Shadows And Charades

Entry by: jaguar

30th December 2016
Other girls' parents had proper houses with halls and rooms for one purpose. They had pianos standing haughty and proud in polished front rooms. Other girls had lessons and were given never before opened music to learn from. Other girls had parents who listened to them practice on a Sunday afternoon.

Jessie's family had the old harmonium in the kitchen, piled high with stained music sheets and surrounded by prodding children trying to wriggle their bottoms on to the piano stool. There was barely an hour in the day when one or other of Jessie's siblings weren't pumping away, tinkering on the keys and drowning the duff notes with a belted out song.

No one remembered where the Harmonium had come from or a time when the tear in its bellows hadn't added a gasp to every note played. No one thought to buy lessons from strangers when each kid could watch the older ones and learn the same mistakes.

Jessie was the only one who yearned to play into an awed silence in a darkened room. She was the only one who wanted her notes unaccompanied by her many relatives. She seemed to be alone in longing for a proper parlour and a vacuum between the street and their living space.

'I need to practise on my own or, at the very least, nobody singing along.' She said.

'You sure she's ours?' Her mother asked her father.

Dad pursed his lips and then nodded. 'Aye. It was the day of the Queen's Coronation we made that one. No wonder she's got ideas above her station. Remember the party?'

'Well if you're sure.' Her mother tried to look stern but her eyes were dancing.

Jessie took her flaming face out of the house. Gwen Talbot, her best friend, was standing outside waiting for her. She'd invited Jessie for tea but said she'd call round as Jessie didn't know where Gwen lived. Gwen always seemed to be round Jessie's but this was the first invite back. They strolled along in a companionable silence until Gwen stopped in front of an enormous townhouse.

She swung her head from side to side as if she was embarrassed. 'This is ours.'

Jessie's mouth dropped open. She'd never seen such an enormous house. She followed Gwen inside clutching her shabby coat around her for protection. The hall stretched the length of the house and was as wide as Jessie's kitchen. A woman stood bolt upright at the end, her head inclined slightly to show she was waiting.

Gwen walked down the hall. 'Good afternoon Mamma. This is my friend Jessie who's come for tea.' Jessie scurried after Gwen and found herself curtsying at the woman who flicked her fingers as if Jessie was dirty.

'Just don't make any noise. You know I can't stand it.'

They ate in the drawing room where the food was already laid out on the table. The sandwiches had begun to curl and Jessie didn't like the slippery smoked salmon, it lacked the flavour of the kippers she could have had at home. The cupcakes looked fantastic but the icing had cracked and the sponge was stale. They ate in silence.

By the time they'd finished their tea the dry crumbs were sticking in Jessie's throat. She'd begun to miss the background roar of her siblings, the constant dialogue between them and her mum. It was cold in this great house and the hall was a frightening space to cross.

'Here's the piano,' Gwen gestured at the front room, 'but I'm only allowed to play on Sundays when Mamma is out.'

Jessie went and flicked through the music. It was all classical, no tunes she'd heard of, nothing you could sing along with. She ran her finger along the white upholstery of the Piano stool thinking it wouldn't stay that pristine if her brothers were around.

'Don't touch that!' Mrs Talbot stood in the doorway quivering. Jessie crept back from the piano. 'You ruin the look.' She picked up the music and fanned the sheets out then she picked them up and fanned them again and again. She was still fanning as Jessie and Gwen sidled out of the room.

Jessie ran all the way home, her breaths hurting her chest. She tore through the always open front door and ran full-tilt into her dad's solid legs.

'Whoa. Where's the fire?' He lifted her up. 'What's the matter Jessie?'

She wasn't sure so she told him everything as he settled her on his lap and Mum leant over his shoulder to listen too. 'I thought somewhere with more space would be nicer,' Jessie finished, 'I thought I'd like it but it was horrid. I thought if we had a hall we'd have a better life.'

Her dad suppressed a smile. 'Your Ma and I have often thought that too. We've seriously considered selling some of you children to get a bigger house. But do you know what people tend to do with extra space, young Jess?' She shook her head. 'They fill it with shadows and charades.'