Prompt: A Piano Bar

Prompt: Piano Bar

I got a book for Christmas from my Mom, filled with all kinds of writing prompts. This is the first prompt in the book. I kind of messed up on writing it as the prompt is actually: A Strange Request at a Piano Bar. I forgot all about the strange request part. Another thing about these prompts is that they include ten words you are supposed to use for them. I used all ten of them (that was my main focus and probably why I forgot about half of the actual prompt itself). Here are the ten words I had to use:

  • Carnival
  • Sprained
  • Mask
  • Oxidation
  • Awkward
  • Apple
  • Juvenile
  • Controversy
  • Twirl
  • Sassasfras

Anyway, look for the words in the prompt, and please let me know what you think of it!


The carnival is in town. Tents and rides are being set up as campers and trailers pull into the lot next to the site. It isn’t set to open until the following night, but there is a kind of hustle and bustle going on. Everyone working in that space knows what to do. They work in a forced harmony. The kind that comes from years of doing the same thing, over and over, in cities across the country. Sure, there are subtle differences in each city, quirks of the lots that they set up in, but overall, the setup and takedown are the same. 

“There’s a piano bar not too far from here,” Caleb explains, a half-eaten apple in his hand. 

Caleb runs one of the games that seems impossible to win. Oh, people get close enough to winning, but they rarely ever do. His prizes are getting old. Some stuffed animals that he has on display are likely older than him. He has been with the carnival his whole life. His parents met in a town just like this, his Dad running the very same game he is. His Mom, a recent and young widow. They fell in love during that week the carnival was in town and his Mom ended up leaving her old life behind, to travel with his Dad. Caleb was born a year later. He’s somewhere in his late twenties to mid-thirties. His age hard to pin down. Sometimes, you think you can guess it based on something he says. But usually, you can’t tell. It has become something of a game to him, one that his parents are in on. 

“A piano bar?” Jilly asks, her head tilting to the side. Her long and braided hair falling in front of her tattooed face. There probably isn’t a space on her body that is unmarked by ink. She has been traveling with this carnival for a couple years now, but before, she worked with another. She doesn’t talk much about her previous experiences. Jilly is another one whose age is difficult to tell. She looks young but the way she talks about her life when she does, it makes her sound older. 

“Fras you should come,” Jilly says, to the newest member of the carnival. 

Fras, or Sassafras, looks up from the task she was working on. She has heard Caleb bring up the piano bar before. He’s been talking about it, on and off, for a month, maybe more. Fras frowns before answering. She knows that Jilly is rolling her eyes at the frown, even if she can’t see her do it.

“We have so much work to do…” She says, trying to appeal to their tendencies towards working hard. 

“And we’ll finish it soon. You are nearly done anyway. Caleb, pick us up in an hour.”

Caleb flashes Jilly a grin, and then he bows low before he speaks up, a twinkle in his eyes.

“As you wish.”

He walks away, tossing that apple core in a trash bin.


“And then I stabbed him in the gut!” Jilly exclaims.

With a twirl that makes her braids whip around her head, she goes to face Fras with a frown.

“She isn’t even listening to us, Leb.” 

“I hate when you call me that, Illy.” Caleb retorts, but the nickname Illy has never bothered Jilly. Everyone knows that, even Caleb.

Fras sighs and looks over at her two companions. She is in a funk, and she knows it. She needs to pull her head out of it. But she feels an immense amount of guilt over what happened with Rigsby in the last town that they were in. She knows that a sprained ankle in the grand scheme of things isn’t  terrible. But Rigsby’s job requires him to be on his feet all the time, and he’s been out of commission. Even Rigsby himself has told Fras that it wasn’t her fault, but she doesn’t believe him. She knows she has been needlessly awkward around him. In Fras’ defense, she is an awkward person even in the best of times. 

“I am just thinking about Ri—….” 

“Stop thinking about that old man,” Jilly says. She slings an arm around Fras and pulls her tight against her. Fras can smell whatever perfume Jilly uses, a scent that she can’t readily recognize. Something that reminds her of flowers, but none that she can name.

“I—…”

“Jilly is right,” Caleb says, with a look back at the two of them. He has a kind of nervous energy, jittery tonight, that Fras isn’t sure she has ever seen from him before. “Besides, Rigsby is over it. I think he’s been enjoying bossing everyone around to help him out.”

Fras knew that Caleb had a point with that. Everyone has been grumbling about it, wondering if his sprain has improved and he is just milking now. Still, the guilt swirls around in Fras, but she tries to tamper it down.

“Okay,” she says.

“Okay what?” Caleb prompts while Jilly gives a one armed squeeze that Fras knows is supposed to be comforting and not suffocating.

“Okay, I will stop worrying about him.”

“Good!” Jilly and Caleb say at the same time.

It causes Fras to laugh, a true one, not one of her forced ones. 


“There are too many juveniles in this bar,” Caleb says aghast, as they enter. 

Fras gives a quick look around the place, and sure enough , there are a lot of kids in the place. Or maybe the more accurate description would be that there are too many families in the place. She doesn’t know what time it is, but it must be after dinner. It wasn’t dark on the walk to the bar, but it will be soon.

“Don’t cause a scene, Leb.” Jilly says, with that patent eye roll of hers. She tugs a mask over her face as she says this. The mask has been around her neck, and Fras originally thought it was a scarf or something she was wearing.

“Don’t cause a scene you say, as you pull a mask over your face?” Caleb asks, the tone of his voice fighting amusement. 

“You can still see my eyes,” Jilly replies, as if that matters any. 

Jilly moves away from them, heading towards the bar where a man in an ill-fitting suit is seated. She leans against the bar, catching the man’s attention. Fras can picture the look that Jilly is giving him. The man’s face is red, and Fras can’t remember if it was red from before he looked at Jilly, or after. Caleb lets out a groan as he watches all of this, and then he is tugging Fras towards an empty table not too far from the piano.

“Won’t it be too loud near the piano?” Fras asks, but Caleb ignores her.


Caleb stays in a dark kind of mood while they enjoy their first round of drinks. Others from the carnival make their way to the piano bar, and soon their small table is feeling a little cramped. Jilly is still talking to the man in the suit, she hasn’t bothered to look their way once. Fras feels a little like she is suffocating and extracts herself from the table with no one shouting drink orders at her.

She makes her to the bar and leans her elbows on it. She is next to Jilly and the mystery-ill-fitted-suit-man. She can just make out what he is saying to her through the din of voices. A lackluster stroke of a piano key sounds.

“And the oxidation of the wine…” 

Fras wonders how long Jilly has sat at this bar, listening to the man drone on and on about a drink he isn’t even drinking. His glass looks like it is full of some dark liquor, and she also wonders how many drinks Jilly has gotten out of him.

“Why are you wearing that mask, anyway?” The man asks, as if he suddenly just now noticed that Jilly was wearing one.

The bartender notices Fras, and she gives her order. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Jilly shrug of her shoulders. 

“Boredom,” Jilly replies.

“Oh,” the man says, a little uncertainly. 

“I work for the carnival,” Jilly continues.

“That makes some sense,” the man says, and then hurriedly he adds, “because I haven’t seen you around here before.” 

Fras gets her drink. She thinks for a moment about placing a hand on Jilly’s shoulder, making her presence known, interrupting this odd ritual of her friend’s, but she decides not to. She takes her drink, tips the bartender, and then wanders away. She doesn’t go back to the table.


The piano player has finally begun to play. Caleb seems to be in brighter spirits. He is sitting closest to the piano, his chair turned away from the rest of the table but no one seems to mind. No one even seems to notice. Fras wonders the last time she has seen Caleb look like that, and she doesn’t think she ever has. She doesn’t think it just has to do with the music, either. 

She stops studying Caleb, and instead, turns her focus to the man seated at the piano. He is wearing clothes that have seen better days, but he doesn’t look shabby for it. Maybe it is just all in the way he carries himself. He has an effortless sort of confidence, and he plays good. Probably better than is actually needed at a place full of drunks. She sees him stealing glances at Caleb, never once missing a key, never once making the piano sound discordant. He looks damn near as happy as Caleb. 

Fras stops watching the two of them, feeling suddenly like she is intruding on something. Rigsby gets her attention by asking for another drink. She feels guilty again, and offers to put it on her tab.


“He started talking about the controversy of wine, Fras. He doesn’t even work with wine or drink it. Says he can’t stand the taste, but he’s fascinated by it all the same. He said, life has cursed him. He should have been a sommelier, but he can’t be.”

Jilly is drunk. Drunker than Fras has seen her in a while. They are walking back to the lot with a group of other people from the carnival. Caleb isn’t with them.

“He shouldn’t be as attractive as he is, Sassy.” Jilly groans.

“I think you drank too much,” Fras says.

It wasn’t like the man was unattractive but Fras doesn’t know how Jilly spent so many hours talking to him. 

“He gave me his number,” Jilly continues. “Maybe I’ll call him in the morning.”

“See if he is still fascinating in the light of the morning, and with sobriety?” Fras asks, not necessarily unkindly, but the way Jilly reacts, it makes Fras think she should have watched her tone. 

“Yes,” Jilly says, stiffly. Embarrassed, even though embarrassment isn’t something Jilly usually exhibits. 

“Sorry, tell me more about your non-wine-drinking-sommelier,” Fras says, trying to undo whatever it was she just did. 

Jilly hesitates all of a fraction of a second, before going back to talking about the man in the ill-fitting suit. Fras wonders if she ever got his name.