There were no pianos in Waterloo. Gray thought he might cry. He wasn't there by choice as it was, and to be denied his piano was just plain painful. It was his one purely physical release, he said.
The guards didn't sympathize. They were hulking fellows with flat, stubby hands and cheap cologne and they had the infinitely enjoyable purely physical release of knocking around various inmates from time to time. They loved god, their jobs and sex; they hated women and whiny men (which are, of course, comparable to women). They were Grade-A, all-American, football-playing, apple pie-eating good ol' boys who knew enough to resent the term and resent even more the bitterness with which feminists, minorities, and non-Southern folk uttered it. In any case, they were content without dexterous fingers.
Gray was not. He wasn't hulking and he disliked abuse. He was agnostic, respected women, had been too much of a runt to play football and considered himself European at heart. All he wanted was his Steinway.
He had the hands of a pianist. At least they were like the hands of a pianist; they were oddly long-fingered and graceful but they had a vaguely arthritic look to them. People would always compliment him on the grace of his digits, inquiring if he played, politely ignoring the gnarls. He did not have arthritis, of course; that would have hindered his true calling. He did play the piano though and he loved the look of his hands because people would approach him and initiate a conversation about them, leaving him a position to adopt all sorts of humble posturings ("Oh, do you play?" "Un peu, un peu…you know how it is…passion does not skill make."). This humility gave him a tragic air, as if he had been denied his one great dream and had to make do in other ways. This was not the case, but then few people knew that.
It was strange and disproportionate that he had such long fingers because he was, in general, a small, precise man. His precision came from the fact that he had the income to indulge his penchant for Epicureanism and that writing, in his opinion, enhanced one's awareness of "one's self and surroundings." That was his profession; he was a writer. He also instructed the poor over-privileged kids at a particular prestigious university, but that was just a day job, just a way to support his art. No, he said (not infrequently, and again with that tragic humility) no. I'm not a teacher. Writing is my life. All else pales in comparison. One wondered after listening to one such rapture how he could write about anything other than his escritoire since that was apparently all he saw in full color. It wasn't, of course, but he had a knack for useless hyperbole that amused his students and annoyed his critics (and editors).
In his time at this particular university, he taught several units of freshman comp and English Literature. (at least one of his own novels, even if written under a penname, was always required reading). He strayed from these two subjects frequently as he felt it was his moral duty to impart as much of his wondrously broad knowledge to his students as possible in what was, sadly, far too short a time. On the infrequent occasions that he touched briefly, flittingly upon the slight matter of composition he would take valuable lecturing time ("Now do you see what I'm sacrificing, ladies and gentlemen?") to critique their "painfully elementary" pieces individually.
"No. No, don't do that. Don't make references." This was said one day in a moment of insight which soon showed itself in the pages of his own novels. "Hacks make references. Geniuses never make references—genius, you see, lies in not having to inform your work with that of other people. No, geniuses are those referred to." After that day he avoided all statements containing references to persons, places, things or ideas that he did not invent himself ("In short, all popular, contemporary proper nouns are useless to the serious writer.") The little humor there was to be found in his earlier works was near-absent in those post-epiphany.
"Professor Donovan, that was the most crucial line of the whole piece! I mean, you can't just cut the thesis!" Students were often heard saying such things after the professor had made some especially senseless or brutal slashes. That was his name; Dr. ("Professor, as my students call me…I'm not that snooty (cue silly society laugh)") Gray Donovan, onetime husband to Lily, an off-off-off Broadway actress, and sometime father to Irma (family name), a blank-faced fourteen year old.
His last book, They Called Her Lola, had covered (among few other things) the treachery and innate bitchiness of all actresses, whilst stipulating (quite diplomatically, he thought) that it was only a manifestation of genius (geniuses being half-crazed). Lily lived comfortably in Long Island upon the income of her greatest role of all; wife to Professor Donovan. Her hobbies there included directing (and starring in) various community theatre productions which invariably garnered rave reviews from local women's organizations and auxiliaries, and well as chairing the Greater Long Island Hospital Volunteer Association (GLIHVA). She liked the acronym because it sounded vaguely Indian and she had always wanted to go to India and she thought being Hindu sounded fun and sexy with the Kama Sutra and all, and don't you agree? There were rumors that she had gotten her position because she had slept with a prominent hospital chairman, but she knew she had gotten it the old-fashioned way; flattery and fame. Maybe she wasn't very famous, but she was great at flattery and the fact that she had been a stage actress was very glamorous to some of the matrons of GLIHVA. Despite her post, she hated the hospital volunteering bit. She loved the cocktail party and benefit dinner/dance bit just fine, but the sick old people were off-putting and, well, smelly. They weren't even remotely Indian, nor were they rich for the most part. They were boring. And smelly. She had tried severally times to get more emphasis placed on washing their hair several times a day ("Perhaps we could order vast quantities of raspberry shampoo?") without success. To the relief of the regular patients she avoided the hospital at all costs and stuck to the function halls where GLIHVA held its meetings. She was contented with a simple life and her daughter was contented with a simple nanny, so Gray and his accountant were content with a simple alimony/child support settlement.
Of course, it was all only so simple and contented in retrospect. Gray would now have sold his hands (much more highly prized than his soul) to have such trifles as alimony and silly daughters as his main concerns. His current concerns-Billy clubs and laundry duty-were certainly much less palatable.