- Mystery Music
I liked the joyful sound of the piano coming from the open door where a few departing partygoers giggled, arms linked. I went in. But despite the pianist's spirit and those lively partygoers, this party was on its last legs. A brown-haired woman with a brass hoop around her neck and an empty martini glass in her hand was sleeping, curled in an armchair. A pudgy man in a silver shirt, looking both pleased with and done with his party effort, tucked in his shirt and said to his friend, "I just can't help but leave a bit of myself everywhere I go." Then they left. None of him lingered in the air. There was just a winding down down down feeling and the now-quieter piano music filling the big, uncarpeted space. I walked over to the hoop woman to check out her grip on the martini glass. The piano playing suddenly got icy and jagged, like some brutal directive. It was telling me something. But what was I supposed to do, whip out a kitchen knife and stab her for crying out loud? Have a psychotic break? The piano must have been in the back room, but it felt like it was on top of me, inside me. Then the playing switched to wooly and sad, like the feeling that might accompany remembrance of a keen-eyed tenth-grade girlfriend who first drifted away—you saw her sometimes in the hallways—and then moved to Argentina. But what to do with this? This was a bossy, yet vague piano. I sat down in the empty arm chair next to the hoop woman, who still slept with the martini glass clutched in her fist like a rattle. The piano playing got quieter, sweeter. I closed my eyes. A sunlit commuter train clattered into my head bearing characters from my childhood that I hadn't thought about in decades: an elderly customer on my paper route who had a parakeet named Clyde, a massively mustachioed hotdog vendor whom I found curious once at a basketball game, a quiet girl from art class who threw crayons at the window. The train slowed down down down while I remembered, while people lost from my life came back to me. A strange mercy from the universe, which tries to help us in ways clumsy and divine. [End Page 49]
Eric Burger has received fellowships/awards from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and Writers at Work. His poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review Online, Harvard Review Online, Indiana Review, Rattle, Quarterly West, The Southeast Review, and many others. He is a senior instructor in the University of Colorado-Boulder's Program for Writing and Rhetoric, and lives in Longmont, CO.