A Trade at a Piano Bar

The music from the piano jumped from the keys and into her ears. Sometimes she’d close her eyes and pretend she wasn’t stuck behind a bar, with smoke twirling around her, sticking to her hair, and following her home. Then, there were them men. Always drunk, and always juvenile.
She had always loved the piano music though – sometimes it was the only thing that brought her into work, but on that particular day, the beautiful ringing was all jumbled up and mixed in with the carnival music drifting from across the street. Laughter and screams followed closely behind the horrid sound.
The only reason she minded so much, was that it seemed to be the same carnival that her dad had taken her to when she was eight. Well, it seemed similar anyways. Same street – Sassafras, same name – “The Land of Imagination”.
Her mother hadn’t wanted her to go; what with the controversy of the carnival itself. The day the carnival had arrived there was talk of a room. The middle-aged mothers sat around their high-top tables and tea parties gossiping about, ‘The Smoke Room’. Her father, being the careless sort, took her despite her mother’s unease. His support for this parenting decision was that he’d, “Keep an eye on her.” Perhaps he should have kept two on her. Not thirty minutes later, one badly sprained ankle proved him wrong.
That’s when the man with two eyes appeared. Or at least it felt that way, as if he had just materialized from thin smoke. One minute she was on the ground, and the next he was there, hand extended, apple in hand. Caramel with colored sprinkles. He wore a mask, she remembered. However, after seeing her obvious fear, he removed it to display one blue eye and one green. He took her hand, placed the apple in her tiny hand, and stole her away. She’d heard about the room, but it didn’t evoke fear in her; more like immense curiosity. Maybe it was the man too though. As a child, she had been so enthralled with his eyes, so mesmerized – as if in a trance. No other detail about his appearance could be pulled from the smog of that day, just a swirling grey with his eyes peering through, reaching out to her.
The room contained so much oxidation and smoke, she felt as if she were in another world. At that age, she truly believed that she was in fact traveling between realms. If it weren’t for the connection of their hands, she’d have thought she was flying.
Everything after that day was off. Her dad hadn’t even noticed she’d been missing. That room seemed to stop time. There wasn’t anything actually in the room, and yet it felt so valuable, so compacted with all of the most wonderful things. She never saw the man again, though she tried to desperately to return the carnival. After relaying her mini adventure, her mother refused to even let her leave the house for weeks. She’d become obsessed. Despite the smoke, it was as if one could see everything with such clarity in that room.
Something poked at her attention, pulling her back to the bar. A group from the carnival crashing through the door. Rolling her eyes, she continued to clean the empty glasses before her.
One from the group walked to the bar, “What’ll you have?”
“Just a soda.”
She couldn’t help but scoff, was he kidding? “Ok.” After pouring him a soda, she returned to her busy work. The group he had departed from already seemed to be high off of something, whether that be alcohol or some drug she didn’t know. Freaks.
“What do I owe you?”
“$3.79”
He scoffed, “For a soda?” Her response was a disinterested shrug. He clicked his tongue, as if buying time. “I’ll make you a trade.”
Sighing in clear frustration, she looked up at what was in his outstretched hand. A perfectly round apple, covered in sticky caramel and colored sprinkles. Finally looking into his eyes, she saw two. One blue and one green.

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