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by KevG
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Experience · #1088124
A pianist and an epiphany.
The Ones Who Get By

I was running late. I was always running late....A towel, still wet from the day before forced violently through the hair.....A spoonful of weetabix....A quick once over with the toothbrush - and the mandatory check of breath on the cupped palm. Spearmint fresh. Another spoonful of sugary weetabix - which I knew, of course, would undo the last step of my daily rushed ritual - and then I was ready to go out and face another day.

This day was a schoolday - like four others in the week - but the lax attitude towards sixth year meant that timekeeping was less of an issue than in previous years. The bus journey which would lead me to school lasted on average twenty minutes; this left me enough time to listen to some music whilst taking in the sunny optimism of another Tuesday morning. I had my trusted walkman in my pocket, and inside it my most recent mix tape. My taste in music had varied frequently during my years of adolesence, meaning that my personal compilations were always a mixture of many different styles and genres. The past few months had seen a more experimental, obscure 'indie' taste; maybe an indication of my growing up, a move away from Nirvana and the other angst-driven teen-rock that formed the soundtrack to my early teen years. The new music was fresh, clever...and awe-inspiringly 'cool', in an odd sort of way. The Beta Band, Gomez and Belle and Sebastian. Bands oozing originality, sophistication and writing songs that could only blow a 17 year old mind away. The lyrics and the melodies combined with the experimental sounds of the music could unlock a young mind, and encourage it to look at life a little differently - perhaps more intellectually, if you allow. Now, I'm not saying that I'm the first person to ever 'feel' music, nor am I trying to say that my tastes were any more important or significant than any others; but surely at one point most people have sat back, closed their eyes and thought that a certain song was 'theirs' just for the moment? That 'moment' for me was my bus journey to school. Every day.

The ten minute walk from the bus-stop to the city centre school made room for another couple of tracks. Maybe 'Paranoid Android' by Radiohead, 'Cherubs' by Arab Strap, or a quick blast from Hendix's strat followed by some Jurassic 5 - either way it passed the journey pleasantly, and made the walking seem more enjoyble. As I approached the back gate of the school I would frantically fastforward, rewind, and turn over the tape, hoping to find a chestnut that would ease me into the day's learning. This day it was 'Caramel' by Blur; a long and apocalyptic juxtapostion of distorted riffs, atmospheric effects and angelic lyrics. The walk down the hill to the registration office was seldom better - the smell of the fresh city morning air in my airways, and the emotional crescendo of the jilted lover's anger-ballad in my ears.

I was late. A bit later than usual. As I got to the office to turn over the small piece of card with my name on it, I realised I would be lucky to make it to my first class on time - not a rare occurence by any means, but still, a terrible habit. I quickly picked out my name among the cards on the wall and turned it over - noting the irony of the action; it seemed backwards to me, why make my name disappear if I was present? I now had a choice...Take the long way round to class and ensure being a few more minutes late, or cut through the assembly hall and get to save a little bit of face. After a quick look around outside the assembly hall door - and a cheeky peek through it's window to ensure the room was empty - I pushed the dull white paint on the door and crept inside.

My ears were still ringing from the climax of the afforementioned song and at first I thought the faint noise I could make out was the consequence of listening to my headphones too loud. After a few seconds, I realised the sound I could hear was the piano at the top of the room. I stood still beside the door, attempting to prevent any disturbance of the mystery musician and hoping to get a closer look. I instantly recognised the song. It was one of my favourite tracks - a ghostly piano piece from the album 'Radiator' by the Super Furry Animals. A sad pessimistic lullaby of lonliness and despair. As I stared I quickly recognised the owner of the hands that were playing the keys; a girl from my year, one who was accused by many others of 'not fitting in' and labelled a 'weirdo'. I had never spoken to the girl much myself, but she definitely had a 'different' look - one that would earn her whispers and comments from the 'cool' students. A little too much black; a terrible mistake to make in a world of shallow, judgemental teenagers. But then again if it wasn't that it would only be something else; choice of friends, race, class, supposed sexual preference etc. I could never gain a proper understanding of the social rat-race that perpetuated the cruel and Machiavellian nature of my fellow peers; all I could do was go along with it, taking and giving my verbal bashings as everybody else did. I had never seen myself as 'cool' or 'weird' - and to be honest had little desire to belong to one more than the other - but all I could do was stand there transfixed as the quiet girl beautifully recreated the tragic melody. She had a brittle frame cocooned in a pale skin that was undermined by her dark mascara, and a nervous disposition that was visible even to the stranger; but as her thin, bony fingers immaculately walked the scale of the classical-style song as gracefully as the tightrope walker she had an aura of magnificence. This was her 'moment', and I had intruded - an unknown, uninvited guest. I felt like a fraud as I stood there entranced by the 'geek' - their word, not mine - but I didn't want to move through fear of disrupting her tranquil reverie. As she continued to play the repetitive loop of notes with a near supernatural precision I decided to hang fire and slip into my thoughts.

I had never really witnessed anyone - other than a music teacher of course - play the piano properly before, far less play a song that I was so familiar with. All I could do as she sat there working the ivory was stare, and savour the beauty of hearing the piece in 'real-life' for the first time. When she had finally finished the composition she looked up from the blacks and whites and stared straight at me. I froze on the spot, completely unsure what to do. Finally I made a decision, turned around and then passed through the door on the other side of the assembly hall. I don't know what it was that stopped me from making the gesture of starting a conversation with her, but I didn't, even though I quite easily could have - like water off a duck's back. 'Hi, I didn't know that you played the piano. Download is one of my favourite songs. That was amazing. Thanks'. I could have; but I didn't.

The rest of our school days played out and I would never come to speak to the girl after that moment, not even a casual 'hi' in the corridor. Not that I assume she ever thought about the moment after it happened. The irony again struck me. It was her 'moment', yet I was the one who remembered it perfectly; the secret performance in the makeshift auditorium of the assembly hall. Like most of the people I went to school with, the girl faded back into obscurity. I would stay in touch with just a small handful.


I was running late. I was always running late....A towel, still wet from the day before forced violently through the hair.....A spoonful of weetabix....A quick once over with the toothbrush - and the mandatory check of breath on the cupped palm. Spearmint fresh. Another spoonful of sugary weetabix - which I knew, of course, would undo the last step of my daily rushed ritual - and then I was ready to go out and face another day.

This day was a workday - like four others in the week - and timekeeping was more strict, but I was still just as poor a timekeeper. As I hurried along the busy road in the Tuesday morning rush hour I fiddled with the volume control on my personal CD player. My taste in music had changed frequently during the early years of my adulthood. A more mature sound. The sound of poets spilling out the secrets of their hearts against the background of a solitary acoustic guitar. The troubador. It's amazing how our tastes in music evolve as we do. As if we seek more pain, more anguish....a higher sense of tragedy. Since my schooldays I had taken up a keen interest in playing the guitar myself - and the piano - among other artistic pursuits. I had never mastered that one song though. It would be an act of sacriledge.

As I walked along the road to work amidst the noise of the early morning traffic my latest compilation CD threw up a surprise. A song I hadn't heard in a while. Every single time I had heard the song since the event, I thought about the girl from school, and spared a thought for her, wondering how she was getting on in adult life. I convinced myself that she had shed the labels of 'geek' and 'weirdo' and gone on to be more of a success and a far better person than most of those uppy bastards from school. I'd never be sure that it was true. But I liked it that way. A happy ending.

There are people who think, and people who don't.
And the people who don't are the ones who have most.
There are people who lie, and others who'll cry.
And the people who lie are the ones that get by.

(from Download by the Super Furry Animals.)

© Copyright 2006 KevG (kevg at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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