15 February 2010

The Pianist

Guest Post by Martin Westlake

There is a florist's shop on the rondpoint near to our house. For a long time it was run by a chain smoking man with very little taste. We went there occasionally to keep the shop afloat, but it was always a disappointing place to visit. After one particularly cold winter, the chain smoker decided to move to a sunnier part of the world and the shop stood empty for a while. Then it was taken over by a young homosexual couple. One of the men was tall and thin, with gaunt, emaciated features. He had very long fingers and huge hands. His partner was short, just slightly chubby and certainly more cherubic. Both had great good taste and visiting the shop became a pleasure. Not only did they make tasteful and pretty bouquets, but classical music played in the background. At the end of concerts in the Palais it was, we noticed, their bouquets which were given to the visiting stars. Hélène Grimaud came to visit the shop, in between concerts, and other musicians wafted in an out. Maurice, the tall one, was himself a pianist. One day, a grand piano appeared in the shop. He had begun practising seriously again, his boyfriend told us. The shop's displays became ever more flamboyantly beautiful and now, when we went into the shop, we were greeted by live music. He was practising for a concert, the boyfriend confided. That was a few days before the boyfriend left. Maurice was distraught, but he kept to his schedule. And then he began to talk about his forthcoming performance – of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto, the Emperor – Beethoven's last. It would be at the Palais. He would give us the date. After a few weeks he told us the month and the week. I went to the website but could find no reference to him in the programme. They just have to fix the exact date, he told me. Give me your e-mail address and I'll make sure that you're informed in good time. The week in question came. At the beginning of the week Maurice was still open for business and still practising hard, but his gaze was evasive and I didn't have the heart to try and pin him down. At the end of the week, the shop closed and it has never re-opened. Now, the shutters have collapsed at one end, diagonally blocking out the view of Maurice's last flamboyant display, the plants wilting, the surfaces fast gathering dust. But I like to think that Maurice got to perform the Emperor at least once – if only in his head.

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