The man named Isaac is far from home. He floats on the back of a grand piano and when he drums its keys, all life below him retreats. I see him, though he does not see me, when he peers into my face and mourns in wet expressions. The smallest pieces of his despair drop from his face to mine and disappear between the gills of fish. Do you know that we are almost the same, piano man—that there is life in you like there is life in me?
You have been gone from home so long, Isaac. I can see your wife and your daughter by my shores. Your daughter, Mary she is called, hunts for your figure in the distance. She is sprawled on her stomach by the water’s edge until sunset, her tiny hands pressing letters deep into the sand as if to deter the tide. She spells slowly her prayers for you. “I love you,” she says. “Come home soon.” I reach for her words and pull them into the deep, now whispering them to you. Mary is waiting and you must go home soon.
The man named Isaac sleeps under the lid of his instrument by day and survives by drinking the blood of turtles. He is humiliated by his gaunt structure, the pungent body odors, the decay of his memory. He tries to sing a familiar song, to arrange a friend of the tunes he knows, but cannot find the words through the fog that is clouding his thinking. Instead he begins to hum his songs, feeling for the words with his fingers and he finds the wet ivory. This is how it starts.
It is one more week of no food and water that teaches the man Isaac to lose his words altogether. His tongue too split, his throat too parched, he now sings—begs—his untrained compositions. I wash my waves over the tops of his feet and tell him to think of Mary, the girl on the shore, but now the whales are following and they are asking for a concert.
Piano man, I hear the whales sing songs of comfort and praise but you must stay strong. I see your daughter again past sunset. She is weeping but she barely breathes to the wake. Her mother, she whispers, has gone to her brothers and now her only love is addiction. Isaac, she says that all day long they carpet the floor with their cans and shards of glass. They consume their meals with a bottle opener. “I will wait for you forever,” she says and I know you must go home now.
The whales, I know, have plans to bring him under. They have conspired noisily to make him their own—to hear his songs forever. They are circling nearer and nearer and now Isaac can graze their backs with his fingers. He struggles to live and the whales’ skin is cool and saturated. They are plump and harmonious together in their pod. It is days until I detect the changes in his skin. The piano man keeps playing but in the dark I see he is grayer than ever.
The man named Isaac is so far from home. Now his melodies are long and deep, unlike the words he played before. The whales never leave him anymore. He hears their happiness under the waves and watches them play. He stares at the young one and I believe he thinks of Mary. I rock him harder when I spy him thinking this way but his skin is too thick now to feel the sensations.
On the night Isaac slips from the piano and falls into the water, his daughter is again at the shore. This time she just sits and waits, singing something I have heard before. Was it your song Isaac? It has been so long since I have heard your voice and now you are falling into the blue where I cannot see but I can only feel. Isaac, you must remember. You must swim to your instrument and play for her. Your wife may leave you, your brothers forget you, but a daughter waits forever for your shape on the horizon.
Now your legs are all one and your arms are tough and wide, and the whales collect you. You have shut your eyes to listen to their voices—slower, longer, deeper—and you are ready to compose again but this time you have no fingers and no keys so you play the sounds as they do. Slower… longer… deeper… This is the end, you know. We are the same now; you, the part of the life that swims in me. Isaac the pianist is lost at sea.
Leona Abbott is a recent graduate of UNCW's Creative Writing program and am, so far, an unpublished author. She is enjoying herlife as a brand-newlywed in Southern Pines, NC and am exploring the joys of unemployment. She will be pursuing graduate studies at UNCG in the fall.