Story — From the September 2015 issue

Tremendous Machine

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Bent, breathing deep, grinning painfully, strapped within a leather truss, unaided by anything but himself, with small stolid steps up the narrow foyer stairs, Marek, the young Atlas, carried the enormous instrument on his back into her salon. Under his feet the boards shrieked. The machine was wrapped in twine and blankets. The legs and lyre post had been removed. Down his arm a long skeleton tattoo depicted the bones inside so that the limb looked like a moving X-ray. From this burr-headed and swollen creature Fjóla wished to extract some blood and drink it and become strong.

His father, half the boy’s size, waited with her by the fireplace, his hands well scrubbed but stained by grease, unpacking his sprockets. In German he said, “I specialize in Volkswagens and Steinways, but also I work on Audis and Schimmels.” She had acquired a very good piano, he explained, as Marek affixed the legs and lyre and righted the instrument amid the twisted surround of the old windows. “But the weather up here will visit hell on every moving part. I might have to adjust the tune four times a year. Who in the household plays?” he asked.

“What household?” the Atlas chirped, looking about him at the cavernous rooms.

His father spoke a chastising Polish syllable, and the boy’s countenance deflated like a shamed dog’s.

Illustrations by Andrea DezsöAs they were leaving, the father gave her the phone number of a once-famous interpreter of the Baroque masters who had done well enough under the military government to, well, inhibit her prosperity, if you took his meaning, under Solidarity. The nation disgraced itself to reduce a talent such as Katarzyna Kloc to taking new students in her old age, but for the right price paid under the table she would surely do it.

Over the phone, Mrs. Kloc demanded six months’ tuition up front.

“Come back to Krakow at once,” she said, “and buy this volume which I will say the title if you have a pencil. You must always have a pencil now.”

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’s novel The End (Graywolf) was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. His story “The Hidden Person” appeared in the January 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Salvatore Scibona:

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