February 16, 2019 § 10 Comments
Her mother slammed the kitchen door behind her. Freya was alone. Now it was safe. She slipped through the shadows of the damp back hall to the door with the silver key. The room smelled of hot dust. She pulled back the faded curtains and let in a sharp yellow sun. It streaked itself through the cobwebs. Her father’s music room wasn’t as she had remembered. Smaller, darker, it smelled of something not quite forgotten yet not quite recalled.
She slid onto the piano stool and inspected the creases on her palms. Now she was there she did not know what to do. She wiped the layer of dust from the shiny black lid with her cardigan sleeve. The particles rose then settled on the bare floorboards like ash from a forgotten cigarette. Time was changing – shifting gear – becoming hesitant. Freya began to think in slow motion, and her breathing slowed.
Her father’s dreaming hat lay on the top of the piano with his unfinished scores. She picked it up and held it to her face. It still smelt of his cigarettes, but the tang of his skin had gone. He would wear the hat when he sat in the garden and didn’t want to be disturbed – it was his sign. Sometimes he would have his papers with him and a freshly sharpened pencil, sometimes he carried nothing but his thoughts. Freya knew she should not interrupt him until he spoke and broke the spell.
Freya put on the dreaming hat and lifted the lid. Her fingers slithered lightly over the keys as he had taught her. First the scales: C Major, E, D, F; her fingers remembering when to stretch onto the black keys to sharpen the note. Then the minor scales. But as she began to play the sad notes, her hands grew stiff and heavy. She flexed the joints of her fingers as her father had shown her, and then stretched them wide into two starfish. But her fingers did not want to play.
She imagined she was in a concert hall. The audience was seated around her in a semi- circle waiting for her to begin. If you imagine these people, her father used to say, you will always play your best.
But what if I make a mistake? she would counter. Then he would smile and tip his head to one side. If you don’t try hard enough, you won’t make mistakes. Your audience won’t mind one bit.
She began to play the piece she knew best. She played long and slow, she made the music sad. Her fingers began to move without thought between the major and minor keys of Fur Elise. Something caught her breath – she could feel her father’s warmth on the back of her neck: he was breathing in and out in time to the music. Freya froze – she dared not turn around to look at him. As she played the final notes, she felt a chill on her neck and she knew he had gone. She closed the lid and went to the window. She wiped away the cobwebs and closed the curtains. As she left the room she locked it with the silver key.
The next day she waited again until her mother had gone to the garden then returned to the music room. She stacked his papers into neat piles, returned books to his bookcase, put his pencils in the mug on the piano lid. She again began to play. Her hands were still too small to reach some of the notes of the Gymnopedies. ‘I remember what you told me, so I shall try anyway,’ she whispered. She put on the dreaming hat and played slowly at first, nervous of the notes her fingers could not reach, and then, as she felt the warmth of her father’s breath on her neck, she leaned back to feel his body. ‘I want to see you, Dad’, she said. ‘I want to feel you. You are more than flickering light. Be real again.’ She played as slowly as she could wanting to prolong the feeling of his warmth, but as she pressed the final keys she felt the familiar chill.
Freya pulled the curtains closed and locked the door with the silver key. She went to the garden and watched her mother. Freya would gather flowers for the music room.
Her mother stood up and arched her back ‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
‘Just picking roses,’ Freya replied.
‘And where’, her mother responded, ‘did you find your father’s hat?’
image courtesy Robert Langley