The Piano Teacher
"Ronnie, what have you been up to you old git?" His dead wife's thin
thread of a voice was harsh in his ear, shooting him bolt upright
" I know you know. I know." She was muttering. In his dream-world, the
ghost of his poor naked old wife hovered over him.
"Oh Christ, Elsie, for God's sake cover yourself up will you."
He found that he was yelling, shielding his eyes, as she shimmered like
a cobweb in the early morning light.
"I'm sorry Elsie. Truly sorry. I was just overcome by it all. Just
overcome." He murmured.
She floated down and sat by him on the floor.
"The way I see it, Ronnie, is that you've let rather too many things
overcome you in recent times."
Unaccustomed to any words of wisdom emanating from his one time
infuriating wife, Ronnie was set back by her directness.
"Elsie, I'm so sorry for the way I treated you. I was obsessed that
night. Like a demon. I'm sorry." He winced and shielded his eyes from
the appalling apparition of his pasty wife, a she leaned towards him
conspiratorially and smiled a hideous false-toothless grin.
"I'll tell you what you're going to do Ronnie."
She finally caught his eye and fixed him with her faded grainy-hazel
"I'll tell you Ronnie French, because you're not all bad. You're just
susceptible. Just susceptible." Her manifestation was quickly fading,
as the dawn roused and slithers of sunshine shot through the
"You'll tell her the truth, Ronnie. That's what you'll do. Tell her the
truth." She was barely visible now, but Ronnie knew that she was still
there. Still in this room. She had been there all the time.
As the front door creaked open and his lover's light steps entered the
hallway he quickly stood to greet her, dusting down his coat.
Denise entered the room and with delight she fell into his arms,
exuberant at his little homely touches: The roses and the deckchairs.
In her arms she held a large bag, which she dropped to the floor with.
Like a child creating a playhouse, she pulled out her treasures,
Edward's books and his metronome, presenting each to him in glee.
"Look! Look at what I saved."
Ronnie smiled with his heart a-flutter. How could he break this spell?
How could he say the words? How could he do that? She was arranging
Edward's treasures on the mantle piece.
She turned to him with such a sweetness that he was lost again. No
matter whether Elsie stood by watching, he could not break this
creature's heart. Maybe even Edward Stenton watched. No matter if the
world would end, he could not resist this. He just could not resist
this. Back he sunk into her tapestry.
For many months now, Denise had frequented his house at night.
Gradually Ronnie had found objects to make furniture from and she had
added to the d?cor with items she purchased in town. Eventually, Ronnie
plucked up courage to venture out again to the Post office and collect
his pension. There he discovered that Joan Toggle had been ousted. He
started to buy groceries and make an evening meal. Denise's parents
were deeply puzzled by her behaviour. They believed her to be
befriending Mr. French, and uncharacteristically, the village also
chose to put that charitable construction on the situation. An
alternative was so unthinkable. Only Steph had guessed the truth of the
matter and she acted as a guardian angel to them. A blanket here. An
old teapot there.
Denise's parents had seemed oblivious to her new romance. They did not
feel the need to check her room at night. Although they did register
that she was often now out on an early morning walk before breakfast,
she returned from work at the usual time and was back to her old self.
She had put on weight and was blossoming. She even shared a joke with
them again. At the weekends, they knew she spent time with Mr. French
and with Steph, who appeared to have become her best friends. It had
all just settled down into pattern.
So why was it now that Denise's father felt a sense of agitation? Why
was he not so sure? Had he heard anything? Not really. Had he seen her
creeping out in the night? Well only that once. She was happy, wasn't
she? He shouldn't have pried. All he did was look out of his window as
he returned to bed after going to the toilet, and there she was by the
back gate, making her way up the street.
Each night he struggled not to look but now, like a mother will be
tuned into her newborn baby's every turn, he could hear her whispering
footsteps and the catch on the gate. This was too early to be a matter
of work. Too early for buses. Too early altogether. Just too early.
Denise was so happy. Why did he need to know? Why had he asked? This
kept tormenting him. After all she had been through, why did he not
just leave it alone? Those simple words:
"Denise, where are you going so early?" as he caught her arm on the
landing. Her terrifying answer:
"It's alright dad. Edward's back and we are deeply in love." She smiled
conspiratorially at him, the landing light catching a twinkle in her
eye, and she was gone. The next night he followed her to Ronnie's house
and standing in the shadows peered through the front window at their
antics. He felt very, very cold indeed and it seemed that ice could be
settling in his veins. She was calling him "Edward". They were kissing
passionately. He was an old man. Old enough to be her grandfather. He
wasn't particularly clean either, in that big old coat. So this was the
secret of her new happiness: Ronnie French masquerading as Edward
Stenton. Unable to confront them, Denise's father ran back home through
the night now with shame and fury surging through him. His wife stirred
in her sleep, but he dared not wake her. He fell into a fitful sleep,
filled with dogs that hunted Ronnie French and great long knives to
chop him to pieces.
Each evening now, just as the darkness settled, Elsie called upon her
husband in his dreams and so Ronnie had become accustomed to the
company. But this evening, he had another visitor. Edward Stenton
manifested himself to Ronnie. He didn't have to do a thing. Just to
stand there and wait to be seen. Ronnie was curled by the window at the
beginning of his usual nightly vigil, waiting for the sound of Denise's
steps on the gravel path. He had dozed off contentedly. It had been a
good day. He had cleared the back garden and made a bonfire of the
debris. His head felt clearer than it had for a good while. You see, he
was now really planning to tell her the truth. It was all that Elsie
would say to him nowadays:
"Tell her the truth Ronnie. You have to."
He knew that he was a weak man, full of temptation and lies. He wanted
to tell her, he had always wanted to tell her, but somehow her belief
in him had a kind of hypnotic effect, which made him feel unable to
breach her fantasy. Tonight he had cleared the garden debris, and with
it some of the debris in his mind. He would tell her soon. Very soon.
Then he would ask her to marry him. That was his plan. Once she got
over the initial shock, he persuaded himself that she would reconcile
to his true identity and recover quite quickly at his offer of
marriage. He snuggled into the old coat and dozed off to dream of his
His little bride stares up at him through her gauzy veil, saying, and
"I do." The beautiful piano music commences. The church is packed with
well wishers. There is a sweet scent of roses. His heart is bursting
with pride. He lifts the veil to kiss his darling, but as he lifts the
veil she is not there. He finds that he is holding a thin piece of
cobwebby net, which falls quietly to the stone floor. He turns to look
around him and the church is empty and bitterly cold. Night has
suddenly fallen and he is stumbling out into the frosty graveyard,
where his old wife's gravestone leers at him. He dare not look to the
plot where Edward Stenton lies. He finds that he is running, being
pursued now by Denise's father. This small man in a cardigan with puce
complexion, wields a huge cutlass and is screaming profanities wildly
into the night. There is no doubt that this offended father will pursue
Ronnie to the edge of the world so Ronnie urgently shakes himself out
of the nightmare, forcing himself to wake to the coldness of his own
night. The nightmare released, he tries to settle down again but is
stirred a little as a cold breeze hits his face. He pulls the coat up
over his ears but still the breeze persisted. He should get up really
and shut the door. It was probably that broken pane he had covered with
card, after the Toggle woman had gone crazy with the rockery. He opened
his eyes in the half-light and rubbed them, becoming aware of a
presence in the room. Feeling more alert now and staggering to his
feet, as he realised that it was Edward Stenton's ghost who stood
glaring at him. This was Edward Stenton at his prime. Of noble stature
and in full evening dress, he was a tall and powerful creature and
Ronnie squirmed under his penetrating glare. Like a child caught out,
he pulled himself up and stood before the ghost shame-facedly. He
squirmed with discomfort. He tried not to meet the fierceness of those
eyes, yet he knew that he would have to and as he did so his flesh was
melting under their intensity. His stomach churned, as he held onto the
window ledge, digging his nails into the crumbling woodwork.
In a moment, the ghost faded into the dust of the room and Ronnie was
alone again. But Ronnie couldn't move. His fingernails dug deep into
the rotten wood of the ledge.