UKArchive ID: 19365chrissytotoro
Originally published on May 14, 2007 in Fiction
In part II we learn the consequences of being twelve, the aftermath of death and why the piano isn't in tune.
The Piano (Part two)
The time came when I had to be twelve years old and Grand Pa had to die and the two things coincided on a cold Saturday in November. The first we knew of the old man’s impending demise was a hammering on the door and a breathless boy stuttering out the words that Mrs Conn had sent him and we was to come to auld Mr Byrne’s house quick.
It was the first time that I had ever known my father to visit the house but he put on his best coat and his only hat and drove us there, my mother nervously twitching at a handkerchief, my brother Michael polishing his boots on his grey socks, my sister begging my mother not to make her kiss the old man’s face like she remembered having to do to Great Aunt Philomena and me, thinking of how I was going to rescue my piano.
Mrs Conn greeted us at the door and told us all that Father Boyle was with him and that it would not be long now. I remember she took us children into the kitchen and gave us sweet tea and biscuits and told us to sit and be good and our mammy would send for us.
Catherine was sobbing at the thought of having to kiss the old man but neither Michael nor myself took any notice of her. Michael was looking around the big old kitchen, at the big copper pans and ancient pewter pots and I could see that he was costing each item just in case we should be left something by the old fella.
I could not think beyond what stood in that front room and how I would be able to play it with Grand Pa gone.
Eventually my father came to get us and we filed in to the room. The old fella was sitting in his chair. He looked cleaner than I had ever seen him look and with his eyes closed and a bandage around his chin, I knew that he was dead.
Michael went forward first, kissed the air near the old man’s snow white hair and backed off quickly, then it was my turn and I really kissed his forehead. The stench which had driven Michael back in such a hurry wafted up at me and I knew the clean was only surface. I bent and kissed him again. “That’s from Cathy, grand da,” I said. “She’s too little and too sad to do it herself.”
As I stepped back I felt my father’s arm on my shoulder and I heard him whisper, “Good man.”
The funeral was a grand affair. Relatives I knew only existed from old faded photographs turned up in their droves not just for the service but the wake. It was my very first taste of porter and I found it pleasant.
There was much good crack to be had, even at this old skinflint’s funeral and then my Aunt Kate, said; “Did ya know he left a will?” And everyone fell silent.
Eventually my mother managed to stutter; “But I thought everything was going to the Brothers. The house is certainly....”
“Not according to Mr McGurk of McGurk and McGurk. There is a will for certain dispensations.”
I looked with open concern at my mother’s paling face and pushed Catherine to get her another cup of tea. In my twelve years of grace I had never seen my mother look so afraid.
At the dispensation of the Christian Brothers, at Grand Pa’s house which they now owned. we gathered all together in the room where Grand Pa had passed away and Mr. McGurk of McGurk and McGurk, a man with a skull like face whose skin was so paper thin that it looked like it had been applied with a mortician’s brush, read the will of Patrick James Byrne.
There were one or two bequests of money; fifty pounds to the church of Our Lady and twenty pounds to Mrs. Conn. None of my mother’s sisters received as much as a mention but to my mother the old man had left all her father’s paintings. At this, the sisters and their spouses left in a huff without even a nod to my mother.
I sat towards the back of the room on the piano stool, praying as hard as I could that there would be some mention of the piano, that the old man would have written it into his will that I would be allowed to come and play the piano at least every Sunday. I promised God that I wouldn’t mind playing for the Brothers and that I would do my best to try and learn the music and then Mr. McGurk of McGurk and McGurk was saying; “And to Roland Anthony Patrick Doyle.”
I looked up from silent devotions. Everyone was staring at me.
“I leave the walnut piano and piano stool.”
Go on I thought, go on. ‘To be played every Sunday...”
But there were no conditions. The piano was mine. All mine.
I touched the locked away keys. You’re safe, I thought, you’re safe.
The Brothers stared at me, their eyes burning into my soul. They knew the financial value of the thing but they did not know it’s value to me.
“Surely not,” said Brother Tobias. “The piano is part of the fixtures and fittings.”
Strange allies came to my defense. Mr McGurk of McGurk and McGurk cleared his throat in a menacing way. “Are you disputing the last will and testament of the late Patrick James Byrne?” He intoned. “Because if you are,” and he looked at them with his eyes all squinted up like he was daring them, “if you are disputing this legally drawn up document which I myself wrote as dictated by the afore mentioned late gentleman, I would suggest that you go through the proper procedures. To wit employing at not inconsiderable expense to yourselves, the service of a reputable firm of solicitors to contest this will in the courts.”
I wanted to applaud him but my mother was speaking. “You can’t mean that you want to keep it when it gave the boy so much pleasure.”
To have my mother on my side was more than I could have hoped for.
“Or do you just want us to pay ya for it?” asked my father who had, since being taught by the Brothers as young child, held the opinion that they were God’s Gestapo.
I felt like a king as the Brothers’ objections withered away. The piano was mine. I wanted to unlock it and play it right there and then but I knew that would not be allowed.
Arrangements were made for the collection of the piano, the stool and the paintings. I went with my parents and sister in the motor car , while Michael and Francis O’Connor our hired man brought the lorry up from the farm. In the back of the lorry were four long stout planks of wood, several lengths of rope and a couple of horse blankets borrowed from our neighbour.
My mother insisted that the piano should be tied tightly closed. She said that she didn’t want the lid flapping open and the music stand to be damaged but she didn’t seem all that bothered about the candle holders which I had to flatten before the ropes were tied around the instrument.
Michael laid two of the planks down the front steps of the house and with much pushing and shoving from my father they managed out of the front room and sweet as a nut down the steps and onto the street. I brought up the rear with the stool and a couple of the paintings.
Getting the piano up onto the lorry was a little more problematical. It require the efforts of the Brothers and fair play to them they did their part, pushing the piano up the two remaining planks onto the lorry, while my father, brother and Francis O’Connor pulled on the ropes. My father then tied it down with the stool and my mother surprisingly agreed to my traveling back with it.
Of course I wanted to play it as soon as we got it into the house but my mother forbade it absolutely saying that the instrument would not be touched until Mr. Peterson a piano tuner from the town had been to look at it and make sure it was all right..
I tried pleading and begging and sulking but she was unmoved by any of it.
Sunday brought a sickness to our house which affected me and my mother. Even when I knew that she would not be going to church I didn’t make the sudden miraculous recovery my father had expected, thinking, as I knew he would, that my sickness was just an excuse to stay home and play with the piano.
My mother’s malady was more woman’s problems than anything else and so after she had put me to bed with hot bottle, a warm drink of milk and strict instructions that I was not to get out of my bed unless it was absolutely necessary, I settled down with out much worry to try and sleep off the genuine feelings of illness.
It became absolutely necessary after only about half an hour and I dashed from my sick bed, down the stairs and into the privy without summoning my mother’s aid. The milk churned up from my stomach and for a while after it was all gone, I stood with my sweating head pressed against the cold privy wall thinking that I would soon be seeing not only Grand pa but all my deceased relatives.
I was twelve years old and I wanted my mammy.
I stumbled into the kitchen but there was no sign of her. Sometimes, when she got her ‘women’s problems’ she took to her bed but I couldn’t remember her coming back upstairs after she left me. I was wondering where she might be when I heard something. Once when we were still going to grand pa’s on a Sunday, I had bumped the stool against the piano quite hard. There had been a resonating sound that seemed to last forever. That was what I heard. I went to the front room. Someone, and it could only be my mother, was harming the piano.
She had the front off it so you could see all the hammers and wires and she was reaching down inside it.
I rushed at her. “Mammy! Mammy! Don’t hurt it.”
She turned and stared at me. She had in her hand a rolled up piece of canvas which I presumed she had dragged from the guts of the poor instrument. I grabbed it from her hands thinking I might put it back and instead of trying to resist me, she just stood there.
Carefully, I unrolled the canvas. To my immature eye the image that was painted there was beautiful. A young woman naked as the day she was born, her long red hair hanging down over her breasts. I tore my eyes from her nakedness and looked at the face.
My mother took the painting from me.
“Mammy,” I said. “That’s you.”
She looked at me. “It was me,” she said. “A good many years ago.”
“But what was it doing in the piano?” I asked.
“Patrick put it there, hid it there.”
“Was it your daddy painted it?”
“Oh no. My father painted only landscapes. Grand pa painted that. Patrick is who I mean.”
“And isn’t it good? Is that why he hid it?”
“Oh,” she said tiredly. “It’s grown up stuff.”
“What are you going to with it?” I asked but she said nothing just took the painting and with a knife from my father’s tool box, she cut it into shreds then put it to the back of the hearth.
“I’d be grateful,” she said “if you didn’t mention this.”
“I won’t tell,” I said.
“So back to bed with you.”
“Will you put the front back on the piano?”
She looked at me and she smiled. “It will have to come off again on Monday when Mr Peterson comes to see it but I’ll put it back. Now bed. Do you want another drink of milk.”
I looked at her. “I think I’ll just go to bed.”
I slept like a baby. I didn’t dream of my mother naked her long red hair cascading over her breasts instead I dreamed of how good the piano would sound now there was nothing inside it.
Archived comments for The Piano (part II)
Dil on 15-05-2007
The Piano (part II)
Thought the 'family secret' ending fitted in with what went before. A lovely gentle piece. Well written.
Dil, thanks for following through and reading the end. I am so pleased that the story worked for you.
glennie on 16-05-2007
The Piano (part II)
Chrissy. This was very, very good. Some of it was so authentic and atmospheric that I thought you must have experienced it. Deserved many more read and a nib at least. HOWEVER, it's not the finished article. I note that you still split words in two, Grand Pa, news paper etc. And pace could be quickened. Getting the piano back wasn't important. Glad I read it as I don't usually read such long pieces. Glen.
Glen, many thanks for reading, commenting and the most generous rating.
I feel perhaps that I shouldn't have split the piece in two but it was quite long as a single piece and would perhaps have received even fewer hits than it got.
Have I experienced it? No. We did have a piano when I was younger and until I was seven we lived with my nan but I remember so little about that time that I don't think I could have pulled any experience from it.
I will certainly check the split words that you mention. It's just me being sloppy and not using my dictionary.
Don't like to disagree but for me getting the piano back was important because it helped to illustrate the mother's need to keep the contents of the instrument hidden. It was originally going to be a bit longer and have a silly scene where having got the piano up onto the lorry the two planks spring up and knock the Christian Brothers over but for the sake of the word count I got rid of half of it. Perhaps it could be reduced but I would need to keep the mother's need for secrecy and I've never really been one for 'with a leap and a bound he was free'. We shall see.
Thanks again for you comments and for flagging up my errors.
I'm really pleased that you enjoyed it and found it so realistic.
discopants on 17-05-2007
The Piano (part II)
Interesting story and it's so true of the kids not really knowing how to communicate with the old relative.
I think the piano probably does have to be retrieved- it is essential that the mother has access to it and that Roland discovers her as she finds the painting and it would be difficult to recreate the scene in 'Grandpa's' house.
I thought the start of part 1 set the story up well, the key being that we knew that there was some underlying tension, giving us something to muse about. This gives away as we concentrate on the piano and surfaces only fleetingly until the denouement. I wonder if you could give thought to emphasising the tension a bit more, giving us something else to muse about, perhaps or getting us through to the conclusion a bit more quickly.
Incidentally, I found the first phrase of Part 2 to be a bit awkward- 'the time came when I had to be twelve years old'- I know what you mean but it could be smoother.
dp, many thanks for reading this and for your considered comments.
I think the fault, if fault there is, with the pace lies in the fact that it was originally conceived as a radio piece and would therefore have been read in the appropriate accent and would have had the flow that it required.
Regarding the particular phrase "The time came when I had to be twelve years old...." I could have written "I had my twelfth birthday and Grandpa died on the same cold day in November...." and it would have been less cumbersome but it would not have been consistent with the 'voice'.
I think on the whole that the Internet was not the best place to air this story as I would have liked it to be read for the language as much as for the story and it clearly doesn't work that well in this medium as it is.