Unfinished Symphony, page 1
Raymond Lee Atkinson
Ray lives at home in a small terraced house in England’s North West. He shares his house and his life with his wonderful wife, two children and a small black cat which his daughter christened Sparkles Barbie Glitter Diamond Pink. He enjoys reading and writing.
For Katie, Harry and Poppy.
“To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and sing it to them when they have forgotten” Thomas Chandler
Polly Appledean slept as snug as a bug. A head was all that could be seen poking out of a hodgepodge of ragged blankets. Her gentle snores played along with the tick and the tock of the cuckoo clock.
Tick, tock, shew. Tick, tock, shew. Tick, tock, shew.
Soon the wind added to the building orchestra.
Tick, tock, shew, eee. Tick, tock, shew, eee. Tick, tock, shew, eee.
The moonlight danced into the room as the curtains fluttered open. Billowing wide they granted access to a tall and unusual man who glided into the dark room.
There he stood with arms and legs so long and thin they looked unable to support his gangly frame. His head was punctuated by a large hat which sat jauntily on top of his head. His long black jacket reached down to a pair of black shiny boots that made no noise as he walked to the foot of the bed.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, tilted his head and listened to the music being made. The soft bed and the sweet sounds soon lulled him to sleep and with his eyes closed his chin came to rest on his chest and then, he too added his own sound to the growing orchestra.
Tick, tock, shew, eee, hnnng. Tick, tock, shew, eee, hnnng. Tick, tock, shew, eee, hnnng.
In another small house at the far end of this little village a tall and unusual man began to repay the kindness of his hosts. A man with arms and legs too thin to support his gangly frame and a large black coat that reached down to a pair of black boots. His head which was punctuated by a large black hat began to sway as he enchanted his hosts with his song. Producing a violin from within the folds of his jacket he placed it into the crook of his neck. His large black boots began to beat out a rhythm, accompanying the violin with a strange mesmerising beat.
His host, a jolly fellow with a bald shiny head first began to smile and then to tap his feet in time with the unusual song. His smile grew and he began to clap his hands and looked across at his wife. She flashed him back a smile of delight as the strange man’s melody continued. Soon, they were both stamping and clapping, enjoying the music that was being made.
A clear voice sang out in a language they were unfamiliar with, the words resonating deep in the throat of the strange and unusual man. Soon the music began to take hold and, despite the fact that they didn’t know their present company, Margaret began to rise out of her chair. Harold, her husband, also began to rise to his feet, his old bones creaking and protesting. The unnatural music leading them into a happy step.
Their joy was a delight to see, it had been a long time since they had danced. Their marriage of love had borne no fruit and the labours of life had tarnished their song. Their song of love was now hued with a tinge of regret and sprinkled with a hint of bitterness. The sour taste of whatifs and cudofbeans. The strange musical man continued his song and leaned back sampling their taste. The couple’s laughter filled the air as they turned around, the music filling their soul, giving them back their youth.
The tall man played on, his hands and feet becoming a blur, the words he sang began to fade. Gazing at the couple he smiled revealing foul and rotted teeth. His dried up tongue scrapped along the thin slivers of his lips as aged yellow skin formed into deep ridges across his face; his black eyes squinting.
The tempo increased as his fingers danced over the neck of the violin and his legs beat out a strange sound that moved the couple around and around. Their happy smiles were replaced by grimaces as the couple began to sweat. Their limbs began to ache, pain accompanied every step but still the tall man twirled them round, faster and faster. Their bones began to creak and then pop as their anguished cries began to mix with the music being made.
The old couple couldn’t continue this frenzy and their pain was now evident to see, tears ran down as they cried out for him to stop. Their flushed cheeks began to fade as all colour was drained from their thrashing bodies. Bright red, red, rosy, pink, white, grey and still the dance continued.
The colours began to rise like steam. The reds and pinks mixed with other shades; greens, yellows, all manner of blues and purples. Splashes of sound could be heard as the colours merged and clashed above their heads.
The strange man continued the rhythm with his feet and then his mouth began to open. Wider and wider, impossibly wide it opened, his head tilting back, lizard-like. Distant screams could be heard as tendrils of colour tried to escape the gaping mouth. Still, his head tilted further back and still the old couple continued their frenzied dance, propelled by the beat of the man’s feet.
Whoosh. He sucked in the cloud of colour as he began to drink in their song.
Silence. The music, gone.
Grey. The cloud of colour, gone.
Harold and Margaret stood still, no comprehension showed on their dull slack faces. Their eyes dropped to their hands that were still joined together. Confused, they pulled them apart and turned to their own seats. Slow shuffling feet was the only noise that could be heard. Together they turned and sank into their armchairs and there they sat; their skin, grey and sunken, their eyes, dull and lifeless, their song, lost and gone forever.
The tall and unusual man stood and ran his purple tongue along lips that were creased and stained with age. Standing he placed the violin back inside the folds of his long black jacket and his hand reached up and wiped the corner of his mouth; disturbing old, dry flakes of skin that fell and dusted the front of his jacket. Thanking his hosts for a fine meal he bowed deeply, his popping knees breaking the silence as he swept the floor with his hat. The old couple paid him no notice so the tall and unusual man turned and his black shiny boots made no noise as he left them, alone.
Morning and the sun began to rise into the welcoming sky, warming the land. The nocturnal creatures kept to the shrinking shadows, seeking the safety of their caves and solace from the heat of the day.
The sunlight’s delicate strokes brushed over the night time colours. As the light touched them the silvers, the greys and the blacks were transformed into varying shades of blue, brown, yellow and green. As the sunlight continued to climb over the patchwork hills it came to rest on a tiny farmstead. The prying fingers of the morning sun reached in through windows, inched into the cracks under the door and began to gently shake away the dreams of a young girl. The warm fingers of the sun spread over her sleeping body, massaging her out of her slumber peppering her cheek with warm kisses as the young girl began to stir.
Polly stretched as the sounds of the farm reached her ears. Her father was a farmer and he had always worked the land, growing fruit and vegetables on his modest plot. His produce was much prized in the local village for both their flavour and their size and this alone was the reason that they did not starve. You see, her father also raised livestock alongside his renowned fruit and vegetables but he could never ever bring himself to slaughter and make a meal of any of his animals. So, Polly had ended up with the largest collection of barnyard pets anywhere in the three counties and it had become a mighty drain on their dwindling supplies.
The reason for her father’s reluctance to slaughter the animals came from his ability to tell tales. Short tales, long tales, daft as a brush tales. Her father had a habit of telling tales to anyone an
Polly began to stir and stretch, she was already late making a start on her chores, and her feet pushed against something at the end of her bed. Thinking it was the old Tabby cat Mildred, she tried to flick her off the bed with a gentle prod of her toes. Refusing to budge she gave it another gentle kick trying to shoo her from the bed. Still the old cat refused to move with her prompting.
Polly raised her head from the bed and spied a strange looking man; he smiled at her, the type of smile a friend might use having just eaten your last sweet while your back was turned. The strange man removed his hat, releasing several strands of hair which floated above his head like reeds dancing in the water. Polly looked at his hat, it was enormous, the biggest she had ever seen. The strange man placed his hat on the bed and reached up trying to control the wispy strands of hair. He made no effort to move towards her, he seemed content to just sit and stare.
Polly, although somewhat confused and if she had to admit it, a tiny little bit scared, was not about to make a fool of herself. This was her room and in here she was the boss, even her father knew that.
“Good morning” she said with a confidence she didn’t feel “my name is Polly and you happen to be in my bedroom. I hope you don’t think of me as rude but who are you?”
“Ah, a good question that be, not very easy to answer. Might be best-ways you asked another.”
“Okay then. What’ your name?”
“My fair lady. Now that be a much better question, one that I am now able to answer. My name is Aphrodisius and I am most pleased and honoured to make your acquaintance.” He said reaching up to the top of his head looking to doff his cap. Realising he had removed it already, he picked it up and placed it back on top of his head.
“And I am pleased to meet you Mister Aphrodopos. Now, why are you in my bedroom?”
“Please my young lady, call me Archie and as to the why. Why I am here to protect you. Keep you safely out of harm’s way.”
“Protect me. What do you need to protect me from?”
“My dear I am here to protect you from myself, my other self. You see, the man who is me but not me. Do you follow child.” Polly shook her head so he continued. “Let us call him my brother, my twin brother almost. Now let me continue. My brother is a collector, a collector of strange and unusual songs. The song that he would like to collect next unfortunately happens to be your song. My brother has a taste for the melancholy. When your mother passed your song became most attractive to him. He has been tracking you ever since, searching, following the faint wisps of your orchestra.”
“My song, what do you mean?”
“Please, allow me to explain. From the moment you are born till the moment you die you begin to orchestrate your own individual song, as unique to you as your fingerprints.” He held his right hand up in front of his face and wiggled the fingers, staring at his hands as if noticing them for the first time. “Yes, your fingerprints.” He continued to waggle his fingers as a smile played at the corner of his mouth. “Now where was I?” He said as much to himself as Polly.
“You were telling me about …” Polly replied.
“Your song, that’s right. Such a clever little girl, now mind your manners and don’t interrupt. As I was saying, no two songs are ever the same, the experiences we go through moulding the melody that becomes our own and my brother. Well, he likes to collect these songs.”
“Oh, that’s okay, you don’t need to protect me. He can have my song. To be honest with you, I didn’t even know I had one.”
“Graciously said and graciously given young miss. But what is a life without music? A grey and dreary existence I think. That is not so much like a life. You see, when he takes your song all he leaves behind is an empty, lifeless husk.”
“You still don’t need to protect me. If he or anyone else comes for me I’ll get my father’s shotgun. I can shoot you know. In fact I am so good a shot that I can shoot a bull’s eye from two hundred yards. Though I never would, the bull is one of my good friends. But I could shoot you, I mean the other you, right between the eyes.”
“Very brave young miss but, like myself, neither arrow nor blade can injure or hinder him. We are the fabric of dreams and music young lady, now please give me your full attention.”
Archie lifted his hands and again seemed both confused and amused by the complexity of the instrument in front of him, he chuckled and then holding up his right hand he made a fist. He brought it towards his mouth and extending his thumb he placed it between his lips. His cheeks puffed out and he blew, emitting a large raspberry noise.
“Ahem, excuse me.” He shook his hand and placed it back in his mouth and again he blew into his thumb, this time producing a clear high note.
It made a beautiful sound and then, as he first opened one finger and then another the notes began to change. Rolling into one another they began to make a delightful melody. Archie raised his eyebrows and nodded towards the foot of the bed. Polly looked as one of her bed-sheets began to swirl and rise off the bed. Up it floated, high above Polly’s head and the sheet twisted and danced to the hypnotic song, forming itself into the shape of a swan. Polly watched in awe as the strange man’s music brought her bed linen to life. She watched the sheet transform from a white swan into a white rabbit and laughed as it bounded from one side of the room to the other coming to rest on top of her wardrobe. The rabbit sat there, resting on its haunches and began to clean its ears and face with its paw.
“Polly” her father called from out in the hallway.
Archie ceased the music and the rabbit dissolved, coming to rest in a pile on top of her wardrobe. Now it was nothing more magical than a plain old bed-sheet.
“Polly” her father shouted through the closed door “you’re up rather late today. Could you leave your music practice till after you have completed your chores? I’m afraid it’s just porridge today, I think we must have the laziest hens in the three counties.”
Polly heard the door to the bathroom close and the steady hiss as the shower was brought to life.
“GOOD GOD, NO” Polly’s father screamed in obvious distress. “NO”.
Polly looked up at the old man and laughed at the fear that was evident on his face.
“It’s okay” she said. “It’s just my father. He read in one of his magazines that a cold shower is the best way to start the day. It rev’s up your metabolisms, that’s your internal heater and it stops you getting fat.”
“My dear, that is barbaric. I do hope he doesn’t inflict this torture upon your good self.”
“No, he says I am pretty revved up already. It’s just something old people need to do.” She said with a smile and the hint of a question lingering in the corner of her eye. A question happy to hide there, a question not quite brave enough to make it to her lips.
“My dear I do hope you are not suggesting that I adopt this ludicrous regime. I have reached the grand old age of one thousand nine hundred and forty eight and I have done that without the aid of cold showers. Now my young lady, collect your things, it is time for us to leave. We cannot let your father know the danger we are in for there is nothing he can do. It would only place him in great peril.”
“What? You can’t possibly mean it. You can’t just expect me to run off with a strange man. Sorry, I meant a man I have only just met. You’re not that strange. What would my father think?”
“My dear you must, it is for the best.”
Polly gazed around the room, the bed, her wardrobe, the rocking chair that didn’t rock. She looked at her old chest of drawers, the piles of books. The violin she hadn’t yet learned to play. The mo
“I can’t leave” she smiled at Archie “he can have my song. I just can’t leave my home.”
She sat down on the bed and lifted one of the teddy bears up to her face and inhaled; she could still smell her mother’s perfume, the scent of lavender still lingered. The old man joined her on the corner of the bed.
“Polly my dear you must come with me, it may only be for a short time but I must keep you safe. I fear that he may have already struck close by. Please, just allow me to show you the effect of his devilment, you must trust me.”
Polly’s weak smile did nothing to hide how she really felt. Could she trust this old man? This man with magic in his hands. What else could she do? She was in danger, her father was in danger. She wouldn’t lose him as well.
“You can show me what he has done and then, well, I don’t know but surely there is another way. We could fight him here or…”
“My dear we must go” Archie said.
Polly quickly grabbed her tracksuit and slipped it over her pyjamas. Then she pushed her feet into her yellow wellington boots. With her mind made up she stormed towards the door only to be restrained by Archie’s outstretched arm. Polly opened her mouth to speak but Archie indicated for her to be silent by raising a finger to his lips. He opened his hand and his four upright fingers slowly counted down. Four, three, two, one.
The bathroom door opened and Polly’s father padded past her bedroom and towards his own and rushing in he slammed the door shut behind him.
“Now we leave.” Archie reached for the door handle.
“Wait.” Polly grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper, she scribbled down a note for her father. She would be staying at her friend Elizabeth’s house. Opening the door to her bedroom the unlikely travelling companions wandered down the hallway into the kitchen. Polly dropped the note on the table and watched as Archie pocketed a couple of apples from the fruit bowl.