The first posting of short-listed stories from the Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition is by Tim Sutton – a composer and lyricist from east London.
Chopin in the Dust
The woman from the theatre left three messages. So grateful… perfect for the… (What was it?)… some Chekhov on a shoestring.
She had said she would come to collect at eleven, yet it was nearly twenty-five past. Alice hovered by the front door, chewing the skin around her fingernails.
At twenty to twelve, a van pulled up and the woman rushed out, followed by two men in overalls. So sorry… left later than… terrible traffic.
Well. It’s through here.
The woman followed down the hallway. Her eyes took in Alice’s elegant grey coiffure, the exquisite silk of her floral pattern blouse.
Alice stood back to let her pass.
The antique grand piano stood in the study. The woman from the theatre made excited noises – Vanya’s dining room! And to think I might have missed your ad.
I was going to give it a polish, but…
No, no, we’ll take the dust too!
As the woman twittered, Alice seemed to see lines of music uncurling from deep inside the walnut case, gathering in skeins in the weak February light.
Are you sure we can’t give you anything for it?
Lines of Chopin and Schumann, his favourites, conjured endlessly and effortlessly by those long fingers. An air filled with life, that musical life which forbade all others.
No, I’m simply glad it can be of use to someone.
And now, just a piano, untouched for forty years, while sheets of grey settled on it, on her. Alice watched as the men conferred, the heels of her hands digging into her hips.
Do you play?
The men closed the lid and tilted the instrument onto its left side.
No, it was my husband’s. He was a concert pianist.
They disconnected the pedal mechanism, removed the legs, wrapped the frame in a blanket and strapped it to a trolley.
A concert pianist! What an amazing life you must have had.
For the first time Alice looked the woman directly in the eye. The woman in turn took a step back, her hand moving reflexively to her stomach. There was silence.
Alice’s gaze dropped to the swollen abdomen. From somewhere: a smile.
Oh, the bump! Yes, she’s due in August. Honestly, mummy brain is the last thing I need right now. But look, we’ll leave you in peace.
The piano on its trolley rattled its way up the drive. Alice could hear the keys clattering like broken teeth. Those keys his long fingers had stroked…
His fingers… had stroked…
She shut the front door too quickly on the woman from the theatre, and leant against it, breathing heavily, watching the startled dust careen in the winter sunlight.
That was the last of him.
TIM SUTTON is a composer and lyricist for musical theatre. His first opera, Cycle Song, written with poet Ian McMillan, was performed as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. He teaches the craft of music theatre songwriting at BML and hosts a podcast, Voice of the Musical, featuring interviews with creators of great musicals. He is an Associate of the Inner Magic Circle and lives in east London with his wife and two children.