This is an old tale from the days of Fiction Friday’s over on Ink Blot and Just Breathe. It is a favourite.
I sauntered through the new home. It was all plush carpets and sleek lines. Modern and sparse. Not exactly my idea of comfort, but at least it was warm and dry. I had picked up the mug who owned the house over on West Street. A quick dart in front of her car and the sap just couldn’t resist bringing me home to nurse me back to health. That was fine by me. It had been a while since I had some good food and a warm fire.
As I entered the living room, I saw it. Sunlight gleaming on the black polished surface. The sight of it puts a twinkle in my eye and I couldn’t resist investigating further.
She was a grand girl. Old but well loved. The ivories tinkled at perfect pitch under my delicate explorations. The sound fills me with a delight I had not felt in a long time. Stretching a little and flexing my tired muscles I made those ivories sing with a little more exuberance.
My love of the piano came from another time, another place that was so far away it felt like another universe. Yet with each note came ripples in the water of my memory.
I was only young when I wandered into the bar on Regent. It was pouring outside and I needed somewhere dry. Shaking the water from myself, I had spotted it up on the stage and my curiosity was piqued. What was that?
Further investigation revealed keys, worn and yellowed with smoke. They begged to be pressed, and I, possessing the devil-may-care attitude that youth brings, touched one.
A shocking thunder of base note sang out that nigh on frightened the coat right off of me. The second touch brought forth a different wail of protest. So pleased was I of my ability to pester this beast that I almost danced across those keys.
My first ever jamming session.
Mac had applauded me when I finished. A row of crooked, yet shining teeth in a dark chocolate face, he had grinned from ear to ear.
‘Play it again, Sam.’ He said.
Were I capable, I may have blushed. Instead, I was gracious and gave up my place even as he slid onto the stool and flexed his fingers. Oh, the sounds he coaxed from that old piano. My heart ached as the music filled it. Those nimble fingers skipped across the keys and stroked each note out at a perfect pitch. Mac closed his eyes and let the music flow. He played from the soul and I drifted on his rifts like a shipwrecked sailor on the high seas. Dashed by its storms and then floating on sun-speckled waters when the calm arrived.
I loved the blues from that day on.
Our lives fell into a pattern. Each day Mac would arrive at eight to practice. I would sit in the same place I always sat, simply to be near him and listen. By nine the doors would open and the first customers would begin to flood through the doors. By ten Mac would be on his first set of the night and the place was full.
The gentle hum of conversation filled the air. Mac’s music could cut it in half and carve out its own space to live and breathe right there in the room. When he played, he was magic. And I loved him.
Things went downhill one sunny day in late June 1996. Old Louie, the owner had upped and died and the place had been sold out from under us to a new gaffer. A rather shifty looking character named Job who was as hard of face as he was heart. On this particular day, Job had called Mac in early and the two men sat by the bar yelling at one another. I cowered out of sight in a back booth.
Finally, face twisted in anger, Mac had stood and thrown on his coat while Job marched off to his office and slammed the door. Jamming his hat angrily on his head, Mac had spotted my hiding place. Kneeling down to meet my eye level, he patted me on the head.
I gotta be leaving now Sam, and I ain’t coming back. Now I want you to know that there ain’t nothin’ more I’d like than to take you with me, but see I ain’t got no job now fella, no money. I won’t be the one to be seeing you hungry an’ homeless. You stay here in the old bar and play that music o’ yours for Old Mac you hear?’
And with that Mac walked out of the door into that sunny afternoon and disappeared into the crowds. I would never see him again.
Alone now for the first time in three years, I was unsure what to do. Music always filled the void, Mac’s music. But Mac was gone. I played for myself instead. Forlornly walking the keys I made them tell the world of my pain. I played the blues.
Jobe had stormed from the office, curses falling from his lips. He yelled at me to get away. Picking up a sweeping brush he advanced towards me yelling to get out. No need to tell me twice. I fled with his size ten grazing my ass as I ran.
And that was that. I had been alone since then. Picking up the odd stray whenever I felt a yearning for home, but they never stuck. I even tried looking for Mac over the years. Whenever I heard music I followed it, but no one played quite like him.
The soft applause sounded from the doorway and I turned to see a cupid’s bow mouth curved in delight. She walked over to the piano and picked me up. Bringing me to rest under her chin, she scratched behind my ears and whispered ‘Play it again, Sam’ against my fur before setting me down atop the piano and beginning to play.
She played the blues and she played them from the soul.
Perhaps I would be staying after all?