Short Story: Oak

A floating piano and a vanishing trick.

___________

I first saw it on a sunny day. The most beautiful of days. The sky was bright, and the clouds were sparse. It gave off the impression that I was in the midst of something important; as if the very sky itself was preparing for a grand event of sorts, one that I could not miss. That day started early, with the sounds of the milkman’s bells and the newspaper woman’s shouts rising from the streets at the same time I was making myself a coffee. 

My apartment building was an old one. Its architecture was European in nature, although what country it was from exactly, I could not tell you if you had asked. I was lacking in that area. All I knew was brutalism, a large category of European-looking buildings, and certain distinct Asian styles. The rest were a blur, save for perhaps something niche and obscure like old Aztec architecture. 

It was a specialty of mine, the obscure. There was something about things lesser known and paths no longer taken that appealed to me; something about them exuded this overpowering stench of mystery and the promise of knowledge—exclusive knowledge, compared to the people surrounding me. I couldn’t resist. I never did. Never could. 

But this story isn’t about a mystery. 

This story is about a piano, and a boy. 

If I first saw it on a sunny day, contradictorily, I saw him on one where, as the English say, it was raining cats and dogs. But before we get to this, we must get past the piano. 

The piano was a strange phenomenon. It was a mysterious phenomenon too. To this day, there is no explanation. Not even the best of the best, at the most prestigious of the prestigious institutions in the world, the very cream of the crop, could tell me what had happened. Because there was nothing to say, and if there was, then no way to say it.

I hadn’t seen the piano when I was in my little studio apartment on the fourth floor. In fact, I probably hadn’t even looked out the window that morning, although I cannot say that for certain. Maybe I had. Maybe what I had seen had been so out of the ordinary, that I hadn’t perceived it altogether. 

The first thing I noticed was its shadow. I walked out of the building, pushing open one of the doors with its white-painted metal frames, pulling my Ray Bans out of my satchel and expecting to be hit by “the strongest sun in ten years,” according to my favourite news anchor Cherry Diacosta. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a shade.

Naturally, I looked up.

I couldn’t process what I saw at first. It was wooden; a medium-light wood that I knew with confidence wasn’t birch, but also knew for certain that I couldn’t tell what type of wood it really was. 

Later, I would be told it was oak. 

What I had seen first was its bottom. Smooth, flat. Rectangular in shape with two parallel elongated beams at its shortest sides. From the middle protruded three pedals, shaped like eggplants. That was when I realised, unsettled and not quite yet appalled at anything I saw, that I was looking at the bottom of a piano.

Once that connection was made, I stepped out of its shadow to view from a clearer angle, and was quickly absorbed in a small crowd of filming, photo-taking, gasping, and phone-calling spectators. I took no note of them. I just stood and stared. 

It was, at the same time, the plainest, yet oddest, piano I had ever seen. It wasn’t a large, black, glossy and sleek grand piano—like what you saw in the movies in speakeasies and luxury penthouses. It was basic, almost meaningless in its lack of identity, and like something you’d expect to find in a nursing home, donated by the unfeeling son of a recently-deceased woman who had been in possession of it since the Second World War. It was one of those fat, chunky ones, built like a long, standing, rectangular cube with a board and keys and a cover and legs and pedals stuck to it like Victor Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s novel. But it didn’t look wrong. It just looked like a piano. That is, barring the fact that it was floating four stories up with no support.

Forty-four hours, twenty-nine minutes, and sixteen seconds. 

That was how long the piano had existed in our world. 

It was more than enough time to unravel everything we’ve ever known about our universe. 

The first person to try to play the oak piano was a boy I knew. His name was Yakov. Yakov Stojanović, a Serbian exchange student who I knew solely from having split scalding tea onto his designer winter boots two months before. Expectedly, we did not have the best views of each other. Him, I saw as a snob. I, he catalogued as Some Girl who had ruined his shoes. 

It was the day after the piano’s appearance, and it was a day filled with rain. Thundering, pouring rain. I woke up miserable and tired, and saw outside my window a fire truck: bright red, long, and topped with a white metal ladder. The roar of the crowd outside the building in which I lived was nearly indistinguishable from the sounds of the rain.

When I ran down, I took the stairs two at a time.

Copenhagen’s floating piano. It was the online world and conspiracy theorists’ newest fixation. How was it, that something could stay afloat four stories in the air, with no support? And no less, having appeared seemingly out of thin air? People may lie, but untampered CCTV footage often did not. The common man scratched his head. The physicist wanted to rip her hair out and the comedian laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. And of course, of course it had to be the most unremarkable-looking goddamned piano in existence.

Yakov was already on the first rungs of the ladder when I made my way outside my apartment building through the crowd that seemed to only get thicker, despite the heavy rain. His fair hair, left hanging below his jaw, was soaked through, and I could see him blinking constantly to get the rainwater out of his eyes. Yakov didn’t wave when he saw me, but I could swear, to this day, that he had given me the smallest of smiles. But perhaps, perhaps, this is just wistful thinking on my part.

That would be the last time I ever saw Yakov Stojanović.

I watched as he made his way up the ladder. Up, up, up and up, one rung at the time, rising higher and higher. I could feel the crowd around me’s anticipation and excitement growing with every passing second. At some point, a girl started cheering his name. “Yakov! Yakov!” The next moment, everyone was chanting it. Yakov and Yakov and go for it, Yakov! Play the damn piano, Yakov!

All I remembered thinking was how badly I thought this was all going to end. I didn’t know how exactly, of course. But I had thought it wouldn’t be pleasant. In no world did messing with the unnatural bring pleasant consequences. They should have known that. He should have known that.

“Yakov! Yakov! Yakov!”

“Go, Yakov!”

“Get ‘em, boy!”

I watched, unmoving, mesmerised, as a boy I’ve exchanged nothing but meaningless sorries with went up the last of the fire truck ladder’s rungs and leaned forward, stretching his arm out and reaching for the white and black keys of the piano: tangible, slippery with rain, and so, so very close. My gaze went to the golden ring on his little finger that glinted in the sparse light as he angled his palm down and splayed his long fingers above the keys, poised like a maestro about to put forth a flurry of sounds so impressive, that the audience had to steel themselves before he could play.

Then, in one fluid movement, he brought his arm down.

The moment his fingers touched the keys, the piano vanished. So did he. So did the fire truck. The entire thing, along with the college volunteer in the driver’s seat who was driving it for him. Poof. Gone, like they had never existed. 

But they did. They did exist, once. Yakov’s exchange application to my school was still in the system’s online database. His family had been as peachy as ever before they heard the news, all the way over there in Serbia. Every night, before I went to bed, when I scrolled through his social media pages over and over, he had never been more real to me. 

And the piano. That damned piano. 

There were photos and videos. Hundreds of them. Hell, maybe even thousands. They stayed there, floating on the internet, just like the piano had, almost like a twisted sort of memorial. No one could explain a thing. Not the best of the best, not the best of the worst, not the most intellectual of the intellectuals, or the maddest of the internet theorists. What was there to explain? What was there that could be explained?

One moment, they were there. The other, they were not. Gone. Gone with the wind. Gone with the rain. Gone for always. 

They never found Yakov. Or the piano. Or the fire truck. Or the driver. For five entire years, that was all anyone could talk about, that Danish mystery. Because with it, the foundations of everything we knew about our world was pulled from underneath its leaning edifice, like the base of a Jenga tower before the end of a game.

This is a story of the bizarre, of the extraordinary, and the unexplainable. How did the floating piano appear out of nothing? Why did it stay float? Where is Yakov Stojanović? And the fire engine? And the college volunteer? It is the story of obsession: utter, blind obsession. The obsession of the masses over a concept that they could never grasp with their narrow little world views and tiny little minds. What are they—what are we—but Mediterranean moles, with wool and skin pulled down over our eyes and ears? We stumble without sight into pure, aimless, madness, simply for that little faraway promise of satisfaction, when in the end, there is nothing but chaos. The mystery of the piano will never be unravelled. I will never speak to Yakov Stojanović ever again. 

Maybe the world hasn’t always been that way. 

Maybe it has.

It doesn’t matter either way.

None of it does.

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