a blue line in between. The boy became so anxious he thought he might scream. He tried to recall the young woman’s scent, but couldn’t. If he could, he would not be afraid.
The bell tolled. The boy stood from the bench, walked past the shop with the meringue and through the intersection where the policeman stood expanding and retracting with each ample breath. The building with the crimson room stood large and round through the haze. He’d sworn he’d never enter it again. As he headed toward it, he realized he’d forgotten the song. He remembered the notes but had no inkling of their order. It was the greatest song his ears had ever heard, and that he was sure of, but only that. Why had he decided to play it for another? He felt wretched and full and distressed. The building grew larger as he approached, and through its windows he saw many faces peering out.
As he mounted the steps, the boy thought of his very first lesson. He heard the metronome’s steady tick and felt his own heart match it as he reached for the door handle. He heard his instructor telling him to sit up straight again and again and felt the coolness of each key as his small fingers fumbled amongst them. The boy hated himself for ever having learned to play.
He pulled the door open. The room was filled with people, and they all watched him enter. The boy could just see the tops of the crimson walls over the tangle of heads and shoulders. Everyone there was an adult and they shuffled aside, clearing a path to the piano. He wondered how long they’d been waiting. They watched him with tired eyes.
A group of people to his left began to murmur, and amongst their rising chatter the boy heard a voice he recognized.
“I’m just not sure he wrote the song himself,” he heard the young woman say.
The boy felt a tremendous ache, a vacancy inside him like hunger. He stopped walking and stared into the thick crowd of shoulders and heads, searching for her face. The boy couldn’t remember what it looked like, but he knew he’d recognize it if he saw it. He wished for her to come up through the crowd and be with him.
A man coughed into his fist. They were waiting. The boy continued deeper into the forest of bodies. The piano sat nestled within, and light shimmered off its glossy finish. All around the boy stood the waiting people, silent now, quiet enough to not be there. He smelled them as he passed. The women smelled like fruit and rain. The men smelled like smoke and dust. They were all adults and the boy caught a brief glance at some of their faces. He didn’t know a single one.
When he reached the piano, the boy sat down on the bench. He looked up at the waiting people and felt buried within them. He hoped the young woman was among the many faces.
The keys felt warm. He began to play. The crowd stirred and a light chatter rose. The people looked at one another and one man shrugged.
“This isn’t what he played before,” the boy heard the young woman say.
She was among them, and the boy felt glad and then foolish. It occurred to him that he was stark naked and fear spiked within his chest. He took his hands off the keys and glanced down to find he was fully clothed, and the boy was so relieved by this he thought he’d melt.
The chattering grew and his face reddened. He wished he’d never learned to play a single note.
“It’s a different song altogether!” the young woman hollered hoarsely from somewhere in the crowd.
“Shut up, you stupid bitch!” the boy shouted.
He couldn’t believe he’d said it. The crowd of people gasped and one man raised an eyebrow. The boy reached up and patted his lips as one pats a cooling stove. They felt like rubber, unfamiliar.
“Are you in here?” he hollered up at the room.
No reply from the young woman.
“You took me from my lunch,” said an old lady nearby. “I think I’ll get back to it now.”
She started toward the door and the crowd allowed her clearance. The people glanced at one another and talked amongst themselves, but the boy did not hear the young woman’s voice in the mix. She’d gone, of course. Of course! She’d heard his foul mouth and then left him forever. And now the others were leaving, shaking their heads and shrugging at one another as they ambled toward the door.
“That was a song of my youth!” the boy shouted. “I’m sorry.”
They didn’t care. Only one woman looked over as he spoke and her skin was like a spider web stretched across her skull. The crowd thinned and all the while the boy peered into it in search of the young woman, though he knew she’d gone. He grew frantic as he watched them leave, certain he’d vanish when all of them had gone through the door.
“Come back!” he shouted. “I’ll remember if you give me one more minute. Please!”
The people continued through the door. Few remained now and none looked back.
“You’re all a bunch of rotting cunts!” the boy shouted.
As the last few moved through the door, the air seemed to move out with them, tugging at the crimson walls flexing inward from the pressure. The open door gurgled like a drain sucking down the last bit of water until they shut it. The room was silent.
The boy remained, but wished he didn’t. He’d never felt so alone. His skin felt stupid and he hated wearing it. He wanted to undress, to tear his clothes from his flesh, but then was terrified at the idea of being naked.
The piano sat before him like a shiny, sleeping bull. The boy gripped his forearm tight with his opposite hand. He dug his nails into his skin, then slowly ran them down as small beads of blood pricked up from the scratches. The boy was lonely and very, very hungry. He threw both hands upon the keys and began to play. The forgotten melody ran out of them and filled the gently warbled walls, swirling upward and dispersing back down upon the boy’s head in a fine mist.
When it was done he stood up from the bench and quickly stepped away. He hurried for the door and pulled it open. Night’s coolness surprised the boy, as he’d not known it was so late. The moon hung large and yellow overhead, showing clearly all the things beneath it. The boy turned toward the building’s edge and saw the hedges full of flowers near the partially opened window, their large blue bells the size of fists craning toward the crack the sound had poured through.