The first time you visited him at the hospital, there was a gray, thin man who played at the piano. His hands were shaking, but his notes were pristine white flames. By chance you and your friend are talking about those years when you would see him like that, shuffling to the visitor station in ill-fitting jeans and fuzzy slippers. The memory brings the musician to mind, but your friend shakes his head when you ask if they stayed in touch. The piano player is gone, he tells you. Infuriated by the voices in the treble bridge, he’d hurled himself through that double paned window. Landed right on the doorstep of the shop where they made the toffee twist donuts you’d bring with black tea. You can still recall what the man sang. I’m sure that I could be a movie star if I could get out of this place… The ragged edge of him quietly burned a hole right through you. Sad, isn’t it? your friend says, and you both know what the other is thinking—how easily it might have been one of you, instead, how hard you had both tried to abandon ship along the way. You think about the piano man on the psych ward at Mount Sinai, how he might not know that anyone had noticed his music, that anyone might notice him missing. Or maybe he did. It wouldn’t be enough. You tell your friend you are bereft during the times that you lose touch with each other. Sometimes it’s like that: you are seized with a small and sudden panic over circumstances you can’t control. You think about the thin man, how he had already been a ghost. His heart of glass, that pale blue flare.
“The Piano Man” first appeared in Blue Heron Review, and in print in Pretty Time Machine by Lorette C, Luzajic (Mixed Up Media Books, 2020).