I admit to looking down on them. Old men, stooping, dragging their miserable bodies and depressing outlooks into the paths of those still drinking life. The embers of their fading passion spent on letters to local papers complaining about technological advances, or loud music in documentaries. I felt no sympathy for their choice to give up on living, and shuffle along until surrendering to the inevitable. Many were younger than my three score and ten.
I embraced challenges, raised my pain threshold, and boasted about being dynamically fit. I displayed an obscene attitude of over-confidence. My spirit was thirty five. My music, my love of life, and celebration of my place in the universe, defined me. Neither had I given up admiring women.
Zeus once declared, “I’m going to give them something called time and an ageing process. They can keep all their emotions intact, and I’ll even allow them to decide the age of their spirit.” Poseidon said he was sadistic, but Zeus thought it would be amusing to watch.
I believed I could handle anything life was ready to test me with. Bring it on, was my mantra. But only a fool would dare sneer at the gods. They demand humility, and scorn arrogance. We mortals cannot imagine the endless ways in which the gods can avenge.
Her slender pearl tipped fingers spanned an octave with ease. Her cold hands guided mine along the piano keys. But there was a strange warmth in their touch.
“Age shouldn’t be a barrier to learning, Martin,” Rachel said.
“Not everyone would agree,” I said.
“Why didn’t you choose an older tutor?”
“And be judged by my peers?”
“But they would have more experience.”
“Like five years’ experience, followed by thirty years of ritualistic repeats?”
“Amusing,” she said. “It’s admirable that you wish to learn later in life.”
“Age certainly isn’t going to hold me back.”
“Then I will treat you no differently from my younger students,” she smiled.
“So long as I don’t make a fool of myself?”
“Then you can blame your age,” she chuckled.
I felt relaxed in her company, and knew I had made the right choice.
Although progress was slow, I enjoyed Rachel’s company, and her patience with me. Initially I paid her little attention. She always held her head down and to one side. I presumed she was shy. But during one lesson I noticed her bobbed coal-black hair concealed a port-wine birthmark, the shape of New Zealand, that ran from below her left ear and along her jaw line.
By lesson five I realised I had spent many hours in the company of a woman without judging her. It was uncharacteristic, and bemusing. Then one day, sitting beside her at the piano, I caught her gaze. It was a four second moment of unexpected intensity. One in which I experienced an almost spiritual connection — an intuitive awareness something unimaginably joyful was happening. And for the first time she lifted her head to a full face encounter. Her parted-lips smile raced through me. There was an instant emotional bonding I had never felt in any of my seventy years. If melding souls could experience orgasm, then that was what happened.
I was overwhelmed, confused, and intimidated. Fear, and a sense of propriety, took the wheel and steered me back to reality.
Rachel was thirty five.
Unperturbed by my obvious turmoil, she asked, “Is there a composer you favour?”
“Chopin’s Tristesse is down to be played at my funeral,” I stammered.
“Ah, Étude, Opus10 No. 3,” she sighed, her gaze drawn dreamily skyward. “I played it last month at my father’s retirement party.”
Then gently she placed her hands over the keyboard, and began to play.
The music took me deeper into the moment; my attention fixed on her profile and the faraway look in her steel blue eyes. I felt honoured that she trusted me with a full view of her face. A sacred sharing. Rachel and the music was all that existed.
When she finished the piece, she turned.
“You are beautiful,” I said.
It was meant to be, ‘that was beautiful,’ but before I could attempt any correction, she smiled.
“That’s a nice thing to say, Martin.”
Suddenly I felt like a sad old fool — one older than her father. Yet to withdraw such a compliment seemed impossible.
The next lesson was an unbearable blur.
“I don’t understand. You said you enjoyed learning, Martin.”
Did I sense pleading in her voice?
“I do… well, I did,” I said.
“Then why stop. You were doing so well?”
“I’m finding it difficult to concentrate,” I lied.
But it wasn’t a lie. Reading had been become merely an exercise for the eyes; my mind saturated with thoughts of her. Her face and smile supplanted sleep.
Why now? Why this late? Why couldn’t it simply be infatuation or lust — I could resist those.
I never looked into her face again, except for the reflection in the window facing the piano. During my last lesson, I held my head down, and left without shaking her hand, fearing the torment of physical contact.
As a boy I obsessed over a bike in a shop window on my way to school. My parents were poor. They would never have afforded it. I ached knowing it couldn’t be mine. Eventually I chose to take a different route. Now there was more unbearable pain to transcend, and another path to avoid.
As I passed by a shop window, it reflected an old man, whose shoulders were pulled forward by the weight of his misery; his trendy trainers trawling dispassionately along the pavement. And in the distance came a rumble from behind threatening grey clouds that sounded like laughter.
Dan Keeble is a writer who has published a number of articles and short stories. Having retired, the aim was to work on a novel, but time is now limited by being a full time carer.