Monday, 28 February 2011
Icarus' Flight To Perfection : Informal Excercise #1
Some weeks ago over at "Icarus' Flight To Perfection" a challenge was posed: to write a short work of fiction prompted by the unusual picture above. Since then, the "truth" has come out.
Well, let's just say that's one version of events - here's another:
It’s been three weeks since the funeral. Three weeks of sifting through the debris of a life; my Grandpa’s life, to be exact. The house will be put on the market the end of this week and I’ve managed to distribute most of the unwanted furniture to friends and family.
But not the piano.
At first I couldn’t bear to part with it. There were knowing looks from my cousins. After all, it was a rare Steinway grand, a little knocked about but fully restored it could fetch more than the value of the house and its contents put together.
But then I knew that the bond between Grandpa and this beloved instrument required careful thought as to its future.
As a child I remember running my hands over the ebony keys, feeling their cool, silky smoothness under my fingertips, but Grandpa would always gently move my hands away and carefully close the lid. Then he’d lead me through to the little music room where he conducted his lessons and wind the stool higher so that I could reach the keys on the little upright and there he would take me through my scales.
He constantly reminded me that only when I had learned to play with sufficient skill could I possibly be allowed the touch the refined instrument he kept at the back of the house. It was incentive to keep practicing the boring repetitions and I dreamed of one day being allowed to finally sit down at the precious grand piano.
Occasionally, when persuaded, Grandpa would give me a private recital. His hands would deftly sweep across the keys painting melodic masterpieces of Grieg, Debussy and Rachmaninov until I’d feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. In those times, I realised just how much I still had to learn.
I was mildly surprised that he never scaled the heights of his profession, but I supposed that it was in part the passing of my Grandmother that had curtailed his performing career. When she had died on the homeward journey of their last cruise, he seemed to leave part of his heart in the ocean. So, he had turned his attention to sharing his musical prowess with successive generations of willing, or perhaps less so, pupils including myself.
With the passing years I progressed, passing scholarships to various musical conservatoires. Grandpa was so proud of me, but still refused to let me play his prized possession. Always there was just a little more practice required; a further skill to be mastered.
When I travelled abroad he would write me, telling me he’d been listening to one or other of my recordings and would then proceed to instruct me, ever the teacher, on where I could make improvements on my performance.
I was in Paris when the stroke hit him. I cancelled the tour immediately and flew straight home. Seeing him lying in the hospital bed, frail and diminished, I knew the piano would stay silent from now on.
I sat with him, through that night, stroking the hand that seemed cold and alien whilst I hummed a tune and the fingers on his other hand worked an unseen keyboard to mimic my melody. In the early hours of the morning the last bars faded and there was the silence of a rest.
After the funeral I went back to the old house. It was quiet and still inside, as if waiting for the maestro’s return. Instead an interloper, his apprentice, sat down at the hallowed instrument.
I don’t recall for how long I played, or even which pieces, but eventually the last bars echoed into the silence of the room. I gently closed the lid and walked away, having given my first and also my last performance on Grandpa’s beautiful and treasured piano. That’s when I decided what to do with his ashes.
It took some persuasion, but finally I managed to have the instrument careful loaded onto a sufficiently large vessel and we cast off on a cool evening tide. Before the boat stopped, I lifted the urn from my bag and raised the lid of the piano, scattering Grandpa’s ashes inside. The haunting whispers of the strings as both instrument and performer were reunited at last settled any momentary anxiety of madness on my part.
We lowered them both into the water, foamy waves lapping over the polished wood until the piano drifted away into the darkness.
I never thought to see the Steinway again but now, just days later, it appears that the coastal tides have turned and it has washed up on the sandbanks. I have a sense that Grandpa and Grandmother, reunited at last, will make music together now wherever they are. Perhaps he’s returning the piano to me after all, to finally play it with his blessing.
I wonder, should I go down there and reclaim it?