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At least, thought Adam Eliot, Tara hadn’t told him that what he really struggled to do was to forgive himself. He had been on the point of walking out and stopping the whole pointless business many a time – after all, he was there of his own volition, wasn’t he? If she’d said that, if she’d so much as hinted at that, their Monday afternoon sessions would have come to an end, and in some ways that would have been a shame. Tara Munday. It was the right kind of name for a therapist, and not just because he visited her (or had a chat with her as she put it), on Mondays. Munday (he wondered if she had ever been tempted to change it to Monday, or if she already HAD changed it FROM Monday) also sounded like mundane. And that pleased him, in a childish way. Even though he was no longer a child, but they were talking about his childhood. Which had been anything but mundane. And Adam wouldn’t have denied that he liked talking about himself, as long as he called the shots. So he kept coming. As long as she didn’t tell him he was struggling to forgive himself. 

     Looking out of the window onto the Health Centre car park, he realised that dusk was already gathering. The nights were drawing in. Mrs Shaw had been fond of observing that the nights were drawing in, usually starting some time in early July – not in some gloomy way as if about to have an elemental crisis thinking of the nature of time and our own mortality. She was far more mundane than Tara Munday, but she’d never have recognised that description of herself.

     And perhaps I am the most mundane of all, thought Adam. At any rate, I am now.

     “I know you find it hard to forgive Mrs Shaw,” Tara said, cocking her head on one side in a manner that can be appealing in spaniels. Well, full marks for observation, thought Adam. “And it’s the kind of thing you can’t force. But could you – think of, maybe one or two positive things about her?”

     He supposed he could, if his life had depended on it. So long as it didn’t, he had no intention of wasting his time.

     “That’s the – funny thing about teachers, isn’t it, Adam? We either become too dependant on them, or we resent them, or both.”

     That’s my girl. Keep all your options open.

     He let his mind drift as her voice droned. She actually had a nice voice, and he noticed voices. It went with the territory and was a habit you couldn’t get out of. But she still seemed to drone. The droning merged into oneness with the irritating little buzz of the radiator and the pattering and smattering on the window of a desultory rain that seemed to have decided it might as well fall and get it over with. 

     He had always been slightly small for his age, not enough for it to be an issue. Well, not really. He also knew there was something tweely appealing in the little child prodigy whose feet couldn’t reach the piano pedals without them being specially adapted, even as his nimble little cocktail sausages of fingers (he was amazed that some folk still believed that garbage about pianists having long, slim fingers) dashed and darted across the keyboard. He bet that his fingers would have broken the land speed record, if they played around with it the way they do when telling us fleas are swifter than cheetahs. He was patient beyond his years when folk asked him who his favourite composer was, and what his favourite piece of music was. He wasn’t really sure himself, and it kept changing. But he did have a taste for the dramatic rather than the tinkly, and a sneaking preference for minor keys. He was fond of the Russians, too, and felt a particular frisson when he was presented with a good, solid, unstable chunk of Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky. He could read music as swiftly as his fingers could race and ripple, and it was beyond his comprehension that children years older than him, and even some adults and not (he had to admit) ones that where wholly stupid, had such issues with Every Good Boy Deserves Fun and all that. 

     If he were asked if he had any other hobbies (and that word “other” annoyed him!) then he had learnt that it was as well, particularly with certain people, to express an interest in reading (and he did quite like to read) or, if it was plain that something involving fresh air was expected, to say he liked to take a walk or to ride his bike. Though riding his bike was risky – what if he hurt his hands? Those hands his Mum and Dad were always talking about insuring. He wasn’t going to be a liar and say that he was just as happy kicking a football about, because in the first place, he wasn’t, and never would be, and in the second place, people might expect him to. 

     So he sat at the piano, hour after hour, fingers rippling and racing. Oh, his parents made sure he had enough sleep (or at least, that he went to bed more or less when boys his age were supposed to, unless there was a concert that night) and ate reasonably healthily and paid at least perfunctory attention to his other subjects.

     He saw his ten year old self at the keyboard, not sure how long he had been there, and this time he was playing Satie – he had once rather despised him , and thought him not to his taste at all, at first, but had begun to understand that simple is by no means the same as easy, and that pauses and spaciousness can be just as demanding as notes stumbling over themselves, jostling and jogging for position.  He often thought that, if he had to compare music to one of the elements, it would be water. Waves crashing and rippling. Mischievous little streams and stately rivers. Still, deep lakes with depths and reflections.

       He was not alone in the room. Mrs Shaw was there. 

     She always seemed to be there. He tried to banish her from his memories, to cleanse them of her, but she was there, in the background, bending over him, saying things he didn’t want to hear, squat and flabby, with her taste for those ridiculous pussy-cat bows on her blouses, and her sensible shoes, and that way of looking at him, and those predictable things that came out of her prissy little mouth. It was definitely unfair to accuse Tara of droning. Mrs Shaw, now. SHE had droned. 

     Mrs Shaw. His teacher. The bane of his life. 

     Tara couldn’t understand. She couldn’t begin to. It wasn’t her fault, he supposed. Only someone who had sat at a piano with their feet dangling for hours and had done that day after day, week after week, could begin to understand. He took a certain vapid pleasure from turning the tables on Tara at times and asking her the questions. Like, did she play an instrument?  He played cliché bingo with himself and yes, she loved music (check!) and had played the recorder when she was at school, of course (check!). Oh and she thought played properly it could be a lovely instrument and she had some recordings of Michaela Petrie. Not check.  Tara having heard of a relatively obscure musician he also admired struck the false flat of an erroneous preconception. I bet she’s Googled it, he’d thought, but then she’d surely have been more inclined to look up pianists. He actually didn’t disagree with her about the recorder (though not necessarily the descant one) being maligned, though his rare experiences of accompanying woodwind players in general didn’t tend to make him well-disposed to them. They got far too high an idea of their own importance at times.

     Mind you, Mrs Shaw had accused HIM of that. Not unkindly. She always made a point of saying she didn’t mean to be unkind. Perhaps she didn’t, so why say it? So far as Adam could remember, she had never said in so many words she was telling him that for his own good, but she might as well have. 

     Tara never let silences go on for too long. To be fair, she didn’t only like the sound of her own voice, but liked other peoples’ voices just as much. As long as there was TALKING.  After all, it was good to talk, wasn’t it? To let people talk in their own good time, of course, and not to badger them, and not, not EVER to be judgemental. The Gospel according to St Tara.

     “I mean you no disrespect by this, Adam,” she said, “But you’re not unique. Though of course we’re all unique.” Adam had been mildly amused by a website that contained the “memorable” phrases of the likes of Dan Quayle and George W. Bush – well, Tara Munday, therapist, could run them pretty close at times. “You’ll understand I’m naming no names, but only last year I had a client who was a very talented ice-skater. When she was a child, I mean. Her parents thought they were doing her a favour, and they certainly made all kinds of sacrifices for her to travel every day, or nearly, to the next town, where there was a proper ice-rink, for her to train before school. Two hours, at least, and sometimes they went back in the evening. She had the kind of teacher – coach, I suppose, might be more appropriate in this case – who gets called charismatic and inspirational. But they can end up doing a great deal of harm. Oh, I must stress, there was never the slightest suggestion of abuse or anything like that. But – my client – felt she was never doing enough, that she had to train more every day, and even then, her coach was never satisfied and pushed her, and she had no free time at all, no time to – let her personality grow, and find her feet,” (on ice skates, presumably, thought Adam) “and become a well-rounded person. Her coach and her parents only had one thing in mind, to get her to the Winter Olympics. She was selected on the long-list for the Youth Olympics, but then she had her breakdown ……” Tara shook her head, sadly. “I’ve done my best, and I think she’s a happier person now than she used to be, but it can be hard to undo things. I know that.”

     Adam had been on the point of slipping into drift and drone mood – his drift, her drone – but suddenly, he’d had enough. He let her tell her tale of the unfortunate anonymous ice-skater, wondering if it were made up for his sake, but giving her the benefit of the doubt that it was probably substantially true. It wouldn’t be the first tale of that kind he’d heard.

     “I’m glad you could help her, Tara,” he said, not entirely untruthfully. “But that’s not what’s troubling me – and no, I don’t just mean because we’re all unique. You see, Mrs Shaw was a teacher, but she wasn’t my piano teacher. That was a lady called Miss Madison, only I called her Olivia, and we got on well, and I looked forward to nothing so much as my sessions with her. Well, concerts, perhaps. I was a born performer. Mrs Shaw was my class teacher in my last year at primary school. My parents were always thinking about home-schooling me, and I wish to God they had – because believe me, Tara, I doubt I’d be sitting here with you now! But they decided I should have the company of ordinary children, too. Before you ask, I didn’t mind. Yes, they could be pretty boring, but I wasn’t bullied or anything like that. It was okay. At least, it was okay until Mrs Shaw decided to stick her oar in. I gather she’d always been mumbling and murmuring about it, about me but now she seized her chance. She even came round to our house when I was practising sometimes, and though I’d been brought up to be polite – I wouldn’t argue if you said I’ve gone downhill since, though I have my reasons – I wanted to tell her to bugger off and keep that out,” he indicated his nose. 

     It had been a drip, drip feed, and she was as stubborn as a gardener shifting mud with a spade. Not a bad image, he thought, except Mrs Shaw was more like the mud than the gardener – a great, sodden, grey congealed clump that got in the way and stopped things from growing.

     “Oh, she convinced them, Tara,” he said, only half-aware that he had stood up and started pacing around the room. “She convinced them, alright. And they listened, because she was such a nice ordinary sort of woman and was thinking about me, and all that jazz. At first they talked about some kind of compromise, about cutting back. About developing other interests. But that just doesn’t work. Oh, it might be enough for some well-behaved kid who thinks it’s fine just to get his Grade 5 and play a simplified version of a bit of Mozart very badly at the school concert. So what am I now? Not a concert pianist doing what I love and what I’m damned good at – or used to be! Some mediocre part-timer in a call centre who’s been diagnosed with depression. So please tell me, please give me one good reason, why I should forgive Mrs Shaw?”

     Tara, for once, said absolutely nothing. For at least a minute. Then she said, “It – looks like the rain is in for the day.”

January 28, 2020 09:12

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