Leah Browning, “The Virtuoso (Circa 2018)”

The pianist strides onto the stage in a long, form-fitting silver column dress, its sequins catching the light as she bows to the audience. Behind her, the orchestra members are in their seats, fanned out in a semicircle. She arranges herself on the piano bench, smoothing her dress and placing her hands in her lap as the conductor raises his baton, the violinists and flautists silently lifting their instruments, and with a fluid movement from the conductor, the piece begins. 

Until her solo, the pianist remains seated, moving almost imperceptibly in time with the orchestra, entranced, until there is a lull in the music and the piano enters it, the woman’s hands flowing over the keys as if through water: glimmering, effortless. She plays without sheet music, as if the notes have been absorbed into her body. The concerto is alternately a bright and sparkling river, with its various twists and turns, and an ocean roiling and coming to rest. 

When she plays the last note of the third movement, there is a long pause, her fingers hovering over the keys before landing in her lap again. 

The conductor’s baton remains frozen in place, and the audience remains motionless as the stage lights darken and a spotlight frames the pianist. She rises from the piano bench and faces the audience, raising her arms as everyone watches in silence, and strips off her dress, revealing a wrestler’s singlet, also silver and dazzling with sequins. 

A second spotlight illuminates a single chair placed to the side of the stage. A woman in a tight pink mini dress rises and walks toward the piano. 

The two women meet center stage and face each other, bowing before circling each other predatorily like cats. In the room is hushed anticipation. The pianist strikes first, punching the other woman in the face so hard that her head snaps back, and the woman in pink never quite recovers; the pianist beats her down to the ground and doesn’t rest until she stops twitching.  

As the second spotlight dims, leaving the crumpled pink dress in darkness, the pianist raises her arms above her head in a wide, triumphant V. Her face is glowing. The conductor brings down his baton and turns, signaling the end of the composition, and the audience erupts into frantic applause. 

Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books and six chapbooks. Orchard City, her second chapbook of flash fiction, was published by Hyacinth Girl Press. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Four Way Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Threepenny Review, The Broadkill Review, The Homestead Review, Newfound, Watershed Review, and elsewhere. Browning’s work has also appeared in anthologies including Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence from White Pine Press.