Speak to Me
“Speak now,” Virginia said to the photograph of her sister. She waited patiently. She had always been patient with her sister, an emotional woman who had been married five times, always to assholes. Virginia has sat through many midnight phone calls with her sister, Elizabeth, sobbing on the other end of the line. Virginia had waited till the sobs subsided and then said, “Speak now.” She said it again to the photograph but it remained silent. Fine, there were other people to talk to.
Virginia drifted over to the grand piano. No one played it now but it provided an excellent surface for her gallery. There were photos of her late husband, her three children, her own parents and even a group photo of herself and her three best friends from school. My, that was an old one. She picked it up and smiled at Emily. What a card Emily had been! “Remember that time you bleached your hair blonde Em? How the hell had it turned green?” Virginia chuckled. “You didn’t care, did you Em? You went out that night anyway. We had a great time at the club, dancing till our feet nearly bled. Those were the days, Em, weren’t they?” Virginia patted the photo and then turned to her husband.
“And then I met you, Jerome.” Virginia sighed and sat down on the piano bench. She let her fingers drift over the keys but no melody came to enliven them. She wiped the dust from her fingers onto her dress. “If I had know Jerome, what it would be like living with you, I’m not sure I would have gotten married. Oh, I loved you, but my God, you were a pain in the ass. If one thing was out of place you blew your top. If I took too long getting ready to go out; if the meat was slightly overcooked, you lost the plot. I think the war screwed you up. It screwed up all the men in your generation. We girls were happy enough on our own but when you came home, we were expected to marry you and settle down. Give you happy homes and healthy children, erasing everything that happened to you. How the hell were we supposed to do that? Seriously, Jerome, you expected too much.” She was holding the frame now and gave it a good shake. Then she placed it face down on the top of the piano.
At least there were the boys. She lifted each photo in turn, scrutinizing the faces, all quite similar, though one wore glasses. “I did enjoy raising you three. I think I liked the bed time stories best of all. You were clean and quiet then and I sat down on the bed beside you and read the stories. It was the same book I used for all three of you. I had those stories memorized by the time Martin came along. I wish one of you had like music though. Funny that both your parents were musical but not a one of you took to an instrument, no matter how hard we tried. It was all sports, sports, sports and look at you now, all fat and middle aged doing desk jobs. If you had been musical, you could still be playing.”
“I wanted to be a pianist,” she said to the photo of her parents, “I was quite talented. You loved listening to me play, didn’t you Daddy? But you both thought I should get married and settle down. I’d be happier. It would be better for me.” She walked away from the piano then and looked up at the portrait of Debussy that hung over her fireplace. “Did you like the way I played your work? Or do you think I was better off in the kitchen than studying your pieces?” Debussy gazed back pensively but did not reply.
She returned to Elizabeth. “You haven’t rung in ages darling. I know I was a bit hard on you last time you called but I wish you had listened when I told you he was only after your money. I mean, why would any guy marry someone our age if it wasn’t for our money? He was at least twenty years your junior.” She paused. “Ok, I’m sorry. I was a bit harsh but I am your big sister.”
“Ah, there you are Mrs. Woodville,” the carer was wearing a pink uniform today. Virginia turned, holding her sister’s photo and stared at the intruder. The girl in pink was called …. She always wore pink. The other girl wore blue. And sometimes there was an older woman who came in a striped top. “Do you want to go for your walk now Mrs. Woodville? It’s Wednesday. It’s not raining. We can go to the cemetery if you like and you can put some flowers on you sister’s grave. I see you’ve been talking to her again.” The carer took the photo from Virginia and placed it back on the mantlepiece under Debussy.
“Elizabeth likes daffodils.”
“That’s right. You told me that last week. I think we might be able to find some now. Spring is just around the corner.”
“Spring,” Virginia mused. “I used to accompany Jerome when he played the violin part.”
The carer cocked her head. “On the piano? You liked to play at Spring time?”
“No dear, Vivaldi’s four seasons. The Spring movement.”
“Oh.” The carer smiled, “I’ve never heard that song. It’s sound pretty. Would you play it for me?”
Virginia glared at the girl, “I don’t play anymore. Especially not Vivaldi.” She held out her gnarled fingers. “Arthritis.”
The carer looked at the ancient fingers, twisted and swollen. The knuckles were red. Then she chanced a glance at the wrinkled face, the rheumy eyes, the thinning white hair and barely supressed a shudder. How awful it would be to be old. It was bad enough to have to work with them. She stepped forward and took Virginia by the arm. “Well, let’s go now and have our walk, shall we?”
“Into the Spring?”
“Um, Yes, into the Spring.”
At the doorway, Virginia turned around, “Good-bye,” she said, waving to her photographs. The carer gave a little tug. It was time to go.