A Broken Piano – Ellie Cottrell

The island was blistering at this time of year. Green from the rains and deserted through the tremulous midday. That afternoon the heat was audible, the storm had not yet broken, and the trees were still. The air was breathless, a painting, interrupted only by a wooden door somewhere, creaking softly by a fan.

He wheezed himself over in bed, leaving a dark damp patch on the white sheet, and sweated straight into the unforgiving mosquito net which found itself twisted intimately around his limbs. Exasperated he sat up, untangling the mess of sticky unrelenting net from sun crisped skin. He re-lit last night’s cigarette from the ashtray and breathed deeply, trying to dispel the sinking pain in his chest. He sat for a moment, listening to the silence, staring at the heat, imagining things he had long forgotten. As his cigarette burnt down, he began to root around for the pack on his nightstand. He found them next to his teeth. New at the end of the war, they were almost intact with the little time they spent in his mouth. They floated, quietened, in a glass of solution. He put them in, his face transformed; his hollow cheeks filling. He smoothed down his bristled hair with both hands and dragged them down, gnawing his face. When he was done he placed a new cigarette between the teeth and lit it with the butt of the first.

Shaking the sleep from his mind, he stood up, graceful and strong despite himself. He went to the kitchen, made coffee and sat down right by the screen door. His body, taught and sun drenched, in only the white drawstring pants his age demanded. In the dark, he sat feet up on a stool, a cigarette in his hand, and turned on the TV. It blurted noisily, disturbing the afternoons entangling quiet.

He took a deep breath that no one heard. He stared at the ephemeral colours coming from the small screen. Volume up loud, blocking out the overbearing noiselessness coming from the small house. He consoled himself in the useless afternoon heat, imagining fires burning somewhere. The thunder rolled in overhead, crushing the sky with its weight. The rain was coming and the small house was drunk with longing, as he waited.

He suffocated in the heat, the weight of solitude heavy in his chest, eyes glassy and full. His usually stoic body betrayed him. Tears began seeping softly through his eyelashes. Unable to bear it any longer, he got to his feet, lit another cigarette to calm his ghosts and moved silently around the house. His house. Built of wood, and silence, full of tragic stories collected in junk. His skin stood on itself, somehow cold and rough. His fingertips touched splintered surfaces without feeling or understanding. He picked something up, it was just another unrecognisable thing that recovered but never returned from the war. He walked through to the back room, eyes desperately searching, wading through the afternoon heat.

The window was open, and the wind had blown leaves through a hole in the screen, until they covered everything with a sharp dark green blanket, that crunched under bare feet. He took a breath, breathing memories and dust into his aching chest. His gaze fell on it then, at the back of the room, bathed in warm light. The storm must have passed he thought, to no one. The wooden beast with its old bedraggled stool tucked under, sat gnarled and somnolent beside the wall. A once joyful creature, now a decrepit pit in his chest. He dragged himself closer and sat down gently, brushing its leafy cocoon to the floor. He lifted the lid and pressed a key down softly. The tears fell freely now. He could no longer hold them in, he embraced their salty caress, welcomed the warm touch on his skin. Silence gushed out embracing him. It was broken. He though this should mean something. But there was no one for it to mean something to. He dropped the lid. It crashed into its resting place, sending exploding plumes of dust and leaves into the air.

He went back to the kitchen, folded his long limbs back onto the chair and stared once more at the shouting box, letting noise and colour wash over him. That’s where they found him, later. Still. A burnt out cigarette on the floor beside him, alone, and no longer breathing.

The end

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