After Dad’s we stayed with Nan and Garg for a few months, and then moved to the house on Keri Place, a squat brick box with a front yard of dry grass and a concrete pad out the back. We were living there when we got the piano. I was playing on that dry grass and saw the moving truck turn in toward our drive. I abandoned my games to run and tell Mum, and from the doorway we both watched two men in bulky jerseys unload something heavy.
‘What is it?’ I said.
‘It’s a piano.’
‘Who’s it for?’
‘It’s for you. For us.’
The men wheeled the piano into the lounge and pushed it up against the wall. Once they had gone, Mum told us about the piano she had when she was a girl. She took lessons and practised after school. I imagined her in the front room at Nan and Garg’s, the room with the stiff lounge suite and the china cabinet. They would listen as she, sitting with her back straight, played the kind of music that sounded like things gently falling. She played it perfectly.
‘It’s good for children to learn an instrument,’ she told us. She would get a book from the library and teach us. Maybe teach herself again too.
The veneer on our piano was badly chipped and someone had scratched a love heart in the varnish. But the keys were unscathed, creamy and cold to the touch. I pressed each one and then pressed them all again with my foot on the pedal. I tried different combinations of keys, flattening three at a time with my palm. I ran a hand from one end to the other, high to low. And then back again from low to high. I hit it hard to get a crisp ping. It was then that Mum told me to stop. You could ruin a piano that way. If I waited she would show me how to play it properly.
We didn’t stay at Keri Place for long. The moving truck came again and this time we followed it to a roughcast bungalow in Sydenham. This house, with its rotary clothesline and slump-roofed shed, was ours. Liam and I got the room at the back, with a bed light each and the piano went into the front room. We started going to a nearby school — although not the closest, that was for rough kids — and it was there that I learnt about music. An old lady came to visit our class, and we crowded the mat as she told us that all it took was two symbols. One a double up of the other — inky drops with tails.
That afternoon I went straight to the front room. Under my arm was the computer paper Mum’s friend had given us, a neat stack, each sheet joined to the next with perforations. I had also selected a pen from my set. Black was obviously best but mine had dried out and I chose pale green instead. I sat at the piano and went to work. I played tunes, new, inventive pieces of my own creation, and carefully transcribed them to paper. Crochet crochet crochet quaver crochet quaver crochet quaver crochet crochet crochet. I filled whole sheets. Quaver quaver quaver crochet crochet quaver quaver quaver. Working till my felt tip ran dry.
Mum was watching TV in the sitting room. ‘I know music now,’ I told her, dropping the stack to the floor and lifting the top sheet high.
She looked at me instead of the paper. ‘That’s good.’ She did her grimace — showing two deep wrinkles between her eyes — as if I had reminded her of something unpleasant, something she was glad to have forgotten.
I worked on my music for a couple more days and then moved on to other things — building an aeroplane from scrap wood, pulling apart the old washing machine. I never touched the piano again and wasn’t surprised when I came home one day to find it gone. Another moving truck had come, another two men to take it away. I didn’t ask why. By then I only wondered why we ever had it in the first place.