UKArchive ID: 19381chrissytotoro
Originally published on May 14, 2007 in Fiction
In part I we meet Roland Anthony Patrick Doyle and his odd relatives and learn about his love of the piano. Split this into two parts because it's quite long. I will sub part II today also. Any comments/constructive crit most welcome
The Piano (Part One)
Grand Pa was not my grand father in as much as he was not either my mother's or father's father. He was, in fact my mother's father's cousin. A tenuous link but a blood link for all that and it carried with it the obligations of such things.
Every Sunday, after Mass and before we had our lunch, mother would march my sister and me through the village to the big house where Grand Pa lived and, while she and Mrs.Conn, the old fella's house keeper, prepared his Sunday lunch, my sister and I would be dispatched to the big front room where Grand Pa sat in a big high chair by the window.
The room, as I recall was unprepossessing. It was crowded with old books and news papers, empty biscuit tins, half finished oil paintings that had been my genetic grand father's life's work and margarine tubs stuffed with bits of silver paper from the innumerable sweeties that the toothless old man in the chair ate.
Mother always told us that we should never accept sweeties from him because sometimes he would suck a sweet and then put it back in the paper. The mere thought of putting into our mouths anything that had been even remotely close to the old fella's gaping maw was enough to destroy any desire for sweeties from him. One of the many things I could not understand about our visits was why, when we always refused the sweetie tin and never too graciously, the old fella would always offer.
Another thing that always intrigued me about our visits was why, when my mother had five sisters, were we the only ones to visit. Perhaps the sisters and their families visited on other days of the week and we got Sunday because my mother was the youngest. To be honest I never asked anyone about it just as I never asked why we called him grand pa when he was closer to great uncle or second cousin, or why my father and elder brother Michael never came with us. It was implied that they were always too busy with farm work to be able to accompany us but even that young I gleaned the impression that they did not come because they did not want to.
Sundays always followed the same pattern. When mother had deposited us in the front room we would stand in front of the old fella and wait quietly. My sister, Catherine, would fidget a bit but she was only a little girl and not given to too much patience.
Eventually the old man would acknowledge our presence and would reach under his quilt -- an ancient rotting thing made up of knitted patches of wool in what had been many colours but which now, through washing or lack of it had become a uniformly drab, muddy, hay-fed-horse-dung colour -- to bring out the sweetie tin. I had never touched the sweetie tin but I knew that it would be sickeningly warm from nestling next to grand pa's groin. Sometimes I would imagine the state of the part consumed, hot sticky humbugs within and when I did I would wretch and be forced to cover my mouth with a shaking hand.
He would hold out the tin in a long bony hand and we would repeat the mantra. "No thank you very much, Grand pa but we've not had our dinner and mammy said we'd not to spoil it."
My mother was not a cruel woman and always about ten minutes into our visit, would summon my sister to ‘help in the kitchen’. Catherine would nod towards Grand pa and run like the devil. I suppose my mother thought that I, a boy, could be expected not to posses such fine feelings and could be expected to stand the ‘old man smells’ longer. When I once questioned her about the stench in the room, she told me that all men smelled like that once they passed the age of sixty.
If I’m honest, the Sunday ritual was only endurable after my sister left the room. No sooner had her best coat disappeared beyond the great oak door, than Grand Pa would nod towards the far wall and I would metaphorically leave the clutter and detritus of the old man’s life, the stench of his decaying humanity and enter the world of the piano.
It was of the upright persuasion. Highly polished walnut with curls of smoky yellow and a coolness when you touched it that thrilled my fingers from the very first time I did.
If you lifted the lid, there was, secreted away inside a delicate and very ornamental music stand that was attached to the body of the instrument by two small brass hinges. Though I did not read music and did not require the music stand I always fetched it out.
Also attached to the front of the instrument were two brass filagree candle holders which when not in use folded flat against the wood and though I did not need these either, I would always flick these out as a part of my performance.
The penultimate part entailed my placing my hands under my bum and flicking back an imaginary tail coat before seating myself on the upholstered piano stool. Then I would majestically open the instrument.
Seeing those black and white lines and knowing that attached to each was a sound, individual and unmistakable, never ceased to thrill me. I had but to touch one key and I would create sound.
With hindsight, the tone of the piano was not good for reasons which would only later reveal themselves but to my untutored ear, it was magnificent. I was a concert pianist in an Albert or Carnege Hall of a place.
I knew how to play just the one tune, the one Grand Pa had taught me. He’d said it was like teaching a parrot to talk. He’d say the word bong, roughly in the key and rhythm he wanted it and I had to search up and down the keys until I had come to a close enough approximation. It had taken time but now I was confident and to my own ears, quite good..
Every Sunday the same. I would belt it out on the piano and Grand Pa would sing along in a drum beat of a voice. “Fa-i-th of our fa-th-ers Ho-ly Faith, we will be true to thee till de’t’. A with that trut’ that comes from Go-d, Ire-land shall then indeed be fre-e.” And on it would go, throughout the hymn until my fingers ached or Grand Pa grew tired.
Always as soon as we finished my mother would come in and she would have on her hat and coat and would tell me to close up the piano and say ta ta to Grand Pa and we’ll see him next Sunday.
I would do things in strict reverse order; closing away the ebony and ivory, folding flat the candle holders and finally putting away the music stand back inside the piano. I began to notice a tension in my mother when ever she saw me lift the lid. Did she think I would break it? I loved that piano like it was a living breathing thing. I would never damage it.
I would then bid the old man good-bye and we would make our way back through the village and then on up the hill to our farm where my father and mother would exchange looks and few words and we would all sit down to our Sunday lunch.
Archived comments for The Piano (part I)
Dil on 15-05-2007
The Piano (part I)
Enjoyed the first part of your story...going on to read the conclusion.
Dil, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment, it is genuinely appreciated.
glennie on 16-05-2007
The Piano (part I)
This is interesting, Chrissy. It's so true to life I wonder if it is written from experience. Some very good points about old men and smells. Must tell my dad - he's 67.
Glennie, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Genuinely appreciate your interest.
SugarMama34 on 20-06-2007
The Piano (part I)
As those who have read this before me and commented I will add the same, I too found this interesting. I especially enjoyed the words you chose to describe the story, it's not too much or two little and I could picture it all in my mind, which is what I like a story to do, so that I can see what the author sees in their mind as they write it down. i will read the next part of this tomorrow, hopefully if my children give me the peace I need. A much enjoyed story.
Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you. Been everso and very busy writing so please forgive. I'm really pleased that you took the time and trouble to read this, comment on it and rate it and that you enjoyed the read.