Page 19 - WTP VOl. VIII #7
P. 19

 I really don’t want to do this! They were here now, the instrument was at his feet, it was just a case of getting on with it. The moment of his name being called. The self-conscious walk across the room with head bowed. Seated and ready to go. Safety catches removed from the top and yet...
Let me switch to the perspective of my father. Watch- ing his son compete with other boys and girls. See him stumble up to the chair. Head bowed. Stand up straight. Don’t let them see how nervous you are.
speaking of failure and saying its name, whispering its individual manifestation to all present.
My failure was their failure. The instrument had de- cided in its infinite wisdom to do something entirely other than the tune I was trying to play. Kelly the Boy from Killane was thrown into the river and the head kicked through the streets before being set on dis- play on a spike. Perhaps it had decided to evoke the memory of the bedraggled woman who had sold it to my father. Or the person who had owned it before her. Or the person before that. Everyone in the room was wishing it would stop. Everyone was willing it to stop and wondering why this tune seemed so much longer than all the others. How the young man was failing
to control the instrument, just a collection of keys, wires, bellows, wood; how it stammered and kept getting stuck or reversing and getting lost time after time as the interminable dirge dragged itself bloodied and beaten to a whimpering conclusion.
How my performance ended is still a mystery to me. It was surely an out of body type experience but the relief of finishing and that polite applause gave way quickly to the sudden burn of shame as father refused to make eye contact and brought to perfection a facial expression that was both acknowledging of the fact that I was his son but equally uncomfortable with
the same unpalatable taste of it. If there had been an open window then sure as hell I would have jumped out of it—but I would have had to wait for him to jump first. The instrument stayed with us for months, years even, following the competition, and yet re- mained happily entombed in its plywood coffin until some poor fool answered the advertisement in the local paper and took it off our hands.
These days the instrument’s memory is evoked when- ever I am called upon to speak in public, to raise my voice, to stand up tall and say something to a group
of people, in front of strangers, to make my presence felt; as I am now about to do as part of a task force on...I completely forget what. With each and every oc- casion of this kind I feel the straps of the instrument tighten around my chest and my breath shorten and the phantom weight of it pulls me forward so that I assume the curious shape of the man before you this evening, the grown man quaking in his boots, wait- ing for his name to be called, and that awful yawning expectation of the silent audience.
Coughlan lives in Galway City, Ireland. His first collection of short stories, Wattle & Daub, was published by Etruscan Press in 2018. He has published work with Litro NY, Storgy, The Galway Review, Bohemyth, Litbreak Magazine, Lunaris Review, Fictive Dream, ChangeSeven Magazine, and Crack the Spine, among others.
s I pressed the keys
and opened and closed the bellow the atmosphere
in the room began to change and assume a taut breathless mugginess.”
He sits down and does nothing. Sits there with his hands on the keys. Frozen. Seconds passing. Uncom- fortable sounds of people clearing throats and feet moving. Play something! He just sits there. His hands are on the keys. His mouth is mumbling. Please just play something! Embarrassed silence stretching on and on. Please God help the child play a note and get started! If he can just get started then maybe it will flow. Here we go yes he’s off. He’s playing something and I don’t care how bad it is. He’s playing that same bloody tune as always.
As I pressed the keys and opened and closed the bel- lows the atmosphere in the room began to change and assume a taut breathless mugginess. Nobody could draw a breath. Nobody could even loosen a
tie, the room was suddenly too hot, overwhelmingly crowded with bodies, full of restive children, being shushed by anxious parents. As the music started
to seep from the instrument it entered like a poison into the hearts and minds of the listeners. They could only hear the ugliness; private traces of frustration, bitterness and regret, normally kept locked away
in the cold dark latrine at the bottom of the heart. Here was this lanky boy playing music to make them sick, with unease, sick with anger, playing music
with a foul stench. What it evoked in each person in the room was a private vision of their very personal wordless disgust; the music from the instrument was

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