Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Musical Statues"

Yesterday I met an old friend for breakfast. This was tea with cinnamon toast in a wine bar.
The painting on the left is not us. It's called "Girl Talk" by Elya de Chino. It's not us, as I say, but yesterday we DID talk..
My friend, MR, and I meet rarely, but we go back a long way; all the way back to our first year at a prim ( in those days) girls school overlooking the City Walls. Then, we pincurled our hair, we put Vaseline on our eyebrows, we ate jelly cubes to help our nails grow; each evening, we rolled our white pleated skirts up into nylon stockings to keep them immaculate. We covered our textbooks with brown paper and we decorated them with felttip psychedelic flowers. AND we marked boys we knew out of 10 and nobody scored better than 8..
We giggled in science and we giggled in Latin. We giggled particularly in Scripture. Once, I giggled under the floorboards in the Hall during Assembly, with a sock stuck in my mouth to shut me up and later the teachers wondered why my hair was dripping with cobwebs and my tunic ( the posh word for a gym slip..!) was torn ..
MR says that on my thirteenth birthday, I stood in our classroom and told her that Life Was Wonderful and that Anything Was Possible. I suppose it actually was. In hindsight, bless it, it was..
MR still has notes we wrote to each other during lessons....and once every twenty years, I am allowed to re-read them...
Old friends are precious. I'm in contact with several women who " go back" several decades ( and several men too) We have different lives, styles, dreams, interests and yet the friendships are special because through them, we glimpse again our beginnings. We glance at where we started and sometimes the thrills of our growing up can be as vivid as ever...
Below is the start of a story I wrote last year. It's told in first person by a girl remembering her friend who "disappeared".
The story is called " Musical Statues".
Here is the beginning:

"This is what I remember. Piano music in a dusty school Hall. Mrs Platt, finger on lips, sitting upright at her piano. Mrs Platt had wisps of hair on her chin. Children yelled in the playground. A dog barked in the street. And Cecelia Snowball stood alone, arms above her head, hands curving together. Cecelia, a beauty; a loner.
Mrs Platt sat at her piano. Mrs Platt, who had lips like a Rosebud doll. I remember all this; the swirling music, Mrs Platt’s chords and the heat of late June.
We are ten years old. Ten years old, when Hungarians rose against Russians, Khrushchev lashed at Stalin, Elvis sang “Blue Suede shoes”, Monroe wed Miller. And a film star called Grace married a prince in Monte Carlo.

“Cecelia’s a perfect statue!” Mrs Platt groans with delight. Mrs Platt swipes tears from her eyes. We roll our eyes. We are twenty-two quivering statues. We stand on one leg. We curl on the floor. We hold our arms high in the air. Dan Fisher farts on purpose. Donna Morris flicks bits from her ears. Jenny Woods, who’s thin and clever and smells of cats, times the length of our stillness. She squints at her watch because she needs glasses. She sways from side to side. She’s a pipe cleaner taut on a tightrope. Someone hiccups then burps then farts. There is a round of applause in our eyes.
Mrs Platt smiles. This is rare; this is a phenomenon.
“Children ” She places her hands together: “Look at Cecelia. Why can’t you all be perfection? Why can’t you all be angels?”
And there’s silence you can hear; it’s loud as gunshots, ricocheting the length of the Hall. My ears buzz. The air is noisy with silence.
And then the long afternoon wraps itself round me, twines itself round me, while Cecelia Snowball, tall and straight, impossibly still, stands alone in the centre, while the rest of us wobble and totter, giggle and fall.

And then the music plays again. Honkity tonk. Plonkity plonk. The music from the piano clonks around the Hall, glitters like tinsel at Christmas. We move like fairies or cabbages or felines or drunks, depending on our build, our inclination.
“ Cecelia has bearing!” Mrs Platt’s voice is bright as lemons. “ Cecelia’s going places!”
“ To the flipping moon, I hope!” Dan Fisher grunts and Cecelia smiles a shy furtive smile. She has olive skin and blue eyes and her legs are long. She smells of garlic and fags and her clothes come from Oxfam and there are violet shadows beneath her eyes. She wears a pink striped jacket and she’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.
All this I remember; Mrs Platt watching Cecelia, watching her grace, her dark exotic skin, her face. And I remember circling round, thinking about family stuff, my mum, my dad, my secrets...

Mrs Platt leans over the piano. Her hands spread across her keyboard; her legs spread wide beneath it. The music ripples and surges and splashes and Mrs Platt sways to the music and we giggle as we move and we whisper as we move and Benny Speakman pinches Julie Warburton and Simon Hodgkiss makes her cry. We’re moving round in a circle on the School Hall floor. Despite the day, my arse is cold in thin PE shorts and my legs have goose bumps and I want to go home and I wish my shorts were woollen ones.
Then Mrs Platt plays a dozen scales in quick succession. Notes scrape the floor, shimmy to the ceiling. Our movements are slow, we stop, and we start. We move as though crocodiles lurk in water beneath our feet, as though our thighs are encased in mud. Mrs Platt trills along with each triumphant note. Her breasts shiver beneath her flowery dress and Benny Speakman who’s five foot six already, whose voice croaks already, says “Jees!” and waggles his hips as the music soars. Benny Speakman gawps at Mrs Platt; his mouth hangs wide as though he’s catching music on its route to the ceiling. And Cecelia Snowball glides along, floats along, and drifts along while Mrs Platt plays along.

We wait for the notes to die. Music fills my head. Mrs Platt wears a fawn coloured cardigan over her flowery dress. The cardigan is crumpled and worn and pushed to her elbows. Her elbows are raw and scaly. The cardigan is fawn; our dog is fawn and today I am wondering if Bambi the fawn was actually fawn as well as a fawn. My mind goes round in circles as we move.
“ Be stealthy!” Mrs Platt shouts, “Creep, children! Celia! She’s stealth to perfection!”
I remember these earliest things. Cecelia, moving with stories in her mind; Cecelia, who was stealth to perfection...

Mrs Platt’s arms are pink and blotchy like hams at Christmas. I stare when I pass the piano. Her bracelet clatters with charms when she strikes a chord. Charms flash; ther's a bear holding honey, a star, and a clattering heart. The heart clinks against the keys. It glitters. I wonder if Mrs Platt’s real heart’s been broken. I wonder if mine will be broken. I wonder if Cecelia’s heart will be broken. I wonder if real hearts glitter when they are loved. I wonder if Mrs Platt has a tarnished heart.

Cecelia floats by as if in a dream. Mrs Platt’s brow is damp and her face sparkles with sweat. She lifts her hands deftly off the keyboard. Her hands are swans, curving feathers. Her wrists are narrow; they twirl with the music but her eyes are dull, her eyes are doll’s eyes.
And we’ll be statues but now we move to music. We prowl through forests, we stroll in cities; we are knights, fairies and elephants. Sometimes Mrs Platt stops playing, picks her fag from the ashtray on top of the piano, draws on it long and hard. Her pale eyes are slits in a cherubim face. Her cheeks are the colour of pink blancmange; they're smooth and flawless and I know they’d feel like satin cushions.

And we stand, while Mrs Platt sucks on her fag. And Jenny smirks at Donna and Benny pinches Julie and Simon makes her cry and Dan farts and I laugh and Cecelia Snowball bends, makes a perfect arabesque, so that Mrs Platt flusters and ash flutters on the piano keys and the fawn cardigan stretches tight round her ample breasts.

Those are things I remember. And I wallow in hindsight and drown with my biscuit in coffee, dunking it dunking it dunking it until my cup is full of soggy crumbs and the coffee’s soaked up into the crumbs and I answer my mobile and my voice becomes Mrs Platt’s voice and it’s that voice as bright as lemons.
And in some other time, the music stops and Cecelia Snowball in a dusty school hall makes her perfect arabesque. "
A week later, Mrs Platt at the piano for Morning Assembly announced that Cecelia had left. She was breathless and flushed.
“ So that’s that” she said, bursting into a rousing chorus of “ All things bright and beautiful” which Benny Speakman yelled and Jenny Woods, still smelling of cats, timed the singing of the hymn with her new Micky Mouse watch…


Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

I loved this! So immediate, and the characters ... especially the piano teacher (or the teacher who played the piano) .. are such vivid portrayals. I always yearn for satisfying endings to a story - endings that make you feel like you've eaten an especially yummy dish and (this is the important bit) eaten every bit; right to the very last crumb. And yours did that - so thank you!

6:13 am  

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