Men, Near A Piano Elena Moretti Macro-Fiction

map Men, Near A Piano

by Elena Moretti

Published in Issue No. 214 ~ March, 2015


You should have turned, you know, to look at them, observed the youth.

The boy and the girl.

Since they fascinated you.

He said this a long while after one man had first sat down across from the other, uninvited. The older gentleman had fat, boyish cheeks and a bald head like a polished balloon. He offset these qualities with a tuxedo.

It’s the older gentleman who eventually speaks: I’ve got to tell you about the breakfast two.

The youth adjusted his tie and his watch and his cufflinks and shifted on his buttocks, and cleared his throat with a tiny hm.

There was a fireplace between the gentlemen, filled with ferns for the summer months. The hotel’s ceilings were high. There were marble staircases, and a piano, and the waiters’ shoes were brogues, which were glossy, but that’s needless to say.

Young man, are you meeting someone, or did you have a plan to drink alone this evening?

The youth shook his head: But I never plan to drink alone.

The older gentleman meanwhile was meeting a person, a very important date, but assured the younger that he was person enough for the moment. He said, I saw you and I knew you’d want to know about the breakfast two.

Have you ever seen, or can you imagine, a thick oily painting of a young woman and her suitor, sat at a wrought-iron table on a hotel’s terrace, and there’s paving and all around them are hills and flowering trees and woodland creatures hiding in the grass and the boy and girl sit, not quite looking at each other?


I was there, by them, you see, eating my croissant (kwa-sohn), saying it (kwa-sohn) into each bite, my teeth sinking sohn into the pastry, when I heard them.

The older gentleman smiled, and remembered his croissant.

And who, who did you hear? Thought the young man in the fine tie. Where were you? he asked.

The older man shook his fingers toward the terrace, like he was ridding them of excess whiskey.

They were here? Confirmed the youth to the older gentleman, of the girl and the boy.

Oh yes.

Behind the older man, the hotel’s baby grand had attracted two women, who poured themselves over its enamel, coating it in red and gold silk and singing as the pianist played on, eyes on the minims and a blush creeping over his collar.

The older gentleman asked if the youth had ever been in love, and was pleased with the answer.

Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it, sitting on these great plush thrones surrounded by swirling polished furniture and staff in bow ties and carpet printed in fleur-de-lis. It took me four drinks, I remember, the first time, to stop feeling foolish holding cut-crystal, were you the same?

And you, when I said that, did you suddenly feel transported to the place anew, the fleur-de-lis sprouting and unfurling on the carpet as I spoke?

Anyway. I have to tell you about this girl. She was terrific. You want to know, don’t you?

The youth clutched his cut-crystal tighter and leaned in.

I was drinking cooling coffee at the next-door breakfast table as I heard her speak with length and audible ache of her last hotel stay, with a different man altogether. At this, the older gentleman raised his eyebrows at the youth, and repeated:

A different man. And the boy, you see, he kept saying, Oh, I see.

She was telling him of the thick mint-green linens of this other man’s bed, how they were soft but crisp and the pillows plump as buttocks.

Though I couldn’t see her, of course, she was certainly tipping her head back: Oh, it was perfect, she would breathe, as the boy looked at her throat.

Sitting in their thrones, by a fern-filled fireplace, both the youth and the older gentleman thought Ha! If that were me, I’d have tipped the table over! But that’s true of anyone.

The boy’s face must have showed calm, though, or else the girl would have commented. Oh darling, don’t be silly. Or, Oh, darling, you’re sour.

We should go dancing next week, the boy suggested, but she was busy. And he would say Oh, great, and Oh, and Great, and I could hear the table’s glasses clinkclink as he thrummed his foot against the table-leg.

And then, then she said, But I’d hardly have dared to touch my hand on his hand at a breakfast table at a shining hotel, or to sneak my foot from its shoe to graze his ankle.

And when she laughed then, it was absolutely clear that she was tossing her hair.

The older gentleman then asked the younger man, Does your girlfriend keep a diary?

Pardon? What?

Your girlfriend.

I’m not meeting anyone tonight, I told you.

I expect she’s sweet?

Hm. Not sweet, exactly.

Hints of sweet.


They both reflected on whether that was best.

The older gentleman revealed that he had once been to India, had worn linen trousers and many times wandered the jungle-lined path from bungalow to ashram, a little bored.

The two gentlemen had also both briefly “fallen for” women named Christobel, which really is a striking coincidence. But anyway, the older gentleman continued, the girl was telling the boy that the man had proposed to her on those mint-green sheets of this very hotel, and then the boy had asked the girl, And what did you say?

And the girl replied, What do you think?

And the boy didn’t answer, and then she said, Silly.

And he asked, No?

She said, No.

He said again, No?

And she told him, Silly.

She told him that like she was dropping a sugar cube into hot tea.

The older gentleman then asked the younger man, Does your girlfriend keep a diary?

After some thought, the youth answered, Probably.

My date’s still not here, the older gentleman observed. She’s late. I keep looking for her, over your shoulder. You just wait until she gets here.

The youth imagined the old man and a velvet-wrapped lady-friend, dancing, her fingers slung over the shoulder of his tuxedo like a bunch of bananas.

You should have turned, you know, to look at them, said the youth. The boy and the girl. Since they fascinated you.

His glass still full, the older gentleman signaled for more whiskey. He thought of how the girl had said, When I read back over my old diaries I am struck dumb by myself.

The waiter brought a silver tray, two more cut-crystal glasses, and a note on white card for the younger man. The youth plucked it up. He held the message between ring finger and thumb, other fingers stretching away at angles from the white-hot note. Well I’ve been stood up, he said, then he threw it into the fireplace, coldly regarded the card among the ferns, picked up both his glass and that of the older gentleman, thanked the waiter, and settled into his chair, whisky in each hand. Hm. He drank. I suppose your date’ll be here soon.

Oh I don’t have one, said the older gentleman. You weren’t meeting anyone, I believed?

Well, said the younger man, into his left-hand glass. Well. Your date?

I’m not sure why I told you that, I must confess, confessed the older gentleman. Perhaps I fancied myself in the role, for the night. A sad old man perched alone on a love seat, eye on the door.

He sipped his drink gladly.

The piano overflowing with women, the pianist was jerking his shoulders to the beat and had stopped blushing.

Well, I just had to tell you about those two.

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Elena Moretti received the R.G. Frean Prize in Creative Writing, and her work has been published in Takahe,Turbine, JAAM and Clementine. She lives in New Zealand.