The room was musty and cramped, the piano old and dusty. Every Wednesday after school I sat at the rickety piano stool in the little room off Mr Harmon's veranda and thundered through the bars of a sonata, cringing at the yellowed keys and the dull thud of an E flat that had lost its tune.
Beethoven would not have approved, I thought.
But Mr Harmon, the piano teacher, only sighed, ever so slightly, and beat his gnarled hand on the edge of the piano, humming the notes in his crackly worn-out voice. I would stare hard at the keys and scratch nervously at the red-splotched mosquito bites appearing on my arms and legs.
On Sundays, I smiled shyly at Mr Harmon from my pew as he sat at the shiny church organ. This was the only time I heard him play and my heart warmed to the beauty of the opening chords. The shuffling feet and rustle of hymn books faded as the music filled the church. But then the choir ladies would open their mouths and attack the hymn with such triumph, such passion, such disaster.
My sister held the hymn book in front of her face, smothering a giggle, while I mouthed the words of the hymn and waited for it to end. Even the priest grimaced. Eventually, Mr Harmon played the last chord, sat back in his chair and sighed, ever so slightly.
My mother had wanted me to learn the piano and she heard Mr Harmon was once a composer who studied at the conservatorium. The kids at school used to make up stories about him: he once played jazz in a city bar; he was the pianist for a famous rock singer back in the sixties.
My dad said he was just a nice, old bloke who had lived in the town his whole life.
Of course, I never asked him anything. I battled my way through the dusty book of sonatas and minuets before mum abandoned her dream of making me into a concert pianist.
On the day of my last lesson, I hurried down the path, clutching my $10, as a spring wind whipped my face with hair and dust. I stopped suddenly as I caught the murmur of an unfamiliar sound. And there, fighting against the wind, came the sound of a forgotten E flat and a forgotten tune.
Mr Harmon was playing the blues.
Penny Harrison has been a journalist for 20 years and only recently started writing creatively for children. Her first picture book is due out in late 2016. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, two children, a small menagerie, lots of beautiful old trees and a growing collection of picture books (and teapots!). She occasionally blogs about gardens at A Little Gentian.
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