The Tale of the Piano Tuner / by Sophia Leenay

Dialogue: make the words on the page “Come Alive!” My creative writing teacher encouraged us to eavesdrop, to familiarize ourselves with the common pauses and verbal markers of uncertainty or fear or excitement.


How often we express doubt with our mouths! Mouth doubt dripping ums likes I’m Sorry!s uh huhs non-committal glottal rebukes maybe bulwarks I’m not really sure how I even feels or how to put that all into words words.

There should be more theory of the inadequacy of language.


I showed up at the dimly lit Japanese restaurant with a wrinkled shirt and my moon goddess necklace (not that it has a moon goddess; just a moon but, to me, it feels worthy of moon goddess worship) and a visible panty line. I brought a gift for this dude that I’d never met.


It was a $.99 book of fairy tales. The first story had all this great shit like a cruel yet charming wealthy man and these mysterious deaths of his previous brides, beautiful jewels, a poor virgin, the loss of virginity, fresh lilies in every corner, the virgin bride’s nimble dainty piano playing fingers. A kind and gentle piano tuner who saves the day.


Tim was a piano tuner.

So I brought the book for him.

I had decided I liked him the moment I saw a scanned print on his OKCupid profile, complete with the gentle neon insignia of the date in the corner. He was about 12 or 14 years old and had major head gear and either the head gear or head phones rigged to his head with masking tape, fleece pajama pants with dogs or footballs on them, and he was seated with crossed legs in front of a miniature keyboard.


I’ve never been able to replicate dialogue faithfully. I backtrack, I meander, I’m never certain that my mouth can translate my feelings, a completely foreign alphabet.


“I was 18 when I had my first kiss, and my first boyfriend, and my first date.”

“Well, you’ve got me beat.”

“Wait, what does winning look like?”

We talked about our miserable first relationships.


“I sang karaoke last night. Horribly. To Joni Mitchell. I completely had the wrong key and my voice cracked.”

“I could never do something like that. That is so terrifying to me.”

“That’s the whole point of karaoke though! No one is good. Well there are good people, but it’s a completely socially acceptable space to get up and fail at something. Everyone collectively agrees to run the risk of humiliating themselves.”

“I could never do it.”


Something happened here where I got lost in the numerology of my grief. My mother died at 33. In seven years, Tim would be 33. I was 23. In ten years, I would be at my mother’s age when she died.


“My mother died at 33. In seven years (maybe six was what I said) will you be happy with the life you’re living? If you die will you be content? Satisfied?”

“I’m not really proud of the hours of mindless TV I’ve watched, the number of times I’ve jacked off to internet porn or the few times I’ve written some three minute songs and showed them to extremely close friends who said they were ‘good’ or ‘really cool.’ I know I’m not in a good place, clearly.”


I said I was tired. He said he’d grab the bill and I could leave. I said I’d wait. This was how our second date would end.


A week later I sent him an email. “I feel like an asshole and I know I’m acting like an asshole. I don’t think that I can date you. I don’t really have clear answers but I just know that I had times this week when I could totally have hit you up but I didn’t. I’m sorry.”


He thanked me and told me to take care. Two whiskeys clink, their neatness trembles.


Sophia Leenay is a 6’3” native Minnesotan. She received her diploma in French Studies at the University of Minnesota upon completion of a senior thesis that charted changing feminist analyses of the Marquis de Sade, to which she owes her somewhat bleak outlook on love. She currently lives in Minneapolis.