Melodies of Yesteryear

Submitted into Contest #92 in response to: End your story with a truth coming to light.... view prompt

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Fantasy Fiction

There was a noise of chattering and cup clinking outside, but the family was asked into the office where refreshments were served. Options would be discussed, all had not gone to plan

“Mrs Hutton.” said Ron Barclay “how do you wish us to handle this?”

“I am really not sure Mr Barclay besides; the piano belongs to Neil. It was his grandfather’s, and was bequeathed to Neil’s family.”

“Neil, do you have any ideas that might become solutions? Ron Barclay was well known for his gentlemanly manner.

“No, not really, I just think that to sell or auction the piano in the state that it is in would be a waste of money, time and effort. I don’t know that it would be good for your business” Neil replied ruefully “Grandad definitely wanted it kept in the family.”

“Yes good point,” said Ron Barclay, nodding his head.

“May I ask a question please?” Max’s voice was mellifluous

“Of course, Mr Hutton.”

You do get a percentage of the payment do you not?” asked Max

“Yes.” said Ron “under normal circumstances, but at my discretion, there will be no charge for this, it was our mistake.”

Max nodded

“Uncle Max, apart from your arm what do you have up your sleeve?” asked Neil

“An idea my boy, an idea. Let me explain Matilda, darling, listen carefully.”

It was just an old piano. Though it had been well maintained, it had seen better days; yet, it was there in the auction house. Matilda recognised it, and though she too had seen better days; wearing thick lens spectacles and walking with the aid of a stick, her memories were as sharp as ever. She smiled to herself then realised an attendant was approaching.

“How are you today?” the young man asked. It was clear he was assessing the reason for the "old duck's" presence, so early in the proceedings.

“I’m fine thank you,” Matilda replied graciously,

“Does the piano interest you?” he asked her, looking down from his great height of six feet two inches to Matilda’s four feet eleven inches.

“Indeed yes.” she smiled “how much do you think this old piano would go for?”

“Hard to say, Ma’am, it is quite old.”

“May I try it?” Matilda asked

“No, we’d rather you did not, in case...” he did not complete the sentence.

“In case of what… that I would ruin it? You would expect someone to buy this without trying it?” asked Matilda “if anyone wanted a good piano from a reputable source, no doubt they would be allowed to tinkle on it, particularly if their repertoire exceeded that of the awful Chopsticks tune which children delight in. I can’t understand your reasoning there. You are not in a position to gauge whether or not I could afford to buy it; what if I am?” She stood with dignity.

Okay point taken; I have an idea.” said the young man whose name tag suggested he was known as James.

“Do tell, I’m most interested!” said Matilda, resisting the temptation to rub her hands with glee, when James’ idea unfolded.

The old upright Zender piano these days referred to as a student piano, by those with tickets on themselves, was like the one Matilda had once learned on. Of course, professional keyboard musicians often used a parlour grand piano or a baby grand; but this one was like its counterparts used in halls and churches, where ordinary folk accompanied choirs, amateur concerts and the like. As a retired schoolmistress, Matilda had often been called upon to assist in accompanying young children; her smile of encouragement killing stage fright in three seconds. Mrs Hutton as she was known was a favourite among the pupils, and in fact, her grade two pupils adored her too. That was long ago.    She wandered about the auction house. Unbeknown to James, Matilda believed she had known the original owner; she recognised the chip at the left-hand side of the instrument. Only by one other mark could she be truly certain; she was itching to “research” into it. Nothing else in the auction rooms interested her. She waived to James, indicating her agreement to his idea and chose a seat where the sun, shining through the window would keep her warm, and her arthritic fingers supple.

As a child, Matilda Green was a promising music student. She practised her scales diligently firstly under her father’s watchful professional musician’s eye, then under the expert tutelage of Mrs Hall.  As she grew up, she spent every moment she could listening, watching, practising, almost eating and sleeping music. Her repertoire developed well. While others of her age dreamed of being wives, mothers, school teachers and swimmers, Matilda wanted with all her heart to not only play the piano but to be a professional musician. Sometimes it took a lot of discipline to stay home and practise, while her friends went to the cinema or parties and the like, but Matilda knew that if she was to succeed, she had to work towards her goal; it would never be achieved through being lazy. Her only indulgence was the occasional cigarette. Her father did not approve, but in the long run, it did not do her any harm until…the day thoughtlessness changed her life and career options.

She walked past the piano, cigarette in hand, and for some unknown reason, the music fell from the top of the instrument.  Matilda in her haste to retrieve the music was careless.  Cigarette in her hand, the music caught alight. In trying to catch it, Matilda burned her hand and scorched one of the keys. That is why she was anxious to see if the Zender was her father’s; she would know soon enough. 

She looked down at the hand that still carried the scars of injury. Facetiously, her mother stated that it was just as well it was her left hand, because it did not need to work as hard as the right, and some poor blighter, would place a solitaire diamond on the ring finger and hide the ugly patch. She had told Max after he had obliged, and his laugh was hearty.

“Tell your mother, I will even place a wedding ring on the same finger.” Of course, he did, making sure the ring was wide and completely hid the ugly patch.

Matilda had seriously thought that her playing days were over, but with determination, she coaxed her hand to work and, although she would not attain her dream, she had a lot of fun and a few paid gigs. Like her friends, she became a teacher. As Max had bought a piano, her father’s piano went to someone in the family and ultimately, so it appeared wound up in the auction room. Matilda was not convinced that the piano if it was the one, she thought, should be there; yet there was nothing she could do about it now.

The auction was about to start. There were still people coming in the door. Matilda noticed Max and their four-year-old granddaughter Amy, who rushed towards Gran and hugged her. There was a seat beside Matilda, Max took it taking Amy on his knee, and Amy in turn, snuggled into Pa intent on having cuddles.  A few mundane items were auctioned first and then James looking over at Matilda smiled.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the next item is an old school piano.   So that you can gauge your interest I have invited Mrs Hutton to tinkle the ivories.” he turned to Matilda “look I even found the stool.”

She searched for the scorched key and was not disappointed. Sitting down Matilda smiled to herself. She started with a few scales, then played Beethoven’s Fur Elise followed by Schumann’s Traumerei (Childhood memories), which she thought appropriate. She received a standing ovation and was quite embarrassed. James applauded loudly.

“Well, folks I think we have had a rare treat. Now does anyone want to try the piano, or has Mrs Hutton convinced you that it should be yours?  You will notice a chip at the back of the piano and a scorched key but…” he smiled “who will start the bidding?

There was a voice from the back of the room, loud and scathing:

“Yah gotta be kiddin’ mate, who want that old thing? Give it to the op shop or better still one of those old-time churches that churn out old ancient hymns.” the owner of the voice hiccupped, then laughed.  He looked as though he did not have two coins to rub together, but looks could be deceiving.

“Now Sir this is a serious matter and really, we are in an auction house.” James twittered

“Good I will start the bidding; a slab or two of Victoria Bitter.”

The amused titters were short-lived as a security guard appeared and firmly guided the slightly inebriated onlooker out of the premises. Bids began in earnest but no one really wanted to pay a huge amount of money for something that had sentimental value and had outlived its usefulness, when electric pianos were the in thing. Quite suddenly, in came an angry young man by the name of Neil Green, Matilda’s nephew.

“What in the name of butter is going on? This piano is not to be auctioned! Did you lot not receive my letter; more to the point my phone call yesterday?” he looked angry “I even left a message, what gives? Oh, Aunt Matilda, you are there I thought it was you. Are you happy about this?”

An older man rushed across whispered a message to James who was red-faced by this time. In an effort to smooth things down, James’ shoulder was patted, and the other man came across to the stage. He too was embarrassed, saying:

“Ladies and Gentleman My name is Ron Barclay, and I am the manager of the auction house. I do apologise to you all for this additional entertainment. James was unaware of the fact that we received a letter during the week from Mr Green stating that the piano was sent here in error.   James also does not know that Mrs Hutton is related to the owner. I am, most frightfully sorry. How about we adjourn for a break?

It was thought to be a good idea and after all, it was free.

THE IDEA IS REVEALED:

Ron Barclay stood waiting for the audience, or supposed bidders to settle

“Well, ladies and gentlemen once again I am so frightfully sorry that this has happened However Mr Max Hutton would like to make a suggestion.”

Max joined Ron and smiled

"It is with regret, that the family is unable to proceed with this item for auction. It was the express wish of my father in law that the piano is retained in the family However, I have been thinking very seriously about an alternative largely due to the suggestion by the gentleman who wanted to bid two slabs of beer for the piano. Therefore, the family has decided to donate some money to charity. If you have time to stay for a sing-along I have chosen three songs to sing  If one  or more of these choices is a favourite you may like to donate some money to the charity of our choice I hasten to assure you that our intention is that the money goes towards our farmers.”

“What a perfectly splendid idea, I am in,” said one lady

“Me too,” said another lady near her.

“I also,” said another man at the back

“I will be in that,” said James

“As will I, James,” said Ron Barclay

Seated at the piano, Matilda accompanied Max, his rich baritone voice filling the room as it used to be.

LATER

The chatter around the table was only to be expected. It had been an extraordinary day, but the outcome appeared to Matilda, as satisfactory. It had been a long time since she was the centre of attention, and though she liked, it, she was too old now to be bothered making a habit of it. She was a little tired and allowed the family to talk. It was very pleasant in the restaurant, and the food was superb. Someone was playing the piano, one of the melodies of yesteryear. She looked over at Max, he recognised it too. Ah, they were growing old together, but the shared memories were numerous.

May 07, 2021 06:25

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