Spring 2005

Terese Svoboda


Terese Svoboda Tin God, Svoboda's fourth novel, will be published spring 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press. She has fiction forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Small Spiral Notebook, Mangrove, Land Grant College Review, Bat City Review and in the anthology The New Book of Masks.

The piano is an instrument of torture, he says, and plays it like one.

Go home before she gets here, she says. I won't call the police if you go home now.

He plays and plays.

She doesn't call the police, of course she won't call the police, they're such good friends he's let himself in. She tries to shut the piano on his hands, but every time she touches it, he says: I see you.

No, you don't, she says but she backs away anyway.

Mary, is she tall? he asks. Height is relative to the speaking hole, it's not what you say that betrays you, it's from whence it comes. Is she a brunette? he asks. Aren't I a handsome one, Mary? I'll take tea.

She should just break his fingers. She puts the coffee on instead. Soon enough her boarder will be home and want a cup. It's the least she can do to keep herself in the B&B business, with this maniac playing in wait, though surely the woman brought it on herself, said something to him?

Friend Mary, he shouts from the piano. Is she not on the way?

The door opens.

Mary can't hear a thing, the snow's howling wild in and out of the Victorian fretwork, but there she is, just as he says, letting in clouds of flakes just as the kettle gives off its hiss.

Cold? Don't worry, he says. She's making hot mugs for the two of us.

She sets her bag at the bottom of the stairs. You came to my reading.

Out! Out! says Mary, bringing her coffee. He's just on his way.

He plays a little louder and much better, arching his back for the arpeggios, leaning over the keys. She stands next to the piano and sips from her cup. He talks about music, how it bends the hearing, how it can lie. He sips her coffee too then asks, Mary, where's mine? and Mary brings it. You have to go in a minute, she says. It's late.

This breakfast-in-bed place Mary runs, he says, it can't take the music.

Mary turns and leaves him, lets him play on, puts out sheets and towels. He is talking about Ravel when she collects their mugs. Take this passage, he says, with his eyes closed for once. He wets his lips and plays on.

The boarder, although exhausted, watches his hands cover and uncover the keys. She's unused to seeing music come from straight out of somebody, she's used to tapes. She doesn't have to stare at his empty eyes with his broad shoulders to her.

I went to Harvard, he says. Not Harvard blind school. I traded a law degree for magic fingers. The massage trade. But you didn't ask. Back to you, your sadness. I can release it, you know.

I'm not sad, she says. How do you know if I'm sad?

I heard you read your work. With that kind of sadness, the crust heals´┐Żand you can eat it, he says. I used to eat mine.

I know, she says. You're the voice in the back of my car.

Now that's rich, he laughs. On fire at the steering wheel and no way to put it out. That's a voice, eh?

She trips over a stool behind her, backing away.

Mary taps his shoulder. He shrugs her off. She's falling for me, he says, I hear her. He winks, his eye looking nowhere. I'm going to stay all night. She has special requests.

Mary pulls at his arms. Notes crash.

What do you take me for, Mary? he says. We're friends.

She'll be here another week, she says. Come on. On she says clipped.

Goodnight, he says, turning precisely to where the boarder stands. I'm just a blind admirer. You'll find me under your bed, admiring.

Mary waves behind him.

Thank you for the music, she says. But I am tired.

How will he get home? she asks after Mary shoves him out the door.

Turned out like that into the dark night with a blizzard all around? says Mary. Better than you would. Send a blind man out to the rescue, not a dog. At least that blind man.

She starts toward her room. Was he here long before I came? she asks down the stairwell.

Long, too long is the answer.

Snow darkens the night at her window until it is just shadow. She phones her husband to say she's exhausted, she pulls her covers up to her chin, then she throws them off to look under the bed.

A Tibetan refugee she had taught once pointed to her breastbone when she said sad. Am I that sad? She taps that triangle.

He is all hands in her dream.

Fuck, he says in the dark, fuck, fuck, fuck, but in the light it's just a branch against the roof.

She stands at the door next to her bed and the lock is just fine, then she turns off the alarm and showers.

It's too early for breakfast but Mary's up too, giving her three choices of muffins. You have to eat, she says, putting away the muffin tin. Don't worry about my friend. I'm angry with him.

Maybe all men are like that when they can't see us, she says so Mary will laugh.

On her way out, she touches the piano, touches his prints on the keys.

Her borrowed office window wears so many marshmallows of snow it's dark inside. Before she turns on the light, there's this knee and an arm she can see around the back of her chair, some mechanical Mozart on the radio, there's the mist from a cup. She has her hand to her mouth when he swivels toward her.

I drink a cup here before I collect the trash, he says, turning down the volume. Oh, I've frightened you.

I'm too early, she says.

Maintenance takes his coffee elsewhere. She pounds at the window so the snow falls off, so there's light, real light.

She could be that sad.



Terese Svoboda: Fiction
Copyright © 2005 The Cortland Review Issue 28The Cortland Review