Rosie’s Waltz by Conner McDonough
Rosie’s Waltz by Conner McDonough
First Place for Fiction 2011
Neal picked up the piano bench, still waterlogged, from the end of the small driveway and brought it up to the front porch.
The day burned like the Chesterfield jutting from the corner of his mouth and the smoke hung on his skin as though it were a damp shirt. He smelled the tobacco mixed with his sweat as it poured over his upper lip. Piano bench, the couch, the loveseat, the chair, bookshelf, dining room table he said as he looked them over in the yard, making note to tell Rosie to write it down on the list.
Next door, Burt and Marie dragged chairs from the street and stacked them next to their shed. Neal watched as their dog wandered in circles in the front yard; it whimpered and barked every now and then at nothing in particular. Neal had heard somewhere before that after a hard rain or a flood dogs walked aimlessly, constantly searching for their scents.
“What’s wrong with their dog?” asked Rosie, stepping from the front doorway and down the steps of the porch.
“He’s searching for his scent. The water washed it away.”
“Never thought we’d be in the same boat as a dog,” Rosie said plucking a wet leaf from a rip in the cushion of the piano bench. “He’s looking for his scent and we can’t find half our goddamn furniture.”
“It’s probably all the way down on Decatur Street,” Neal murmured, exhaling smoke with every word. He flicked the butt into the gutter and it landed near someone’s photo album, now soggy and the leather split.
Overhead, a helicopter from the local station was filming the clean-up.
“I wonder if they can see the watermark on the side of the house,” Neal said.
“Probably not from that angle,” said Rosie as she pulled a steno pad from her shirt pocket. She scribbled down the furniture they had found so far. There was no point searching for photo albums, clothes, paperwork, and books. They were probably in the Gulf by now.
“Mostly everything in the garage is still there. We did lose some boxes, though,” said Rosie. “But the piano’s still there. It looks like it’s still in one piece.”
“We’re probably going to have to scrap it,” Neal said as he walked to the garage door. He grabbed the steel handle, unlocked the door, and heaved it up and pushed it back. The smell of wet wood and cardboard rushed from the dripping garage.
The smell reminded him of when he was thirteen and he and his father dragged a piece of driftwood from the port after his father got off work. They dried it on their back porch and carved the family’s last name into it with his father’s K-Bar knife from Grenada. It was hung in the living room until his mother complained about the smell.
“Give me a hand,” he said to Rosie as he grabbed the wet sheet from the top of the piano. “I’m going to lift this end and I want you to slide the sheet under it. Then we’ll do the other side.”
Though it was still slick and the varnish had come off making it slicker, they got the piano onto the sheet and dragged it into the yard, Neal dragging and Rosie holding the top to keep it from tipping over. A little bit of it sank into the wet earth.
“Do you think it still works?” asked Rosie. She stood beside it with her hands on her hips and scraped some mud off the side of it with her shoe.
“I don’t think so,” Neal began. He fished another Chesterfield from the pack in his shirt pocket, lit it, and slid the lighter into the back pocket of his pants. He took a drag and passed it to Rosie who did the same. “It’s been sitting in water for a week now.”
Rosie took another drag and handed the cigarette to Neal. She pushed back the keyboard cover and hit a couple of keys. Abrasive music drifted from the old upright to the surprise of both of them.
“Well, hell,” said Neal. He walked over to the porch and picked up the piano bench and placed it in front of the piano. He sat down, motioning for Rosie to sit beside him. She did and took the cigarette, taking another long drag before placing it between his lips.
Neal took a drag, tossed the cigarette, and began playing “Heart and Soul.” Rosie laughed and grinned at him and played the solo as he played the rhythm. She kissed him on the cheek and he could smell the faint scent of peony on her cheeks as she pulled away and got up from the bench.
Neal slid over to the center of the bench and began to play a waltz his mother taught him and as he played, he swore he could hear the horn his sister used to play drift alongside his waltz, note for note. He looked over at Rosie.
She was in the center of the lawn, dancing alone, shifting weight from one foot to another and back again. Sweat formed on the collar of her shirt and in the center of her back. She waltzed as though she would never tire, as if she were in a trance. Eyes closed and head tilted back, she spun in the wet lawn, which sucked at her shoes, but she did not notice it.
Neal thought Rosie had never looked so beautiful and he played forth as she continued her lonely waltz and the city picked up the remains of the storm.