Sean Johnston

The Expert

    I saw an expert creating a disturbance. I didn't care what the distraction was to be from; I wanted to see this disturbance. She was down by the wishing well, on the other side of the river. Beside the wishing well was an iron sculpture you will swear is a dinosaur from one angle, a scale-model pickup truck from another, but when she sat down on her little stool, it was a piano.
    Where did the sound come from? Where did her fingers touch that old rusted sculpture to make such music? She closed her eyes.
    I was the only one listening. A young boy stood beside me briefly, then looked at me, then left. He had the same blank face the whole time. An older woman with blue hair jogged by slowly, toward the people stretching in front of Brainsport. I smiled at her. I said isn't this wonderful? I used an exclamation point instead of a question mark, but who could hear me over the large sound of the piano?
    The old lady shook her head no and kept jogging.
    Okay, fine. I will listen by myself. It was hard for everyone in those days-we were all supposed to be aware. A distraction expert had just as difficult a time as the real deal, the criminal or the legislator, the mediocre artist or the lobbyist.
    I didn't care. I stood and watched this magnificent creature turn this cold block of rusted iron into a child's toy piano. I beamed at her as she turned that toy piano into a real, black and white piano.
    As she finished up, the stars stayed hidden in the clear day's sky, the birds softly wondered their own polite questions, and the expert stood and stepped away from the sculpture. I was on my knees in the fountain, gathering change to give her.
    Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a crowd of people murmuring. Hackey-sack players; mothers with babies strapped to their bodies; salesmen with blackberries and invisible phones; service industry types with smudged aprons; the whole gamut. Above the crowd, city officials nailed a minor celebrity to the door of a church.
    The expert walked toward me and sat on the edge of the fountain. She took her sandals off and turned to face me, lowering her feet delicately into the clear water.
    "It gets harder every day," she said.
    "You distracted me."
    "You're in love, that's all."
    I looked up at her from where I knelt in the fountain. Was it really so easy? Did her thin black hair do me in by simply hanging, bluntly cut and brushing lightly her neck where the skin of her shoulders ducked in under the white of her dress? Was it her eyes, which I swear I never looked into, afraid to get too close? But here a stone’s throw from the real action, I was sure I was brighter than that.
    "Nonsense," I told her, and held both hands out to her, open as a cup and full of coins. "I think it’s mostly silver."
    She smiled and waved the coins away, dismissing the coins, not me. I set them on the edge of the fountain. On the lip of concrete that jutted up in a circle to hold the water in.
    "We will dry our money here," she said. "If it's taken before we get back, well . . . it was never ours anyway."
    I stood anxiously. We were going somewhere. I didn't even notice, at the time, the crazy way she talked about money.

        * * * * *

   "I will tell you what I am a distraction from," she said.
   "Shhh," I told her. "I don't want to know." And I put my finger to her lips.
   She started again: "But you have wormed your way into my heart."
   "No," I said. "Let's keep it real."
   "Please. No cliches," she said, closing her eyes and pressing the back of one hand to her forehead. She swooned. At least it seemed like swooning. I don't know. It was a gesture from black and white movies. It was as if she loved cliches, but didn't want to.
   We were facing each other in the dark room at the bottom of my building. She was tempted to faint. I was tempted to catch her and race with her slender body in my arms, to the exit, to the stairwell, up 25 flights of stairs, and up, up to the roof of the building where all the stars were visible, and the all the sky in this flat world. We could spin in each others' arms, all the colours could bleed into each other and our breath could leave us in happy gasps.
   There was a knock on the door.
   "Answer it," she whispered. I let go of her and she let herself fall back onto the bed.
   It was a pair of suits from the city, and they were there to see her. One had a briefcase, one had a clipboard.
   "I don't know her name," I told them.
   "Believe us," they said, "you don't need to. The expert in your bed is the one we're after."
   "Leave us alone, please," she said from behind me.
   How could I? But I did what I was told, and went to the kitchen. I had four glasses of water on a tray when I came back to the room. The city people sat across from her on the loveseat. She sat on the chair by the window and signed a paper on the clipboard, then handed it to them and smiled at me.
   "Some water?" I asked, and set the tray on the coffee table in the middle of the room.
   We all drank from our glasses, me standing and looking at them all in turn, they only interested in the form on the clipboard. Finally they nodded and stood. One of the city officials took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the expert.
   "Everything is changing," he said, sadly.
   "We are just not sure," the other one said.
   "We have to evaluate," they both said.
   "It's okay," the expert told them, then stepped toward me and took my hand. "I'm not sure myself."
   We walked to the door and they left without another word.

        * * * * *

   In this day and age you don't ask questions.. It was cooler than it had been in weeks. I was still amazed at the new woman walking perfectly on my arm. I was amazed by her abilities, and by her beautiful way she rolled with the punches.
   "This is a good severance package," she told me. "I'm happy."
   "Me too," I told her, and she leaned on my shoulder as we walked.
   As we walked down the tree-lined street she let her right hand stray, touching the fences by our sidewalk lightly, making them sound first like breath over a half-empty bottle, then like a chorus of bagpipes miles away.
   I told her I couldn't believe it. I said touch everything, and she smiled and quietly turned parked cars into steel guitars, trees into bass choirs.
   The poor news anchor nailed to the church door was growing weary as we walked by him. He was having trouble breathing. This was his last job too, and my beautiful expert couldn't take it anymore. We pulled the nails out and laid him at the church door. When she wiped the forehead above his closed eyes with a cold cloth, she wept as her ministrations made the sound of a wet finger on a wine glass.
   Another blue-haired lady ran down the street and shook her head no.
   We walked slowly home, her clasping her hands around my arm, leaning into me. When we were naked I said, you can trust me, there in the cool dark room, and I waited in the silence to feel her, my elegant, unemployed expert.