New Short Story
I was inspired to write this one by the recent story of the piano on the sandbar in Florida's Biscayne Bay. It's similar to another one of my stories, A Gossamer Inch. It seems like my characters lean towards old ladies. Maybe it's my alter ego. :) You can find my other short stories on my Scribd collection.
On Biscayne Bay
I heard a story ‘bout a piano on a sandbar, says the woman in line who I kind of know from someplace. They say some punk kid put it there—in Biscayne Bay. She says it like it’s a brand of peanut butter or frozen food—familiar like Birdseye or Aunt Jemima or Jif—not some place halfway across the country where the old people go for vacation once a year.
I nod, coolly, and hand the cashier my credit card. The cashier’s just a kid, maybe nineteen, maybe twenty, with whitish blond hair spiked up on the back of his head. His skin is bad on one side of his face.
Remember, put the eggs in the bag last, I caution him as he takes my groceries, too briskly. OK, old lady, I can hear him say in his head, but he just nods politely with a Yes’m and puts the eggs in the bag—last. I can remember doing the same job when I was sixteen, nineteen, maybe twenty. Not at a big store with a supervisor and a manager and endless aisles, but the corner store on Main Street—the kind of store politicians like to bring up in their speeches. The “small business.” The “mom and pop store.” The “multigenerational family business.” They talk a lot about how these places go out of business because there’s no money or taxes are too high. They don’t give a whole lot of wordage to the idea that sometimes the next generation doesn’t want to continue the “family business.”
Do you have a rewards card? asks the cashier.
Do I? I think, and fumble around in my bag to find my wallet. I fumble around in my wallet to find my card, and when I finally find it, tucked behind my ID card, I just know the cashier is tapping his foot. I can’t hear it, but I know it. He slides the rewards card deftly. We didn’t have rewards cards that kept automated track of our balances and how much we’d gotten back when I worked at the corner store. We knew Aunt Ines was a good customer at the butchery from seeing her in there often enough, and that was why we slipped her an extra bag of ground beef or a bone for the dog every couple of weeks. (That was before the dog died and Ines moved to Southern California to be with her daughter, and son-in-law). By then she and I were both so old, I didn’t call her Aunt anymore. Ines’ son-in-law was about my age. I never liked him. He was smarter than me and knew it. That was why he took a bus for two hours just to take Advanced Classes at another high school, one that wasn’t out in the boondocks. No one knew what he took, but it apparently gave him enough Educational Background to be a Software Engineer. And who would want to take over their papa’s corner store when they could be a Software Engineer?
The receipt prints out, slowly, but the young cashier with no patience rips it out and hands it to me with a pen to sign. I sign slowly. I think of the letters I never write any more and how my signature used to look. I used to write letters to Ines, and Martha, and Edith Jones, and to my daughters and cousins removed once or twice, I never could remember. I’d write “Come and visit”—but they’d write “Come and stay”—and after enough people write you enough times saying, you come live in Southern California or Iowa or Georgia or New York or Vermont, your body starts feeling dragged across the Continental United States and you want to write, None of Your Business, but that would be impolite—so you don’t write at all. And they think, stubborn old lady, there’s no convincing her to leave, so better we don’t waste our time anyhow. And they go back to their comfortably populated cities and suburbs where the nearest grocery is an easy walk and they share a ZIP code with twenty thousand other people. And I go back to my lone house off an empty Main Street and thirty-mile country road drive for groceries and a ZIP code I only share with dead Mr. Parry who still gets credit card offers.
I get my own credit card back at the moment I think about Mr. Parry, and I hand the cashier the signed receipt. The woman behind me is only buying a carton of juice. She puts it up for the cashier to scan. As I push my cart out of the line, stiffly, because my joints are arthritic, I can hear the chatty woman I know from someplace say now to the cashier, Pretty strange story ‘bout that piano on the sandbar, isn’t it?
And I think to myself about Aunt Ines and corner stores and Software Engineers and moving and leaving and staying and going, and I think, I’m that piano on a sandbar in the middle of my own little Biscayne Bay, even though I’m nowhere close to Florida. I’m that piano in the nighttime when the faithless birds fly off the banged-up keys. I’m that piano with its legs in the sand, a little less rooted every time, as the tide goes down and the tide comes up—and the tide comes up to wash me away.