Mu­sic While You Work

It’s time to move on in this en­gag­ing com­plete story by Re­becca Holmes.

The People's Friend Special - - PERIOD STORY -

SAM had been in the mar­ket hall hun­dreds of times, but he had never be­fore heard a pi­ano be­ing played there. His f irst thought was that some­one must be sell­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. The idea wasn’t as sur­pris­ing as it might seem.

The town’s mar­ket was the best for miles, sell­ing al­most ev­ery­thing, from clothes to vinyl records, with a ded­i­cated cheese stall, a café and even a “pre-loved” china stall.

There was some­thing haunt­ing about the notes, echo­ing into the heights of the old stone build­ing, that made him forget his prob­lems and Satur­day morn­ing er­rands for a mo­ment and drew him to the area where the mu­sic was com­ing from.

He wasn’t the only curious one. A small crowd had gath­ered around an el­derly up­right pi­ano with in­tri­cate wood carv­ing on the front. Sit­ting there, play­ing the in­stru­ment as if was the most nat­u­ral thing in the world, was Ge­orge, owner of the adjacent fruit and veg­etable stall.

His large, work-gnarled hands that nor­mally weighed out pota­toes and car­rots moved grace­fully over the keys. If Sam hadn’t seen the sight with his own eyes, he’d never have be­lieved it.

The same ap­plied to the huge smile of the young woman stand­ing next to the pi­ano. She looked so happy, even on this cold, driz­zly morn­ing, her hands shoved deep into the pock­ets of her duf­fel coat and her shoul­der-length blonde hair tucked be­hind her ears.

Ev­ery as­pect of her ap­pear­ance was as dif­fer­ent from Rowan’s dark fea­tures as it was pos­si­ble to be.

The thought of Rowan plunged him back into his gloom. It took him a minute to re­alise the mu­sic had stopped and Ge­orge was stand­ing up and tak­ing a bow, look­ing un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally bash­ful as peo­ple con­grat­u­lated him.

“You dark horse,” one of them com­mented. “We never knew you could play the pi­ano.”

“I learned as a lad, so I couldn’t re­sist hav­ing a go. That’s the beauty of a street pi­ano. You can’t go far wrong with a bit of ‘Für Elise’. That’s by Beethoven, you know,” he added. “You should thank this young lady’s grand­mother for con­tribut­ing such a beauty.” He rubbed his hands to­gether. “Now, back to busi­ness. We’ve got the best cauliflow­ers this morn­ing. Who’s f irst?”

Al­though there were sev­eral tak­ers for Ge­orge’s f ield-fresh veg­eta­bles, no-one else seemed will­ing to try out the pi­ano.

The young woman, still stand­ing by it, frowned as her eyes searched round the build­ing. Af­ter the mis­er­able time he’d been hav­ing lately, Sam wasn’t feel­ing talk­a­tive. Even so, it seemed wrong to say noth­ing and leave her there by her­self. “Nice pi­ano,” he ven­tured. Her gaze flick­ered and set­tled on him. “Thanks.” Her smile reached her light blue eyes. “Who’d have thought Ge­orge could play like that? I wish some­one else would try it. It would be a shame if Gran’s pi­ano was here only to be ig­nored.”

Part of Sam was ready to leave. On the other hand, it wasn’t as though he had much else to do that day.

“I could have a go at play­ing ‘Chop­sticks’.” He shrugged. “You never know, my atro­cious ef­fort might get some­one who ac­tu­ally can play so scan­dalised they’ll push me out of the way and play some­thing.” To his sur­prise, she nod­ded. With the calls of mar­ket traders ring­ing in the back­ground, Sam sat down on the pi­ano stool and made a show of shuf­fling into po­si­tion and flex­ing his f in­gers. He was ac­tu­ally try­ing to work out where he should start.

“I think you’ll f ind that’s Mid­dle C.” The pi­ano girl pressed her in­dex fin­ger on to a white note just be­low two black ones. “Shove up and I’ll ac­com­pany you, if you like.”

Be­tween them, they made a rea­son­able job, in Sam’s opin­ion, prob­a­bly thanks to Pi­ano Girl do­ing most of the work. He’d cer­tainly never have man­aged on his own. Just as he started to re­lax, the pi­ano girl stopped play­ing and sat back.

“I think we’ve en­ter­tained the shop­pers enough for one day. We seem to have reawak­ened in­ter­est.”

A few peo­ple were stand­ing round, smil­ing, which was a good sign. As they got up, two girls in their early teens took their place and started pick­ing out a tune he’d heard on the ra­dio ear­lier in the week.

“Sorry I wasn’t very good,” he said. “I’ve never learned to play. I only know ‘Chop­sticks’ from muck­ing about in the mu­sic room at school. You were loads bet­ter. I bet you can play real mu­sic.” She blushed. “I’m not brave enough to try it here. Gran taught me the ba­sics, then I had lessons for a while. I kept at it for long enough to mas­sacre ‘Moon­light Sonata’, but it got harder to f it in the practising.”

“That’s still more than most peo­ple,” Sam said, though he couldn’t have com­mented on the dif­fi­culty of the piece she’d re­ferred to.

“Maybe. It’s sur­pris­ing how many do play. Look at Ge­orge, for ex­am­ple.” She paused. “Well, I’m sure we both have things to be get­ting on with,” she con­tin­ued, break­ing the awk­ward si­lence that had fallen. “Keep play­ing ‘Chop­sticks’ and we might make a pi­anist out of you yet.”

****

“Why didn’t you in­vite her for a cof­fee?” Sam’s col­league and friend, Paul, asked at the of­fice on Mon­day, as they chat­ted dur­ing their break. “Or at least f ind out her name? You can’t keep call­ing her Pi­ano Girl.”

“I don’t know.” Sam sighed. “I wanted to, but it’s too soon since me and Rowan.

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