Driftwood This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 23, 2013
His footfalls echoed through the room. He furrowed his brow and contorted his mouth into a tight bold line. He could hear the applause but saw no one in the audience. As he approached the piano, a silent locomotive vibrated. The wheels of the piano were rolling away, teasing him. He made his second approach, but couldn't catch up to the piano. The first note of the piece rang in his ears, but his fingers were still not on the piano. The piano gathered speed, rolling…toward…the edge…of the stage…

The alarm mocked him with crude beeping. He found himself leaning over the edge of his bed, with his arms outstretched. He heard the glass fall before he saw it. He moved his arm to catch it, without success. Crash. If he hadn't been completely awake, he was now. After the shards colonized the floor, Luca looked at his arms, cursing at himself for his idiocy. Like I could actually catch an entire grand piano. I can't even catch a small glass of water. His eyes scanned his arms, which were hanging puppet-like over the edge of the bed. He followed his faint veins until he reached his hands, mangled and scarred. Get yourself together. Some people are born like this. You put them to good use before the accident. It was always a hassle answering the questions. They echoed through his head throughout the day: What happened? What happened? What happened? He wanted to tell a heart-wrenchingly heroic tale. That he had trapped his hands in a door while rescuing a baby from a burning building. Or that he had been bit by a Rottweiler while protecting an elderly woman. Or that he had barely escaped the jaws of a Great White. Instead, Luca briefly remarked that furniture should only be moved by professionals. He didn't go into details. He didn't describe the arctic weight of the filing cabinet on his fingers. He left that out.

Luca rolled over to the other side of the bed and got to his feet. As he stepped through the house, his footsteps echoed against the high ceilings. The other bedrooms were undisturbed, with the beds made and dust collecting on their frames. Although he knew that the house was too big for just one man, he didn't know what else he would have done with the insurance money. As he entered the kitchen, a sheet of sun revealed a flurry of dust. Luca's eyes avoided the medals and framed certificates and instead focused on the counter. He took care to avoid the grand piano that sat, covered up, across from the kitchen counter. Luca shifted his focus to the newspaper on the counter. He read the words “Great Recession,” shrugged, and moved on. He nudged the cereal box with his wrists, barely feeling the counter as he swept it with the willow trees that he called hands. He shook the box. Just enough. He poured until there was an inch of cereal left. I'll deal with that later. His spoon hit the flakes just as the phone rang. She'll call five times. He took his last spoonful as the last ring faded away. Luca heard Mamma in his head. Luca. Self-pity isn't sexy. Get out of the house, meet someone.

The housekeeper opened the door and held it for Luca. Before he stepped out, he caught sight of the picture of himself. Little Luca, six years old, smiled despite his atrocious bowl cut. He was so tiny that Mamma had stacked two phone books on top of the piano bench. His younger self was frozen mid-laughter, practicing a new piece. There were other photos, photos of his old friends. They had stopped calling.
He snapped back into reality, thanking the housekeeper and stepping outside his home. Luca saw the crooked tree in the front yard, anchored far away from the other trees. He opened the gate with his wrist and called a taxi. Luca waited. When he finally heard the rubber of the tires on the asphalt, the sun had shifted a bit in the clear sky. Once he was comfortably in his seat, he folded his hands in his lap.

After Luca ordered his food, the waiter trotted over to another customer. As Luca sank into the booth seat, he watched two elderly customers lean towards the waiter.
“I'll take the ham and butter sandwich without the butter,” the customer said, pointing to the menu with his flabby arms.
“So just a ham sandwich, right?”
“I'd like mustard, but I only want it on one side of the bread, and I'd prefer if it was spread counterclockwise.”
“Otherwise, it gives him indigestion,” added his wife with a forced smile that emphasized her wrinkles.
“Also, I'd like the ham in thin slices. I'd like the mustard, and a knife and fork, but the fork needs to have three prongs instead of four. And I don't mean a desert fork.”
Luca had never punched a man. It had always been in his best interest to keep his hands out of harms way. However, now he felt a surge of violent adrenaline surge through his body; a river of frustration about to break through the dam. It took all his energy to stay in his seat quietly.

He paid and left the restaurant. The sun hung low, reaching for any building it could. As he rounded the corner, he distanced himself from the brick walls. An electric hum resonated off the brick. Once around the corner, Luca spotted a four-wheeled scooter twenty feet away. It carried a man with dark, leathery skin. His legs were propped up while his right hand pressed buttons.
“Excuse me young man, could you help me?”
Luca, 37 years old, smiled politely at the elderly man. “How can I help?”
“Could you move my legs? They're getting a little itchy the way they are right now.” Nothing in his entire life had prepared him for this. He looked the man in the eyes, prompting him for specific instructions.
“You're going to have to come closer than that,” said the man impatiently. Luca stooped down, hesitating. He pulled his hands out of his pockets. The old man looked startled. However, as Luca tried to help him, he relaxed. Luca scooped under the knee and lifted. His useless hands fought against the weight of the equally useless legs. It was like lifting up driftwood that was soaked with water.
“All good?”
“Yes, thank you. Good afternoon, young man.” Luca rotated his neck as he walked away. He watched as the scooter twisted around the corner, the hum dying in the distance. His foot hit a doorstep. His body lunged forward, but Luca regained his balance gracefully.
Luca's footfalls echoed on the wood floor. As he made eye contact with his mentor, the lights shone off his dress shoes. He smiled politely and took his seat at the piano. He placed his feet on the pedals with minimal effort. He began the piece and felt it flow effortlessly. Luca kept his fingers in constant motion, and felt every muscle moving on every key. The melody made him want to cry. He finished, and felt the applause, a sensation that he missed so much. As he stood up to bow, he noticed the telephone books on the piano bench.
Luca slammed his wrist against the alarm and swung himself into a standing position. He strode down the stairs and entered the kitchen. He watched the dust in the sheet of sun, the particles moving in slow motion like an astronaut on the moon. He shook the cereal out of the container watched it jingle into the bowl. There was not enough. He finished it quickly. The housekeeper appeared at his left side.
“Luca, life would be so much easier if you let me do this for you. I don't like seeing you struggle like that.” She popped some waffles into the toaster.
“Can you open the piano?” Luca asked. The housekeeper gave him a look of utter confusion.
“Luca, please. I don't want to have to mop up your tears again. You have to move on.”
“No, I'll be ok this time.” After the housekeeper lifted the cover, Luca instinctively sat down on the bench. He rested his feet on the curved metal pedals. He dropped his gaze to his arms in his lap. He felt Chopin, Mozart, sonatas, and concertos running through his fingers. They ran through his head and his heart. For others, the music would reach the piano. For Luca, it would not. His eyebrows relaxed, and the corners of his mouth moved up and out. He pictured the man seated in the scooter. Luca lifted his legs and bent his knees. In and out. In and out. Today would be different. Today, he would walk to the café instead of taking the taxi.

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