Fiction

Lucini

By Harrison Abbott

He had figured the enormous slabs of blue and green would calm his retired self. An old, wealthy man watching the mountains from his windows. A new house within which to enjoy a new life, free of work. Yet, this old man’s mind cannot retire. And the vibrant beauty of the hills is something he has always known.

This beauty, he often thinks, seemed more powerful in his youth. His boy’s eyes once stared endlessly at each slope, precipice, the glassy lakes, brilliant pines … Childhood is so distant, now, after 68 years.

Mr Lucini is his name His mind has never been able to rest. Although his boy’s eyes were sanguine, his mind is far more expansive than a child’s.

Lucini was a composer, once considered among the finest in Europe. His wealth has enabled him this lofty house, hanging above a ravine, the small village of a few hundred people miles down the river. He really has very little in his house. There is a mammoth music library, and his piano and violins. He has no interest in fashion, or food, or, most importantly, company. And thus he sits in the garden, alone, of days, with wine and books. This is what Lucini has wanted for so long – this solitude.

So why does such a glade of sadness embed his days? He’s been here for months, and the August light is declining quickly. With the dousing evenings, he has a sense that something is quickly roving from his grasp. He could reach out to it, before the sun goes, but he never does. And with the wine bottles emptying, he doesn’t try; he knows he should, but a bitterness prevents him.

By the evenings he can think of the Roman concert halls, the ballet ladies with their flamingo legs, the endless scrolls of music which he’d compose as a twenty-something, all with ease. With passivity. He once was, now he is something else. And only in those final hours of sunset, can he be numb.

Yet there comes one evening where this cycle is bashed, and his sadness wades into a farther realm. Lucini is drinking, and a whim takes him from his Autumnal garden, to his piano inside. He must compose! He has this spark, again, and he knows exactly when creation clutches him. Lucini sits at the stool, and begins improvising in A-Minor. His right hand dallies over the keys – and he develops a progression. Followed by a central melody, which he repeats until he gets it right.

Lucini hasn’t composed for so long, and this new melody will charge him back. He imagines the audiences, the newspapers, the adoration, with each thump of each note. He slams his hands down, knowing it will hurt the suspension, but he doesn’t care … There’s a bang, and a flash, and the light in the room vanishes.

Lucini stops playing, and looks around, confused. A strange metallic smell. There is broken glass by the fireplace. He’s knocked over the lamp which stood atop a table; the glass shade has smashed alongside the bulb. He chuckles, feeling his heartbeat against his ribs. The passion broke the lamp … He finds a brush and pan, and cleans the glass up. Which takes him some time, too long. And though he enjoys that his music turned into violence, it slowly turns into irritation. His body wheezes and creaks, and it’s twenty minutes before he’s back at his stool, with a new lamp:

“Right, Mr Lucini: let’s return to that central melody.”

And his fingers poise around the A-Minor Key. Then they pause. He tries not to panic. To cleanse his mind of irritation. But minutes gather up, and he can feel the pulse returning. He tries to hum the melody back. But, no, he’s forgotten it.

Lucini whacks the lid down on the keys and thunders away from his piano. He sees the substitute lamp by the table; he picks it up, yanking the cable free from the wall, and hurls it across the room, with a satisfying crash. Then slams the door behind him.

When he returns to his garden it’s full night. He finishes the wine and heads to sleep.

Waking up of the next mid-a.m. hour, the events meander back to him. His hands are sore from bashing the piano; how dare he treat his artistic companion that way? Then lose his temper over something so frivolous? Lucini acquires his robe, and heads downstairs to his music room, rehearsing what he will say to the piano. He comes to the landing and watches his shadow lengthen in the chandelier light across the floor, the frame of it just missing the door of the music room. And somehow, a steppe stretches between himself and the door. The shame of his earlier tantrum turns into embarrassment, so that he turns, and walks back upstairs. Forces himself to go back to sleep.

Lucini awakes after noon and realises he needs to do something different. He has been living almost perpetually without human contact across the summer. Instead of dining alone today he decides to head into the village. He’s anxious as he drives through the blue-green mountains, but he knows there is hope yet left.

His wealthy car doesn’t embarrass him as he enters the village, but finding a place to park it near the main street does. The village square is properly quaint; church at the far end, shops and market down the flanks, an angelic fountain by the centre. Lucini walks into one of the cafes. The waitresses all stare at him, the village elders too. He orders three dishes and requests continuous coffee refills and is perfectly well-mannered. When finished, he heads up to the counter and praises the girls for their service. He gives them each a note from his wallet; Lucini feels strong, but maybe also tacky as the girls blush and clutch their tip-money, and he can feel the elders watch him fixedly as he exits.

Back in the square, he scans the area. The birds by the water, and the children with their mothers; all so pretty, and yet it isn’t enough. Lucini eyes the church by the end of the square, and its medieval spire hooks him closer. Taking off his hat, Lucini enters a cool echoey chamber. He crosses himself and sits by the benches. Watching the stained glass, he remembers when he’d attend Mass as a child with his family. He can’t remember the last time he was in a church, and he’s forgotten how silent they can be.

So tranquil is the space, that Lucini realises with fright that he isn’t alone. The Confessional is occupied. It keeps Lucini on nerve, and scares him that the whole time he’s been here, a Confession was in progress. He almost makes a decision to leave, lest the Priest discover him sitting here. An instant later, the Confessional curtains open. A young man, with an exhausted face, appears from one door, the Priest from the other. The Priest offers a hand, to which the other, surprised, shakes, and the forgiven man exits the church.

The Priest glances at Lucini, then makes his way to the pulpit and disappears. Lucini still thinks that he should go, but something in the Priest’s late glance makes him stay, so he walks up to the pulpit, and begins examining the architecture in the ceiling. When the priest re-appears, Lucini knows he should turn and greet him, but the Priest is already upon him.

Buon giorno, my friend – your first visit to the church?”

Lucini, finds himself blushing. This Priest is perhaps 30 years younger than Lucini, but he’s blushing over this entrance. With the heat in the face, he can’t look at the Priest, and, looking up, he begins to ask questions about the architecture. To which the Priest embarks on a history of the church, who built it, dating back 700 years. At length, the Priest introduces himself as Father Droghetti. He asks a few light questions as to what brings Lucini to the village, met with a few evasive answers from Lucini, who, embarrassed from his blushing, still, wants to get away.

And Lucini makes to head off, but Droghetti stops him.

“Excuse me, before you go … I don’t mean to be rude, but: you’re Lorenzo Lucini, are you not? Well, I know you are?”

Lucini stops.

“I love your music,” Droghetti continues, “and everyone in the village is interested in knowing you more. You’ve been living down the river for months and we hardly ever see you.”

“That’s not my intention,” Lucini says, “it’s just that I’ve just retired. And it’s a little odd, not having anything to do at my age.”

“I understand. … Will you come to Mass this Sunday, Mr Lucini? Or if not, will you come to speak with me? Just for dinner, Sunday evening?”

Lucini agreed, bashfully, and drove back home knowing that something unknown had been accomplished.

#

Lucini wishes that he’d agreed to go to the Mass; it would’ve meant he would see Droghetti sooner; he waits three long days before any social communication. And his house grows longer, even more silent. He drinks more wine, to bad levels. Ends up drunk beyond recognition at midnight, listening to Beatles LPs, wondering whether he could’ve been a different type of musician … But Sunday evening comes and he drives into the village, sober, with intent in him.

Droghetti greets him cheerfully inside the church.

Droghetti is a small, twitchy man, wearing glasses above alert, analytical eyes. Is accent is neither local nor common Italian.

“Have you been drinking?” he says to Lucini, with a smile. Lucini doesn’t answer, having been caught out. “Good, if so,” Droghetti exclaims, brining out a bottle of wine, “I’ve been needing somebody to share this with for some time.”

They sit at a table near the pulpit, which Droghetti has clearly arranged. It’s odd to sit here drinking in a shiny arena of God, but then, it’s not so overdone. The Priest simply invites Lucini to talk, with the prompt, “Why did you come to the church the other day?”

“Because I forgot a melody whilst I was composing,” Lucini answered. And there were no further prompts needed after this.

Lucini has been bothered by memory as long as he can remember. Even as a boy, memories of humiliation plagued him. But in old age, memories are that which he can’t control. He moved to this mountainous wilderness to escape all this, and after months of solitude amid such beauty, the memories are only enhanced.

He remembers his school days. How much of a freak he was. He remembers failing in the soccer team trials, being laughed at when he spoke in public, remembers being giggled at by the girls and the lady teachers. Remembers being mashed into the floor by the older boys and the younger boys. Remembers when his friends walked away from him before he got beaten up, or them hiding in the bushes, whilst he got beaten up. He remembers failing the audition for the violin group. How the music teachers prevented him from using the music practice rooms …

All these things keep returning to him, from his earliest days,

“And they are so useless, Father. But they keep coming back, and I don’t know why.”

“I am listening. Keep speaking. Speak as much as you like.”

Lucini remembers his first real love, when he was a student of music in Rome. A young Russian lady, one of the most beautiful people he has (still) ever seen. She’d stayed over at his, one night, and in the morning, she’d mocked his musicality for not being popular. “I had a dream that I’d written out this weird melody,” he’d said, lying by her, “but I can’t remember it now.” The Russian lady looked over at his scrolls, which lay tumbled across the floor. “Why don’t you remember it and write it down even if it isn’t complete. Doesn’t matter: only you’ll listen to it anyway.”

Lucini slashed his wrists two weeks after that, after the Russian made some sexually admiring remark about his elder brother. Yet the relationship with Russian lady lasted another 18 months … And now as a 68 year old, he can only concentrate on those few hollow, sinister comments.

“Just a moment, Mr Lucini,” Father Droghetti said, “you make these remarks, and I understand. But why are they in relation to your music? Your music is sublime; you are an international talent. Why on earth would you criticise your natural gift?”

“Because I forgot a damn melody the last time I tried to compose!”

“I forget passages from the Scriptures all the time: I’m still a Priest!” Lucini drank more of his wine. “Have you ever harmed yourself after that incident as a young man, Mr Lucini?”

“No.”

“Tell me what happened after your student years then? What were the most prominent memories from then?”

He remembers overhearing his family talk about one of his sonatas. It was his 26th birthday, and the family had invited him home for dinner. Lucini had arrived early and snuck into the house, intent on jumping in on them to scare them. He waited by the living room door where they were all speaking, and realised they were talking about him and his music. “I don’t think he has much nature as a composer,” his mother said. “It will just take him a while to realise.” His mother was drunk, as she usually was, on red wine, and Lucini snuck back out the house and made an excuse up that he was ill, and couldn’t attend the birthday party, and received much abuse for doing so.

He remembers when things got a bit too extreme in his composing days in Rome. Ten years later, when Lucini was among the top cats of music. Though there was so much success, the prominent memory from this period was waking up in a bathroom cubicle. His trousers and his underwear were down, and there were paramedics standing over him. One of said paramedics was holding a syringe, through which he’s just injected a huge dose of adrenaline into Lucini’s arteries.

Lucini remembers telling his mother about this incident, and how she never spoke to him again afterwards. Until she died, at the age, of, 68. He had returned home to the serene village in which he was raised, to his mother’s home, to explain what had happened, then in a drudged physical comedown. “The paramedics brought me back to life, Mama,” he’d said, “and I’m still here.” She’d listened frostily throughout the story, abandoning her china tea cup.

“I’m embarrassed that I raised a son who made himself that weak. That he let laziness get in the way of his music.

”I want you to get out of my house,” and she finished her cup of tea in a few gulps.

Father Droghetti gasped at this tale, and he watched Lucini’s unmoved face as he told it.

“Mr Lucini – how old was your mother when you told her this?”

“65. She broke off contact with me and died three years later.”

“And what did you do?”

“I didn’t attend her funeral.”

Father Droghetti had known this man’s music since a child – so many people had. He admitted to himself that he was blustered, childishly, with fame, but he kept being surprised by what Lucini had to say. Lucini was not a good talker; he spoke quickly and quietly and it was hard to understand. But it was also exhilarating.

“Mr Lucini – you say that that happened in your 30s? Your 40s and 50s: they must have been your most successful years in music, surely?”

“Of course. And yet, none of that seems of use to me, these days.”

“But why!”

Lucini finishes his glass of wine.

“Father, it has been terrific to speak with you.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes, but, might we continue our discussion another time?”

#

Lucini remembers saving a young opera singer from rejection, because he pitied her in her innocent, voluptuous beauty. She failed the first test at one glance. But Lucini, being director of the opera, intervened and kept her on for the subsequent trial. Chiara was her name and she didn’t know how small she was, her ignorance was so huge. He invited her for private tuition in his office and Lucini went over the parts with her, in preparation for the next audition. He was sure that she would pass, and she was too; Lucini was too talented and profound and handsome for any other outcome. Yet Lucini wasn’t surprised when she was rejected the second and final time … So why did he upraise her hopes, if they were destined for blackness? The young and very beautiful and undoubtedly talented Chiara asked to see Lucini one last time before she left the opera hall. But Lucini denied her a chance and never met with her again, and he put her failure down to self-demise. A notion of which lasted for a long and comforting time.

Lucini remembers all of these memories, in a raging vortex, the instant he wakes, his ill health and lifestyle aside.

It was his 50th birthday party and his daughter arrived unexpectedly at the party. She had this black-browed model boyfriend, and she was on her way for a top-class degree from the art college in Venice … She was even more beautiful than her father and everyone thought so. And by the latter, darkest, stage of the party, somebody suggested that Lucini and his daughter do a duet. Him on piano, her singing.

They did a few pop songs at first. Lucini had taught his daughter how to sing from a young age, and had often accompanied her. She had confidence, that night as a young woman, nearing success. And the crowd were loving it. Lucini absolutely abhorred pop songs with all their theft and their bribery. He stopped one track short, because he knew his daughter was building to a climax. And then he started playing a Nancy Sinatra song … To mixed avowal in the audience, but then his daughter started singing. Lucini plodded the piano keys, did one verse, chorus, repeat. Then as the next chorus came, he changed key – just to flummox his singer. His daughter missed the modulation, and sang out of key. She looked over at her father with pained eyebrows; her father kept on playing in the wrong key, until she caught up. Except she never caught up and she kept smiling at her father, to pretend that somehow he wasn’t joking and he would return to the original key … There were nervous chuckles and a finalistic applause at the end.

Lucini was 56 when his cat died. The cat was nineteen when he died and he had an unusual orange-black coat. He would slink around the villa and was very optional who he would meeaow at. One of the very few was Lucini, who would talk to the cat, and even allow him in his composing room. One time, in fact, the cat came in whilst Lucini composed. Which was something no entity was allowed to do without furore. When his daughter or wife interrupted him, he would explode, but, when he turned around and saw the cat slinking up to him, Lucini smiled. Picked the animal up and set him atop the piano. Which beckoned a new tune, immediately, inside Lucini. He didn’t even have to hear it – the piece of music just burst open, by the simple image of watching his cat lick his paws atop his grandiose piano forte …

When the cat died, Lucini couldn’t do anything for six weeks, having fallen into a major depression.

Lucini was 58 when the stadium collapsed during an out-door festival in Berlin. The collapse killed two people. It occurred during the Andante phase of his first Movement of his 3rd Symphony. The sound of the metal stadium tiers imploding was far louder than anything his orchestra could produce. Yet not as prominent as the screaming of the audience as panic enveloped. The stadium collapse was blamed on the construction workers who had built the venue. Despite them having made the building before the previous century; the stadium was set to collapse at any further bulk of crowd of heavy rainfall. Both of which were ample ingredients on that night. But, of course, it was Lucini’s music which charged that extra ingredient. And in the newspapers, the name Lucini became stapled to the incident. The ‘Lucini Collapse’ they called it. The most famous of his symphonies had been linked with two deaths. And a whole swathe of international public, hitherto unfamiliar with Lucini’s work, now used his 3rd Symphony as a requiem for something they couldn’t understand.

Lucini didn’t tour again after that.

His wife, whom he’d had his only child with, left him when he was 60, after 30 years of marriage. She was the only person he’d ever had sex with, aside from the Russian girl who’d been his first lover. There were no disputes with the wife in terms of legal warring … Nor was there any communication after it was all over. Their daughter was independent and there was no particular animosity between Lucini and his wife.

And now, after all that had happened, this woman who had been with him for 30 years, was no longer there. The physical presence had died.

Lucini still wonders, he tells the Priest, Father Droghetti, whether the two deaths at the stadium collapse were the catalyst of the separation. How can two deaths link to the separation of a husband and wife; how else couldn’t they?

#

Lucini is a boy of nine years and he’s sat outside his house playing the violin and he hears footfalls jumping down the lane toward him. He looks and sees the boy from his class: the simple boy who can’t do Math or Italian well and everybody always laughs at him. The simple boy freezes when he sees young Lucini and Lucini knows there is something wrong other than poor grades.

“What’s up, Guiseppe? What’s the matter?” Lucini says.

“They beat me up – please – please help me?”

Lucini has already beaten this boy up before simply because he is retarded.

He hears the shouts of the hunting boys elsewhere in the streets. And he looks at Guiseppe’s pitiful frame. He sets his violin down by his chair, and heads over to the boy.

“Come, Guiseppe, I’ll hide you, come with me.”

He takes the retarded boy by the hand, through the gate of his garden. And puts him at the back of his mother’s flowerbeds. Lucini tells him to wait there and keep quiet. He tells him to crouch up as far into a ball as he can. Then Lucini goes back to the porch and requires his violin.

He’s playing Schubert, when the band of bully boys rollick down the lane. They run as if they’re watching their hamstrings pump in the sun, even though they can’t. They recognise Lucini from school, and his music annoys them. They stop before him and call out to him, but Lucini keeps on playing Schubert. Until one of the bullies must forcibly take the bow off Lucini … Leaving a silence in the lane with the plummet of music:

“Give me back the bow, please,” Lucini says.

“No. Why should I?”

“I was playing music.”

“Did you see that retard running by?”

“What does that mean? Give me my violin back, please?”

The bullies are five adolescents, far older than Lucini or the retard. The main bully holds the bow back to him.

“I don’t know what you’re asking,” Lucini says.

“Did you see a boy – you know the retard kid, come along here?”

“I didn’t. So leave me alone, I want to practise.”

The bullies make off.

Lucini goes into his garden and Guiseppe is crying and suddenly a drench of shame comes over him over having beaten the retarded boy before.

He stoops to the boy and hugs him and tells him that the bullies are gone and he has sent them away. Guiseppe eventually stops crying and Lucini takes him home.

#

By his 60s, what shows there still were running of Lucini’s music were mostly compilations of his ‘greatest hits’ … Everyone stayed clear of the 3rd Symphony, of course. Lucini had been in denial for a long time; it was only now that the grandiose lifestyle of live conducting had gone, that Lucini could view his opus for what it was. He simply wasn’t as prolific anymore, nor was the quality as pleasant on the ear.

But perhaps this was all nonsense. Instead he could look at the prospect of no touring positively: he had whole swathes of time in which he could compose instead. His wife had left him: he had an emotional channel to express too.

In his inner city apartment, he locked in and spent hours at the piano. He wanted shorter sonata pieces which were accessible to most audiences. A flare up of personal work which would prove Lucini’s genius. He could not stop thinking about his wife as he composed. Memories darted about in bright, mystical dots, starscapes on a silent canvass, the stars never to die within his own lifetime …

And the sonatas came out with his misery. There was an Allegro first movement, which Lucini had intended as upbeat and defiant. Which the critics instead called miserable, ‘the sound of a composer’s loss: a unique view of Lucini we haven’t seen before’. And thus his collection of sonatas were well-received. But they did nothing to ease his thinking.

He realised, with slapstick effect, that he had no friends. What he had was fame, and the admiration of many younger women (at least he supposed he did), and the artistic reverence of his close peers. But there was nobody he could call a close friend even in the musical community.

Lucini went travelling, as a way to escape his fame in Italy. Only to be offended that nobody seemed to know who he was as he journeyed around nations. Even in Europe, in Paris and London, nobody stopped him for photographs … He’d look at his reflection in subway windows, and see a frail, thin man with a straw hat. He allowed a little stubble to show on his jaw, these days. One time he fell over on a high street in Barcelona; a bunch of tourists helped him up. He couldn’t walk on the ankle for days: he was falling over, now? In public? He was glad there were no reporte around to see him.

When he finally returned to Rome, he couldn’t stand it. And was thinking about exiling himself altogether. Maybe even worse: his apartment was the tallest on the block, and the Roman slabs below were an easy distance for suicide. Romantic, silly notions of a death which would definitely seal his fame …

Then he saw a picture of his wife with her new lover in the newspaper. It was a big theatre man – the new lover – and Lucini knew him vaguely. Proper thespian sort. He and his wife were opening a new ballet course for unprivileged young woman, ballet being unfair on the disadvantaged around Italy. It was oh, so wonderful, and it threw Lucini into a worse state than he’d ever been. So he sold his city apartment and moved to a house in the Apennine Mountains near the North-East coast.

“And that’s where I still am just now, Father Droghetti,” Lucini says.

#

Lucini and the Father continue their talks across weeks. Lucini has never spoken to anybody like this. Father Droghetti listens with fascination. The conversations are not quite conversations; Lucini is so narcissistic that there are no questions from him: Lucini only narrates his life’s stories. He drives to the village in the mornings, through the mountains of emerald and navy, the road in long shapes of shade and shocking sun, with a weight in his gullet, having prepared what he will say. When he drives back in the September evenings, the weight has lessened.

His house is becoming less a place of solitude. It is merely dull … He can’t think of much to do, on his own, and he begins writing down what he will tell the Father on their next meeting.

Despite this change in his life, Lucini still hasn’t opened his piano room’s door. It has been left closed since his tantrum, over a month ago, when he’d forgotten the melody. That incident can be dealt with at a separate time. For now, detoxifying himself to the Priest is what he must do.

In their next meeting, Lucini is just about to begin speaking, when Father Droghetti intervenes:

“Mr Lucini, may I say something? You and I have developed something of a friendship the last few weeks, have we not?”

“We have.”

“And I have listened to you and I believe I’ve been of some aid to you, do you agree?”

“Of course.”

“Well, as a gesture of friendship – would you be able to do something for me in return? Would you please come to my service on Sunday? You’ve never been to my church when I’m giving my words … It would just be a way that I communicate with you back, if you understand?”

Lucini hasn’t expected this. He finds himself flushing again, regressive before the confidence of this younger man. This Priest who, despite his youth, has far more confidence in himself than he does. But he agrees, to come to the service the following Sunday. The rest of the meeting that day is abrupt and distracted. Lucini can’t tell his stories clearly, and ends the meeting early.

A daft question begins to build in Lucini as he drives home that evening through the mountains. What shall he wear to Droghetti’s Sunday service? Lucini has a fantastic wardrobe, full of the finest suits from top Italian class. The instant he gets home he goes to the wardrobe and begins selecting a shortlist for the proper suit to wear. Lays them on the bed … Six hours accumulate, and he heads into a frenzy. Memories of his mother, and the Russian lady, and his wife, and his critics, and the loss of that latest and perhaps last ever melody wrap him. Each time a wrap comes it tightens around his mind. And he envisions beating his mother physically. He play-acts how he’ll slap her down, kick her head when she’s on the floor, each in tandem with her historical insults … Then he’s throwing the suits around; he’s lobbing the leather shoes at the mirror by the far wall. The glass smashes and he heads towards it and kicks the rest of the glass off. Falls over, imbalanced in his drunken rage.

He goes to the banister out the window and stands on the porch. The mountains agloom around the lake weigh in upon his sanity. The peace of the landscape sickens him. Tranquillity is not what ne needs.

He’s back in the house, heading downstairs. Goes into his kitchen and acquires the heaviest, most damage-worthy utensil he can find: a rolling pin. He goes to his piano room and kicks the door through. He lifts the piano lid and begins smashing the keys with the rolling pin. The keys go flying in black and white glory. He is systematic and skilful, making sure every last key is flattened or cloven, and the jangly clashing dissonance of the notes in their destruction is something only he will ever hear.

When it’s all destroyed, Lucini alights from the room and takes to the kitchen, where he sleeps on the floor.

He doesn’t alight from the kitchen for three days. Not even to go to the toilet. He just uses the garden as a toilet. Somehow Lucini cannot go farther into the house than the kitchen door. There are a few occasions where his telephone rings from inside: he doesn’t answer. Doesn’t shower. He eats from a bag of pasta, yet his appetite drops, and he has no interest in the wine. He removes any chance of a reflection – takes all the mirrors down in the kitchen. Finally by the fourth day, which is the Sunday, he throws the clock into the woods at the end of the garden. Because he knows Droghetti will be expecting him at the Mass.

The pasta bag dies by the following Wednesday. He goes through his cupboard – anything he can find. Of a day he can survive on a can of chopped tomatoes. Oatmeal, with water. There is still a jar of olives. Eventually when all the food is gone, he just drinks the last of the wine from the cellar; calories enough in that, and because he has no food in him, it’s like living in oblivion anyway.

Lucini thinks that the month has crossed into October, near the end. Because the leaves have turned their crippled colours, and scuttle by his garden chair. The bareness of the trees leaves the mountains ajar in the distance, and their blues and greens have a heavier toll to them. Lucini is glad that he has never seen the mountains in the same way before.

#

Father Droghetti finds Mr Lucini in early November. Not having heard from the man in eight weeks, his concern had prompted him to come to the old composer’s house. He’d knocked on the door for minutes, tried calling to him. He discovered that the front door was unlocked, so braved going inside alone.

Lucini is not dead, when Droghetti finds him, though the old man is very near death. The funk from him is horrific. He’s sitting in an armchair in the garden in the November cold. A titanic beard hangs from his face. There are jugs of water around him, and he’s half conscious. When Droghetti speaks to him, there is barely a response. He calls the local village doctor.

The doctor and Droghetti put Lucini back inside the house, and nurse him for a fortnight. He has pneumonia, and the doctor is surprised to see him survive the first few days, though he can’t be sure how long Lucini has had the disease. The doctor suggests that Droghetti find Lucini some mental health support … He needs some therapy, for acting like this of late. This is mental illness. Droghetti vows that he will stay with Lucini, and predicts that the composer will get better.

The physical illness departs from Lucini. Droghetti brings him soup and bread. And eventually his mental state returns. Lucini can’t quite remember who Droghetti is at first. But when he does remember, Lucini begins to ask him about his life. He’s interested in how Droghetti became a Priest, which passages of the Scriptures are his favourite. And they form a proper friendship.

Droghetti doesn’t ask why Lucini smashed up his piano. He doesn’t try to find the scars which cannot be healed. Lucini can do that himself, he now knows. And by week three, Lucini is up and walking again. And as a gesture of goodwill he orders a cavalcade of gifts be sent to Droghetti’s house. He buys a basket of exotic foods and fine wines and cheeses and flowers, all sent to the Priest’s home. (The Priest finds this a little out of tune, but he understands the composer’s intentions, and accepts heartily).

December comes, and Christmas at the end of it.

Lucini heads back to Rome to see his daughter. It’s a good visit, and he even sees his ex-wife too, and they are amiable together. He thought there would be more hatred. But there is only a slither of it.

He even visits his old concert hall where he was once director. Surprise visit, and the old guard are all overwhelmed to see him. He meets the new musicians and gives them advice. They all know who he is and they grew up listening to his work. And he hopes he is as kind and helpful as he can be with his words. And he rides back to the Apennine Mountains with a whole new sense of worth in his self, which had always been there. It just took a few years of self-hatred and the doubt of people to make it reveal itself.

February comes, and in the cold, Lucini tends to just read novels of his days. He’s off the wine these days, and there are no tantrums anymore. He’s still thin, and he probably has little time left. But he’s fine with that.

One Saturday afternoon he receives a phonecall. It’s Father Droghetti.

Droghetti tells him that there has been a recent tragedy in his church. His old friend, the lady pianist who played for his congregation on the holy day, has just died. Just last night, she passed away. He will hold a proper funeral for his old friend. But for tomorrow, there is nobody to play the piano for the hymns during congregation. Would Mr Lucini please come along to fill in for her, even if it’s for one day?

“It will just be a few hymns, Mr Lucini, and I know you must know the -”

“Of course I will, Father. Of course I will come and play for the people.”

The Father asks him if he knows the various hymns he usually signs with the people. Lucini chuckles.

Lucini picks out his oldest suit. It’s brown, and was the first suit his mother had bought him for going off to music school in Rome.

He takes his hat off when he gets to the church early, and Father Droghetti greets him by the doors as if he were his twin brother.

Lucini listens to Droghetti’s sermon, and it’s just as good as he would’ve expected, and he regrets that he never came before.

When the time for the hymns come, Droghetti asks everyone to rise. Lucini is the only person who isn’t standing. His fingers align along the piano. It is a retro instrument, of a very good make, and the feel of the keys are the felt of peach skins, the sounds of bird calls through chimney spires, the illusory gapes of green and blue which hold across the mountains, of which now Lucini can call his home. And he pounds down the initial four chords, and the church audiences accompany him.

Lucini has no need to improvise or create. He finds himself singing along to the words, though it must have been 60 years since he last heard the lyric.

THE END

Categories: Fiction

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