Chapter four: An impossible thing
In which we meet the monster and spill blood.
Upon entering the dining room I find aunt Fortuna sitting at the table by herself a silver pot of coffee by her side.
“Good morning Serenity, did you sleep well?” She asks with a tired expression.
“Pretty well yes.” I tell her “Did madam Ditty leave already?”
“Yes, she has business to attend to this morning. But don’t worry she left you something.” She says as she pushes her chair back and shuffles slowly to the hallway.
Looks like that brandy did a number on her, but I probably shouldn’t mention it.
When she comes back a good minute later she’s holding a book with a red cover and a small wooden box and sets both of them down on the table.
“The madam was impressed with your skill, she has a children’s orchestra and wants to know if you have what it takes to join it.” Upon closer inspection, the pile of paper is nailed together and reads ‘the swan and the shepperd score’
“She wants me to learn this I take it?”
“Exactly. If you can manage to play it faultlessly and with confidence before the end of spring, she’ll let you join the orchestra.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“Then we miss our shot and have to get you there the long way round. The madam doesn’t do do-overs.”
“I see.” Just when I thought I could start breathing again.
“She left you a gift too,” Aunt says pushing the box in my direction. I open it to find a mother of pearl inlaid metronome, one of the pocket varieties.
I’m not sure whether to be happy or insulted.
It sure looks expensive though.
“Thank you,” I mutter more out of obligation than anything else.
“You should tell her that next time you see her, I’m sure she’ll be over more often now that she’s got her eye on you. But for now, you should eat, Prim set out a pan of that rice stuff for you.”
“Don’t you want any?”
“Thank you sweetie but I’m not hungry.”
I can’t say I’m surprised…but I smile, grab some food and get ready to head to mister Dandelion.
“You have to learn all of this before the end of spring?” mister Dandelion asks looking at the book. I flipped through it on the way to mister Dandelion’s house, the pages are deceptively thin.
“Before the end of spring?”
He sighs “That’s a lot of responsibility to put on someone your age, are you sure you’re up to this?”
I agree with him, I think it’s too much but I also think aunt Fortuna would be so very disappointed if I backed out of it. Madam Ditty doesn’t do do-overs. I have to at least try. “I want to try,” I tell him.
“Well, in that case, I will help you as well as I’m able.”
Mister Dandelion taps his cane on the floor with vigour “Then let’s get started straight away, there’s not a second to lose.”
I sit down at the piano and open the score on the very first page. The play is a fairy tale wherein a shepperd follows looks for one of his lost sheep and finds a beautiful swan instead floating in a lake of pure gold. The Swan then tells the shepperd she knows where the sheep is, but will only tell if he forgets the whereabouts of this magical lake, for people would fight over it and when they do the gold would colour copper with blood. The shepperd promises then wakes up in the middle of his flock, the lost sheep having returned home. But then he starts looking for the lake, and his misadventures are a warning against greed.
The beginning and end are always the same, but the little tales in between are rife with inconsistencies from teller to teller as whatever moral tale vaguely fits inside the framework gets injected into the shepherd’s life. Which is probably why there are so many pages.
The overture is much simpler than anything I’m used to, probably because in an orchestra you have all these different instruments so the piano doesn’t have to carry the whole song.
If this is the case for all of the songs then it might not be as difficult as I thought!
I start to play, a repetition then start the first variation and it just feels like child’s play. I feel confident, I got this! The keys feel comforting in my fingers.
They are familiar, these keys are nice.
I feel myself slipping away into a comfortable flow, a feeling of peace.
Everything is going to be okay.
I’ll learn the songs, win the position at the orchestra and then everything will be different.
Things will be amazing.
I will be amazing.
Mum has to come back when she realizes how amazing I’ve become. That thought feels bitter on my tongue so I dismiss it and lose myself in the song.
The music flows and twirls to my will as the notes dance off the pages. It almost feels like cheating.
When I get to the end of the overture I feel like I’m glowing.
Mister Dandelion claps “Well that one should pose no problems at least. Let’s look at the next one.”
I skip home that night, rabbit at my side.
It all feels so great for a change.
The air tastes different, the sky looks different.
Sometimes you just know when a day will change your life. This day will be the start of a new chapter, I just know it.
Nothing will be the same after today.
I tell aunt Fortuna all about it over dinner. The songs are easy, I got this. I’ll show madam Ditty what I’m made of.
She tells me she loves me for the first time.
After dinner I head to my room to find the curtains are open, I can’t recall in what state I left them exactly but I want to close them all the same.
I pull at the fabric but then a cold wisp of wind draws past my wrist. I shiver, then feel the cold spread all over me as I see the scarf that held the window in place got torn into. There’s only a piece of it left on the window sill, frayed and limp. I look down to see if I can spot the rest. Then look out the window but the room gets reflected straight back at me in the glass.
My blood runs cold.
I’m not alone.
It happened in a second, less than a second.
I see it coming from the wardrobe.
Pouncing at me, a flash of white in her hands.
Then I feel the cloth wrap around my neck, tightening around me like a snake.
I try to scream for help but air cannot pass in or out my throat.
I don’t understand.
The girl behind me looks rugged and threadbare, with dirty clothes, tangly hair but her face looks exactly like mine.
This can’t be, right?
How can she be me?
And if she is me, why does she want to hurt me!?
I must be dreaming but I’m not!
Have I gone crazy?
I claw at the scarf but she won’t let go her expression is cold, determined as she tries to snuff the life out of me.
My head is starting to feel light.
I have to make her let go!
I see only one option before me, it’s not nice but desperate times and all that.
I look in the makeshift mirror that is my window, then splay my index and middle finger out before jamming them behind my head and into my attacker’s eyes.
She howls in my voice, it feels painful just to listen but she lets go of the scarf with one hand to attend to her eyes and I manage to escape in her confusion.
I run to the door putting as much distance as possible between us and look around the room for a weapon. There’s an umbrella on the hook I don’t know how sturdy it is but the end is pretty pointy so I jump to grab it.
“Serenity? Are you okay?” aunt Fortuna calls out to me.
“I’m fine!” I shout back then wonder why I did that.
I guess I still have questions. “Who are you?” I ask of the girl by the window.
“Who me? I’m no one.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Just your life.”
“It looks like fun.”
“Well you can’t have my life it’s mine! Mine you hear! so you should just leave me alone! And don’t come back!”
“Eh, we’ll see about that.” My double shrugs and then there’s an almighty crash as she breaks the window with her fist and jumps through. “Try closing that with a scarf!” I hear her cackle from the darkness.
“Serenity!?” Aunt calls down again.
I panic. I jump to the window and try to get rid of the glass before aunt Fortuna is here. If I just clean this up, close the curtains and pretend it’s all good and I’ll figure out what to do with it later.
I pick up the shards with my right hand and place them in my left to dispose of them all at once. I cut my fingers once or twice but it doesn’t hurt until the door slams open and in my shock, my hands contract squeezing into the glass. My skin slices open in several places a high pitched pain makes me drop the now red-stained shards back on the floor with a cry. Tears spring into my eyes but the pain is no match for my aunt yelling “Serenity, what are you doing!?” in such a panicked tone. She pulls me away from the shards and looks at my hand “Let go of that, that’s sharp! Why did you break the window?”
“I didn’t it was…I mean I did but…I don’t know I’m sorry.” I’m trembling and sobbing I just don’t know how to explain myself.
I almost died. I almost got murdered by someone who looks exactly like me. But if I tell her that she’ll think I’m crazy.
But I’m not crazy!
“Oh look at your hands, how will you play piano like that?”
My heart skips a beat.
How will I play piano like that?