He sits at the piano, hands and body going through the motions of playing ‘Moonlight Sonata: I.’ His mind a million miles away, remembering the joy of playing this piece so many times and so many years ago. Remembering the joy of sharing such happy times with his young and always inquisitive daughter, feeling the pain of never being able to experience such joy again. As the pain intensifies with every rising bar, tears form, threatening his ability to complete the piece.
Around him, ten thousand people listen in awe at the passion and the beauty. Mesmerised by the undulating tone, the pianist’s ability to make the simplest piece of music resonate such power, such emotion. Ten thousand people, admiring the skill and revelling in the emotion.
The late summer sun has just recently set over the horizon of the distant trees bordering the public park. The piano, on a circular stage at the back of the small inland lake, sufficiently far enough away to create a barrier for the pianist to lose himself in the emotion of his playing.
This is the last day of the annually held summer concert season and has been a traditional focus point for this small town on the coast of southern England. A well established part of the life for the community, throughout the day families and friends have basked in the last of the summer sun. Picnics spread across the green lawns, countless bottles of wine consumed and umbrellas kept at the ready, but thankfully not required.
Today, a special celebration of one of their own. A eminent pianist has returned for the final concert. A local boy, maybe not such a boy now, but a made-good local nethertheless, has ensured the sell out crowd for this final evening.
Stephen Baker, unconventional, unpredictable, extravagant, outspoken and … probably a drunk, according to the press and internet community. Not classically trained, self taught in fact, had taken the classical music world by storm some twenty years earlier with adaptations of some of the most traditional, and in the eyes of the classical elite, simple pieces not worthy of a truly great pianist. But to the masses they worked and his fame and success had led provided fundamental changes to his life.
Now approaching his late fifty’s, tall and maintaining a thick crop of black hair, he has more recently undergone a period of weight-loss, evident from his slightly gaunt features and surplus room around his collar. Perhaps the rebel status had dissipated, but people still marvelled at the way he could inspire such passion in his listening audience.
Stephen, deftly strikes the last note of the piece, and relaxes his shoulders, mentally exhausted, and stands to acknowledge the crowd.
The audience breaks into applause, cheers can be heard. The crowd starting to rise from their comfortable blankets and chairs, not only in appreciation, but also in preparation to rush off and join the ever growing queues for the mobile toilet facilities. Before trying to get the family car out of the congested car park.
Nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine people all smiling and applauding. One, still seated at the very back of the crowd, head down, emotions too much, memories too painful, crying.
Emily Baker, teenage beauty, populist, aspiring stage performer and, with genes inherited from her father, rebel. Sits, oblivious to her friends standing around her. Every emotion in her now in danger of breaking through her calm exterior. Love, hate, anger, compassion. Why did she come?. Why did she allow herself to be persuaded that this was a good idea.
Having not seen or spoken to her father for five years, she was coping well wasn’t she? She knows she didn’t always. The first two years had brought her so much pain, so much anger. She didn’t want to open those wounds. She hadn’t spoken to her father since the day he had walked out on them all, abandoning everything, turning every good moment of a happy childhood into a painful memory. How could he do that to her, why? We’re questions she used to ask herself. But no longer. She had got to a happy place accepting her life and suppressing her need for answers. Why the hell did she let Lucy, her best friend for many of these painful years, talk her into coming.
“Sorry Em’s …are you ok?” Lucy says as she sits back down on the damp grass beside her wrapping her in her arms.
“Why did I let you talk me into this” Emily replies between catching her breath and snivelling.
“Because you need it” Lucy whispers into her ear as she hugs her that little bit tighter. “You can go around kidding everybody, including your family, with the ‘I’m over it’ and ‘I don’t care’ attitude if you want, but I know you Em’s and I know better”
“But I’ve been ok” Emily says looking up now directly into Lucy’s eyes trying to convince her friend, and herself, that this is true.
“If that was true, you wouldn’t be sitting here a blubbering mess” Lucy responds with care and an attempt at producing laughter in her voice.
“Go see him”
“Because I would have to forgive him”
“And…” Lucy asks with raised eyebrows “What’s wrong with that, it’s what you need. Whether he deserves it or not, you need it”
“But I don’t want to, he can’t make it alright again, he can’t make everything how it was, why should I?”
“Now let me think about that… maybe because you love him, you miss him and because you know he loves you”
“Go see him Em, I’ll go with you”
Emily’s head drops and Lucy holds her in a tight embrace.
Leaving the stage as the applause dies down and people start to gather their belongings ready to depart. Stephen walks over to his long time good friend, agent and media defender, Janet Fischer. Janet having been through all of the eventful episodes in Stephen’s life knows every indicator of his wellbeing.
“That was beautiful Stephen” she says “I’ve missed you playing that”
“Thanks, I’ve missed playing it, didn’t think I was going to be able to at one point”
“She didn’t come”
“No” he says “But I know she’s here”
“I know, …and I think you’re right”
“Listen, if she’s ready she will come over”
He looks at Janet, the pain evident in his eyes, a pain she has seen for so many years now. She feels the hurt, the desperation the need to be forgiven. She knows he wants to just run out into the crowd and find her, plead with her for forgiveness. To be whole again, to have a life worth living and in the short time he has left, to try to create more happy memories.
“Do you have my cigarettes?” He says
“Of course” she says handing him his packet of Marlborough Lights and lighter.
“Those things will kill you” it’s their joint attempt at humour both knowing they already have.
“Back in a minute” he says as he starts to head over to the designated smoking area at the back of the stage.
“Go out there” she says.
“No, she’s not ready and I’m not going to force her”
“You’re a stubborn man Stephen and you really don’t have the time for that anymore” Janet says with pleading in her voice, pleading for a man she knows will never forgive himself for the harm he caused and pleading for her best friend just to have a few last months of happiness.
“Forgive yourself, it’s time now”
Stephen joins the other musicians and visitors in the designated smoking area out back, lighting up and joining in the conversation.
Emily, walking with her friend toward the stage area thinking about what she might say, looks up as she rounds the barrier area surrounding the stage, and sees her father standing there. Memories and emotions flood through her mind, overwhelming her, causing so much panic she grips Lucy’s hand and turns away.
“I can’t do this now, I’m sorry” she says.
Lucy, knowing no amount of persuasion will change her friends mind, simply puts her arm around her and gently starts to lead her to the exit.
Stephen looks up, is that her?, of course it is. How can I forget her. How beautiful she has become, the pride he feels looking at her threatens to consume him. But he can see she is turning, he can see her hurt. Should he chase her, should he say something, what should he do?. No, leave her she deserves better and he just can’t bring her anymore pain.
Stubbing the cigarette into the ground, he goes back to Janet and says his goodbyes for the night.
“Shall I get the car?” She asks
“No, I’m good I think I’ll walk back tonight thank you” he says, “Thank you for everything”.
“You OK?” Janet asks knowing the answer and exactly what Stephen is about to say.
Leaving the park area, Stephen, putting on his bluetooth over-ear headphones and listening to his favourite 80’s soundtrack, starts the walk along the seafront to his hotel. It’s a glorious late summers evening. The moon bright and the stars out in full force and reflecting off the calm sea. This route, he has taken so many times over the years, hand in hand in happier times, so many good memories. The last time he will make this walk, he wants to enjoy it, try to conjure up the feelings of happiness he remembers from those times.
Should he of gone after her, done things differently perhaps told her? Answers that will forever change in his mind. But for now no. His gift was given, it was given in the performance, she will know it. She will know the love and will one day remember the happiness, the message in the sonata was for her. All of his caring, his love and his hurt was expressed through his music.
Having spent a quiet journey in the taxi, with Lucy acting like a mother hen all the way back. Emily walks in through the front door of the home where so much of her life has been spent. So many memories.
Saying hello to her mum on the way through the house, she walks straight into the dining room where the family piano has always sat. Unused for such a long time now, an all too painful reminder, she lifts the cover and stares at the black and white keys.
Her mother, knowing where she has been, sits alone in the living room waiting, worrying.
She smiles, as for the first time in five years she hears the first bars of ‘Moonlight Sonata: I.’