Short Fiction ~ Michael Pettifer
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 16
It was July on the island of Gozo. A still, stifling summer heat, not tempered by any cool sea breeze engulfed San Lawrenz . The pavements, the stone and brick facades of shops and buildings radiated the midday heat. Those few that had ventured out sat under capacious cafe umbrellas or walked in the shade of street buildings seeking a refuge or a shaded park bench.
A young man walked along the sea wall with the ocean and near deserted beach to his right and a small road showing a gradual incline to a small park on his left. He stopped, looked left and right, could see no traffic, crossed the road and headed in the direction of the park. Tousled hair and sunglasses complimented his bleached sleeveless T-shirt and shorts that hung loosely from tanned arms and legs. His flip flops beat out a military tattoo synchronised to a measured unrushed gait. A well-used patinated leather shoulder bag hung on his hip.
In the park, a few people took respite under what shade some trees could offer. Breathless from the heat they sipped water from plastic bottles while gazing into the hazy distance.
There was a stand-alone battered and worn upright piano in the park unsurprisingly bleached by the sun and sea air painted and decorated with large colourful flowers - it was positioned near the footpath that ran adjacent to the park. There was no piano stool, just the upright there for anyone to raise the lid and play a tune.
The young man attracted little attention as he walked up to the piano, placed his shoulder bag carefully on the ground, and lifted off the front of the upright placing it to one side.
Two elderly ladies, sat together in the park, were resting from their short walk to the shops. They nudged each other tilting their heads in his direction.
'What's he doing?' said one.
'No idea,' said the other lady.
As they watched, he lifted the lid of the keyboard and pressed various black and white keys. Some of the ivories, chosen and struck, produced dissonant sounds. He paused, bent down and took an object from his bag, he raised his hand and struck the side of the piano placing the mystery object against its frame. The clear solitary note of a tuning fork broke the still silent air. With another device retrieved from the bag he reached into the frame of the upright and tightened and loosened piano strings - whose tone - when the ivories were struck again, grew higher or lower in pitch. He listened intently, re-struck the keys, and adjusted the string tension till the note produced matched that of the tuning fork.
Those in the park, and passers-by, were now engaged with this rehearsal. With each correction, with each chord played the old upright was becoming an instrument to play. He was not distracted by those looking on or by the passers-by who stopped, looked and listened.
The front of the piano was replaced and the tuning equipment returned to the leather bag. Standing in front of the piano he placed both hands on the keyboard. Now, totally focussed, and with a gentle movement of his shoulders, his fingers and hands caressed the keys. He began to play. The musical phrases were soft, melodic and classical. Instantly the gift of the man enchanted all in and outside the small park.
The public space had now become a concert hall. The soloist - this mystery man - played a piece perfect for the ambiance, heat and temperature of the day ... his hands moved effortlessly across the octaves , his arms and body relaxed and engaged with the instrument. He did not play for long, but played long enough for spontaneous applause from those seated and those watching.
'Bravo!' shouted one.
One of the ladies, moved by this short performance, approached him. 'Thank you, that was lovely,' she said.
'What was it that you played?'
'Chopin's prelude,' he smiled and, as he turned to leave said, 'please excuse me, but I have other pianos to tune.'
'Yes ... of course,' she hesitated, ... 'of course ... and you’re a piano tuner?'
'When I'm not studying.' He lowered his sunglasses to the end of his nose and smiled at the lady.
The keyboard lid was closed and with the leather bag slung over his shoulder he left the park turning down a small side street disappearing from view. Those in the park and the onlookers silently followed his departure and then joined in animated discussion and chat, 'Who was that?' 'Wasn't that amazing!' 'Beautiful.'
The lady in the park turned to her friend. 'He's got other pianos to tune,' she said.
'Where did he learn to play like that?' her friend inquired.
' He didn't say ... no idea ... it was Chopin.'
'Yes he said he played Chopin's prelude.'
They sat quietly for a moment.
'Never judge a book by its cover.'
' So true,' said her friend. 'I think we should go home now.'
'Yes, time to go.' And they left.
Michael Pettifer has an MA in screenwriting and an Honours degree in Chemistry. He writes flash fiction and short stories and is successful in International flash fiction competitions. Michael was raised near Stratford upon Avon and has a passion for the actors art and live theatre. He enjoys writing short plays for friends. When not writing he is using his word craft as a professionally qualified development specialist advising and supporting others reliant on written documentation and effective communication skills to further their career opportunities.