Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shoot The Piano Player by David Goodis (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 1956)

What I mean is, the way Eddie talks. Eddie spills words like "ain't" and says "them there" and "this here" and so forth. You know Edward never talked that way. Edward was educated, and an artist, and had a cultured manner of speaking. I guess it all depends where you're at and what you're doing and the people you hang around with. The Hut is a long way off from Carnegie Hall. Yes. And it's a definite fact that Eddie has no connection with Edward. You cut all them wires a long time ago. It was a clean split.

Then why are you drifting back? Why pick it up again? Well, just to look at it. Won't hurt to have a look. Won't hurt? You kidding? You can feel the hurt already, as though it's happening again. The way it happened.

It was deep in the woods of South Jersey, in the wooden house that overlooked the watermelon patch. His early childhood was mostly on the passive side. As the youngest of three brothers he was more or less a small, puzzled spectator, unable to understand Clifton's knavery or Turley's rowdyism. They were always at it, and when they weren't pulling capers in the house they were out roaming the countryside. Their special meat was chickens. They were experts at stealing chickens. Or sometimes they'd try for a shoat. They were seldom caught. They'd slide out of trouble or fight their way out of it and, on a few occasions, in their middle teens, they shot their way out of it.

The mother called them bad boys, then shrugged and let it go at that. The mother was an habitual shrugger who'd run out of gas in her early twenties, surrendering to farmhouse drudgery, to the weeds and beetles and fungus that lessened the melon crop each year. The father never worried about anything. The father was a slothful, languid, easy-smiling drinker. He had remarkable capacity for alcohol.

There was another gift the father had. The father could play the piano. He claimed he'd been a child prodigy. Of course, no one believed him. But at times, sitting at the ancient upright in the shabby, carpetless parlor, he did some startling things with the keyboard.

At other times, when he felt in the mood, he'd give music lessons to five-year-old Edward. It seemed there was nothing else to do with Edward, who was on the quiet side, who stayed away from his villainous brothers as though his very life depended on it. Actually, this was far from the case. They never bullied him. They'd tease him now and then, but they left him alone. They didn't even know he was around. The father felt a little sorry for Edward, who wandered through the house like some lost creature from the woods that had gotten in by mistake.

The music lessons increased from once a week to twice a week and finally to every day. The father became aware that something was happening here, something really unusual. When Edward was nine he performed for a gathering of teachers at the schoolhouse six miles away. When he was fourteen, some people came from Philadelphia to hear him play. They took him back to Philadelphia, to a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music.

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