Staccato. Maria had to remember that. She would do it right this time. She would get it right. Who cared that she had messed up near the end every single time she had played Gaspard de la Nuit on the piano so far? This would be different. Because this time, she was playing in front of an audience of five hundred people. And amongst that audience, there was nobody she knew. That was daunting.
She watched her hands whirring across the keyboard, delicately bouncing off those slender white keys. And she was aware that any second, she could mess up. And by the laws of averages, she certainly would do so. In approximately fourteen seconds.
Everything was going right. And then she felt a spasm in her head, and her mind was flooded with her memories of the song. And for that brief moment, she was thirteen again, frantically playing the piece on the piano in her father’s small flat. And then she messed up, and he hit her across the back of the head.
And sure enough, her fingers clumsily tripped across those particularly difficult keys. Somehow, her hands had slipped into the wrong position, and she was now playing the wrong keys entirely. Her heart dramatically began to somersault around her chest. It was all going wrong – had all gone wrong. She stopped playing. She was dizzy. Her hands were shaking, as she tried to readjust them, but suddenly the sheet music looked like an incomprehensible language. What note was that? She began to hyperventilate. That deafening silence coming from the audience. It exuded embarrassment for her. Pity. And then came the frustration. She could hear their thoughts. Why did she even perform tonight when she’s clearly incapable?
She slowly rose from her seat and walked off the stage without looking out at all those people. The tears had already begun to flow. The sound manager looked at her, startled, and he too gave her a pitying look. And she hated it, because she couldn’t understand it. Pity was not what she was accustomed to. Anger, hatred, would at least have been understandable.
Another woman consoled her. Well, woman was a strong word, she was only seventeen. She had played the easier, but much more beautiful Liebestraum no. 3 by Liszt, but she had pulled it off remarkably well. She was a nice girl. She told Maria that they wouldn’t even pay attention to the blip, because she had done so well up until the point where it had gone wrong. Yes. Maria liked her. She went home before the winner of the competition was announced. There was no point in waiting around.
Once she sat into her car, she began to sob hysterically. And suddenly her back arched in an unnatural way, and she was thirteen again. She was standing against the living room wall, and her father was sitting down watching her, somewhere between amusement and hatred. When she performed a piece badly at her daily test, he would make her stand against the living room wall. She had to have her heels and her head touching the wall to correct her poor posture. That was what he said, but she knew that it was punishment for not being good enough.
She jammed the keys into the ignition and drove away from the car park. People were piling out the doors now. They had obviously announced the winner. Even though she knew it couldn’t have been her, it was still a sickening blow to see evidence that she had yet again failed.
Home again. And it provided no comfort. She threw her handbag down on the ground, and walked into the piano room. It was big enough, intended to be a sitting room, but she had no time for television. There was a massive Kawai grand piano in the centre of the room. She sat down to it, and felt those beautiful white keys. She had practiced the piano every day since she was six years old, but she had never mastered it. And it was looking increasingly likely that she never would.
Yet again, she was transported to that grotty flat. Her father had bought the piano in the place of food. It had cost him two thousand pounds, and they had gone hungry for so long as he made monthly repayments. But as he kept reminding Maria, they didn’t need food when they had music to survive on.
Maria’s mother had died during child birth. And her father had never really gotten over it. Before she died, he would often tell her, they were bohemian young artists together. They had travelled Europe playing their music that they had composed. And then she had gotten pregnant, and suddenly everything was ruined. In truth, he always blamed Maria for her death. He never said so, but she saw it in his eyes.
He had wanted Maria to take her mother’s place, and in vain, he taught her the piano. He insisted that she play for six hours a day. But even that hadn’t done it, and he had taken to standing over her, beating her across the head when she made a mistake, and later making her stand against the wall with books on her head to correct her poor posture.
Maria sighed as she sat down to the piano, remembering what had led her to be a pianist in the first place. She had never cared much for it really. She placed her hands on the keys once more, and tried to play Gaspard de la Nuit, but as usual, it fell apart, and the stinging pain on the back of her head tingled incessantly. Even though he had died ten years ago, she could never forget him.
He had a drugs habit. And with shock, she lifted her thoughts from the piano. How had she only remembered that now? She had forgotten all about it. She remembered finding the cocaine in his bedroom, and wondering what this pouch of talcum powder was about. And when she asked him what it was, how he had told her to get back to the piano. She only realised as a teenager what was going on behind that closed bedroom door. The shock of the recollection resounded in her head. It just didn’t make sense that she had forgotten it for so long…
And then there was the time when he had… He did something when he wasn’t really there. There was something demonic in him that day. It hadn’t been him. He was possessed with drugs, and he had done something to her – but no. She swore she wouldn’t think about that. Besides, he had done it out of love for her, and even though she had asked him to stop, it was alright, because he had loved her, and that was all that mattered.
So why couldn’t she stop crying? Maria sat at the piano, sobbing more than she ever had before, and the memories just kept coming back to her. How she missed, yet loathed him. But he was gone! That was the important part. He had bred such fear and loathing into that apartment. And she detested him.
Did she? She had never thought that before. She had always thought she loved him. But that was just because he had loved her. He had to have loved her, to do what he had done. He just wanted her to be her mother. There was nothing wrong with that. Right? Right. But she still loathed him. And she wanted to kill him. All of a sudden, she hated him with every ounce of passion that could be found in her small frame.
Maria recoiled away from the piano. It was disgusting, and she hated it. And her back arched uncomfortably, and her head continued to sting. And she cried, because she knew that on some level, he was still there with her – inside her head, maybe. Or perhaps his spirit fluttered around the room, cursing her existence, and mourning the loss of her mother.
She ran from the room and stumbled through the house. She could barely breathe as she wandered into the back garden, and into the garden shed. She collected the petrol tin for the lawnmower, and brought it into the house. She continued to cry more than she ever had. Gaspard de la Nuit rebounded around her skull. He had told her she killed her mother. She had forgotten that, too. He said it to her when she was four. He was sitting down crying, and he told her that he hated her, and that she was a murderer.
With whatever power was left in her body, she threw the petrol onto the piano. She opened the lid, and poured petrol onto the hammers. She even doused those beautiful ivories in petrol. As she dropped the match, she realised that this was the end of so many things. It was pain in so many ways, but it was also delight. And pleasure. She would rejoice in the pleasure. The flames danced, and spiralled into the air. And Maria smiled. She smiled with all her heart.