ALL FOR THE LOVE OF ANNA
As soon as Henry Bawdson woke up, he knew he was totally hooked. He was hopelessly in love with Anna.
Last night, Henry had celebrated his fortieth birthday with Anna, and several of his closest friends. It was now 7.30 a.m. and a slight, but persistent headache, as a result of drinking too much, was trying its hardest to mar what had been a really good evening, but it wasn't succeeding. He’d really enjoyed himself, especially after their friends had gone home, and he was at last left alone with Anna. Henry’s heartbeat quickened when he remembered their first almost clumsy attempts at love-making, and he smiled. Anna was wonderful, and there had to be some compensation for being so old.
Anna had left his flat in the early hours of the morning, and for some time afterwards Henry had been unable to sleep. Thoughts about what he had to do in a few hours' time, and his ever-present thoughts about Anna, wouldn’t go away. Visions of her face swam before
him like an irresistible treat set before a starving man, and they’d twisted and wormed their way into his subconscious mind.
Henry squinted at the digital clock beside his bed. The green flashing numbers reminded him of today's task. It was an important day and high time he was up. He yawned, stretched his arms above his head, and climbed out of the warmth of his bed.
He couldn't even face eating breakfast, but instead he made himself a cup of strong, black filter coffee, before returning to his bedroom, and flopping down on his bed to drink it. The delicious aroma spread itself around the bedroom, and he sipped it slowly, all the while thinking about the night before. He couldn’t believe that Anna wanted to be with him as much as he wanted, and needed, to be with her. It must be love, he told himself, because everyone knows that not being able to sleep and not wanting to eat are just two of the symptoms.
He sighed deeply, yawned, and then shook his head. It was some time since he’d allowed a girl to get under his skin like this. Not since... Kate…
Henry’s mood plummeted downwards.
Henry had adored his partner, Kate. He believed that she understood his passion for music, and his need to perform. But in reality, she didn’t! She left him after his most triumphant concert performance ever, and as a result, he vowed never to play the piano again. Kate’s decision to leave him had come so quickly, that Henry hardly had any time to take a breath.
He remembered the concert, and its aftermath, so well…
It was held in a grand hall in the centre of London, and Henry had just completed his final solo performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. The beautiful grand piano overlooked hundreds of ecstatic cheering people, and they were all calling out his name. “Henry Bawdson”, “Bravo” and “Encore… Encore!” People were standing up and applauding noisily whilst stamping their feet, and others were waving their programmes in the air. Henry felt intoxicated by the warmth from the audience, and his heart swelled with pride.
He’d been at the pinnacle of his success; everyone wanted to be part of his life as a concert pianist. Even his agent used to laughingly complain about the amount of work he had to do in order to keep up with Henry’s growing popularity. Interviews on television almost became the norm, and his photograph was all over the Internet. But in the end, because of Kate, it didn’t bring him any happiness.
Thinking about all that past fame and glory always upset Henry. He recalled what happened in his dressing room directly after his successful concert was over. His heart had been filled with emotion and happiness as he’d left the auditorium. He felt proud of his performance, and was looking forward to celebrating with Kate, but this was not meant to be. Instead, she entered the room with her lips set in a cold, determined line, and it had sent shivers down his spine. She didn’t even congratulate him, or say that she’d enjoyed the concert. She simply stood there, before saying the words that turned his success into a total nightmare…
'Henry, there is only one way I can say this to you, but I...'
'What’s the matter, Kate?' Henry’s heart began to leap in his chest. 'Has something dreadful happened?'
'No, nothing has happened at all, and that’s the problem.’ Kate continued, holding her hands out with her palms uppermost.
Henry was sitting in front of a large mirror with bright lights all around the edge. Over the years, he'd sat in many dressing rooms in front of mirrors like this one. He looked at his reflection, but all he could see was Kate standing behind him. Her usually pretty face was a cold unfriendly mask, with no feeling or emotion at all. Henry’s heart missed a beat, and he turned round to face her.
'Please tell me what‘s wrong then, Kate? I don't understand. This isn’t like you at all.'
'Henry you must have noticed a change in our relationship recently.’ She turned her head away. ‘It isn’t going anywhere, is it? When do we ever go out and have fun?’
‘Fun? But I thought you loved my music, Kate.’ Henry looked away. He felt hurt, crestfallen, and surprised. He couldn’t imagine that she could ever say such hurtful things to him. He turned round to face her, and sighed deeply.‘You are right of course, but I’ve… I've been so busy rehearsing, and preparing for concerts and interviews.'
Kate looked at him in despair. 'And don't I just know it, and that of course is the problem.' Henry started to say something, but she interrupted him. 'You haven’t any time left for me. The only important thing in your life, is your music!’
'But... I thought you understood what my life involved.’ Henry felt desperate, as he realised what she was about to say.
'I'm sorry Henry, I can't take any more of this, and that’s why I'm moving out of the flat tomorrow. I must apologise for being so blunt, but I’m moving up to Manchester. My new job starts next week.'
Henry felt numb, and desolate after Kate had gone. His life lost all its meaning, and he knew his piano playing extravaganza was at an end. He couldn’t see a time when he would want, or need, to play the piano again; in fact he didn’t even want to look at one anymore. ‘Pianos – urgh… I never want to go near one again,’ he remembered saying to some friends.
Even though the memory of Kate's cold words brought back the pain Henry felt at the time, he knew it was destructive. He tried to force the fact that he didn’t ever wish to play the piano again to the back of his mind, but it refused to go away. Just thinking about how his fingers used to run expertly over the keyboard caused beads of perspiration to form on his forehead, and Henry could feel it running down his face. Everyone had told him that he created memorable and beautiful music.
Henry hadn’t played the piano for such a long time, and he shuddered when he looked down at his fingers. They were trembling, and reminded him of plump sausages. He closed his eyes.
And then along came Anna.
Her face swam before him. She always had the ability to make him feel better, and often tried to encourage him to play the piano again. He shook his head. Could he run his fingers over a keyboard, and create beautiful music again? Perhaps he would find out later that day, he thought, as he picked up his cup from the bedside table.
His mobile phone trilled suddenly, making him jump, and causing him to spill coffee down his new white towelling robe. It had been a present from Anna. He cursed under his breath and reached for the phone. Who would be calling him so early, he wondered? Then he smiled. It was probably Anna. His heart began to beat faster.
'Hello, lover boy,’ she said. ‘How are you this morning?' The sound of her languorous voice sent Henry's senses reeling; it sounded like warm velvet.
'Hi,' he replied. 'I'm fine, but... I miss you.'
'I miss you too, Henry darling. Don't forget to pick me up at 7.30 this evening will you? I know you have a lot on your mind today, and I’m sending you a really big hug.'
'Thank you Anna. Yes, I do have a lot on my mind, but it's mostly about you.'
'I wish,' Anna replied with a laugh.
'It's true. Anyway, I must get on,' Henry said feeling reluctant even to tear himself away from her voice. 'I'll see you this evening then. Oh, yes and wear that pink outfit you wore last night, it really suits you; in fact it makes you look…’ Henry took a deep breath as his mind began to wander… ‘Bye my darling.'
'Bye, Henry, and... good luck today.'
'Thanks,' Henry replied dryly. 'I need more than luck, Anna. I need a miracle.'
Later, Henry stood outside the double wooden doors that lead into the George Hetherington Memorial Hall. Even though it was pouring with rain, he was reluctant to enter the building because he knew what was waiting for him.
'Go inside Henry. Please go inside, you know you can do it,' Anna's voice seemed to insist inside his head.
The people who lived in the village of Alvington were immensely proud of their Memorial Hall. It stood elegantly on the edge of the village green, and reminded everyone that it was built to commemorate all the people who had perished during the two World Wars. But to Henry it was a huge mental obstacle. If he could just conquer his fear of failure by taking this first step on the way to recovery, then he knew deep down the rest would come easily. He tried to take his mind off what he was about to do, and thought about being with Anna last night instead. He really loved her, and he was doing this for her.
A stream of water from a gutter way above his head, chose that moment to pour down on top of him, reminding him of his task. He mopped his head with his handkerchief, and tried to keep his mind on what he had to do. Only this wooden door now stood between him and his destiny. He twisted the doorknob, and pushed it slightly. The hinges let out a creak reminiscent of the cry of a banshee, which only deepened his inner turmoil.
Henry entered the hall, walked a few steps, and looked around him. He was greeted by an eerie silence, and once again fear grabbed hold of him. He could hear his heart beating in his ears, and his legs began to shake. His eyes fastened upon an impressive grand piano. His heart now began to pound even faster, making him feel slightly dizzy, and his breath seemed to catch in his throat. ‘I can’t do this,’ he said as he turned round, and began to walk back the way he’d come.
Anna’s image once more swam before his eyes. She seemed to be urging him on. How could he resist her pleas. He would do anything for her, he decided.
Henry’s heart now raced for a different reason, as he thought about her. He considered her to be beautiful, but some of his friends didn't agree with him, of course. But what did they know? She wore glasses, yes, but then he did as well. Her nose was less than straight, but then curiously enough, his own nose was a bit crooked, and it had never bothered him. What Anna might have lacked in the looks department, she certainly made up for in other ways. She was aware of her own sensuality and great fun to be with. She was kind, and nothing was too much trouble for her.
But above all, Henry knew that, unlike Kate, Anna understood him. She shared his love of music, and what’s more she understood his frustration over his inability, or reluctance, to play the piano. In fact, she seemed to know him even better than he knew himself. Henry decided that he was going to ask Anna to marry him, tonight. He loved her so much, and he was convinced that she would accept his proposal. He looked around the cavernous room, but first, he had to prove that he could make beautiful music again.
The large, black grand piano sat in a corner of the hall like a predatory spider, and he approached it with mounting apprehension. As a child, Henry's one joy had been to place his fingers on a keyboard to create sounds, tunes, melodies and fragments of music he'd heard. These sounds would flow through his mind like a river, and come out through his fingers, thus sweeping away all his childish cares and fears.
He could almost hear the sound of his teacher's voice.
“Henry, Henry, my child... that was beautiful,” Miss Humberston would say in her high, piping soprano tone. “You could charm the birds off the trees with your playing. Now don't forget to practice every day, will you? If you do, I am quite certain that you will be performing in all the major concert halls throughout the world.”
She would sit down beside him, with her hands neatly folded in her lap, her eyes closed in ecstasy. Miss Humberston had been right of course.
Henry remembered the crowded halls, the noise, the smells, the excitement and above all, the music. It had tantalised and intoxicated him then. If only... if only, he thought. He sat down on the stool, and then stood up again to adjust the height. His long thin legs always seemed to present a problem. He looked down at the keyboard, and its challenging teeth appeared to grin at him. 'Play me, if you can,' they seemed to say. Why did he always feel this way? What was wrong with him? Was even this piano testing his resolve? Henry could feel his glasses beginning to slip down his nose, and he pushed them up again. He took a deep breath… and thought about Anna. Her face swam before his eyes yet again, cutting out all external influences.
‘Yes, I can do it,’ Henry told himself, and he placed his fingers on the keys...
At first, the sound they produced jarred on Henry's nerves, and his teeth clamped together like two pieces of fused metal. He groaned as the discordant vibrations travelled throughout his body, but he knew that he had to tame this wooden monster with its stark and unfriendly teeth. After a while, and to his amazement, he began to enjoy himself. He thrilled at the long forgotten feeling of immense power he used to derive from just running his fingers over the keys, until he finally ended with a dramatic flourish with his arms raised.
Henry’s music inspired mind felt refreshed and confident. He knew he’d fought this piano and had won! A feeling of exhilaration almost like an electric current, passed through him. He stood up, and punched the air in triumph.
'Yeeees,' he shouted. ‘I knew I could do it.’
An elderly woman pushed her way through a tatty floor-length curtain just below the small stage, and entered the hall. She looked at him with a worried expression on her face.
'Mr. Bawdson?' she enquired. ‘Is everything alright?’
'Yes, everything is just fine,' Henry said beaming at her.
'Good. I'm pleased to meet you at last. I'm Ethel Jones, the caretaker. I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived. The bus was late.’ She walked over to the piano and looked down at the keys. ‘I can’t thank you enough Mr. Bawdson. The last time it was used it sounded dreadful, and the committee members were starting to think that we needed to buy a new one.’
'Well, there’s no need to worry anymore, Mrs. Jones,' he said beaming at her from ear to ear. 'A few of the keys were sticking that's all, and I've tuned it to concert pitch as you requested.'
It was a real pleasure, Mrs. Jones, believe me. It’s a beautiful piano,’ he said. ‘Well, I must be on my way, goodbye.’ He stood up, smiled at her, and strode confidently towards the door feeling really exhilarated. He could almost hear the sound of the words “Encore… encore… encore”. He was back!
‘Thank you, Anna!’