After the rattle of the train journey, the pace of the city streets – so much faster than that of those in the country – brought a comforting anonymity to her progression to the bar. Here, she could be who she elected to be – right then, for whatever period of time she so chose. The fact she was accompanied by one who knew her from the past, what did that matter if he there, that man, and even that moustached teen did not? An actress of the real, she felt. How many others would understand that sensation?
With a smile at the barman that suggested more, she sipped her drink: a chilled liquid that hit the spot (as she had hoped it would). The conversation with her companion flowed, as did the second round, after which they found themselves back in the river-like flow of the city’s people, feet pounding next to feet, eyes glinting all, sparkling in the lights that illuminate in place of sun come the dark. She almost didn’t require music that night.
However, at the concert they eventually found themselves, greeting others: soft cheek to that unshaven, warm cheek next to that questionably lingering. A hand, another, found her arm, squeezed in encouragement that she enjoy the evening: if only they knew the pain they caused, pressure on the hidden bruises none would ever know of; marks even she herself tried to erase memory of, unsuccessfully.
Seated now, she let her eyes peruse the room with a cool detachment: listeners, ready to be inspired, sat, eyes front, or chins tucked, heads sideways angled, to listen to whispered words from husbands, wives; simply lovers, more than friends.
The piano, darkly ebony and as yet silent – waiting, brooding on its coming digital entanglement and pounding – held her gaze; so too the paintings, out of keeping each with each, that hung, askew, upon the walls. There were too many, as if hung by someone who could not stand blank spaces on their walls; as if everything must be framed, contained. All separate from each other, but all together still.
Her fingers danced across the programme for distraction. Her heart quickened (she knew not why) as she absorbed its typed contents, desiring to know beforehand the players that night; their trained history. Even the profiles sat block framed and parallel on the page.
A hush descended, the lights dimmed. She placed the programme across her lap, expectant.
With but a few steps, there before her, before them all, stood forth a man whom (until that moment she had not realized it) she had been seeking all her life. Could such clichéd moments truly happen? Her breath quite literally caught like a butterfly in a net – such a rare occasion – in her throat; her eyebrows – perfectly shaped as ever – raised of their own accord. His image burned itself into her. This man would be more than memory, she knew. And yet, he never looked at her.
A wail rose high, coming to a crescendo before the evening’s repertoire even began. Veiled in flashing blue as the scream carried past, the man – this strange, dream-like, enigmatic figure – gave a quick bow and seated himself at the piano, and paused. There was no Romantic wild fringe of black hair to fall over his brow (though his hair was dark); no frown that lent a Beethoven-like severity to his pale features (though his face bore lines). His visage was a serene mask of quiet preparation. She was smitten.
Considerable control it took to stay silent then, to stay still. This was more than she had bargained for in agreeing to an offhand, last minute excursion of aural distraction. Her companion would sense her discomfort, she knew, but how hard to remain immobile and without emotion when blind-sided like this. She should have stuck with a singular glass. If only he would begin.
Her prayer he answered promptly, fingers pressing keys with magic touch to present her ears with sound of such ease and virtuosity that she held her breath. Her jaw clamped tight in restraint. Another passing flash of blue turned him ghostlike. With a hunger she had long thought dead, she studied him: not handsome in the Classical sense, but with delicate-wristed hands and a finer bone structure than might be considered wholly masculine, he was attractive to her by grace of a knowing look in eyes that were focused solely on his beloved instrument. If only he would come to study her with such intensity!
So high on music and desire was she that when her companion gently shook her to say it had ended, she took a moment – a blink, a sigh – to come back to herself. She had missed the applause, the bow; his exit. He was gone.
It was suggested they two partake in drinks in the foyer with the other listeners. She could only nod, numb at her loss. The throng was packed solid, back to back, side to side, genteel laughter mixing in an affront with random guffaws (a sound too common after a few). Pushing their way to the table, selecting a glass each, she tried to engage in keen dissection of the performance. Truth was, her critical faculties were burnt out with a longing that would never now be satisfied. Her drink tasted too bitter on her tongue. With an excuse that she required air, she turned from her companion – and stopped.
The musician stood before her. A smile played at his lips and his eyes spoke to hers. He knew.