Monica’s fingers danced from key to key, flirting from major to minor and back, transporting the family’s study to a time of tail coats and top hats, though torn jeans and hair like a bad hangover kept her rooted to the twenty-first. On Dad’s cluttered desk lay the official invitation to a musical talent competition unfolded beside its envelope, clawed open in excitement after it hit the floor a few hours earlier. More than just a piece of paper, this was a trigger, unleashing relentless determination. Monica played as though nothing else mattered. Then she hit a wrong key.
That hadn’t happened in ages. She muttered a mild “Damn.” Must have grazed it. A second time, the same wrong note but she was convinced she hadn’t touched it. By the fifth or sixth attempt, the irritating bum note made her roar through gritted teeth and bring down a pounding fist on the keys. The piano belched a low, gothic sounding chord.
The Mystery by legendary composer Antonio De Luca was one of her favourites. She had played it countless times on her own. To start making mistakes now was unthinkable. She retrieved her iPad from its perch on a low bookshelf aimed directly at her prior to practice. Film yourself, her lecturer at Uni advised. Correct posture improves confidence.
In the kitchen, she poured a glass of water and decided to watch her performance. Seated at the kitchen table, she started the footage, waiting for that cringing note. Her throat tightened when she saw the man.
“What the fuck?” Monica looked closer, her eyes adjusting to an elderly man dressed in an antiquated suit, clean shaven with white receding hair, neatly combed back. He should have blocked the painting hanging on the wall directly behind, but the glorious watercolour of a New York skyline shone through him. His head tilted upward with his eyes closed, hands held behind his back. He nodded to the music, listening, appreciating.
Then, she saw him take one hand, reach out and press the key, interrupting her play. When she restarted, again the elderly man reached out and pressed it, deliberately sabotaging her performance, and each attempt after that, by which time he was frowning, shaking his head. When Monica pounded her fist on the keys, he threw his arms up in the air in frustration.
Coercing herself back to the study, Monica cautiously looked inside, heart thumping like a kick drum. The piano and stool, cluttered desk, her semi-acoustic in the corner, bookcase, all the norm but no man. Front and back doors were locked. No one could have come in. She suddenly wanted out of the house. She had to show that video to someone. The first person who came to mind was Blair, so she sent a text.
You in the recording studio?
A comforting speedy reply: Yeah.
OK heading over now. Need 2 show u something.
The ghostly figure had filled her with a tension she was suppressing by pedalling fast through the west end, autumn chill blasting into her face as she biked her way to the University, iPad stuffed into her rucksack.