*[this story published in "Epic", Spring 2005]
The well-worn shoes of a piano player. The tips settle in a permanent lift, with a deep crease in the leather where the toes raise frequently to press on the pedal. There’s a sort of understanding that the shoes will do their best not to get in the way of the wearer, that they will perform and continue to press up and down at command without complaint, that at the end of the day they will remain shoes and nothing more, nothing less. The well-worn shoes of a piano player.
Tie the knot. Tie the knot. Delicate fingers belonging to delicate piano players understand that as soon as the shoe is bound to its master that they are free to pursue other occupations, such as piano-playing—or tapping, clenching, groping, depending on their owners. Some piano players resemble musical pimps more than artisans. That’s how it is, how it’s been, how it will be. There’s a piano over there.
Press! Lift, press, hold. A quick glance at the brunette. She’s watching. Good. Piano players—talented, attractive ones, that is—are magnets for the other sex. Of course, it’s merely coincidence that those piano players are wearing shoes. Coincidences, like playing “As Time Goes By” or something by Donny Hathaway or whatever sounds pretty, even if it’s being written on the fly. Written On The Fly, for the blonde in the corner. Thank you (expressed in an attractive smile. Sex makes music so much easier).
Fingers, around the glass. Where do you work? Oh, that’s nice (want to go upstairs?). The fingers are dabbling now, meandering back to the piano. Easy chords this time, the attention is fully away from shoes and such and on the well-rounded hips sitting next to the maestro. Delicately… yes! Pull her hand towards the keyboard. Teach her something, that’s sexy. You see, this is a C major chord… move this finger… now it’s minor. Now, just keep pressing down on those keys. He plays some fun rhythm, letting her feel like she’s making music too. His shoes meander over to hers; a strange meeting. How are you? I’m fine, ready to begin? It was an “accidental” contact at first, but the worn soles will soon find themselves a comfortable spot touching hers.
Laughing, oh, she’s laughing, he’s got her now. He’s not looking for a relationship, or he’d be playing Gershwin or Beethoven or something—no, it’s a one-night stand for you. Thank you, Mr. Gaye, “Sexual Healing” on this piano will be over in a moment if you’d like to step in and say a word or two. Shhh, he’s dead, you shouldn’t say things like that. Giggle. She smells nice, he smells like cigarettes. The consummation of the two scents, sweet and bitter, covering up some mid-20’s emptiness, “no home to go to” and all that melancholy shit. Even though a shoe gets walked on every day, it has a purpose, some pedal to press, some crap to step on. When you’re 26, you think you want a little sex, but actually you really want a lot, and you’re hoping Mom doesn’t figure out what you’ve been using those piano lessons for.
Oh, she’s looking at him now; so it’s true what they say, Night Time really must be the Right Time. The piano is going to resemble a portable Vegas at this pace. He lets his left hand keep down on keys for the G minor, but that’s more of a commando distraction for his right hand reaching for her. The right shoe starts to press down on the pedal involuntarily as they share some meaningless kiss. Meaningless, in the sense that it’s like some formal declaration of combat, that these two will meet in battle, “lay down your arms / and surrender to me” and all that. They finish signing their declaration, the shoe lifts off of the pedal (with a creak. These old leather guys have been with him since his senior year. Mostly, they spend the day being crouched on as he’s fixing copying machines). They get up, the bench pushed back (he’s standing! He means business!), and the click-click up the stairs, the click-click past the door (just one click from the knob, it knows its place), and a clunk-clunk as a pair of old beaten-up dress shoes are ejected across the room.
Morning. The shoes are ass-over-teakettle on the wood floor. Familiar position, they take it every night. His mood can be ascertained by their trajectory through the air, their distance from each other. Scientists could write case studies about that sort of thing (but we won’t go there, this story is about sex and shoes). He’s sitting up in bed, cigarette dangling from his lips. He doesn’t have to go to work for another couple of hours, but he needs to head out before she starts wanting things from him—like a phone number, or an address. He needs to be real quiet, or she’ll wake up. Maybe today he would look for that better job, stop smoking, apologize to his mom, call his ex, whatever it takes to turn it all around—but first, he has to put on his shoes.