I Once Knew a Man, or Everybody's Got Their Kafka Story
by Michael Jauchen
I once knew a man who knew a man who had been devoured by his piano."Wait, kind piano, wait, wait," he cried. But too late. He sat crumpled in the guts of wire and wood.
The man was also crumpled in the guts of a terrible divorce. He had done hurtful things and his dental hygienist wife wanted out. While he skulked inside the piano, his wife was in Boca Raton with her boss, sipping mimosas on a white sand beach and making love in the hotel bathtub.
The man wrote on the walls of the piano with a pencil he kept in his pocket. He tired to list viable reasons for ingestion by instrument. A dream? he wrote. Some trap? Bested by a leeching dental hygienist? Am I a piano—Jonah maybe, caught in the midst of some grand, heinous miracle? And to what end? Piano vomit? Piano shit? Shall I sing out repentant from this hulking wooden belly?
His wife returned from vacation with her new lover in tow. She cursed her ex-husband for moving out without taking his things.
"Bastard asshole," the man heard her say, "Didn't I tell him, 'I get the house and you get the filthy, dim-witted crap?' I'm calling my lawyer."
"I'm in here," the man screamed, "I was eaten by the piano."
But they didn't hear him.
"Let's cool the lawyer talk a sec, babe," said the lover, "This might actually be a disguised blessing. Your husband dressed well and I'd love some new suits. And I've never minded relieving a little post-op tension by tickling out a little Chopin."
So the couple, within earshot of the man inside the piano, began their new life. The weeks went and he heard almost everything. Parties they threw for drunk dentist friends. The arguments and talks over hedge fund investments. The incessant TV. Once he heard them making love on the living room carpet.
"I hope I never grunted like that," the man said, plugging his ears.
The more he listened to the wife and surrogate, the bigger his sadness became. He stopped writing words and started doodling instead. He drew little pictures of hyenas and vultures. He drew children he didn't have and a map of India where he'd always wanted to go. He doodled picture after picture of his wife. In one she was riding a Ferris wheel overlooking a shimmering city. In one she was brushing her teeth with her finger. His favorite showed his thumb tracing the curve of her anklebone.
He wore his pencil down to a miniscule nub. Then he choked out his weak good-bye and fell asleep. Soon after, his wife sold the piano to a family of gypsies because its inexplicable smell was taking over the house.
I said to my friend, "He never got out?"
"What's a guy do in the midst of a miracle?" I said.
"What's my piano saying to me?" he said.
We both thought, "Who hasn't done at least one hurtful thing?"
Michael Jauchen lives and teaches in Lafayette, Louisiana. Some of his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Santa Monica Review, Sentence, H_NGM_N, and NOÖ Journal.