He haunts the downstairs rooms so, as I enter, I pass by and make for the landing, ready to content myself with more lies and solitude. My mother told me that sugary tea would cure all problems so I intend to watch the world pass with a steaming cup in my hand for however long social convention dictates I stay. I sit down, begin to remove my boots whilst my chin spills tears onto the rocking-chair arm. They gobble up the varnish, but I cannot bring myself to wipe my face. My sobs are silent, but secretly, I still want them to be noticed and wept away by brisk, practical hands. I am forty-five and I want my mother.
I say my father haunts the downstairs rooms but I’m wrong. His music haunts them – clear and perfect, echoing on the dust. The house will always resonate with sounds of him, the notes absolute and prompt, drawn from the page with his military precision. He has always been the only musician in the family, yet he had no passion for his art, or natural talent. Like everything else in the major’s life, his skill was born of bitter tenacity and hard work. He did it, for the most part, to prove he could. And so, the piano became nothing but a tool with which to recite the music of long dead men.
In fairness, all things in his life were tools, a means to an end… with the exception of my mother, of course. That was possibly the attraction – his stiff-lipped practicality and stern face would melt in the glow of her smile.
Had she tried, she could not have been more different to him. When in the company of others, every cell in her body seemed to radiate empathy and compassion. She grew sentimental when plates broke and mugs cracked and once sobbed when selling her car. The major may have been the musician but the piano will doubtlessly remain hers. More than a tool, more than an instrument, she often used to say that the piano was divine – a beautiful thing from which art is born and through which feelings are expressed. She has never learned to play but when my father was gone, she would sit and tap at the keys, simply to hear the sound crescendo through the quiet. E was her favourite note.
I hear it now, downstairs, and am curious – the piano has lain untouched since we received the news. I pick up my boots, carrying them with me, and wipe my face. I begin creeping down the steps like I did as a child. It feels like a perverse inversion of Christmas. Sadness will radiate from my father, with wreathes laid out as a desolate parody of the tree.
I watch the room for a moment and feel my tears renew. My father is at the piano, playing my mother’s favourite note over and over again, his years of practise dissolving into an angry one-fingered stab. We look at one another for a long moment and I withdraw, put on my boots and leave without a sound, without the mug of steaming tea my mother would have given me to make it better. My father haunts the downstairs rooms of the house, but yesterday we buried his wife.
Frances Moldaschl is a Scottish mum of two, currently living in the Aberdeenshire hills with her Danish husband. When she isn’t writing,
she can usually be found hoarding craft supplies and drinking too much tea. Her book review blog is InquisitiveNewt.com.
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