Short Story: Lewis Wren – Playing Quietly
Lewis Wren’s writing is influenced by the short stories of Raymond Carver and John Cheever, although he aspires to become an author of children’s fiction. He is currently working on two illustrated children’s books and his first young adult novel.
Kate has played piano for eight years. For the previous four of those years, she has not improved. That is the opinion of her husband, George, who sits watching after their evening meal every night, whilst she stumbles over the notes of Moonlight Sonata or Claire de Lune. He swishes his wine back and forth in the glass, which is full by the start of every new song, and empty be the end. He focuses on the bald spot on the back of her head. It has grown since he last saw it, the white of her scalp showing through makes him want to walk over and gently touch it, so that she knows that it’s there, and so she knows he can see it.
They do not talk during dinner, or whilst Kate sorts through the sheet music, or afterwards, when the two go to bed to make love. They lie together and she strokes the hair on his chest, sometimes wrapping it around her finger so when she pulls her hand away, or he removes it, the hair is left in small curls.
‘Goodnight,’ Kate says after some time.
George is always struck by the sound of her voice as it cuts through the complete silence of their bedroom. He nods his acknowledgement and turns away to face the wall. Kate doesn’t sleep until long after George, so he falls to sleep every night to the sound of pages turning, and with his back to the dim glow of a reading light.
In the morning, George sits up to find the space beside him empty and cold. He hears noises from the garden. Outside, his wife is sweeping autumn leaves into a huge pile at the bottom of the lawn. She wears two coats, two scarves, and two pairs of gloves. She does not like to be cold. The wind picks up and occasionally blows leaves from the pile back onto the lawn, and she sweeps them back towards the pile. Once the wind drops and the lawn is clear she walks over to the trees and shakes them with short, vehement bursts until the lawn is littered again.
George reads science fiction novels, the biggest ones he can find. He spends hours reading in the spare room because it is the coldest place in the house. He sips coffee as he explores the deepest reaches of space. Later, as the afternoon light wains, he will move on to whiskey.
Kate spends the late afternoon using the sewing machine to fix the trimmings of the curtains so that none of them scrape along the floor, but instead rest gently amongst the fibres of the carpet, as good curtains should. The incessant tapping of the machine snatches George away from the world of his book, and he goes downstairs to play the piano.
George is a classically trained pianist and toured with various orchestras for over forty years. He knows over three hundred pieces of classical music by memory, and can play hundreds more by ear. He takes a seat at the piano and plays. The piano is in the same room as the dining table where Kate uses her sewing machine. He plays quietly at first; moving up in intensity until his head is rocking back and forth and his fingers start to hurt from hitting the keys so hard. The sewing has stopped by this point, and in-between songs he can hear pots and pans moving in the kitchen, and smell the beginnings of what will be their evening meal.
They eat. Kate finishes first and sits down at the piano, shuffling through her music. She is careful, delicate, and tentative with the keys and the position of her hands. George sits and watches the back of her head whilst she plays, and plays and plays.
Outside in the garden, past the curtains that lie level with the floor, the trees have no more leaves to give, and the lawn remains green and unspoiled. The pile of leaves is unmoved and will remain that way, because the air outside is still.
Our thanks to Lewis for sharing his work with Planet Slop.