'Exit Music' by Beth Ann Spencer
Killing it, she was, just murdering the shit out of the funky keyboard we came across in an alley behind the Famous Musician’s house. Always on the first of the month when the big double-duty dump truck hit his part of town we’d wander by after school to see what he was putting outside his back gate besides the Johnny Walker empties and, lately, a lot of Chivas. Rita knew lots of piano riffs by heart, and though of course the thing wasn’t plugged in and was even missing one of the black keys in the middle—she hunched over and whaled on it until we could almost hear something we didn’t know we’d been waiting for, something from Queen or, I don’t know, Little Richard. Mitch and I were both in love with her and I wondered, watching her, whether he noticed the drop of sweat glistening above her lip or the tiniest edge of red bra flashing through the armhole of her t-shirt. A thing to remember about Rita was that she had been in group homes almost her whole life, until last year when her mom finally got out of jail and landed a job at Costco, so Rita was in general kind of an angry person, although less so the last few months. Pump it up, Mitch was singing, until you can feel it, and I thought for the millionth time how much better the old pissed-off Elvis Costello was than the married mellow man. On and on Rita played, some demon in her mind sending waves of rage out the ends of her fingers and the short, dyed dreads on her head. Like she was a sunspot, maybe, ready to explode and cause all the volcanoes on earth to erupt at once. In the few months we’d known her Rita had never given Mitch or me a single sign she wanted to be more than a friend, so neither of us pressed it, which was just as well because it saved us from having to get into some chest-bumping business ourselves. Clanging and banging in the alley alerted us the dump truck was coming and Rita had to stop, but she didn’t really want to. Eyeing it warily, as if it were an auroch, she played until it got right up to us, then kicked the keyboard so hard it fell against the fence, and the only sound after that was my thundering heart.