Living Room

When she was ten, her teacher brought a record player into class. Listen to this, he said, this is real music – this is the BBC Philharmonic. She couldn't tell you what the music was called, but she remembers feeling as though her heart had flooded. Other people might have bought their own records, gone to concerts; she knows that, but somehow she could never work out what to buy or where to go.

            Now she's sixty, and there are four musicians in her living room. Violin, viola, cello, double bass; she says their names over in her head. Two men in black tie, two women in long dresses, as though her house is the Royal Albert Hall, not a terrace round the back of Asda. The family's all there, and half the neighbours – even old Mr Maplethorpe who'd snorted with laughter when she invited him.

            A violin, voila, cello, double bass – in her living room. She's spent a week tidying up: even washed the curtains and cleaned the windows inside and out; polished the sideboard they inherited from Jim's mum and every last plate and ornament on it; arranged the family photos in a neat diagonal across the mantlepiece. The musicians are on dining room chairs by the window and the rest of them are squashed onto the sofas – the young ones on the floor. The man who started the whole thing off is down there too, hugging his knees to his chest. I couldn't do that, she told him when he'd asked, not me. And he'd said, why not? Which isn't a question she's ever thought about much.

            They are raising their bows now, and the air is taught and sparkling with the moment before they begin. And here, again: the music like liquid silver in her veins.

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