Simon Bever – [email protected]
“Will you stay with me, will you be my love?”
The words still rung in his ears; His feelings for her still hurt so much that his stomach went into a knot every time he thought of her hair, her smell, her voice, her words.
Many years had passed since the summer days they’d spent together in the fields of Dorset; the long hours they spent gathering the hay for the farmer friend of her parents. The long dusty days in the golden fields which always ended with the glorious sun sinking large and glowing into the distant hills. Her beautiful skin, the summer kisses and sunburned hands he’d held as their days began to grow longer; chilly nights creeping into their tight embrace in the room in the eaves under the thatch.
Steve was in the college library when he first knew something was wrong. His mobile buzzed gently next to him as he read through his essay for the umpteenth time – the words still looked wrong. Amelia’s mother? Why should she be calling? Steve ignored the Nokia and continued to read;
‘Schubert belonged to a musical family and had every opportunity to play chamber music (like Mozart, his own preference was for the viola) and it was therefore natural that he should compose in that medium. Altogether he wrote more than…’
Why could he not say what he really thought about Schubert’s music? Why was it that Steve’s fellow students and their tutors relegated Schubert to being only a second tier composer? Only being a composer of small scale works – except, perhaps the last two symphonies – shouldn’t have prevented him becoming regarded as one of the ‘great’ composers. His death at the age of only 31 certainly robbed the world of his true potential, but couldn’t everyone see what he would have become?
Amelia was not only beautiful but incredibly talented. She sang like a bird. A bird that had grown up and was now free to fly and sing with a confidence and maturity that Franz himself would have written for. Steve knew when he met her at a friend’s party at the end of his first year that she was special and that he had met her at the time when she was just starting to believe in herself and her talent. She wrote to him shortly after their summer together.
‘Oxford is so cool – I’m looking out of the window of my room at the falling leaves – all red and gold. It’s warm and I’m thinking of you with me. Why do the days seem so long now that we’re not together when the truth is that they are getting shorter? I’m learning Gluck’s Orfeo – Che faro senza Euridice – you must know it. It’s so sad’
Looking up to the library window lit from the outside only by the flashing lights of the London evening traffic whose low hum permeated the silence of his study, Steve saw her face again. Her strawberry blonde hair fell long and lusciously over her shoulders. Her tanned shoulders and slim brown arms were held out to him
‘Come on, jump!’ she’d called from across the ditch at the edge of field, ‘I’ll catch you.’ Her hands were pleading with him.
He missed her. He always missed her. Many years had passed since those golden days in the fields and he still wanted her. Why did it have to happen?
“Steve?” the voice message from Anne had begun, “Steve? Er.., I was just calling, well, to tell you that, well, Amelia told me to leave you a message. Look, this is really hard, could you call me? Sorry.”
Steve had listened to the message later that evening in his room; he’d forgotten about it after seeing the buzzing in the library and had re-written his essay on Schubert – there were to be no apologies this time, because Schubert had done enough to justify his greatness in his string quartets alone. Dammit! No one could make people laugh and cry quite like Franz.
He looked at the phone quizzically. What did she mean? It was too late to call back.
“I’m sorry, Steve,” said Anne the following afternoon when Steve eventually plucked up the courage to call back, “Why didn’t you call earlier….Amelia has gone. She’s gone to Sydney. She got a call from her Father saying that there was a fantastic job for her at his company and well, she flew out this morning..”
“I’m sorry – I thought you two were really close.”
“Yes, so did I.” Steve put the phone down and cried to himself.
Amelia never answered his emails; her mobile number was discontinued and her mother didn’t know where her ex-husband lived. Amelia was gone.
The Poyet Quartet was Steve’s life now. The past twenty years of practice and performance had dulled his sensibilities to people and love. Music was his love and the years had rolled into one another. Life was music in the stillness of the concert hall and the melancholy of the practice room. Life was a small flat in south London and a growing pool of savings to help when his fingers wouldn’t play anymore. He saved because he had nothing else to do with his money. Success didn’t excite him. It stopped him stopping. Twenty years, though hadn’t dulled his love for Amelia and he told no one. He didn’t want to make it hurt any more. He had nothing to share with anyone else.
September 24th 2008. Southbank – Purcell Rooms. The Poyet Quartet were performing the ‘Trout’ Quintet with the pianist Raymond Macfarlane – who was also playing the first two opus 90 impromptus (the easy ones as far as Steve was concerned). The relationship between the quartet and Raymond had been strained from the start – their respective agents had booked the gig, but their first practice had been a disaster and subsequent meetings had not been much more productive. Raymond loved himself. Having an attractive LSO second violinist ensconced in his Mayfair flat seemed to make him believe that he was endowed with something that most fifty-somethings didn’t have. The Poyet Quartet’s Cello player was left in no question that she was on his ‘list’ of potentials and that ‘they should get together after the performance just to, like, talk it through?’
The Viola player had some wonderful moments in the Trout. Steve, like Schubert, loved the Viola. They understood the Viola. They’d just started another variation when Steve saw her. He was counting his 32 bars rest at the beginning of the fifth variation – where the piano was allowed to show off – when he saw the mane of blonde hair in the second row. It didn’t really mean much at first, but slowly the shape of the face permeated his consciousness. The slightly square forehead and the blue eyes – they were staring at him.
‘But I miss you most of all, my darling, now that the autumn leaves are starting to fall.’ He could still repeat the letter by rote. He’d walked through the piles of leaves that evening along the Embankment on his way to the concert and he’d thought of her then.
The rest of the performance was a blur. He kept looking up to check he was right. It was Amelia in the second row, he was sure. He kept missing his entries; He was getting worried looks from his colleagues. Raymond was giving him daggers through the lid of the Yamaha.
“I’m sorry, everyone,” he tried to explain when they finally traipsed into the Green Room. “I’m sorry….it just wasn’t working for me tonight.” Raymond was apoplectic.
“You idiot, that’s nonsense – the A&R people from the Sony were here tonight and you just screwed up everything.”
“For you?” said Steve quietly with a slight glint in his eye.
“Yes, for me!” Steve turned away smiling and put his viola away in its case.
Leaving though the stage door, Steve was as worried that Amelia might be there waiting for him as much as he was worried that she might not be. What would he say? Was it really her? What would he say if she was? Could he forgive twenty years of unrequited love? What had she been doing and with whom? Why was she here?
Exiting the door into the dimly lit courtyard at the back of the hall, there was a small group of women waiting for Raymond. It never occurred to Steve that any of them might be waiting for him and the momentary fissure of excitement he obviously caused by opening the door to the outside was quickly quashed as the waiting crowd realised that he was not who they thought he might be. The silence was embarrassing. Walking past the now silent posse of signature seekers with programmes and pens at the ready, he walked around the corner and almost into Amelia. She’d stood back in the darkness, not wanting anyone to see her.
“Oh, I’m really sorry, I didn’t realise you were there..” Steve started to say - not realising who she was until he was half way through his sentence.
“No!” came the reply, “it’s me that’s here to apologise.”
“Why?” It came out far stronger and more quickly than he expected and he instantly wanted to re-word his comment to be something like ‘no, please, there’s no reason to apologise…’ Their eyes met for the first time in twenty years and Steve felt the low, low pain and the knot in his stomach, again. It was really her. He felt tears welling.
“Well, because, because, I have missed you.” This time there was no quick reply.
“I’ve missed you too.” Steve’s flickering watery eyes never left hers but he felt his gaze hardening by the second. He could never ever hate her and these first moments of contact somehow sanctioned the love he’d felt for her. He’d been right to love her all this time. She was beautiful – twenty years had changed nothing. Twenty years of his life he’d wanted her and he’d played every night in the quartet for her. He’d given her every note, every rest, every pause, every crescendo, every presto. His music was for the love of Amelia.
Staring for a full minute into Amelia’s eyes and realising that he still hadn’t even said hello, Steve slowly turned and walked away. He couldn’t face the inquest, the tears he knew he’d give and get. He wanted nothing to change. He loved loving her as he remembered her in the dusty summer fields and the crisp linen sheets of the room in the eaves under the thatch.