It was his secret. Because it was absurd and couldn’t really happen it belonged to those voices he’d heard in childhood, those promptings and beliefs circling in the background, dreams of being chosen. There was always a chance, anything was possible; he’d believed that then. At four he’d had his own private world, a place off-limits where everything was simple and the voices in his head told him he was special – so why not at forty? Of course, as an adult, he’d had to take a view, put himself out there as sensible and limited – HR Manager, D. Whittle, who people could depend on. Around the office, he gave out advice, knew about procedure, told stories about panels who argued or didn’t know how to score, and only touched on something real when he chatted over lunch about after-school clubs and children learning music. Then he was warm and bright and fully-flushed. And in that mood, he could go the whole day with pieces he was practising running through his head – usually scales or early Mozart. But mostly it was meetings and meetings, with agendas and progress reports and emailed spreadsheets and the need to be in charge and measured, so that his passion only showed when he closed his door. That was when he smiled. And his smile grew, becoming fixed and dreamy, as he slid the bolt and returned to his desk. This was his place, his own secret studio where he held out his hands, just above the surface, leaning forward. And when his hands began moving he was the keyboard whiz, practising his pieces for his debut appearance.
But inside he was cold.
At home he waited till the children were in bed then began his practice with the soft pedal down. He called it his hour, but continued many more while his wife watched TV. There was strain now in his playing, a shakiness, as he imagined her watching. She was in the audience, shaking her head and refusing to clap when he stopped. More likely, of course, she wasn’t much interested. So when he heard her on the stairs he carried on playing – solo and determined, expecting nothing. And when he finally joined her, Hazel was asleep and turned to the wall.
Next day she was curt.
“It’s Friday, Dan,” she said while the children dressed.
He knew. This was her ‘pass out’ evening – a kind of payback, really, for what she put up with.
“Don’t worry,” he replied.
“I’m not,” Hazel shot back, as if in surprise.
Sometimes, he thought, they called across each other like rival announcers.
“Seven o’clock,” she added, and busied herself with the children.
During the day, while Dan went to the office, Hazel worked from home. It suited her. There was no fixed timetable so she could input graphics and add to products while looking up TV times and messaging friends. She even sent an email to Dan checking how he was. And when he came home, she asked about his day and volunteered information about Denise and Sam who’d both had issues at school – small stuff, of course, but something to watch out for.
That evening, when she’d gone, Dan talked and played with the children and read a bedtime story before taking them upstairs. “Now clean your teeth and snuggled down,” he called. “And sleep tight.”
Afterward, as he crept downstairs, he was in the clear. The children were asleep, Hazel was out, and in a moment he’d be playing. Sliding the door shut, he sat down at the keyboard. The room was very quiet. Taking a breath, he adjusted his cuffs. This was his time.
Suddenly, he was alone. He’d nothing to give, and as for the music – he’d never really played it. There was a gap between him and the piano. The keys – what were they? – black and white and meaningless. And if there’d ever been an audience, they’d all walked out. He was HR Manager, D. Whittle, who simply moved his hands and made things up.
It was his secret.
Leslie Tate is a non-binary author and poet with six published novels who studied writing with the University of East Anglia. Leslie interviews creative and community-involved people every week on his website Leslie Tate.