Monday, October 22, 2007

Tinkle the Ivories

I don’t know why I haven’t noticed it sooner.

It’s not as if it’s something that’s easy to miss.

Not something easy to hide.

Dark admittedly, but it weighs a tonne and is twice as ugly. It may be very ugly but it is also very loved, if neglected. My mum bought it for me when I was 12, for 5 pounds. They charged five pounds to deliver it. It was an old pub piano.

Perhaps, if I practice every day for the next two months, maybe it will come back? Then, I’ll be able to torture my brother at his wedding? Would that be a gift or a curse?


The piano tuner thought it was a curse when it trundled into our triplex after a three month overseas shipment from England. It was a welcome gift then, as it was when my mother first gave it to me. It was compensation and occupation at the same time. I had accidentally fractured a vertebrae. I was sure it was the key to escape from boarding school. It wasn’t. I had already skipped a year of school in a blur. Surely I wouldn't have to go back? But I did. As my birthday is in August I changed from being the youngest in the class to the oldest. I was still the smallest.

Daily PE was out of the question. But the Sisters at the Convent knew that my idle hands would do the devil’s work. I had already worn a hole in my pew at the chapel where I said my many prayers after a convulsion of confession. My classmates were plunged into netball, tennis and rounders. I was abandoned in a glasshouse with no sound proofing and a piano.


Now it sits in a corner. I have not touched it, even to clean, for many a long year as I’ve been rather tied up with other things, but we’ll gloss over my daughter’s obsession with leashes and string.

I hunt around for some sheets of music as a displacement activity because I can’t remember how to read music anyway. I sit on the wobbly stool and place my rusty finger tips on the dusty keys. ‘Just like riding a bike!’ I chant to myself, because I am an elephant who never forgets. What have I been doing for the last decade?

Instead of reading the music, I read the notes that my teacher scribbled on the pages, ‘slow down! Keep it steady! Keep it sweet! Don’t pound the keys! Keep control! It’s not a race!’

I can still see her elderly face, puce with exasperation, framed by a black habit, as I tripped over the notes and ignored the metronome.


30 minutes of practice daily, in the music room. The room was like greenhouse, all glass. There were eight glass cubicles. Each contained an upright piano. 8 children mangled the ivories to produce cacophony of sound beyond comprehension or endurance. There was enough noise to break the sound barrier, which hid the silent tears of homesickness. Tune out.

Tune in. I turn the page at just the right moment on automatic pilot. I hear a knock on the window behind me and turn to see my neighbour pulling faces at me in the glass. He yells, as only he can, and a plume of breathy steam obscures him from view, but I can hear the words, “I din know you cud play the piana!” And of course I can’t, not really or maybe just not yet?

I stand up and step away from the piano with achy fingers. My heart still pounds as I remind myself to breathe. I grin at my neighbour. The window protects him from me, as I am bathed in sweat. People understand how your evocative music can be. Emotions can sweep you up, tune into the right key, a key can strike a chord and the chord becomes unraveled. Some activities are clearly bad for my mental health.

That is truly about as close as I shall ever come to aerobic exercise, and I’m definitely allergic to that!

6 comments:

flutter said...

I think it's beautiful

Joker The Lurcher said...

a young friend once learned (learnt?) how to play the goldberg variations for me. it was so moving i couldn't speak. music heals as well as tugs.

Niksmom said...

This is wonderfully evoctive...as much as music to me. "...the silent tears of homesickness." Powerful and exquisitely melancholy.

buffalodickdy said...

The only thing I can play is the radio.... No musical ability, but I sure do enjoy music!

Hammer said...

I can see why it sat undisturbed sounds like there are some powerful memories involved.

here today, gone tomorrow said...

Lovely. Thank you.