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The Concert II (Renamed-- Message in a Bottle)

by apcharman 

Posted: 10 September 2008
Word Count: 984
Summary: Taking on board some invaluable comments this is much tighter and, hopefully, more self-explanatory.
Related Works: The Concert • 

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He was D44 and Linda was D45, and, not being the earliest to take their seats, they did the sideways shuffle, coats in hand with all the obligatory apologies. He stowed his things and sat back to look around. The hall was impressively full for a lunchtime concert but the mutterings of the audience were kept quiet by the intimidating presence of a single grand piano, centred and spot-lit.

He checked his watch and leaned towards his wife.

"How long is it? I have to back in the office by two."

"It's only half-an-hour. Relax."

Linda kissed him pertly, leaned back in her chair and looked at the lonely piano. Jeremy sank down in his, blinking. He wondered if there was any kudos in the offhand mention of such a cultured lunch-time. 'We saw Amy Plattsburgh the other day—that brilliant new pianist. It's all improvisation. She's quite amazing.' He wasn't convinced.

The lights dimmed, the room broke into applause and a skinny young woman in an evening gown shuffled onto the stage. As soon as she appeared, the applause suddenly gained commitment—there were even whistles.

Jeremy looked round at these people who came with such adulation, but Amy appeared to be oblivious to it. She sat on the stool with her head down and her face hidden by her long black hair, waited motionless for the applause to stop, then just played.

Scales drifted for a long time then suddenly took a clear direction. He noticed it and frowned. It was as though she had just stopped warming up and now there was melody, rhythm, structure. And it grew. Soon it became dainty, light, delicate. And then it went further. Too far, almost; into sickly sentimentality. And then, with a suddenness that had him jump in his seat, there was a crashing violence of bass and minor chords.

He stared at the pianist, watching her feet stamping on the pedals while her hands were beating the keys. It was so fast, so sudden and such a racket that he found himself squinting, trying to see if she was actually using fully formed fists. Before he could decide, she found a rhythm. It took over and, gradually, the thumping became a marching time and the discords dissolved and the minors went major and, bit by bit, everything turned back into sweetness and light.

It stayed there for while, this time avoiding the sentimentality that had marred the earlier playing before the same violence struck again. Again she was pounding the keys, striking discords, bashing out horrible jarring noises. And once again it ended with the re-emergence of pace, turning slowly back into light and flowery music. And then her hands came crashing down once more on the far end of the keyboard.

And so it went on through the cycle; each time the melody grew settled and light, it was brutalised. Light, airy, delicate and feminine; violated. Melodious, rhythmical and harmonious; savaged. Floral, patterned and sequential; shattered.

It ended with the melodious part of the cycle being wistful. It was still a melody, but melancholy. The final flourish, presaged by a slowing, pausing, anticipating tease, seemed to Jeremy's uneducated ear, like a question.

Only when she had her hands in her lap and her head bowed did the audience know for sure she was done. They stood and cheered and clapped with genuine enthusiasm. Jeremy sat, blinking in his seat, weighed down by yawning horror. There was only one thought that his head would entertain; 'She is being abused'.

When Linda prodded him, scowling, waving at him to stand—like everyone else—he did as he was told, but it was like witnessing a traffic accident that no-one could see. The girl was bowing, straight-faced, untouched by the adulation and, as the flowers streamed onto the stage, a man came out to collect them for her. He was well built and muscular with a close-cropped head of hair.

"That's her manager, her uncle," Linda called.

He stood up straight, grinned and held the flowers up high; he was almost punching the air. Then he strode across to Amy, pulled her from her hunched position at the piano, put his arm around her and stood tall, drinking the applause.

Amy, by contrast, was quite still and unsmiling. She had not stepped away from her uncle, but neither had she embraced him. She was caught in the cell of his embrace, staring darkly out at the audience.

With a sudden shock, Jeremy realised that she wasn't just staring—she was searching. Going from row to row looking for someone. He dropped his hands, unable to clap any more. He knew exactly what she was looking for—someone who got the message in the music. It wasn't just improvisation; it was a desperate, mute, coded plea. Jeremy looked from her—hunched, defeated shoulders, white soulless face—to her big fisted uncle, and he knew with a leap of intuition that this man was the source of the violence in her music; that she was the subject.

When, at last, her eyes fell on his, she stopped searching. She stared right at him and kept staring while the applause went on. Some other grinning people joined her on stage to share in her glory, but she stared directly at Jeremy. Even when the rapture began to die away and while she was being ushered off behind the curtains, she carried on staring at him like a calf from a cattle truck.

Outside, the audience emerged—all black suits and dresses—into an afternoon shower and a shortage of taxis. Almost everyone else was able to produce an umbrella with a magic touch that Jeremy lacked.

When at last they had the dry privacy of a cab to themselves, he told his wife what had happened, but her response was stifling.

"Don't be so silly, Jeremy," his wife grinned, "that's her performance; it's why she's considered so brilliant."

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 19:06 on 10 September 2008  Report this post
Excellent. I love the revisions you've made and I've never seen such a good description of music and its effects. Itmakes me want to try something similar myself, just as an exercise.

I don't like the 'pertly' part of the kiss. Maybe she could just kiss him lightly and give a teasing smile?

It must be apparent that Amy is very young, so I don't think he'd assume they went to school together. Maybe he could think tat and then realise it was impossible.

The end of the piece with the audience reaction, the man coming onstage and the girl looking round is all very well done. I still think the reader would imagine some connection between them, not because of his reaction but because of the girl's sustained gaze. Is it possible she could look away earlier? He still feels the appeal is made to him personally but he won't seem to be implicated in whatever has gone on.

Very good. Looking forward to more.


Bishti at 22:54 on 10 September 2008  Report this post
Hi Apcharman,
A few small suggestions - how about- the mutterings of the audience were lulled or tempered instead of 'kept quiet'

'As soon as she appeared, the applause suddenly gained commitment—there were even whistles' - sounds like there was applause before she came on the stage. Did someone introduce her?

'Jeremy looked round at these people who came with such adulation,' - not sure what it is but something about this line is not quite right. I suspect it needs something of Jeremy's feelings or thoughts, but I may be wrong. Is he curious about their adulation? What does he think of them?

Other than these minor points I enjoyed this story very much. It leaves you thinking and wanting Jeremy to have taken some action. That fact htat he didn't and the story leaves the poor girl in her awful predicament is what stays with the reader.
I like the fact that she held his gaze without knowing him. It's spooky.

Katerina at 17:26 on 23 September 2008  Report this post
Hi Andy,

Well done, this is so much better and easier to understand - you've obviously spent some time thinking how to work this and it shows. It's tighter and more polished and a great little story if rather sad.

Just one teeny thing, in this bit -
that she was the subject
might it be better if you said - that she was his subject?

I feel that it would fit better as that's often how an abuser sees their victim, as their subject or belonging to do what they want with.

This is great, I really like it

Kat x

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