The Match Spinner
A work of fiction by Caroline Burr
“Otis Retenu: MatchSpinner.” The sign’s lettering was forty years of dry-mountain breeze paler than its original red. It was swinging above the head of the day’s first customer who was peering through the doors’ glass panels trying to catch a glimpse of Otis Retenu inside his very dark studio. Otis sat at his desk, directly in front of the door at the end of the narrow hallway. Under dusty lamplight, he flipped through pages of beautiful men and women, filing away the thank you letters he was reading from yesterday’s mail. Looking for Sebastian #15’s files, he continued to page through headshots, profiles and the obligatory “when we first met” photos until he reached the impeccable white-tooth grin of Sebastian #15. His blue eyes tore through the lifeless paper and faded into Otis’s memories as he recalled the Ravel, “Jeux d’eau” he played to achieve the perfect shade of French fountain water blue. Ten minutes before opening, customer one began lightly tapping on the door but Otis only looked up from his filing and raised a wrinkled finger.
“Patience.” Otis whispered into the darkness before looking back down at the letter in his hand:
Dear Mr. Retenu,
Thank you so much for everything you have done. You have turned my life around and I have never been happier. I can never thank you enough. True love feels as perfect as I had ever dreamed. I hope you the same incredible happiness that you have so kindly gave to me. I am sure Sebastian would love to meet you again one day. I will keep in touch.
Otis smiled. “Beautiful couple,” he said aloud. He knew Doris and Sebastian would not come back and visit him in his studio and he knew he could never leave to visit them or any of his other customers. He smiled anyways because he allowed himself to indulge in the affections of his matches. Each match carried a little of Otis out into the world when he or she left the studio for the first time. How could they not? Everything Otis knew about love spun from his piano and it was every bit a part of Otis’s heart and soul as it was the customers.
Tucking Doris’s letter into the folder behind pages of “favorite hobbies” and “memories,” he closed the heavy book. Lifting his body slowly from the desk, he re-buttoned his charcoal jacket and adjusted his Double Windsor before making his way to the main light switch. With a satisfying click, the room slowly came back to life as, one by one, the decorative glass lamps that hung from the ceiling began to illuminate the cluttered studio.
Otis unlocked the door and gestured customer one inside as he pasted a sheet of paper above the entrance. He waved an authoritative hand above his head and motioned to the day’s fresh start. There was a line of people behind the first customer, as expected, shuffling in their clusters – crying, laughing, standing quietly. The note on the paper read: “No need to wait. Leave your name and number and I will try and get through the list as quickly as possible. Patience. True Love takes time.”
The customer followed Otis into the studio room where the 8-foot grand piano sat centered in front of the ceiling-high bookshelves. The shelves were stuffed with Complete Works, Collections of, composer biographies, and overflowing with loose-leaf manuscript paper. A sketched portrait of Isaac Albeniz on the cover of a “Spanish Suite for Piano” looked up from his place atop a pile of Romantic composers. His pages were worn and a fresh tear near the coda marked long hours of composing and spinning from the day before.
Customers often insisted they wanted to be the “finish each other’s sentences” kind of couple, even from the very beginning, but Otis would have to remind them that this would take extra time.
“Idiosyncrasies like this are difficult to create,” Otis had said the night before to his customer, “You build these things on your own. Remember that what hasn’t happened yet should always be a surprise.”
“What’s wrong with creating a few… you know, ‘seeds’ or something?”
“Up to you. I can help, but I cannot guarantee that what you create now will be exactly what you want in the future.”
Carefully pinning his sleeves right above the crook of his elbow, he exhaled the lingering stains of his attachment to his most recently spun match. Leaning forward onto the red upholstered cushion of the piano bench, he positioned himself on the very worn left corner of the bench before he began his playing. Pushing a little harder into the lower keys propelled its energy through Otis and the bench because that’s what made a well-rounded match – a well-rounded match was grounded and left an impact. Because the customers tended to clarify they wanted a real lover – someone who was “down to earth” – Otis noticed that this request, and his emphasis on the low notes, started to leave as much of an impact on the bench itself as it did on him.
Spinning drained the energy from Otis’s heart because the lifting of every finger teased his heartstrings. His own emotions, that dedication to each sound he produced, rivaled the excitement of the customers. Every drop of feeling resonated high within the studio’s tall ceilings and cluttered walls. These thick ribbons of feeling and virtuosity that spun from his fingers and through the piano were not even his to keep.
As a little boy, Otis took piano lessons from a woman about 70 years of age with greying hair and a gold barrette that kept most of her hair from either falling out or into her face. Sometimes she would lean into the piano, hovering over the keys, with her head leaning slightly to one side and say, “Feel what you are playing. Feel it in your heart. In your body.” She would play her favorite five measures from a Chopin Ballade, No 4 Opus 52 and say, “Do you feel that? That’s what our strongest emotions feel like. They unravel from your fingers, weave themselves into the vibrations of this music, into your ears and then flow warmly, deep into your chest.” Next, she would stand, carefully, flatten the pleats of her long black skirts and brush away stray hairs that clung to the velvet of her clothing. “It’s simple,” she would say, “you just need an artist and someone will always be there to appreciate it.”
“Repetition is the key to remembering. But more importantly, repetition aids the process of idea construction,” Otis said as he repeated the coda inspired by the Spanish Suite for the 10th time. “Special skills and memory” was the last bit of the spinning process, but the most enjoyable for Otis. Instantaneously, the matches could interlock their feelings so seamlessly because they did not have to waste any time looking for each other. Once Otis finished spinning the physical traits, he lessened the intensity of his playing and the streams of air already spinning around the head of the match became airy and wispy – but incredibly quick. The stream would build momentum and often frighten the customers.
“I think it’s broken!” Some would shout as the streams reached terrifying speeds until they suddenly broke apart and flowed into the ears and nose of the match.
“Memories! Attention to detail!” Otis would chant over his music and the loud whirring noises that came from the tunnels of air.
When a customer one settled himself down in the plush chair, which was under stuffed, lumpy, and very comfortable, Otis pulled the round mahogany table next to him. There were forty years of routine built into these movements, but the blueprinting of every appointment excited Otis as much as it did the customer.
“Hello Mr. Retenu, I’ve heard so many good things. It is an incredible honor to finally meet you. My name is Jeremy Hale.”
Otis smiled. “I am glad I can help.” He picked up his notebook and flicked through pages of eraser shavings and fabricated biographies. So tell me,” Otis began, “Where did you two meet?”
“In college,” Jeremy said, “we were taking a business ethics class with… Professor Cubbage… and she sat next to me everyday. Then one day… I… Is this too boring, Mr. Retenu? I think this is boring. Should I think of something else?”
“It is really up to you, Jeremy. Do not worry. Think about what you daydream about. Just remember who you are too, that’s important.”
“She smiled and had an adorably gappy set of front teeth.” Jeremy looked at Otis. “Too much?” he asked.
“Of course not.”
“Her hair was in a frizzy plait dangling crookedly behind her right ear. Wait is that not any good? I can think of something better. I just think…”
Otis peered over the rim of his glasses, which rest well below the bridge of his nose. “She sounds truly lovely. Please continue when you’re ready.”
Jeremy’s grin widened and he dabbed at his sweaty brow with an exceptionally lacy handkerchief. “I can’t believe in a few hours I will finally be able to meet the love of my life.”
He began with an original nocturne, speckled with influences of Brahms and Chopin. His notes said, “clean” and “insecure.” Light fingers ran over the keys, playing deep into the chordal harmonies. The theme was sweet, but disappointed. This customer insisted he would be the only man his match had ever loved. “Wholesome,” his notes said. The melodic minor melody flitted between Otis’s long fingers as he accompanied it with a deep, dark, steady baseline. “A good daughter and dedicated.” He added the 7th of the chord to the arpeggiated baseline complementing its hollowness. There was a turn, and the major key change felt vacuous. “She finally becomes happy because she is vain and falls in love with the first person to ever call her beautiful.”
As the notes spun from Otis’s musical intellect and through his heart to his fingers, the customer watched as gusts of dust spiraled from the piano’s insides. The tiny hammers pounded the strings into thick braided ribbons of air that started spinning in tight circles close to the ground. Toes appeared and slowly legs started to form. The customer sat in his chair, eyes wide, grinning an incredible grin. The faster Otis played the faster she spun. After three hours of spinning, and after the memories had finished filling her nose and ears, Otis decrescendoed into a perfect cadence. He looked up from his sweaty palms, to see his customer in tears.
“She’s perfect,” he said.