Well, I’m no lady, but I can play the piano, so naturally the advertisement in The Echo caught my eye. I miss having the opportunity to play for people now and then. I can play all sorts: Gilbert & Sullivan, the musicals, even modern stuff like Abba and Elton John – I’m not prejudiced. I have my old upright at home, but it’s not the same with nobody to hear.
Obviously, they can’t have been looking for someone like me, but when the same advertisement appeared for the second week running I was tempted. After all, it should be the piano playing that mattered, shouldn’t it? I’m no Bobby Crush, but I have been favourably noticed in The Echo for my ‘competent’ accompaniment to the local amateur dramatics society’s production of Iolanthe. In the next edition they printed an apology for getting my name wrong, so that was two clippings for my scrap book. Mother was so proud. I’m practically certain she was.
In a devil-may-care mood of adventure, and offering up a silent apology to my dear dead mother, I found myself posting a letter addressed to the box number in the advertisement. What could be the harm? I don’t think I seriously expected a reply, but a few days later I received an invitation to come up to the University at 2 o’clock next Wednesday afternoon. Imagine my excitement!
I don’t know what I was expecting. Perhaps a Thé Dansant, or Music and Movement for the little ones – even clever people have children. What ever it was I did expect, it wasn’t a scientific experiment, nor could I have anticipated the events that would follow, that would end in tragedy.
As I said, I’m no lady, but the clothes were still in the wardrobe and, after a little dab of face powder, I was very pleased with my appearance when I presented myself at the University. I was met by Professor Iribarne: elderly, white-haired, neatly clipped moustache – a real gentleman. I remember being particularly impressed by his waistcoat. So few people bother these days. Apparently he was a psychologist, retired from the University, but who was allowed to return to his Department once a week to conduct his own private research. I don’t pretend to understand what it was all about, but he explained that he was interested in the differences between male and female brains. Male brains are supposed to be better at hand-eye coordination – things like playing the piano, which was why he was interesting in studying a lady pianist. It seems that whether your brain is male or female has nothing to do with your own sex – don’t ask me why!
After initial apprehensions, I really enjoyed the next few weeks. Professor Iribarne – Arthur, as he asked me to call him on the second week – had me playing all sorts of things on a rather splendid Grand Piano in a university music room. Some pieces I played from memory, others from a score, some I even improvised. At times he would distract me with sudden loud noises while I was playing; or he would get me to solve puzzles or do physical tests immediately before or after playing. There were all sorts of measurements – as you may imagine, these made me nervous, but it was all perfectly respectable. He wired me up to a machine that showed my brain waves, but he allowed me to attach the wires. What this all told him I don’t know, but he seemed to get very excited about what he was finding.
In retrospect, I suppose I should have seen this coming, but how would I know about that sort of thing? Mother always said that I was an innocent – ‘clueless’ was the word she used, I think. The sessions became more frequent – twice a week, then three times – and I would be asked to do the same things, over and over again. He would sit close beside me on the piano stool, sometimes breathing rather heavily, but this didn’t seem untoward in such an old man. Finally, he asked me to his house – to do some ‘special’ tests, he said. I sat at his electronic keyboard – he didn’t have a piano – and started playing a rather sprightly French piece, when I felt a hand where nobody’s hand but mine had any right to be. I think he looked as shocked as I must have done!
The human brain is a wonderful thing. I often think that Arthur would have been fascinated by this if he had been around to tell. The thing is, I have absolutely no recollection of what happened next. None whatsoever. My mind has absolutely erased the unwelcome details, and for this I am thankful. All I remember is his body sprawled across the hearth rug, something – it may have been a tuning fork – protruding from his neck.
All in all, this has been a lesson to me: not to ‘get above myself’ as Mother would have put it. From now on, I’ll stick to my old routine – library on Tuesdays, television in the evening and a nice bit of smoked haddock for my tea on Thursdays. I think that the girl at the fish counter is starting to recognise me. I haven’t the heart to touch the piano. And what about the professor? Well, as I said, I’m no lady, and I’ve let my beard grow now, so it doesn’t worry me when I see the notice outside the local police station:
Story and art work by Mike Bell