STALIN'S DEAD. | By: Terry Collett | | Category: Short Story - Introspective Bookmark and Share


Stalin’s dead, Gwen had said. Stalin? Do I know him? Ada held onto the words as if they were silver and needed polishing. Gwen had not replied; she had left the room and closed the door. Stalin. Was he one of the old regulars at the Nun’s Head pub she and her husband Edwin ran? Ask Edwin; he’d know. She looked around the room, but it was all shadowy and dim. No one there. Edwin? Sod the eyes. Blind as a bat. She listened. Nothing. There again her hearing wasn’t what it was. Some days Gwen would walk her over to the piano, sit her down, and show her where middle C was. There it is, Mum, Gwen would say, pushing her mother’s thumb on the ivory white key. Once she had middle C she knew where she was, but the notes sounded dull and muffled. She played from memory mostly. Edwin liked certain songs or melodies and she’d play them. Over and over. Must you always play them, Gwen had moaned. Gwen, are you here? Nothing. Must have gone. Alone. The room was still. No movement. Even the canary had died. Ada moved her feet. She could dance when she was young. Edwin wasn’t keen. Where had she met him? He was older than she. Her parents had not been happy. He’s too old for you, her mother had told her and her father’d been stern and unbending. But she’d married Edwin despite the parents unhappiness. He’d been married before. Had sons. The wife had died. How long ago that seemed. Ada put her hands on the arms of the chair and heaved herself up into a standing position. Stalin, wasn’t he the one who sat in the corner by the window, Edwin? Liked his stout? She walked slowly across the carpeted floor tapping with her white stick. Edwin was by the piano, she was sure she could see him there. No, Edwin said, he was that Russian. His voice didn’t seem what it was. She touched the piano with her white stick. Tap. Tap. Tap. She pulled out the piano stool and sat down. There. Bum to anchor as her mother would say. Touched the keys. Middle C? Where was middle C? She struck keys. Ran her fingers along the keyboard. That was it. She struck the key repeatedly. Sounded dull. Muffled. Rosina. Where was Rosina? She’d show her. Her fingers’d show her gently. Edwin? He moved away from the piano and stood behind her. His hands on her shoulders. What shall I play? His fingers touched firm. She began to play. The song was his favourite. Make him smile. She missed the Nun’s Head; the customers; the smell of beer and smoke; company; laughs. Songs. She stopped. Long ago. She sighed. Hadn’t seen Edwin in some time. Not since he died. He and Bob died in the same week. Bob? You know, Edwin said. Rosina’s husband. Got that TB. Ah. Yes. Widows both the same week and those poor grandchildren fatherless. Ada struck the C minor key. Sad. All fell apart after that. The pub went to the boys, his sons. She went to Gwen. Can’t stay in the pub on your own Mum, they said. Edwin dead? Bob. Yes, she remembered him. Had been ill. TB. Gwen? Sometimes she was in the room listening to the piano playing. Gwen, where’s your father? Nothing. She struck B minor. She looked around the room. Dim, shadowy. Sod the eyes. Sod them all. The fat, the thin, and the tall. Was that it? Couldn’t remember. Time gone. Ethel. She came and waited for apples from the orchard at the back of the Nun’s Head. Little mite. Lovely eyes and hair. Granddaughter. One of six. Edwin was not happy about any of it. Ada ran her fingers over the keys. Random notes filled the room. Her hearing wasn’t what it was. Muffled. She struck G minor. Loudly, repeatedly. She began to sing, but the words became muddled as if someone had moved them around in her head. She stopped and sat motionless. She smelt her hands, the fingers. Smell. Fingery smell. She sniffed the cuff of her dress. Old perfume. Was that Edwin’s favourite? Was it, Edwin? No answer. In one of his moods. She closed the piano lid with her fingers. Ran her fingers along the top. Smooth. Silence. Gwen. Gwen? I need the lavatory. Comes over all of a sudden. The sensation. Could hold it once. Weak bladder doctor said. Gwen? The door opened. She heard that and footsteps. Is that you, Edwin? Gwen said Stalin had died. Was he regular? Sat in the corner. Gwen lifted her mother up by the arm and walked her from the piano towards the passageway to the toilet. Ada moved her feet one after the other. She loved dancing. Edwin wasn’t keen. Who’s died? Ada asked. Edwin? And who was that Stalin? Gwen said nothing. Lots of people die these days, Ada said. Lots of them. Where’s Rosina? Did she remarry? She tapped the wall with her white stick. Tap tap tap. Here you are, Gwen muttered. The toilet. Mind you lift the dress up properly and…Yes, he was a regular. Sat in the corner. Ada sat down on the toilet seat. The door closed. Shall I play another of your favourites, Edwin? She gazed blindly at the wall. Edwin was silent, in a mood again. Was he a regular? Is that rain?


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