Excerpt from V.H. Leslie’s ‘The Quiet Room,’ forthcoming in Shadows & Tall Trees.
That night Terry dreamt of the music room. It was full of people, dressed in black, sitting around the piano as if for a recital. Terry walked among them, noticing how still they all sat, their heads cast down. He saw instruments in their laps or at their feet. He tripped over a cello, the strings catching on his trousers, but it didn’t make a sound. Nor did the cellist stoop to pick up the instrument. It was so quiet that even the sound of his footsteps seemed to have been silenced somehow. Terry stamped his foot, trying to make as much noise as he could, and when that failed he knocked over a set of cymbals, expecting the vibrations to shatter the silence. But nothing dented the stillness of the room. He tried to address the gathering but his voice faltered, the people didn’t even look at him. Terry grabbed the nearest man by his lapels and shook him roughly, but the man merely stared back vacantly. Terry tried to scream into the man’s face, pouring all his confusion and rage into one almighty cry, but no sound came and his throat became hoarse with the effort.
In the background he heard the piano.
Dissonant notes at first, but gradually they merged to form the beginnings of a melody. He avoided looking at what was on top of the piano but glanced across at the keyboard. The lid was down. To signify the beginning of the movement, he remembered. But how could that be? The melody began to gain speed, the volume creeping higher and higher, the playing becoming more crazed, more erratic, building toward an inevitable and deafening crescendo—
Terry sat bolt upright in bed.
He breathed deeply, trying to steady himself, fancying he could hear the sound of his racing heartbeat. As it slowed he was conscious of another sound. He strained his ears and thought he heard the same dissonant notes from his dream.
It was the piano.
It echoed through the corridors of the old house, drifting up the stairs, filling the rooms and recesses with its melancholic air.
Terry pulled aside the covers and began down the stairs. He pushed his dream to the back of his mind as he followed the melody to the music room, opening the door with a thud.
The music stopped.
Ava sat at the piano in her nightclothes. Her fingers were stretched out on the polished veneer of the piano lid. Had she closed it suddenly when he entered the room?
Terry walked towards her in the silence. She opened her eyes slowly as if waking up. She looked around dazedly at her surroundings.
“It’s ok,” Terry soothed, placing his arm around her, gently bringing her to her feet. “You’ve had a bad dream. Let’s get you back to bed.”
As he closed the door, he looked one last time at the piano but saw only the urn.