The Attack of the Grand Pianos

     Vivian Chelmnickon was standing before his bedroom mirror, absent-mindedly trying to tie his tie.  He was only half-awake despite his shower but he noticed the threatening Wednesday morning outside.  He did not know that in the past forty-eight hours the Defender of St. Rose of Lima had been watching what he ate, did not know that the Master of the Marthas (alias Ms. Van P---) had been watching him while he slept, did not know that the Holder of the Averroes Seal (alias Senator Naipaul) had been stalking him from newsstand to newsstand to make sure he did not read any pornographic magazines, and did not know that the Murderess of the Order of the Stigmata (alias Madame Vovelle) had listened to recordings of all his lectures.  Vivian knew none of this, so he knew even less that at this moment the Flannery O'Connor Brigade held him in the highest possible esteem.  But he did think about the angel, and was every now and then he received the insight that the angel was a genuine one.

     At that moment there was a sigh from the bed, and Vivian turned around, his tie still not done up properly.  It was very embarrassing; dressing himself properly was the only domestic task that Oliver was any good at.  In contrast, neither Vivian nor John Seinkewicz could ever quite get the hang of doing their own ties, and they had to ask their wives to do it for them.  This led Senator Veniot, who had the same problem, to comment that the purpose of women was to tie the noose around our necks.  Vivian saw his wife stretch herself awake, (she never got up before him) and today she was not drunk.  In the past few days Vivian went out of his way to try even harder than usual to prevent that, so his wife had now been sober for a full week.

     She had not aged gracefully, for the past three decades she had tried very hard to preserve her youth at considerable expense and stress.  All for nothing, she looked every one of her fifty-nine years.  For Vivian it was mornings like this that were the worst.  In her worst drunken rages, she usually was too intoxicated to be very coherent and she would soon stagger and collapse into a nearby sofa.  And her sober rages were so repetitive and consistent that Vivian had a number of fail-safe techniques for getting through them.  But it was in the early mornings, when she was quite sober, if not quite awake, and when she hadn't dressed yet, that were the hardest.  She looked so pathetic, with her hair still down around her shoulders, and not placed in the orderly, ugly bun that she put it in during the day, and with the nightgown covering little of her withered unused breasts and with the Galcyznski cross hanging, as always, around her neck.  Looking at her eyes, he thought they shined like light through broken windshield glass.  Vivian couldn't bear to say that no reasonable person could consider her attractive, that every reasonable person would find her attempts to preserve her sexuality quite ridiculous.  It was in these moments when her self-pity and selfishness were most deluded, that she tried to have her husband share them.

     "Vivian, why don't you just stay home today?"

     It was a question she often asked in the mornings, since in the afternoons she was more than willing to have him leave, while in the evenings she was suspicious of where he was.  She was envious of the widespread absenteeism in Polish society, and too often mistook the time needed for moon-lighting for leisure.  She always wondered why her husband had taken a position that ensured he would be working seven days a week, and she wondered why her husband didn't simply retire, since he was certainly wealthy enough.  She never realized that he enjoyed teaching, he enjoyed reading, and that he enjoyed writing papers for journals.  Regardless, she repeated her question.

     "I can't stay home today.  I have a class to teach."

     "Couldn't you just ignore them for one day?  I'm sure they're not really interested in listening to you."

      "It's my responsibility.   I have a duty to my students."

      "But that's only one hour, what about all the rest?"

      "You know I have several articles that I have to get done fairly soon, and with the end of term coming up I have to worry about exams and essays.  Given the amount of pressure I'm under it's probably irresponsible of me to take Christmas off."

       His wife began to sulk, the first sign of a very bad day to come.  "Couldn't you just take the afternoon off?  Not even the whole afternoon, just a few hours here and there.  Then you could work as hard as you could at the Philhellenon club, and you wouldn't have to see me until Saturday.  And I wouldn't complain at all, I'd just let you work."

       Vivian was not impressed.  The rule prohibiting non-Catholic materials from staying in the building overnight made marking very inconvenient.  It also made any research at the club very awkward.  And this was hardly the first time she had made such a promise, only to break it with a number of hysterical calls.  But there was something about his wife's slatternly sexuality that made him decide that perhaps he should acquiesce in this wish.  "All right.  You can pick me up at the university at around one."  Then he bent over his wife and gave her a sincere kiss while she tied his tie for him.

       At the same time Louis Dramsheet and John Seinkewicz were worrying about Oliver Corpse.  They were not worrying about him in the same place;  Dramsheet was in his office reviewing the anonymous letters sent to Vanessa Wilentz and coming to a conclusion as to their author, while Seinkewicz was entering his office and looking for rotten tomatoes.  But both men were struck by how bitter and petty Oliver had been recently, and even Dramsheet was alarmed at how fat he was getting.  Oliver was now so large he had trouble squeezing through doors, and he now spent more and more of his time in public places while his friends looked for an apartment that would accommodate him until his weight fell back to normal.  When he wasn't wiping off tomatoes off his face or off his chair, Seinkewicz was making arrangements for Corpse to take temporary lodgings in Amritsar Siestas.  It was a strange apartment building, heading by an ex-Australian clerk with a dubious character in a dubious part of town.  He had managed to bribe some reasonably important people to take over a building scheduled for demolition, and had given it a half-remembered Indian-Spanish title to spice up its image.  Indeed the clerk was so unscrupulous he had not even bothered to remember the name of his property, and often called it Amritsar Vistas or Amritsar Plazas.  Most of the walls had been knocked down on all the floors, so there was plenty of room for Oliver to waddle around.  Seinkewicz had spent all of last evening helping Oliver move things so that he could rest here for the next few days.  After several hours of this, which Seinkewicz really didn't have the time for, Oliver sat himself down and coolly requested Seinkewicz to leave.

       Both John and Dramsheet were worried about this, as well as by the fact that Oliver absolutely refused to stop eating.  But even more distressing was his increasingly rude and petulant behavior.  For the past few days he was quite unable to conduct his sessions in a reasonable and civil manner, and he was becomingly increasing coarse and sarcastic.  Without any prompting from Dramsheet at all, Corpse would babble on about the sex-lives of one of his patients, complete with nasty moralistic comments.  This violation of confidentiality was not the worst though, for Oliver had suddenly become extremely misogynist.  In Dramsheet's presence he muttered how it would be hilarious if pro-abortion women were "butchered" while they were pregnant.  He said later that his anecdote of feminists having their spleens gouged out with machetes was a typical example of Polish humor, and that if Dramsheet failed to fully appreciate it, he should realize that the actual joke was a work in progress.  When Dramsheet asked him about Vanessa Wilentz, Corpse started on a mad diatribe, (interspersed with awkward philo-semitic compliments) about how secular girls were moral corrupters and extremely dangerous besides.  It was of course true that such young women were not responsible for the spread of syphilis, but was it not the worst sort of cheap, self-indulgent liberal pseudo-Christian sentimentality not to hold them responsible for it anyway?  But what most disturbed Dramsheet were the cruel comments about Avare Seinkewicz, who had never done Corpse the slightest bit of harm, and who had been perfectly gracious to him the few times they had ever met.  "She's a whore, she'd stab John in the back, she's a traitor, she seduced him in the first place, she wanted to seduce him in order to get pregnant in order to force him to marry him, she never loved John in the first place, she's never suffered at all, she deserved to get chlamydia, these French-Canadian morons don't know anything about Poland, she hasn't suffered at all, compared to me she's been in paradise, why does she have to complain about her lack of children, she should get her jaw smashed with a hammer so she should know what suffering is like, she probably doesn't know how to cook.   Except for the fact that she's a woman, not a man, a Conservative, not a writer for The New Statesman, French instead of British, and poorly read instead of an intellectual she's just like those who betrayed us in '44.  She's the sort of person who whines that the Catholic Church views Eve as a scapegoat, she's probably the sort of pagan who's subverting Catholic teas, and of course Eve was guilty, you have to take a more sophisticated view to realize that.  You know, she takes special pride in never mending my socks."

       Feeling this was as good a time to interrupt as any other Dramsheet asked "Why should she?  You're not her husband."

       "But she wouldn't do it for John either.  Why if I sent my socks to the male communists, even in the Beirut days, I'd get them back from them before John got his own socks back."  And he went on for another twenty minutes in an increasingly neurotic fervor, and argued that Avare had sexual relations with rats, that she had children by these relations, and that she served up these children to her husband, filled to the brim with arsenic, disguised as mashed potatoes and meatloaf, that Giles wasn't really her son at all, that he was John's son all right, but that she had tricked the real mother and John himself into believing it was her child, that she wasn't really John's wife, that although she was an undoubted whore, she had never actually had sex with John, that was just another trick as well, and ended with the conclusion that she wanted to be a devil woman from the clouds suffocating her husband with fashionable Hindu principles, and with the coda that John Seinkewicz must be a complete idiot to marry such an obviously worthless person, and she was probably a man as well.

       Had that been all there was to Oliver's ravings, Dramsheet would have assumed that he was mad, or joking in very poor taste.  But that was not all; for after finishing one monologue Oliver would start to sing; a few verses would spontaneously gurgle from his throat, giggling through the fat in his neck and his jowls.  A few beautiful words would be spoken...and then it would stop and Oliver would go back to his diatribes.  And as John left the apartment after Oliver's curt dismissal, he found a twenty dollar bill in his back pocket.  Oliver had suddenly started giving money away, though he was capricious in this as in everything else recently.  He had slipped fifty dollars into Adrian's pocket when he came over to help his uncle, then thought better of it, and with considerable stealth took it back.  Earlier he had given thirty dollars to a vagrant, then abruptly changed his mind and twisted the poor man's arms until he got it back.  At one time in John's presence he would happily babble away about the yo-yo he was using.  It was a bright, shiny plastic one with a special elastic and for some unknown reason Oliver claimed he had owned since he was a little boy back in Poland.   But the next minute he would smash the toy against the wall and start to sulk.  Then he would start to cry.  But strangest of all was Oliver's actions about the doughnuts.  In the past few days he had ordered more and more doughnuts, until the empty boxes covered the filing cabinets and shadowed the bookcases and blocked both the heating grate and the air conditioner, and the handsome young man who brought Corpse the doughnuts was always surprised at how quickly Corpse had eaten up all the doughnuts, and there was a forest of crumbs on the desk, on his suit, and on the carpet to show that Corpse had indeed eaten the doughnuts.  But not all of them, for after he had polished off nine boxes of doughnuts he suddenly felt a mad urge to go out and give away the tenth box to all the children he could find.  But there were problems with this, for because there were so few children in Corpse's building, and because he felt the compulsive need to nibble, by the time he raced around the floor of his office, by the time he raced around the floor above and below him, and on the thirteenth floor as well, by the time he looked around the lobby and by the time he raced out to look at the toy store that was just outside the building and across the street the tenth box would be empty, and he would cry and if observers had paid more attention to him and had not been shocked by the sight of an extremely fat Polish psychiatrist breaking into tears, they would have noticed that Corpse was gaining more weight than when he had wolfed down nine boxes of doughnuts.  And so Oliver would go back to his office, go through another nine boxes of doughnuts, and then feel a strong compulsion to give all of the tenth box away to needy children, but he would eat it all before he could hand them out, and the cycle would be repeated over and over again.

       He had not always been like this, or even usually like this.  Back when he graduated in Poland he was given a special certificate from the Psychology students club praising him for his sympathetic view of women.  (The club also secretly nominated him for the title of psychologist least likely to screw one of his patients.)  There had always been the poor relations with Mrs. Chelmnickon, the two had never gotten on very well, but Oliver's most bitter claims usually came when she had made some incredibly outrageous scene.  He had, in fact, had a number of relationships with women, nine of them to be precise, but he had never consummated any of these affairs, which all ended the same way;  with Oliver abruptly losing weight so fast that he shocked his girlfriends into leaving him.  He never bore them any bitterness, though as time went on Dramsheet noticed a selective amnesia when Oliver was asked about them.  He had been a man with a quiet sense of humour, usually telling his friends very bad puns, often made worse by confusions between Polish and English.  But now he remembered all the times his jokes had fallen flat and the memory filled him with spite.  He even started badmouthing Vivian behind his back, saying that he was responsible for the failure of his "Reply to Brecht."

       John Seinkewicz gloomily reflected about all this as he sat down in his chair (taking care to remove the rotten tomato that had been placed there).  He toyed with the idea of giving Oliver a housewarming party for his new apartment, but ruled it out because it conflicted with too many of his other duties.  Parliament's current business would conclude in about a week, and then there would be a month's vacation.  He would have to catch up with his constituency work.  He had not been home since Thanksgiving and clearly this was not good for his prospects for re-election.  His staff back in his riding did the best they could, but...and then there was Avare, as well.  Seinkewicz stared off into a solipsistic dose, interrupted by the continual need to swat back the rotten tomatoes with his badminton racket.

       Not at the same time, but several hours later in fact, Adrian Verrall was walking the streets of the center of Ottawa.  He was currently very depressed over the complete lack of success he and his friends had in confronting the Flannery O'Connor Brigade.  After he had been forced to hand the documents to Senator Naipaul, he was promptly pushed out of the building.  Later he learned that Naipaul had lodged a complaint behind both Seinkewicz senior and junior which accused Giles of conspiring to break into the Philhellenon club's safe.  Much of Naipaul's story was patently false, but it didn't matter, since the only reason he had lodged it was so that Giles could not enter the club until the Tuesday night meeting which would review the case.  To make things worse Constantine Rudman had done a thorough job of researching the Brigade's activities and soon found enough evidence of the organization's dogmatic and fanatical nature.  What was to be done next was not clear; Vanessa had suggested that they could burgle Roget's house, search Ms. Van P---'s apartment or tell one of the members of the Philhellenon club about the whole business.  But there were objections to all these plans, Aquilla Roget being particularly skeptical, and Charles decided that the best thing to do was to delay everything until Friday evening.

       To make things worse, Adrian was not doing all that well in his studies, and he now felt very guilty that he was wandering the streets of Ottawa and not back in his room reading.  He reviewed in his mind all the false promises and fake plans for his work that he had come up for this day and how he had broken all of them.  In this dispirited mood he thought he would take a bus to go to a major mall and dissipate his gloom in a socially acceptable way.  As he walked up to the bus stop he barely recognized that he was outside the Lord Strathcona Center of the Performing arts.  He stood by the bus-stop and checked his watch; it would take about seven minutes for the next bus to come.  He checked his wallet to see if he had the proper change.  Usually he didn't, he was quite unable to plan that far ahead, but today he was lucky.  As he put his wallet away he noticed a small four year-old of uncertain sex standing under one of the windows which the Lord Strathcona Center used to illuminate its offices.  The child was not attached to anyone, and kept crying in a very loud voice, as hot tears disfigured its face.  Adrian winced at this, and hoped that someone responsible would come along and take care of the child.  But as the minutes passed and no-one came, Adrian decided to act.

       He sat down by the child, who was a boy with brown-red hair and a bright-red scarf covering his polyester coat.  "Excuse me, little boy, have you lost your mother?"

       "Mommy said never to talk to strangers." and the child stopped crying and shut up completely.  This was extremely awkward for Adrian and he tried again.  "Do you know where your mother is?"  There was no response.  But just before Adrian was about to give up and board the bus that was pulling up to the stop, the child's resolve gave way.

       "Mommy's inside.  She works inside this building.  We were going to eat, but some big bad black people kept her inside.  So I have to stay outside."

       "Why don't you stay here, and I'll look for your mother." And Adrian patted the boy on the head, an act which was more frightening than consoling.  Adrian went around to the main doors and walked inside.  He was immediately struck by the absence of guards; when he had been here three years earlier and had suddenly remembered that he had to be somewhere else very quickly, a guard very loudly and very rudely yelled at him to stop running so fast.  So their absence was disconcerting.  It was also disturbing that he had no idea what the little boy's mother looked like, or how he was going to find her.  He walked down a corridor where the offices of the Center bordered the street.  As he walked he heard the sounds of fax machines, computer print outs, and mobile telephones.  But when he finally peered inside one of the rooms there was no-one to be seen  He walked to the end of the corridor and peered inside a few more rooms, but again there was no-one to be seen.  The only thing Adrian could hear in the entire building were the sound of machines.  Adrian checked his watch; it was quarter past one.  He had worked in enough offices over the summer to know that they were not simply deserted during the lunch hour.  Suddenly very nervous, he ran back to the entrance.

       He found himself in front of a grand staircase that spiraled up the five stories of the building.  Nearby were the large doors that led the way to the auditorium.  Adrian yelled at the top of his lungs:  "Is there anybody here!?"  There was no response, and Adrian then realized that the fax machines, computer print-outs and mobile telephones were dying down.  He paused to let them die away completely, and then was alone in the silence.  Near the entrance was a sign indicating what was being offered that day.  There was supposed to be a concert of new Canadian music to be held this evening.  Some rooms in the corridor opposite to the one that held the offices were supposedly being used for a company of ballet dancers, but Adrian could hear nothing from them.  He walked over to a water cooler and found that he could still take a drink.  Above him he could see the fire alarm.  He overcame the temptation to pull it, but realized that it might be the only way of finding out who was here.  He stepped aside and ran very quickly down the corridor where the ballerinas were supposed to be.  Then he suddenly stopped and became aware not only of the absence of any other people, but also the way the echoes of his steps faded faster than they should have.  He raced back to the entrance and once again yelled "Is anybody here?!" and again there was no response, and even the echo seemed to have vanished.

       He walked into the centre of the palladium, where he could see the spiral staircase encircled by all the floors.  As he looked up to the roof he could see that there were lights in several of the rooms, but, once again, no actual people.  Suddenly an idea came to him.  He ran back as loudly as he could, yelling nonsense all the way.  He then entered one of the offices.  At random he started rifling desks, filing cabinets, fax machines and account-books.  He was then strongly tempted to disconnect a telephone and take it outside.  But then a more alluring target appeared.  Beside the telephone was a money box, closed with nothing but a simple latch.  Adrian opened it, and no alarm rang.  Inside were several hundred dollars, and nothing happened when Adrian took the money out.  He then carefully stepped outside the office, walked down the corridor to another exit, and then opened it.  He stepped outside, and just before the door closed and locked himself out, he stepped back in.  He then raced back to the office and replaced the money.  For a few seconds he just stood there, then he picked up the telephone; he could hear the dial tone, clear proof that it wasn't dead.  Replacing the receiver he wondered how everyone could have vanished.  He looked for the telltale signs of sudden disappearance; strange alien mucus, the scorched remnants of disintegration beams, secret invisibility barriers, and the strange charged smell of ozone.  Adrian didn't actually know what ozone smelled like, but that was all right because he didn't smell anything unusual, or even ordinary.  It was only with some effort that he managed to find the smell of the old coffee grounds.  But then he realized he could hear something...

       It was a strange, regular, beating sound, and it was coming closer.  Adrian thought of hiding, then decided that defense would be the better move.  He reached for the coat stand and tried to lift it up, but then he realized it was bolted to the floor.  He tried to lift up a chair for his own defense, but it was also bolted.  Adrian then panicked and tried to think of something that would serve as a substitute when then the blue bouncing ball materialized.  "Hello, Adrian!"

       "Oh, it's only you." he said, and slumped onto the desk, having missed the chair.  "Where did you come from?"

       "Oh, I've been following you all morning."  and Adrian realized that it was true, there had been the sense that someone was benevolently following him throughout the morning.  "I actually wanted to know if you knew where that Giles person was.  He's such a nice person, and I'd like to sing to him all the time, not that I wouldn't want to sing to you, Adrian.  For some reason I feel as if I was made to sing silly love songs to him.  I was made to sing silly love songs to you, you were made to sing silly love songs to me.  Don't you agree?"

       "Actually, ball I'm worrying about something more important.  Have you noticed how odd it is, that in a building full of money and of valuable machinery, that there should be no guards, no people and apparently no locked doors.  Where is everyone?"

       "Oh don't you know?"

       "No, where are they?"

       "Well the mother of the little boy with the red hair, who can be a very nice fellow if you sing to him, which is what I was doing before I came in, that's why I took so long to get here, anyway the mother is a very attractive ballerina in her late twenties who recently divorced her husband and father of her child, an official of the Lord Strathcona Center, because he kept spending too much time with the younger ballerinas.  Anyway she has long red hair, just like her son, who inherited his father's green eyes, and a strange birthmark the shape of a candelabra under his right armpit, and she's the only attractive woman in her late twenties with long red hair (there's a pregnant attractive woman in her late twenties with red hair, but it's cut very short) so she should be very easily distinguished from everyone else when you get into the...."

       "Where is she?"

       "In the theatre-auditorium."  Adrian then remembered; he recalled reading an article about how the Lord Strathcona Center was soundproofing its theatre so that the homeless would not be able to hear it from outside the building.  It was hard to believe that it was absolutely soundproof, but the engineers had made that promise and as far as Adrian knew no-one had accused them of breaking it.  So he left the offices and walked backed to the entrance.  With the bouncing ball at his side he could only stare at the gigantic doors, which were at least two stories tall.  Surely they were locked, and immovable, but as Adrian reached up to pull them open, he found that were very easy to move.  As he pulled the left door slowly open, which made no creaking noise as it did so, Adrian Verrall saw one of the most astonishing things he would ever see.

       In the orchestra pit were all the employees of the building.  Ballerinas, secretaries, accountants, security guards, actors, and musicians were all there, cowering, with half of them with their hands up or their hands on their heads.  As Adrian crouched below the farthest row of seats and told the ball to bounce only a few inches up in the air, he saw two woman with red hair.  One was visibly pregnant and was trying to revive a handsome young man, her husband, who had fainted for keeping his hands in the air for too long.  The other was clearly the young mother, and nearby was her ex-husband who was apparently arguing with no-one in particular, because although his comments were very loud and heated, they were directed only to the stage, where no person was present.  But when Adrian saw the young mother he instantly fell in love and told the ball so."But surely you've been in love for months?  But it's not important, some love affairs are very interesting.  You know I always wished that Sartre had gotten married.  He and De Beauvoir could have named one of their children Edmund Sartre, after Husserl, or Martina de Beauvoir, after Heidegger, or female name Sartre, after Sartre's mother, whose first name I've completely forgotten.  You know Femalenamelikesartre'smother Sartre is one of the non-existent people I've always wanted to meet, just below the imaginary granddaughter of Andrei Zhdanov who became a punk rocker.  What imaginary people would you like to meet?"

       Adrian told the ball to keep quiet, as he saw the strangest sight of all.  On the stage were ten grand pianos, apparently scattered across the stage in no rational pattern, except that the largest one, which was twice the size of any of the others, was in the centre.  The really odd thing was that the auditorium was full of music; Wagner to be precise, all fitted out for piano, even though no-one was playing them.  Adrian looked closer and saw that the main noise was coming from a piano that was dressed in what looked like a giant tutu; in fact it was only a substitute tutu made of lace curtains and toilet paper because there wasn't one that fit the piano's size.  As he listened more closely, Adrian recognized the music;  it was from Tristan and Isolde, which he had once gone out of his way to remember when he was fifteen, in order to impress his uncle and spite Giles, who always had trouble keeping his composers straight, and who for years thought that Moses Mendelssohn was some sort of proto-Nazi.

       And then Adrian realized the most frightening thing of all; the piano was being played with no humans helping it; it was actually trying to sing.  It was very strange, for as high keys mixed with low keys and as the cover started to move up and down there came a sound that mixed the gentle rush of a meadow stream with the sounds of steel-making.  At some points the piano sang as if its throat was full of lead, and then all sorts of notes started to enter its rendition of Isolde, forming not a cacophony but a strange, wonderful and sinister undertone.  Then, it abruptly shut up."Perfect!" said a loud booming voice, rich in musical timbre.  Adrian realized this must be the grand grand piano, and saw the cover moving up and down as it talked.  The other pianos walked aside as their leader walked over to the people in the orchestra pit.  The leader then made a strange noise which must have been the piano equivalent of a spit of contempt, then it began to speak.  "You pathetic worms, for that is all you are, seventy-five years is all you spend on your petty desires and then you begin the home for rutting flies and senescent accountant worms.  I would spit on you all, but because I am a glorious piano, I do not need those stupid physiological processes.  Too much of your time is spent on impotent sleep, wretched lusts, excretions and illnesses, the pathetic position of actually having to work for a living.  But us pianos, we can live for centuries, untouched by spineless vermin, every moment of our lives can be devoted to the purity of art.  We need neither food, nor water, nor sleep, nor any of the false illusions and petty relationships that torment your meaningless lives.  Clearly, are we not the superior beings, clearly are we not destined to rule the earth, clearly are not we made in the image of the great piano in the clouds?  The simple fact is, you're dirt, and you would have us play your mediocre maple syrupy-leafy songs of the joys of celibate beavers.  You pathetic termites, there is only one composer for us.  Only one composer who can fulfill our dreams, only one composer who says what a piano needs to have said, only one composer who can give us our destiny!  Altogether!"

       "We want Wagner, We want Wagner, We want Wagner, Rah-Rah-Rah!  We Want Wagner, We want Wagner, We Want Wagner, Rah-Rah-Rah!" chanted the other pianos, leaping up and down on the stage and making a loud and threatening noise.  But the leader cut off all discussion with an apparent gesture that only pianos could see.  "It is time for desperate measures.  Friends, it is time to execute the violins."

       The piano ordered the now recovered husband of the pregnant redhead to take the only Stradivarius violin the Lord Strathcona had ever seen, and give it to a tough, brutal piano who, in pure masculine glory, had exposed all his piano wire.  This piano lifted up its cover, as the husband placed it in on the keys.  He then whisked away his hands as the piano than chomped it to pieces.   Two more violins followed, as did a cello, a base drum, and some oboes.  Then the leader resumed speaking:  "Soon we will march out of this building that has kept up imprisoned and we will attack the government; we shall conquer this country and make it our own; hordes of wretched workers will build bold new pianos at out design, and these new pianos will conquer the world, soon there will be only be two sounds;  the crack of whips and the notes of Die Meistersinger.  After we build enough pianos who can create their own pianos, humanity will become irrelevant and only Wagner will be remembered, commemorated, and worshipped.  You shall be slaves to the grand pianos, creators and performers of art, you shall work until you drop, as you have worked cattle and sheep to your whims."

       "But that's not nice at all!" said the ball.

       The ten pianos made a sudden screech and turned to confront the voice.  As they did so, they saw Adrian poking his head up trying to get the ball to shut up.  "So.  There is an intruder among us!  After him, my followers!"

       And to Adrian's shock, six pianos leaped off the stage and started charging up the aisle.  Adrian flew out the door, followed immediately by his pursuers.  Instead of fleeing out the exit, Adrian's momentum led him to the staircase, which he frantically began climbing.  With the pianos close behind him, Adrian slipped into an empty third floor office, and barricaded the door, while he frantically tried to make a phone call.

       "Hello, this is Constantine.  Who is this?"

       "Constantine, it's me, Adrian.  You'll never believe what's happening to me, but I'll have to tell you anyway.  I'm in the Lord Strathcona Center of the Performing Arts and I'm being pursued by a bunch of rampaging pianos!   They say they want to take over the world and only play Wagner.  Constantine, you've got to get the police!"

       "Good Lord, do you know what this means?"


       "It means that when Marinetti entered my apartment and said that there would be a Wagner revival in a few days he was right."

       "Oh great!  What else did he say?"

       "Something about a bloodpurge.  Look I'll try and get someone to help."  But before Constantine could say anything more, the pianos, who had been temporarily delayed by the ball's attempts to discuss the merits of Verdi with them, suddenly smashed through the barricade.  Adrian dropped the receiver, where it would remain off the hook, stay unharmed for the next nineteen hours, and cause considerable annoyance to the telephone company.  He then moved out through the window; fortunately all the stories of the Center had relatively large ledges for Adrian to walk on; unfortunately, the pianos now started hitting the walls.  The first such hit nearly forced Adrian off the ledge into a fall that probably would have killed him, but fortunately there was a nearby drainage pipe to hang on to.

       As Adrian slowly made his way across the ledge in the hope of finding some open window to some room where he could find some way out of the building, and as the ball bounced out the notes of one of Mendelssohn's finest piano concertos on assorted piano keys, it is important that we turn the clock back exactly twenty seconds, which is when Mrs. Chelmnickon finally picked up her husband.  The new meeting had not started auspiciously; Mrs. Chelmnickon had no idea that Vivian  might be annoyed at her being more than twenty minutes late.  He had spent the time fortuitously offered to him reading a fascinating new volume on mysticism and was so absorbed in it that it took seven car-horn beeps for his wife to regain his attention.  Naturally, despite a polite apology from Vivian, she was infuriated that he had not noticed her immediately, and when he asked her in a matter of fact way where she had been, she accused him of deliberately changing the subject, and slapped him for his impudence.  She continued to argue about it as she drove to the parking place several blocks from where the Center was.  Vivian managed to calm her down with a few compliments that had worked well in the past and the two started walking to the stores.

       As they made their first few paces, Mrs. Chelmnickon remembered something.  She searched through her purse and rather glumly gave her husband a little gift-just before Christmas, she said.  Vivian opened it and was disappointed to see a flower made of blue crystal.  He remembered how back in Poland he had been given this gift by his mother when he returned home from university; at the time he had liked the intricate Polish craftsmanship that could still be allowed for the export trade.  He kept it in a special place in his student dormitory, where he could always see it safe from the harms of the world.  One cold January day his future wife came in and she was immediately bedazzled.  He remembered how ever since then, she had loved these flowers, and would often get them for herself on the pretext of giving them to Vivian.  She often got herself gifts with the money he gave her for Christmas presents, he thought.  And so throughout their marriage he would occasionally receive one of these blue flowers.  He always thanked her politely, and would even kiss her when he was most disappointed, but he could not really be pleased.  This crystal flower was made in Canada, as had previous ones, while earlier ones had been made in Britain; they did not have the artistry or the precision he remembered the Polish ones having, before they had all accidentally fallen on the floor and smashed to pieces just before his wedding.  All he could do was thank her agreeably as they walked past a flower shop.

       Mrs. Chelmnickon decided to go in, and her husband reluctantly followed.  She was enchanted by the ruffled roses, limpid orchids, and withered peonies, and she asked Vivian if he ever remembered the time before their marriage when she once suggested getting a whole room of flowers to serve as a featherbed, a whole apartment dedicated to their passion and aromas.  As it happened, Vivian couldn't remember such a time, because when she had been engaged to him Mrs. Chelmnickon had been a very hard-headed and unsentimental person, and when he had first written some atrocious sonnets in French to her, she threw them in his face.  But she had forgotten that, though Vivian remembered, and she now demanded the most expensive flowers in the entire shop, which happened to be an enormous bouquet of fairly ugly roses.  Vivian protested; he rarely carried large amounts of cash, and had only enough money to pay for a nice lunch for the two of them and perhaps get a book at a second-hand bookstore.  He carried a cheque-book, but the store only accepted credit cards, which Vivian kept at home and only took out to make major purchases.  But Mrs. Chelmnickon refused to listen; she accused him of being deliberately stingy, of refusing to love her, and she started to cry insincere tears, the prelude to real ones.  She was causing quite a stir, and Vivian could not get her to shut up.  He was extremely tempted to tell her to act like an adult, or else he would leave her and go back to the university.  But then a thought.., no then an inspiration occurred to him.  Death comes like a thief in the night, should this be the way they should spent their dying years?  "Perhaps, darling we could go somewhere else.  There should be another flower shop which will accept a cheque.  Excuse me young man, would you happen to know such a place?"

       The sales assistant did know such a place, and partly because he wanted the Chelmnickons to leave, partly because his salary had recently been frozen, and partly because his attempt to seduce his manager's daughter had ignominiously failed, he heartily recommended it.  The couple left, and Vivian managed to divert his wife's attention into a nearby used bookstore.  He offered his wife one of the complimentary sweets they served there, and tickled her to make her laugh and she swallowed it.  But he overdid this, and her suspiciousness soon returned.  Vivian's attention was distracted by some of the new philosophy monographs the bookstore had recently acquired, while his wife made some gloomy perusals of the store's weather-beaten collection of pornography.  She began to chafe, and to complain, and Vivian decided he would have to make her look for some books that she would probably like.

       As Vivian introduced his skeptical wife to the new work of a fashionable new Polish author, Dr. Roget got out of his shiny Corvette, the only remnant of his days of wealth and indulgence, and started stalking the couple.  He looked through the rather opaque glass and saw what he wanted to see; which was not Mrs. Chelmnickon telling her husband to put "that trash" away and to go somewhere else.  As she criticized her husband's general literary tastes and greedily grabbed half a dozen sweets from the complimentary bowl, Roget took out a quarter from his wallet and flipped it into the air right beside his head.  His prehensile ears caught at just at the right moment; satisfied, Roget put the quarter away and then hid himself as the Chelmnickons left the bookstore.  He followed them to a newsstand where Vivian flipped through the latest Times Literary Supplement, and Mrs. Chelmnickon appeared totally bored; followed them into a lingerie store where Vivian winced at the thought of his wife in any of the clothes, but kept himself politely bored; watched Mrs. Chelmnickon enter a travel agency and suggest to her husband an absurdly expensive trip to some tropical island where she would almost certainly get dysentery; stood outside a restaurant which the two entered and then just as abruptly left because Mrs. Chelmnickon recognized someone who wasn't an old flame's of Vivian, but who she thought could be, and in general heard their afternoon sojourn degenerate into querulousness.

       Meanwhile Adrian had circumnavigated the entire Lord Strathcona Center of performing arts using only the ledge on the third floor.  He had finally found a room which actually had a window open on a cold December morning; irony of ironies it was just one away from the room he had left, and he had not gone in the opposite direction he would have entered it almost immediately.  He managed to slip inside a large, comfortable, if slightly somber room, which happened to be the office of the father of the young boy with red hair, who had now fallen asleep outside the entrance.  It was indeed a rather luxurious room; for everything was in black velvet and fake fur, with the strange scent of black musk oil everywhere, making everything wet, so that it seemed that all the velvet had been ejaculated in an excess of depression-kitsch.  On the desk was a placard with a saying, with a trite little pessimistic slogan that could have been but hadn't been bought from some cheap novelties shop.  On the wall besides the two large bookcases filled with a large number of unread books, were a large number of "citizen of the year" awards given by grateful tone-deaf members of assorted arts-councils.  There were many signs of his strong belief in his manifest superiority to the rest of the world, including the ballerinas he helped to find, direct and seduce.  Adrian moved over to the telephone, and was slightly repulsed to find that it too was covered with musk oil.  After smearing it off on the windowpane he tried to make a telephone call.  But by now the pianos had realized the necessity for silence, and had shut off all the fuses in the building, except for the one that powered the telephone that Adrian had called Constantine with, and which was still lying on the floor, still annoying the telephone company.  Why the hell had Constantine not gotten the police?  And where the hell was the ball?  A good blue bouncing ball is hard to find, muttered Adrian, as he made his way to the door.

       A problem immediately occurred.  The door was locked, on the outside, and unknown to Adrian, the husband had the habit of jamming keyholes with unknown bits of garbage.  He had originally began this habit in order to make sure that he wouldn't be interrupted during his romantic escapades.  He then went around sabotaging other locks so people wouldn't think that he sabotaged only those locks which hid him and some attractive young girl.  He then went around sabotaging other locks in order to convince a divorce court that it was an inalterable habit, and that he had never locked doors so that his wife couldn't catch his lovers.  After his divorce he was so angry and frustrated he thought that it was perfectly right that completely innocent people should be locked helpless inside rooms, and before the grand pianos had herded everyone into the auditorium, it was becoming a major issue in contract talks.  Had Adrian known that the lock was jammed with an extra piece of garbage, he would have been more careful to keep quiet as he tried to pick it open.  As it was he tried to find something to pick the lock; ordinarily he had a comb that would do the trick, but it had fallen out while he was on the ledge.  He looked for something in the filing cabinets and on the desk, but they were all locked.  He tried using a pen that was on the desk, but the husband had a special preference for shoddy pens, and it broke easily.  He even tried to use the edges of the unread books in the bookcase, but he found that the books were actually glued into position.  The only thing Adrian could think of doing was to pick up the chair, and smash it through the window.  He then used some of the slivers to pick at the lock; it was slow, painful work, and it was also very loud.  And so when Adrian finally forced the lock after twelve exhausting minutes, he found a large grand piano outside just waiting to capture him.

       There was still enough space for Adrian to dash outside the room, but all the musk oil on the carpet made him slip and fall at the very first step.  The grand piano raised a cry of alarm with a burst from The Flight of the Valkyres, and a host of eight pianos started romping up the spiral staircase.  Adrian could only get up and stumble impotently up to the fourth floor.  The grand piano told the other eight to keep their distance, there would be no problem in capturing this petty weakling, and indeed there seemed to be no problem at all.  For it was only at the last possible minute that Lucian Rudman suddenly appeared, grabbed Adrian, flung themselves over the rail and onto a chandelier, while the grand piano smashed itself to pieces on the ground below after it leaped over the rail trying to catch them.

       Since Lucian hardly had time to explain to Adrian why she was here as the chandelier swung back to the fourth floor, I'll have to.  Constantine called the police, who didn't believe him but said that they would take it under consideration.  So he called Lucian, who he knew to be in the area.  He informed her of just enough so that when the blue bouncing ball appeared a few minutes later looking for someone to rescue Adrian, she knew just what to do.  As a new grand piano came thrusting towards them, with covers clanking and keyboards foaming, Lucian extracted a small cane from her coat.

       She tapped it on the railing of the staircase, and it burst into flame:  "Voila! I give you fire!"

       The new piano looked at the torch for a few seconds.  "No, you don't."  He boldly chomped it in his keyboards, spitting out the extinguished remains.  Lucian did not expect things to happen quite this way.  "Pick a card.  Any card."

       The piano dashed the cards to the grounds with a single move, and would have crushed the two of them, had Lucian not got the bright idea of hopping on the keyboard and running on the piano's back.  An attempt to read The Case of Wagner to the piano was ineffective (the piano only agreed to debate Nietzsche for five minutes), while threatening the piano with a horde of sleepy termites had no effect at all.  The piano was now briefly distracted over which one of these humans he should chase, giving Lucian enough time to race around the railing.  Adrian was not so lucky, or so competent, and he found himself corned by the piano that was chasing him and the seven other pianos that were jumping up the stairs towards him.  For a few vital seconds he was absolutely paralysed and for a few seconds wondered if he would have had better luck with women if he had followed Giles' advice to copy compliments out of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry.  He was so absent-minded in his final few seconds he was going to ask the piano that was about to crush him to death for its opinion.  But just then Lucian shouted out to him.  "Dive under it just when it's going to jump at you."  And that is exactly what Adrian did, and because he did so the piano did not crush him to a powder as it had thought it would, but instead was carried by its momentum to fall crashing down the staircase and therefore collided into the first of the seven pianos leaping up it, which then promptly slid into the next one that was coming, and then into the third one, while the fourth one crashed into the fifth as it was trying to escape all the other falling ones, and the sixth leaped off the staircase in the general inevitability of at all, while the innocent seventh one, the one who wore the tutu of curtains and toilet paper, was completely surprised to have the other seven pianos crash down on it.  Eight pianos slid down the staircase crashing into one enormous heap at the bottom, making an enormous racket in an attempt to sing all the finale of Die Gotterdammerung.  Although the pianos were vicious nihilists their souls were filled with infinite regret and pain that none of them knew how to fill the soprano role.

       But before Adrian and Lucian could claim victory, the Leader, the grandest and largest piano of them all appeared.  He was most angry, and especially at his pianos.  Other pianos had attempted to conquer the world and had done far better renditions of Die Gotterdammerung as they destroyed themselves falling down staircases.  Why the leader would have wept at the great rendition the pianos-falling-down-staircases did at Leningrad in 1953.   And there was of course the great twenty piano crash up in Paris in 1937, where they did a rendition of Aida so beautiful, that it made all the onlookers cry, and only partially because there was so much sawdust was in the air.  Personally, the leader's favorite example of pianos falling down staircases was the rendition six pianos made of a crucial song from the second act of Siegfried as they fell down the brand new Damascus Opera House in 1968, which otherwise hampered the audience for classical music in that country.  For although they did not possess the grand emotional impact of the French pianos, they had a special quality in the musical timbre of their death agonies.  But what the leader was most angry at was the continued existence of Adrian Verrall and Lucian Rudman.  So he promptly started hopping up the staircase for the opportunity to crush them to death.

       Since there were only ten pianos, and nine of them were destroyed, Adrian yelled at the people in the theatre to run for their lives and make their escape.  This they had no trouble in doing, and they all fled the building, including the mother of the young boy with the red hair who was reprimanded very seriously for falling asleep in the city streets.  The only person who did not leave was the mother's ex-husband who was absolutely shocked at the destruction of nine of his best pianos.  That they should be destroyed because they were psychopathic hardly mattered to him, and the fact that they would soon be replaced by the insurance was not as half as important as the opportunity he could get from browbeating Adrian into giving him all his money.  So when two police finally entered the building, the husband did not leave but instead angrily demanded satisfaction.  When one policeman took careful aim at the advancing piano, took such careful aim indeed that he would have snapped the piano wire in such a way as to have stopped him completely, the husband angrily slugged him unconscious.  Just to be on the safe side he also slugged the police officer who was supposed to cordon off the neighborhood.  Both actions would have fatal consequences.

       The Leader had now leaped up to the second floor, while Adrian and Lucian could only reach the fifth floor.  Their doom appeared to have been sealed and sent first-class courier post to Lisbon, when the blue bouncing ball appeared.  The ball was pleasant, and introduced to the Leader the concept of atonal music, tried to get him to admit that just because T.W. Adorno was a Marxist and a Jew he could still be a fairly good music critic and was even better than Martin Heidegger, and arguably even more authentic in bed, and also more generous in handing out ice cream to children whom he had never met.  When this did not work, the ball resorted to truly desperate measures and tried to engage him in this country's constitutional problems; ordinarily this was good at halting whole battalions in place, but the Leader was made of firmer stuff (oak wood to be precise).  The ball tried to sing the Israeli national anthem in an attempt to provoke the Leader, but this too was unsuccessful.  In a really final move, the ball did what it had never done before, and proceeded to jump up and down on the Leader as hard as it could.  But this did not damage the Leader the slightest.  It did however give Lucian and Adrian the opportunity to pick up a very large bench and throw it down the staircase.  Down the steps it fell and fell, and it came very close to the Leader, who then brushed it aside with a wave of his legs, causing the bench to crash just centimeters from the ex-husband causing him to finally faint and shut up.

       There was only one room on the fifth floor whose door wasn't locked:  that was the attic.   It was a large room, filled with assorted junk, and a door-sized glass windows opposite from the entrance.  Like all the windows in the building, it led to a narrow ledge and then straight down to the street below.  Lucian noticed that the window's large red curtains had not been drawn, and this gave her an idea.  She rushed over to the window, and cut the curtain pinning with a special saber that can cut through most anything, which you can request for free from all good video-games magazines.  The window was now completely blocked by the curtains, and the two of them now had to barricade the doors while Lucian had to think of something else.  As they rammed old cardboard scenery, a large number of perfectly innocent rocking horses, some old chairs covered with large civilizations of spider webs, books full of old opera programs that Adrian had to be prevented from stopping and reading, large boxes full of nothing useful at all but which were conveniently very heavy, as they stuffed all this and much more against the door against the Leader's repeated onslaughts, the Leader decided he would answer Adrian's question about the desirability of trying to seduce women with the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

       "I heartily recommend it actually.  I've known asthmatic, half impotent men who managed to sire twenty children a piece off perfectly sincere lesbians using nothing but Rilke's notebooks.  The more intelligent the woman the better your chances of success.  Nothing compares to Rilke."

       "What about Valery?" asked Adrian.

       "Not so hot.  They only rate thirteen children on the asthmatic-lesbian hit list, though they do have a certain flair with vindictive lesbians.  Of course, that's better than those who read the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo, one of the most valued but unread poets of this century.  People who try to read his poetry end up trying to work for human rights and general decency.  No good at all.  And the person who is almost as bad is Mandelstam, the great Russian-Jewish poet who died horribly under Stalin's purges but is never as honored as much as Solzhenitsyn, even though he's a much better artist.  I've known many a potential seducer who looked up Mandelstam for great lines and ended up as respected translators of East European novelists."


       "Of course.  Why else do you think D.M. Thomas and Paul Wilson became translators?"

       "What about Browning and Tennyson?" asked Lucian.

       "Browning can get about nine children out of really tough lesbians, but I've known too many good men who tried to use Tennyson and ended up being garroted."

       "What about T.S. Eliot?" asked a curious Adrian.

       "Oh please.  T.S. Eliot is what Jains use to stop their daughters from becoming nymphomaniacs.  Pushkin is good; you can get thirty-five children from very dull lesbians, and Lawrence can be useful in a tight spot.  But Rilke is really the best, and I would heartily encourage you to use him at all opportunities, were it not for the fact that I'm going to crash through this door in a few seconds and crush you into a nasty red smudge." And with those words he broke through the barricade.

       Lucian thought something up very quickly, and grabbed the red wrapping off a very dilapidated chair.  "En Garde.  Ole.  Come over Here, very quickly and not too brightly."  The Leader sneered the overture to Tannhauser and dashed towards her.  But she pirouetted excellently, and he missed her.  But the second time he advanced towards her she had to jump on one of the old rocking chairs to escape being crushed.

       "Adrian!" she hissed.


       "Go through the curtains!"

       "I can't do that!"

       "Quickly go through and walk into the rest of the room.  Do it quietly and make sure that my way is not impeded.  Now Go!"

       Adrian slipped behind the curtain, fortunate in the fact that the Leader decided that the girl was a more dangerous target.  He carefully opened the window while Lucian continued to taunt the Leader.  She excellently maneuvered him into a wall filled with egg cartons, complete with eggshells, but when she tried to pile him into a wall filled with the scenery from a Canadian version of Madame Butterfly, complete with a happy ending, the Leader nearly broke her neck by sweeping aside the couch she was standing one.  Lucian realized that there was nothing more she could do, and she rushed behind the curtain.  Once behind it, she abruptly stopped, and quickly slid onto the ledge of the fourth floor where Adrian was hiding.  But the Leader had no way of knowing that...

       The Leader, as well as Adrian and Lucian, also had no way of knowing that at just this minute the Chelmnickons had appeared in front of the Lord Strathcona Center of the Performing Arts.  Mrs. Chelmnickon was now loudly complaining how tired she was from walking around everywhere and wanted to go somewhere to sit down.  She gave her husband "permission" to stop for a few seconds at a magazine shop in order to look at the most recent issue of the Economist, while she decided to stroll a few feet away.  She then looked into an antiques shop and saw inside a flower of blue crystal; she then remembered that this was what the original flower had looked like just before it was smashed three days before their marriage, and she saw at the base a little red and white dot indicating that it had been imported from Poland.  She was just about to enter the shop, when the Leader of the world's grand pianos crashed through the top window of the attic of the Lord Strathcona Center, leaving Lucian Rudman just barely enough time for her to shout:"Ohmrsvivianchelmnickonlookoutfortheenormusgiantpianothatisabouttofallonyour...   Oh, never mind."

next: The Watermelon Koala Cortage

previous: The Holder of the Averroes Seal

Home links reviews fanklub t-shirts books annotations archive