The house is quiet. It is empty but for me, the cats and my thoughts.
The cats arrived this summer – a small, friendly tabby and a feisty three-legged tortoiseshell. I didn’t know she had only three legs when I fell in love with her, but that’s me all over, picking up the waif and stray before I know what I’ve let myself in for.
Earlier in the house today there was piano music. I let the notes soothe and rise. We acquired the piano this summer, too. The gift of a Quaker friend. An old German upright that’s been passed from family to family, wherever the wish arose, the only stipulation being that when we no longer want it we must pass it on ourselves, no charge.
My fingers move creakily across the keyboard. I think of the annual Open Day held in my teacher’s sitting-room; pupils gathered to play their best pieces to parents. I wore my white bell-sleeved lacy blouse and three-quarter length trousers. There was probably a ribbon in my hair. I was thin, studious, seven. A bit of a star pupil.
I play on, giving the Mozart a go, having better luck with the Haydn. It doesn’t come easily anymore, though I can imbue anything with feeling. I think of winter afternoons, then, in the playroom at Malts View Road. My sister Hope and I making up vast concert programmes for my mother to sit through, costumed from the dressing-box, accompanied by me on the piano.
Which song do you like best? we would demand after every show. Pick one! Pick one! You have to choose! I was triumphant when my mother chose Cockles and Mussels for me to sing again. I was a shocking romantic.
Then my piano teacher changed and I got one who smoked and I didn’t like him at all. Plus, I was thirteen and too many other changes were happening. I never took formal lessons again. Over the years I’ll sit down when there’s a piano and not too many people listening and let my fingers make the slow journey back to Clementi’s trills, or Satie’s stillness, but even the muscle memory of those dear favourites is beginning to fade.
So I’m cheering myself by learning some new pieces. I found a bundle of tattered sheet music tied up with string in the piano stool drawer. Most of it’s brown, and dry as parchment, but the notes are all there. My sight-reading is agonisingly slow, but just occasionally I perfect a little run of something that doesn’t sound at all bad. I round off every session with a very loud rendition of She, because it’s the only song my fingers can still remember from start to finish. When the silence is particularly odd, I sing along with it, giving my best impression of Charles Aznavour…
They are in Ireland. Planned for months. We didn’t know those months would fall now, when there’s so much to think about. Anna-mouse is being feted, at the absolute heart of her Irish family, which makes me happy. The Bim is getting another Celtic infusion, too, which he needs. I had plans for when they were gone, painting the house, sorting the garden, that sort of thing. Instead I find myself sitting for hours in my pyjamas, hugging a cup of coffee. The physical and mental toll of the last few weeks is being taken and I am, finally, allowing it to happen.
When I look back at the week I realise the two things of note I’ve achieved are learning how to play O Come All Ye Faithful for Christmas, in a vague but positive gesture towards having a happy one, and sorting my writing papers. That’s all.