Better Than Nothing by Isaac Cooper

Friday, June 26, 2015
A Scotsman, disoriented by the noisy bustle of Sydney, seeks solace in a captivating piano melody; by Isaac Cooper.

The sound thrummed in his ears: cars honking, women shrieking, airplanes roaring. Finding his feet, he staggered to the window - there was Sydney, an overpriced cocktail of sound. The Scotsman covered his ears, but that did nothing, as he already knew. The city's heart continued to beat, louder than ever, forcing him to switch on the television, which just made things worse. Now someone was telling him, in an almost incomprehensible Australian accent, to "pick up tha phone and change ya life taday!" If there was a hell, he thought, it would be here, in this room, listening to that television. The Scotsman leapt for the door, and blundered into the hallway, overtaking three Chinese men who looked completely, utterly lost.

The lobby was dead silent, save for the subtle cry of a piano. He followed the sound, because it was pleasant, and seemed to promise some grand kind of salvation. Past the lobby's front desk, down a small flight of stairs, the Scotsman came to a lounge scattered with people, some typing furiously on laptops, others sitting at the bar, downing drinks. A grand piano stood in the centre of the room, and a remarkably ugly woman sat behind it. He watched her as he stumbled to one of the sleek, uncomfortable, Le Corbusier lounges. Her lips were puffy and her cheeks were pinched, giving her the appearance of a fish choking to death. Despite this, and maybe it was because of the soft, winding dee-da-dee-da-dee filling his ears, the Scotsman couldn't take his eyes off her.

How could someone so ugly produce something so beautiful? And she wasn't even trying to hide it, was she? Her hair was tied back, revealing a bulbous forehead and stuck-out ears. She had no vanity whatsoever, it seemed. The Scotsman lit a contemplative smoke, and squirmed against the stingy padding of the lounge. He closed his eyes, and hummed along with the sweet, angelic piano. He would have to go to bed with her, or at the very least thank her for playing. This ugly woman, he thought, deserves the world for what she's giving me: music, peace. He would stay up all night to please her, if it turned out that way.

When the Scotsman opened his eyes, the pianist was looking at him. He smiled, and she smiled back in her fish-choking-to-death way. Then he was at the bar, ordering a Scotch. The barwoman stared at him as he placed the order, her eyes drawn to the smouldering stick in his mouth.

"Ya can't smoke in 'ere, mate."


"I said ya can't smoke in 'ere."

"Oh," the Scotsman said, snuffing it out on the bar. "Whoops."

The barwoman crossed her arms, and glared at him through clear blue eyes. "Clean thaddup, mate, or I won't serve ya."

"Come on," the Scotsman said, flicking her stringy blonde hair, "don't be like that."

The barwoman took a quick step back. "Kevin!"

A barrel-chested man in swimming trunks and flip-flops appeared. "Is there a prob'm?"

"Yeah," the Scotsman said, closing his eyes, and breathing in the music, "she won't serve me."

"I told 'im ta take out tha smoke, and he puddit out on tha bar, and refused ta clean it."

"That true?" Kevin asked, wiping his hands on the towel over his shoulder. "Ya not gon' clean it?"

"Look," the Scotsman said, sliding a hand across his mouth, "I just want some drinks."

"You a guest of tha hotel, mate?" Kevin asked, turning his neck from side to side.


"Well I think ya should geddon back to ya room."

"No," the Scotsman said, certain he could not brave another second in there, "I'm not going back."

They insisted that, yes, he should go back, and then he may have spat at them, or called someone a cunt, because the next thing he knew Kevin had picked him up. Everyone in the room was staring at him, but the music didn't stop. The pianist was staring, too, but her hands kept moving across the keys, dee-da-dee-da-dee. She winked at him as he thrashed and screamed in Kevin's arms, almost as if to say: "Don't worry, I still like you."

The Scotsman spluttered and coughed and writhed, lying face-first in a cold Sydney street. When he had regained his breath, he tried the glass doors, but they were locked.

"Who wears flip-flops to work, anyway?" he yelled, kicking the door with his boot. "I mean, what is this, Kevin? What is this?"

He circled the hotel, sticking to poorly-lit alleyways. The commotion from nearby George Street was torture; he felt his eardrums might blow any second. There had to be another way to get back inside. Ahead, light gushed through a flyscreen door, and he heard the dreadful - dreadful - clatter of pots and pans. Covering his ears, he stumbled into a bright kitchen where a couple of men were smoking.

"You," Kevin said, flicking his cigarette into a long steel sink. "Get outta 'ere!"

The Scotsman couldn't hear him; he couldn't hear anything. He ran for the doorway leading into the lounge, where the pianist was still playing. Kevin jumped to his feet, and chased after him, continuously tripping on his flip-flops. Everyone stared as the Scotsman crashed into the room and jumped over the bar. The barwoman, cleaning cigarette ash from the counter, froze. He plucked a bottle of Johnnie Walker from the shelf, and then two glass tumblers.

"He's... he's stealin' licka!" The barwoman yelled, as Kevin stormed into the room.

The Scotsman jumped over the bar, placed his tumblers on the piano, and broke open the whiskey. The pianist giggled as he poured the drinks.

"Keep playing. Keep playing." The Scotsman muttered, clasping the bottle by the spout, and throwing it at Kevin.

"Oh my God!" The barwoman screamed, as Johnnie Walker slammed into Kevin's head, disintegrating into pieces.

The pianist shuffled aside so he could sit down, and they played the piano one hand each, the other holding their Scotches.

"Cheers." The Scotsman said, and they clinked glasses.

"Some'n call tha police!" The barwoman screamed, taking her apron off, and wrapping it around Kevin's head. "Some'n do somethin'!"

They closed their eyes, and sipped their drinks. Even though the piano didn't sound as pretty as it had before, a tear trickled down the Scotsman's face. It was better than nothing.


  1. Quite a romp! A well evoked sense of place and psychological mayhem, with rough justice wittily delivered.

  2. I enjoyed the adventure this story brought through a well balance rhythmic tale.
    Thank you for the adventure,