Men had taken back up the much-sung practice of stepping out for smokes and never returning home, and it seemed all these men were winding up in Oklahoma. Deadbeats from the Mississippi Delta, the Carolinas, even the bustling sarcastic Eastern cities, and some from the West, unraveling the sorry destinies they’d manifested. These men had wanton meanness to vent and many were out of cash. They had, in the only matter that matters, failed. The latest trouble was someone had stolen a hulking ancient piano from Second Baptist. The empty space where the instrument had sat looked like a parcel of the moon and the sheriff couldn’t get it out of his mind. Before all the boarding houses had filled he always had a suspect in mind for any crime, and then he could attempt to prove the suspect innocent and often he was successful and often happily so. He didn’t know any of these first-time drifters from the Mayor of Pittsburgh. He didn’t know what they would or wouldn’t conceive, what they could or couldn’t carry out.
The sheriff had a pair of deputies, junior and senior, though the titles didn’t indicate differing prowess or promotion due to merit. Gil had been in the job a year longer was all. Gil’s talent was for brewing perfect coffee and Tommy could twist up balloon animals when field trips stopped by the station. They could both grapple tolerably well. The sheriff and his deputies hadn’t solved a case in months and when the sheriff brought in the girl he told folks it was to show up his deputies, to light a fire under them. The girl was said to be psychic but the word used these days was clairvoyant. The sheriff took Tommy’s desk and told him to sit in the empty receptionist’s station. The sheriff was pulling a stunt, whatever the reason, by bringing in the girl. Deep down he had always believed in curses and gods and ghosts. The girl had still long fingers and hair that looked gray in most light and that she usually kept hung down her front and often clung to with two hands like someone clinging to a rope. The girl’s own father had run off. She was said to have Indian blood but she was probably as white as Garth Brooks. She didn’t sit at Tommy’s desk but instead went onto the back patio and shimmied the helium tank into the autumn sun and filled balloon after balloon and watched them float into the sky. The sheriff watched her for what felt like most of the day but was about fifteen minutes. He went out and stood near her with a quizzical yet open expression on his face.
She said, “When a balloon disappears, I hear the piano.”
John Brandon was raised on the Gulf Coast of Florida. He spent the last two years at Ole Miss and this coming year will be teaching at Gilman School in Baltimore. He has written two novels, Arkansas and Citrus County, both from McSweeney’s, the latter of which has recently been released in paperback. His shorter work has appeared in GQ, The Oxford American, Subtropics, The New York Times Magazine, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Believer, Mississippi Review, Tampa Review, Saw Palm, ESPN the Magazine, The Pinch, Yalobusha Review, and others. Last season he wrote a blog on SEC football for GQ.com and this coming fall he will write about all of college football for Grantland.com.