April 28, 2016
Excerpt: Golden Delicious, by Christopher Boucher
by Melville House
Golden Delicious is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Christopher Boucher’s acclaimed debut, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. It’s a tour-de-force unlike any other, one that George Saunders calls a “crazed, beautiful book—a joyful example of necessary experimentation.”
Golden Delicious chronicles the narrator’s rich, vivid childhood—driving to the local flea market with his father, causing trouble at school, pedaling through the neighborhood on his Bicycle Built for Two. It’s a novel that takes you to the heart of family, love and memory.
Here’s a short excerpt from a chapter titled “Prayer Piano.”
One day when I was fourteen, my father heard a prayer about a free piano. This sounded meaningful, so my Dad prayed back that yes, he was interested. The prayer prayed back the name of the manufacturer—a name we didn’t recognize. Fine, my Dad prayed back. You have to move it yourself, said the return-prayer, and my Dad prayed that we would. But his truck had the flu, so we needed to borrow one. “Could we ask Joump?” I said.
“Let’s go see the Possum,” my Dad said.
The Possum was, or was not, a possum. Everyone called him one, though, because he was covered in fur. I don’t know if he was really hairy, or if in fact he was a possum with normal hair. One fact about the Possum? I’d never seen him eat anything but energy bars. Also, beer. Do possums eat energy bars?
The Possum had a shed at the edge of Appleseed, out near the Appleseed Library. Someday I’ll sow that story— the story of the Library. That library had secret books, books that I’d never heard anyone talk about or mention in conversation. (Not that people talk about books. But if they did.) Once I opened a page in a book and I saw that all of the words were naked. I’d never seen naked words before! For example.
I was standing at the door, lost on a road in my mind, when the Possum opened it. “_____!” he said. “Ralph! Come in! I’m cooking—you want something?”
“We’re not hungry,” said my Dad, “but we were hoping that we could ask you for a favor.”
“Anything!” said the Possum.
We drove out to South Appleseed to see the piano. The owner said that she might or might not be home, but that the piano was easy to spot: she prayed it stood in a field about a hundred yards from a big blue house.“Why is it in the field?” my Dad had prayed.“Because,” she prayed,“I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
We located the blue house and, a hundred yards away, the piano, vowing like a soldier against a backdrop of flat, electric green. The piano and bench stood all alone in that field, and it looked like they’d been there for some time—the piano was sunk up to its knees in mud. Moss grew over the instrument’s chest, and vines crawled up one shoulder. “It’s a part of the earth,” I said.
“Does it even work?” asked my Dad.
“Only one way to find out,” said the Possum, and he sat down at the bench. My father and I sat down beside him, and the three of us studied the keys.
“We’re here now,” my Dad said to the piano. “So you can play.”
The Possum looked at my father.
My Dad leaned closer. “Do it. Play!” he said louder. “What are you doing?” said the Possum.
“I’m waiting for it to start playing,” my Dad said. “It’s not one of those types of pianos,” said the Possum. “Is that the kind you were looking for?”
“I didn’t know there was a difference,” my Dad said. “There is,” said the Possum. “There are automatic pianos and manual ones. This one’s manual.”
My father nodded—the Possum would know. Something that is surprising about the Possum? Is that he was actually a very good piano player—a child prodigy. He used to travel the world, playing music that no one else could. You were probably expecting that we brought along the Possum for his truck only, and it’s true that we needed his truck. But we could have asked Uncle Joump; we could have asked one of the Muir Drop Forgers. Of the three of them, the Possum was the only one who knew anything about pianos.
Which is why, sitting there on the bench in the field, I asked him to teach me something. “Can you show me a cord?” I said.
“C-hord,” he said. “There’s a silent h.”
“C-hord,” I said.
“It’s been twelve years since I’ve played a note of music,” said the Possum.
I made my face pacific.
The Possum put his paws on three keys and let them rest there. He closed his eyes. I leaned in—I was expecting to hear something amazing.
The Possum pressed down on the keys, but I didn’t hear any notes—what I heard instead was a click, and the sound of the point of view shifting.
Then the Possum and the Father and _____ looked at each other. “Where’s the music?” said _____.
The Possum played another chord and the point of view shifted again: you were confused and disappointed.
“This piano is out of tune, or something,” said the Possum.
Just then a figure came running down the road. She was dressed in chartreuse green spandex and her face was hampden: bright but sad. She cut across the field and ran up to you. “You found the piano,” she said.
Your father stood up. “It’s ours,” he said. “We got here first.”
“I know it,” she said, catching her breath. “I’m the one you prayed to.”
“What’s the story with this thing?” the Possum asked.
“It was my mother’s,” said the spandexer. “But I don’t play.”
“It doesn’t make any sound,” you said.
“Of course it doesn’t,” she said. “I said that in the prayer.” “You did?” said your father.
“I prayed, it’s a POV Piano—a point-of-view piano.” “I thought that was the name of the brand,” your father said. “I didn’t know—”
“Watch,” said brightsad, and she pushed a single key on the right side. I heard the clicking sound again.
“Hear that?” she said.
“First person plural,” we said.
“Do you want it, or not?” She pushed another key and the point of view was hers: I didn’t tell them about the stories in these fields, the other instruments beneath the soil. I didn’t tell them that my mother died at this piano. I just wanted to be rid of the damn thing.
Then the Possum joined in. As the spandexer played the point-of-view melody, the Possum (I didn’t care what sound came out of it—I was just so happy to put my paws on the keys again) played the chords.
My Dad stared at the piano. “This isn’t what I envisioned,” he said.
“It is free,” said brightsad.
“I think you should take it,” the Possum told my father. “Just imagine: to be able to see things from another angle whenever you wanted.”
“I really wanted a note-based piano,” my Dad said.
“And you’ll find one,” said the Possum. “But take this one, too! Put it out in the fields! Just in case!”
The Possum was right. This was an interesting object that, at the very least, we might be able to trade down the road. My Dad said OK, and the Possum led his truck into the field. When the truck got to the piano, it knelt down and picked up the instrument in its arms. The pi- ano made a terrible pok when it lifted from the earth, and I heard the sound of snapping roots and vines. The truck put the piano in its bed, walked out of the muddy field, and settled on its tires. Then we got into the truck and the Possum pulled onto Highway Five. I turned back and waved at the spandexer, who was standing in the mud.
On the way back to Converse Street, I asked the Pos- sum why he’d stopped playing piano. “Because of a medical condition,” he said.
“What kind of medical condition?” asked my Dad.
“I developed tinnitus,” he said. “Ringing in the ears. For me, it was one single note. A slightly-out-of-tune A.”
“The note was in your mind?” I said. “Twenty-four-seven.”
“Wow,” I said. “Even as you slept?”
“It didn’t stop for a minute, not for nine years,” he said.
“Then I woke up one morning and realized I couldn’t hear the note anymore. Now I can’t hear that note, A, at all.”
“What do you mean?” my Dad said.
“My ears skip the note. I just can’t hear it.”
“And that’s why you don’t play music anymore?” I said. “How could I?” he said.
He meant it as a rhetorical question. In my mind, though, I thought: Aren’t there are a lot of other notes? Bs and Gs and Xs and Zs?
“There are,” said the Possum, “but you can’t play a melody if you’re missing notes in the phrase.”
“Wait a second,” my Dad said. Had he just heard _____’s thought?
“Of course I heard it,” said the Possum. Then he looked over at me. “Oh, fuck,” I said to Ralph. I pulled the truck over, and the Possum looked back at the piano, lean- ing to one side of the bed.
“I think I know what’s happening,” I told the Possum.
“Me, too,” I told Ralph and _____.
“What?” said _____.
“We must have screwed up the point of view when we disconnected the piano from the land,” I said.
“Fuck me,” you said. You knew we shouldn’t have agreed to help Ralph. Something awful always comes of it. “So what’s this?” he said.
“This is all points of view,” you all said.
It was; we could feel the sudden pressure of new narrators—of your point of view, and your point of view, and the passing tree’s point of view, and every morsel of road- side sand’s point of view. But there wasn’t anything we, I, or they could do except get home, plant the piano, and see if rerooting it would help. And that’s what they—we; he, he, and he—did. We/they made it back to Appleseed and I/the Possum drove the truck out into the worryfields and instructed my/his truck to drop the piano into the soil.
I dropped the piano where they told me to.
So this is my new home, I thought.
By then it was dark, so I went back to my shed, and we went into the house. We ate quickly and then lay down in our beds. The force from all those points of view was tremendous for us. The only way we could sleep was to believe that this would change—that the story, the switching POVs, the pressure, would soon be over. Make it stop, we prayed. We sent out those prayers, but they went unanswered.
Golden Delicious, by Christopher Boucher