Beat Girl | Chapter #2 Silence

One week after the funeral I found I was not as ready to go back to sleep quite so soon following my night’s sleep and I stayed in front of the TV, mostly staring through it rather than watching anything. At one point in the morning, I made my way to the piano. I didn’t care so much about how rusty I was becoming without my usual two-hour daily practice; it was more of an attempt to bring alive my mother’s spirit.

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1. Chapter #2 | Silence

 

One week after the funeral I found I was not as ready to go back to sleep quite so soon following my night’s sleep and I stayed in front of the TV, mostly staring through it rather than watching anything. At one point in the morning, I made my way to the piano. I didn’t care so much about how rusty I was becoming without my usual two-hour daily practice; it was more of an attempt to bring alive my mother’s spirit. Deep down I think I hoped the notes would allow me to communicate with her. But as I sat in front of my mother’s beloved piano, my fingers felt paralysed. I could not move them at all, not even to press a single key. The piano had been rendered mute. It was as if some spell had been cast, enveloping the piano in an invisible cloak that was impenetrable to human touch. Maybe the piano, too, was grieving, I thought, and then immediately realised what a silly notion that was. Saddened, I returned to the sofa, resolute not to approach the piano again.

 

Sometime before lunch the doorbell rang. I didn’t move, hoping whoever it was would either think no one was at home or would get the message that I didn’t want company. But after a short pause, the doorbell rang again, this time more persistently. I was still adamant I wouldn’t answer it. They could all go to hell, all the do-gooders and well-wishers and busy-bodies of this world. Finally, however, when it looked like the caller wasn’t accepting defeat, I grumpily padded over towards the door. It occurred to me that I probably looked quite a sight, as I hadn’t showered or changed my pyjamas for an entire week. This thought was followed by another realisation - I didn’t give a damn. Looking through the peep hole I recognised the caller – it was my mother’s lawyer, Mr Hartigan. At least he wasn’t calling with a casserole in hand wanting to comfort me. I let him in. He brought in with him the smell of outside and it felt foreign.

 

Mr Hartigan did a slight double take at the sight of me. However, to his credit, he managed to conceal it quite well, greeting me in quite a normal manner, as though everything were fine. I appreciated it. I responded in like, guiding him to the living room.

 

‘Right, Heather, I know there is never a good time or a right time for this end of things, but I need to go through the papers with you.’ When he saw my blank look, he explained further. ‘The estate, which is a legal term for whatever a person leaves behind, even if there is no actual estate.’

 

Mr Hartigan brought his hands together to form a steeple. ‘The bottom line is, there is no money. Whatever your mother had in her savings account had slowly but surely been decreasing ever since she became unwell and was no longer earning.’ He sighed. ‘The little that had remained has all been swallowed up by the funeral costs - which, as you probably know, are quite steep.’

 

‘So, what are you saying – there’s absolutely nothing left?’ I stared at him, barely comprehending.

 

Mr Hartigan shook his head sadly. ‘Not a penny, I’m afraid.’

 

‘But what about rent?’

 

‘I’m sure you’ll figure something out, you’re a smart girl,’ Mr Hartigan said by way of bringing his visit to a close; such matters were not his responsibility. ‘I’ll be in touch with you in the next couple of days, once everything’s signed and sealed. Alright?’

 

In a daze I walked him to the door, panic taking over and replacing the overall sense of numbness that had pervaded me for the past week. What would I do? How would I survive? Images of being homeless and hungry sprang before me and I had to quickly sit down to calm myself. I once again turned my attention to the TV to allow the wave of panic to die down. After about an hour, I picked up a notepad and a pen and decided to write down all the options that might be open to me.

 

The first person that came to mind, naturally, was Amy. But she’d moved out of her parents’ house and was living in a cramped flat with her best friend, Steve, who was sleeping on her sofa. It was, therefore, usually a tight fit even on the odd night I crashed at her place, let alone for anything more long term. No sooner had I written her name than I crossed it out. Great start, I thought to myself. I went to the kitchen to make myself a pot of coffee in the hope that the caffeine would kick-start my brain into coming up with some better, more viable solutions.

 

Two mugs of coffee later, I was still staring at a blank page, save for Amy’s crossed out name. In order to feel like I was making some progress, I wrote down an option that I knew wasn’t really a possibility – ‘get a job’. I was in a Master’s programme at the music school, a highly demanding programme that required my attendance for most of the day and after classes I had to continue to practise. Working at night would have exhausted me and rendered me unable to perform properly. So that was no good, I decided with a heavy sigh. A loan? But when and how was I going to repay it? Besides, I had no collateral, so I doubted any bank would be likely to give me any money.

 

I didn’t even dare think how this predicament would affect me in the long-term. I had a plan, a big goal, and this could put a major spanner in the works if I didn’t solve my living arrangements fast. The pen hovered over the paper and I began to doodle in an attempt to delay the inevitable last option – ‘Tom’. God, how I did not want to consider him. If he helped me out, he’d probably hold it over me, or think it would erase all his past wrongdoings and make us quits. He could house me and feed me for ten years and still it wouldn’t expunge his debt, I thought, anger flashing yet again.

 

It was three in the morning and I was still sprawled over the sofa watching some rubbish drama on TV. I still hadn’t done anything concrete about my immediate future. The programme that was on was a coming of age tale about some guy refusing to take on any responsibilities. It was pretty clichéd, but when one of the characters told the protagonist that part of growing up was accepting that, in life, you need to do things, not just because you want to do them but because you have to, it hit a chord in me. The message was loud and clear – life may not be fair, but it’s no use ignoring it or insisting on having it your way.

 

My attention aroused, I brought my knees up to my chin and watched the rest of the drama intently. I was being told something. So I listened. To hell with what Tom did in the past, I said to myself. What I had in mind for my future was far more important than my pride. Not that I would forgive him; but until I could step out on my own and fend for myself, I would get him to do his bit. The fatherly duty he had so successfully shirked for all these years was now his. So what if it also made him feel better by being given a chance to redeem himself? That was none of my concern. The regret of not doing whatever it took to achieve my lifelong dream would far outweigh any regrets of having accepted Tom’s offer.

 

I decided I wouldn’t wait until the morning to call Tom. I was partly worried I might talk myself out of it, but I also relished the thought of waking him up in the middle of the night. The phone rang for about ten rings before Tom’s harried voice answered. But as soon as he heard it was me, his voice immediately softened.

 

‘Are you okay, Heather?’

 

‘Yes. Listen, I’ve decided – I’m moving in with you.’ I got straight to the point. ‘It won’t be for long, though. It’s only a temporary thing…’  

 

‘Of course, you know you’re more than welcome,’ Tom said. I had to bite my tongue and not shout back at him that I knew no such thing.

 

I told him I’d get my stuff boxed and would arrive on the Sunday and then hung up. That night sleep did not come. The prospect of having to see Tom every morning, noon and night sent me into a spin. He was probably going to gloat, thinking I was coming to him with my tail meekly between my legs, apologetic and grateful. Well, I was going to be neither of these things, I thought, plumping my pillow and unable to find a comfortable sleeping position.  

 

Two days of boxing was all it took to clear out the apartment. The furniture wasn’t ours, it came with the flat, save for the odd stool or side table which held no sentimental value, so I decided to leave those items behind. Only the piano would be coming with me, and a special delivery service had been arranged for the following week to handle that delicate package. A small voice in my head taunted me about moving the piano, saying it was pointless if I’d never be able to play it again; but I ignored it, determined to break that blockage, or whatever it was that had caused me the temporary paralysis.

 

Once I had finished with all my tasks, I found myself at a loose end. It was Saturday night and I decided to call Amy. This was the first time I had felt like talking to anyone since the funeral. When I rang her, she sounded relieved. I knew most of the messages on my mobile would have been from her and I felt bad for having worried her so much.

 

‘I’m back among the living, Amy,’ I announced.

 

‘Oh, you don’t know how happy that makes me. You want me to come over?’ Amy offered.

 

‘Nah, I want to get the move over with, then I’ll come and see you.’ I went on to explain my decision to move to Tom’s, trying to sound as casual about it as possible.

 

‘But are you sure you’ll be fine there? I mean, what with everything that’s happened between the two of you…’

 

I cut her off, as I didn’t want anyone changing my mind at the eleventh hour. ‘Look, I’ll be out all day, at the academy, and then at night I’ll be practising, so I’ll hardly see him.’

 

‘What about Mike?’

 

‘What about him?’

 

‘Well, you don’t know him, do you? He could be a total teenage brat.’

 

‘Whether he is or isn’t, it won’t make a difference to me. Amy, I shall not be getting involved in their lives. In fact, I’ll barely interact with them. The way I look at it is I’ve found some new housemates, and it’s only a temporary arrangement, so it doesn’t matter all that much. I’ll be out of there before you know it.’

 

I sounded completely in control of the situation, full of confidence, but I was not being quite truthful. It wasn’t that I was intentionally hiding stuff from Amy, but I was too vulnerable right now to go down the road of analysing and questioning what was happening.

 

‘Well, as long as you know what you’re doing,’ said Amy. ‘But if things look like they’re not working out you call me, okay? It doesn’t matter when or what I’m in the middle of, you just ring me and I’ll be there for you.’

 

‘Thanks.’

 

My dear Amy. She probably knew what was whirling through my mind anyway, we’d known each other long enough. There were things we picked up on without the other person ever needing to speak a word. Luckily, she must also have sensed my reluctance to talk about things.

 

I took a walk through the apartment – a long, lingering walk, stopping every few steps, trying to recall significant moments that may have happened in all the rooms. I paused in front of the bay window in the music room, remembering all the afternoons spent coiled on the window seat, admiring my mother’s playing. The kitchen was a sacred space where Mum and I usually ate, rarely bothering with the dining table in the living room. And the bathroom seemed to hold most of my childhood memories, especially bath times. Every memory was carefully stored for safe-keeping.

 

Finishing the grand tour down memory lane, I sat down at the piano, wondering if I dared to have another go at it. For a long while I just sat with my eyes closed, my hands tucked underneath me. And then, when I felt a serenity descend over me, I lifted the lid and started playing a medley of our favourite pieces. There was no longer any spell, no blockage, no paralysis. The music was flowing from my fingertips, perhaps the best I had ever sounded. At one moment I felt as though my mother was in the room with me and I smiled, but never stopped playing. I believed my music had called her spirit, so to stop the music would have meant she would disappear again. At the end of the medley, I closed the lid and wept.

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