“Where are we going, Papa?” I had asked. He ferried me down the street, master and dog, even though I was not so young around that time. I danced about, pulling on the hand he leashed me with when something attracted my attention-- the smell of elephant‘s feet from the bakery, a particularly majestic looking tree amongst the vineyard on the Rue Saint-Vincent, other dogs to sniff at. I think that is how he saw me a lot of the time, an agitated puppy, tongue lolling and tail wagging, leaving mucky fingerprints on the laminate of the piano’s wrest plate.
“We’re going to see Edward,” he replied, a flicker of nerves in his eyes, “you remember?”
I did. Edward was a dour American who always scowled. He intimidated me. Throughout the years he’d spent in Paris my father had visited him frequently. There were times when he would spend more time out of the house than in, paying calls to the various artistes of the area that he’d attached himself to. With them he would exchange shrewd and scornful discourse, appraising or condemning the other men around them and the men they were inspired by. Edward was a particular favourite of my father, not so much for his demeanour but for his notoriety, and it was with him that he vied for attention.
“Joachim!” he’d announced dramatically. He escorted us in and I was promptly patted on the head rather than heralded by name, and ushered into the sitting room. Papa and his friend then retired to the study to converse in private.
His flat was nothing like our own. It was sparse and functional. His had chairs to sit on, and desks and tables to write at and his possessions were kept neatly on shelves or in cupboards. We had no chairs, we sat on cushions and all of our cupboards lay permanently open, with sheets of scrawled-on paper and ruddy bronze trinkets stuffed hastily inside.
What attracted me most was the baby grand that sat took up the corner by the window out into the street. Before my interest in pianos I had once tried to scale it so that I could look out onto the apartments across the street and listen to the clack of heel on cobble, but was beaten for it. It takes maybe weeks to forget that as a child?
Its paintwork, the piano not the window frame, was immaculate- no sign of woodwork like our own, it didn't splinter to the touch and there were no books and sheets piled on top of it. When it was obvious Papa wouldn’t return in minutes, I finished spying off the pink oblong that was myself reflected in its gloss, and planted my bottom on the stool. (a stool, what a novelty!) Placing my tiny fingers on the bleach-bone keys, I gently tapped at them. The tone was warm with age and it reverberated richly throughout the room, but when I tried the chords I knew and could reach across the span of my hand, the notes jarred.
I tried to play to no avail until my father reappeared, a sour and defeated expression on his face. We didn’t say goodbye to Edward, we just left, and once again Papa had to drag me down the street. This time he was much less patient and held me by the wrist and not the hand.
“I couldn’t play Edward’s piano, Papa. All the keys are in the wrong place,” I had said. He replied that that it because his was in tune.
We didn’t go to Edward’s again.