A warm, lilting melody wafted through the nightclub, nimble fingers dancing over crisp black and white keys as the song of the grand piano drifted down from the stage, filtering between the irregularly spaced tables to fill every niche and recess of the dimly lit room. The lone figure in the spotlight moved gently with the music, her long chestnut hair billowing down her back in loose waves and her wine red dress fanning out around her knees as she sat on the worn leather stool. It was not a complex song she played, with no difficult notes or intricate rhythms, but there was something about it that was so enthralling, so entrancing, as if each sound touched you, clung to you, whispered to you.
As the tune swelled, as the notes danced, and as music came alive beneath her fingers, the pianist began to remember.
She met him at a cheap, backwater club on a cool autumn evening while playing yet another of those low paid unambitious jobs that she hated but needed to make ends meet. While lingering together before and between performances he had mentioned that he had studied cello in France, and confided that he hated playing these gigs as much as she. Before they knew it a little small talk turned into enchanting conversation, which turned into an invitation to dinner.
The courting that had begun awkwardly in that dark corridor of the small backstage area continued. At first it was slow and sporadic, stuttered by difficulties of work and money, but despite the troubles it bloomed. From a strong passion their connection formed, their relationship transcending the coldness of a small yet barely afforded apartment and the bleakness of a life forever impoverished.
Then the idea of a duet was pitched, and suddenly they were no longer two starving musicians each struggling to make a living for themselves. Now, they did it together. A double act, a two part performance, working together, coping together, surviving together. For the first time in her life she wasn't just a child from a broken family trying to leave behind her bleak origins. No longer did she have to struggle alone in a desperate attempt to make something, anything of herself. Now, she had someone there for her, someone to care for her, and someone to love her.
When he came to her with the song she was surprised to say the least; he'd never composed before or told her that he had an interest in composing. But as she took up the manuscript, as her hands danced over the keys in time with the rich earthy tones of the cello, as the song was heard for the first time, she was amazed. And by the time the majestic melody faded and the song came to an end, she was close to tears.
"It's so beautiful."
"I wrote it for you."
"But why is it so sad?"
A pause, then, "There's something I have to tell you."
The next months were an agonising blur of waiting rooms, doctor's offices, and hospital beds. Leukaemia, they were told, and less than a year to live. But it couldn't be true, it wasn't fair, not when she had finally found someone to share her life. He tried to resist, to fight, but the cancer won in the end. She will never forget the smell of the stark white ward, the dull beep of the monitor, the last look he gave her before he slipped away into a coma from which he would never wake.
She was there three days later, lying beside him, her head resting on his chest, when she heard his breath stutter and his heart falter. She was there, listening, as his lungs gave one last shuddering heave before finally falling still.
Once again, she was alone.
The final notes of the song died away to be met with silence. The audience sat wordless, unmoving, captivated by the spell of the music. But then one clapped, another joined, and it was broken. Applause rang out from the club as the pianist stood and gave her bow.
"Thank you very much, that was the lovely Si Waters on the piano," the emcee said with a grin when the noise had died down. "Now Miss Waters, that was quite a change from your usual repertoire, is it your own composition?"
She shook her head. "No, I only arranged it. It was originally a duet."
"And you told us before that it was your first time performing it, yet you also said that it was an old song. Is there a story there?"
Si hesitated. For so long the grief had consumed her, for so long she had been unable to play that song, and incapable of talking about what she had lost.
"Promise me something."
"Don't let this break you, otherwise the cancer will have claimed two victims. Move on, Si. I'll be your past, promise me you'll move on with your life, promise me you'll let it go."
There was a long silence, then, "He played the cello..."