Madame sousatzka, p.4

Madame Sousatzka, page 4

 

Madame Sousatzka
 


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  His mother’s decisive tone frightened Marcus. Above all, he wanted to keep Madame Sousatzka and her household to himself. He didn’t want his mother trespassing on what he guiltily considered his private life. ‘You don’t have to tell her, Momma, I’ll talk to her,’ he said weakly.

  ‘I can see you talking to the great Madame Sousatzka. She will tell you a hump is in the fashion, and you’ll believe her. She’ll tell you a concert is out of the fashion, and also that you’ll believe. No, I’ll see her myself. Next Friday, I’ll talk to her.’

  And despite all Marcus’s pleadings and promises to handle the matter himself, Mrs Crominski forced her way into Vauxhall Mansions the following Friday. While on the bus, she had rehearsed her speech. She wasn’t going to ask. She was going to tell, and Madame Sousatzka was going to listen to her. She slowly began to hate her, not only for the hump and the lack of concerts, but because Marcus practically worshipped her.

  But when she faced Madame Sousatzka in her studio, all her belligerence melted. There was something disarming about Madame Sousatzka. She was a woman who could be hated only in absentia.

  ‘Is it possible we should have a talk?’ Mrs Crominski said timidly.

  ‘Naturally.’ Madame Sousatzka was very forthcoming. ‘We will talk about Marcus?’

  ‘There are one or two things …’ Mrs Crominski had completely forgotten her speech. She tried to hang on to her determination to voice her opinion anyway. As Marcus left the room, he smiled at Madame Sousatzka and shrugged his shoulders as if to absolve himself from responsibility for anything his mother might say. He decided to go downstairs and talk to Uncle.

  ‘Well, Mrs Crominski,’ Madame Sousatzka said when they were alone, ‘have you heard your son? Have you heard the music he makes since he is with me? So proud you must be of him.’

  But Mrs Crominski hadn’t come to discuss Marcus’s talents. ‘It’s about the hump,’ she said.

  ‘The hump?’

  ‘Yes.’ Mrs Crominski tried to hide her impatience. ‘The hump.’

  ‘Where, Mrs Crominski, is the hump?’

  ‘Where else should a hump be? On his back of course.’

  Madame Sousatzka laughed and Mrs Crominski’s belligerence came slowly flooding back. ‘Ha ha,’ she echoed, ‘so funny it is. A cripple he is, my son. A big joke.’

  Madame Sousatzka was genuinely taken aback. ‘Mrs Crominski,’ she said, taking her hand, ‘is no hump, is no cripple, Marcus. Is only for the time being, the bump.’ Madame Sousatzka’s diagnosis was less severe. ‘Listen, I explain. For years he learn with Mr L.R.A.M. For years he is tight inside him. He plays for Mr Letter-Man with straight back. And you think, this is fine, my Marcus has a straight back. But you are wrong, Mrs Crominski. That is not a straight back. That is strait-jacket back. All the muscles tense and tight. I teach Marcus to be pianist, not soldier. You see, the back,’ she went over to Mrs Crominski and ran her fingers over her spine. ‘The back is like the elastic. It moves. It moves with the head and the hands. With Mr L.R.A.M. Marcus plays the piano with his fingers. The back is not wanted. Therefore is the back straight. But with Sousatzka, he plays with the whole body, with the back also. He relax. The bump is what is left from Mr Lawrence constrictions. It comes out from the body. Soon it will all be gone.’

  It seemed logical enough to Mrs Crominski and she was more or less satisfied with the explanation. She realized that none of her prepared speech had been made and she was slightly irritated that Madame Sousatzka had so easily made her point.

  ‘But is simple,’ Madame Sousatzka went on. ‘Upstairs is Mr Cordle. A very great osteopath. Very often I have the pupils who come to me from letter-men. And very often happens the bump. Mr Cordle will massage after each lesson. Not to pay,’ she added hastily, ‘In all ways, Marcus is for nothing. A few weeks’ massage. All gone then, Mrs Crominski.’

  Mrs Crominski smiled. ‘You are good to my boy, Madame Sousatzka,’ she said. ‘Is very difficult to bring up a boy without a father. Especial a boy with talent like my Marcus.’ She was beginning to love this woman and she began to understand and forgive Marcus’s adoration. ‘Another thing I want to talk,’ she went on chattily. ‘About a concert.’

  ‘Of course, of course,’ Madame Sousatzka said quickly. ‘Many concerts. But when he is ready, Mrs Crominski. Only when Sousatzka knows he is ready.’

  There was such a finality in her answer that Mrs Crominski felt she could not pursue the question without casting doubt on Madame Sousatzka’s musical judgment. But she knew that later on she would regret her silence. She couldn’t let Madame Sousatzka get away with everything so easily. First the hump and now the concerts. She tried desperately to pick up some threads of her speech.

  ‘Already for six months he is having with you the lessons. Already with Mr Lawrence he is giving concerts. Why for Mr Lawrence he is ready, and after six months with you, with more pieces to play, he suddenly isn’t ready. That I don’t understand.’ Even with this timid protest Mrs Crominski felt she had gone too far. ‘Of course,’ she added, ‘is difference between you and Mr Lawrence.’

  ‘Is big difference,’ Madame Sousatzka said, ‘for Mr Lawrence he is ready. For Sousatzka, no. Believe me, Mrs Crominski, when Marcus is ready, so many concerts he shall give. And six months, you say. Six months, it is nothing. From the beginning we have started.’

  Mrs Crominski had never been convinced of that necessity. She recalled with a smile the regular Wednesday lesson, when Mr Lawrence came to the house, before all this nonsense of traipsing every Friday to the other end of the world and getting a hump for your trouble, even if it was all for nothing.

  ‘When will he be ready?’ she said, suddenly angry.

  ‘Mrs Crominski,’ Madame Sousatzka made an effort to be calm. ‘If only concerts you want for Marcus, there are other teachers. Plenty other teachers. If for being a great pianist, there is only Sousatzka.’

  Mrs Crominski didn’t quite see why the two were antithetical. But Madame Sousatzka’s calm tone of voice had made her feel ungrateful. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Grateful you know we are. You know how it is in the life. Like all the mothers I am anxious for the best for my boy. I am happy you teach him, Madame Sousatzka. Very much he loves you, almost he forget sometimes I am his mother. Yes, is true,’ she said and she realized it suddenly for the first time. ‘Of course,’ she added quickly, ‘only sometimes he calls me Madame Sousatzka, now I come to think of it. Not very often he calls me that. Is habit, that’s all.’

  ‘Of course,’ said Madame Sousatzka, jubilant. No matter how hard Mrs Crominski tried to take back what she had said, she had told her what she had wanted to know. And she immediately set to thinking how she could keep Marcus and his love. She couldn’t allow him to play in public. That was out of the question. If he did, his genius would be noticed, taken up by some showman or other, he would be launched and celebrated and she would lose him. There would be other teachers, the lettered ones, recognized by the Establishment, and she would get the occasional card from him at Christmas. She had had too many of those cards from other Sousatzka renegades. Her mantelpiece over Christmas was a tinsel testimony to her failure. Marcus she was determined to keep.

  On the bus on the way home, her eyes shut, Mrs Crominski was biting her tongue. She deeply regretted having betrayed Marcus’s feelings about Madame Sousatzka. She knew, too, how miserably she had failed in her cover-up. Her failure embarrassed her, and she voluntarily twitched her body. It also made her angry. ‘Three more months I’ll give that woman,’ she said to herself, ‘if Marcus doesn’t give a concert by then, I’ll take him away from her. And the hump. All that nonsense she talks. A bump, she calls it. Glasses she needs. It had better go, and quickly.’

  She had to move up to make room for a large gentleman burdened with parcels who sat heavily beside her, stepping on her foot in doing so.

  ‘Bitte,’ he said, with some concern.

  ‘You foreigners,’ said Mrs Crominski, ‘you’re all the same.


  Madame Sousatzka looked lovingly at Marcus as he sat down at the piano for his lesson. Since Marcus had been coming to her, the memory of Boris had grown less painful. But she realized, especially now, after her talk with Marcus’s mother, the possibilities of losing him. She knew that with his talent, he had a right to a better teacher than herself. She knew that to teach was only a substitute for her, her evolved ‘method’ only an excuse for having failed to make the established grades. In the beginning she had believed in her method, even though its origins were specious. She had had utter faith in it, but it was difficult to ignore the fact that none of her pupils had greatly benefited from it. Perhaps they hadn’t stayed long enough to understand it. Yes, that was it, she convinced herself. With Marcus, if she could only keep him, it would work. She put her arm round his shoulders, outlining with her fingers the slight curve on his back. She remembered that it had been one of Boris’s affectionate gestures. ‘All the rubbish from Mr Lawrence’s teachings,’ she said.

  ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ Marcus wanted her to know that he didn’t attach as much importance to it as his mother.

  ‘In any case, after the lesson, you will go to Cordle. He will take away the bump. He is osteopath.’

  Marcus smiled at the recollection of the word and Cordle’s first strange greeting, ‘I’ll be seeing you.’ He had seen Cordle very rarely since their first meeting, and he was too excited at the prospect of seeing him again to concentrate deeply on his lesson.

  Madame Sousatzka noticed it and half resented Cordle as a competitor for Marcus’s affections. She could feel Marcus’s impatience with her, and once or twice she caught him looking at the clock on the mantelpiece. She was going to have to fight to keep him. But she didn’t want his resentment. She decided to cut the lesson short so that he wouldn’t feel that she was holding him.

  ‘Today, such a headache Sousatzka has,’ she told him. ‘Tomorrow, we have long lesson, yes? You go now to Cordle,’ she said.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ said Marcus, highly delighted. Without thinking, he flung his arms round her and kissed her. ‘I hope the headache will be gone tomorrow,’ he said. Madame Sousatzka clung to him.

  ‘For you and for the lesson, Sousatzka will be better,’ she said. She watched him as he left the room, noting the thin wet lines on the backs of his knees, like furrows on a young brow, the half-hearted crease in his short trousers, the knotted corner of a handkerchief that dropped from a side-pocket, and the black soft mould of his head. She lay on the couch and shut her eyes, clinging to his arm-prints on her shoulders, and trying hard not to think of Cordle’s hands on him.

  Cordle lived on the first landing, and Marcus knocked timidly on his door. Cordle himself, in his white jacket, opened it. He ushered Marcus into the room and pointed shyly to a couch at the far end.

  ‘Take off your jacket, will you,’ he said, ‘and lie down.’

  Marcus climbed on to the couch and lay on his back. Cordle was fiddling with some charts in the corner and Marcus looked at the room around him. It seemed bigger than Madame Sousatzka’s, and very bare. On the wall opposite him, there hung an anatomical chart, one of the many that almost papered the four walls of the room. It was the picture of the body of a man, shaded in a hundred different colours. Colour was a great thing with Mr Cordle. The functions of each bone prescribed its own colour. The spinal column, for instance, was filled in in blue, because blue was the imagined colour of balance. The rib-cage was shaded gradually from black to grey, and the breast-bone sprouted in a menacing red. All the charts on the walls were similarly coloured, some in greater detail than others. They looked like political maps of the world, for to Mr Cordle, the whole of the discovered universe lay in the body of Man. In each picture, there were certain unshaded parts, which Mr Cordle had not yet accounted for in colour.

  ‘The undiscovered continents, they are,’ he would tell his patients. ‘One day, I, Horace Cordle, will discover them. Horace Cordle, the Discoverer,’ he laughed, and he would pose himself as a statue in a National Square.

  ‘The body, Marcus, is the world,’ he said, walking over to the couch. He switched on a lamp on a table beside him. A pair of curved yellowing rib-bones protected the naked bulb like two stubborn stamens. ‘Here,’ he said, laying his hand on Marcus’s navel, ‘is the centre of the Universe. On the chest, spreading over the rib-cage, lies Asia. Take care of Asia, Marcus,’ he said, ‘it can be the cause of great troubles. Now turn over. I think what we came for is a little pressure on Central America.’ He pressed his long, beautiful hands into the small of Marcus’s back. If Madame Sousatzka could have her method, Mr Cordle was entitled to his, too.

  For an half an hour, Marcus lay submitting himself to Cordle’s gentle pressures. He thought of the contrast between his life at school and his week-ends with Madame Sousatzka. He couldn’t decide which one was real for him. Now, with Cordle’s hands on his back, the boy who sat in a geography lesson or at the science bench was not he. Yet when he was at school, it was someone else he saw at Madame Sousatzka’s. And his mother. To which world did she belong? He saw her separate and alone, cocooned in a sheath of purity that had been forced on her. He knew that if he really belonged anywhere, it was with her. And at that moment he loved her very dearly.

  5

  Mrs Crominski never forgot the promise she made to herself on the bus home from her interview with Madame Sousatzka. Three months she had decided to give her and as the weeks passed, she ticked off in her mind what was left of Madame Sousatzka’s reprieve. Another week to go, and still no talk of a concert. She decided that she had better prepare Marcus for the break.

  He was practising just before going to his lesson. ‘Sounds to me like an angel he plays,’ Mrs Crominski said. Marcus knew how she enjoyed listening to his playing and he didn’t mind her sitting in on his practice. Every week-end he spent at Madame Sousatzka’s, he was aware of her nonparticipation. Although he was glad for it, it was yet another rejection he had to compensate her for. He stopped playing.

  ‘I’ve learnt so much with her, Momma,’ he said. ‘D’you know, I never understood the piano before I went to her.’

  ‘How much is it to understand before you give a concert? Nine months it is already. So many pieces. So much practising. What for, I’m asking.’

  ‘You’re impatient, Momma. She says I can give a concert when I am ready.’

  ‘When he’s ready, when he’s ready.’ Mrs Crominski was exasperated. ‘For me, you’re ready. That’s enough. Marcus,’ she said solemnly, ‘I’m thinking you should leave her.’

  ‘No!’ Marcus shouted. It wasn’t only Madame Sousatzka he would have to leave. It was Uncle, Jenny and Cordle. It was a whole way of life he would have to surrender. ‘No, I’m not leaving her,’ he said defiantly. ‘She’s the best teacher in London, Momma,’ he begged, ‘I don’t want to leave her.’

  ‘So all your life you’ll stay with Madame Sousatzka. A beard you’ll grow there and still you’re not ready. Is no good, Marcus. Money I’m not wasting. That I know. But time. Time. Next week I’ll go and tell her. Is time you’re wasting and a hump you’re growing. Yes, a hump. I don’t care what she calls it. Is still there. Have you ever heard such a thing! A boy should go for piano lessons and a hump he gets. Next Friday, I’ll tell her, and this time, believe me, I’m not listening to any nonsense.’

  ‘I’ll tell her,’ said Marcus. ‘I’ll tell her today. There you are. I’ll tell her at today’s lesson. Then you don’t have to come and see her.’

  ‘Today in any case you can tell her. Next Friday, I go. Tell her I come. Next Friday, tell her, you should be ready for a concert.’

  Mrs Crominski put on her hat and coat and prepared to leave. At the door, Marcus looked helplessly at her brown hat. ‘Momma,’ he said, ‘you look better without that hat.’

  ‘All of a sudden,’ she smiled, ‘he takes notice of his mother.’ She took off her hat and patted her hair. ‘Is better?’

  ‘It’s all right,’ Marcu
s said.

  ‘All right, he says. Is better or not better?’

  ‘It doesn’t make any difference,’ Marcus said. Mrs Crominski put her hat firmly on her head again.

  ‘Everything you do is wrong,’ she said to the mirror. ‘You wear a hat. Is wrong. You don’t wear a hat. Is also wrong.’ She scrutinized her face in the glass. ‘Is not a nice hat,’ she decided. ‘All right, so when you give a concert, I buy a new hat. If by then I’m still alive,’ she muttered. She picked up her empty shopping bag.

  ‘Why d’you always have to take that bag with you?’ Marcus said.

  ‘Some vegetables I buy on the way home,’ she sulked. ‘Suddenly he’s ashamed of his mother with her hat and her bag. If the great Madame Sousatzka goes out with brown hat and shopping bag, is all right, I suppose. Will I thank God when he leaves her,’ she threatened.

  ‘It’s got nothing to do with Madame Sousatzka,’ Marcus shouted at her.

  ‘Deaf yet I’m not,’ Mrs Crominski said. ‘I should live to hear my son shout at me. Thank God your father, bless him, can’t hear you. And all because of this woman. Suddenly his mother’s not good enough for him. Well,’ she suddenly shouted at him, ‘you want to go to your lesson or not?’

  Marcus followed her out of the door. What was it if it wasn’t the hat, he thought. He wanted to put his arm round her and protect her until they got to Vauxhall Mansions. But he couldn’t. And he hated himself because he couldn’t touch her. Tomorrow, he said to himself, tomorrow, I’ll … He saw a small stone on the pavement and he kicked it violently. Mrs Crominski watched it race past her, barely missing her foot. Marcus shuddered at the interpretation his mother would put on his act. He rushed to her side and took her hand, praying that she would make no comment on his gesture.

 
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