Eddie lies beneath the grand piano. From above him Mother’s notes tinkle down like ice droplets, each one vibrating a tiny tuning fork against his face and setting up a resonance inside his stomach, much like the time Kingsley sat on him in the playground and he had to turn onto all fours and crawl away, yelling that Kingsley was a fucking twat, that he’d most probably ruptured his appendix with his great fat lard-arse, when in fact there had been such an intense flow of blood to his genitals that there was none left for thinking or rationalising.
“Why do you have to hide there, of all places?”
Eddie wishes Mother wouldn’t talk. Her voice oils the notes, smudges the edges, queers the pitch.
“Let me be,” he says.
“I’m only asking, darling.” His mother stumbles over a chord and the notes fly into each other, crashing and crumbling till Eddie is left spitting them out like so much dust. “Why there?”
“It suits me,” he says.
“In the middle of summer? When you could be outside,” she says. “Playing football perhaps?”
“With whom and for what purpose?”
Eddie requires no answer; to have raised the question in her mind is enough.
“The lads from the holiday cottage.”
“The lads from the holiday cottage? Really, Mother.”
“Just an idea.”
The final chord. The notes collect around him in a puddle, soaking straight into his soul and massive erection. Above him the sheet music rustles. A sigh.
“You really ought to make an effort.”
“I make an effort all term.”
Eddie rolls onto his side and curls up. The rug under the piano has gossamer spiders’ webs cast over its surface. When his father was here, those strands would have been vacuumed away by Sophie with breasts so undetectable and hips so slight she might have been a boy. Such a shame to have destroyed something so beautiful. He will stay here until his mother plays another piece, and as her notes twinkle and disperse he will watch those webs to see whether he can detect in them the faintest shivers.
“You know how it soothes me, Mother,” he says, but there is no sound of further music being set out, instead the piano stool is pushed back and her heels click away across the parquet floor. He will wait till she rushes back and starts playing again.
“Mother,” he calls.
The steps stop. She is reconsidering her rejection of Brahms and Beethoven. She is reconsidering the need to hasten to the kitchen to prepare whatever minor meal she has learned to cook. She is regretting not being kinder to Daddy. Her feet turn. Ah yes, how right he was to dismiss the suggestion of football with whomsoever is in the holiday cottage this week. Not a good decision of Mother’s to allow such people into their lives. How right he is to stay here.
“This has all been terrible for you, darling.”
His mother has returned. He watches the toes of her shiny shoes and hugs his shins more closely in case she should somehow notice the remains of his erection.
“If only there were anything else I could do.” She has said all this before, and has he not replied how it would be easy enough for her to not get so upset by Daddy, that her decision to banish his father from his own home is flawed?
She lowers herself onto her knees and peers under the piano. He will not react. She will not like him staying schtum. See how it is when people make decisions that you don’t like, Mother? See how it is when people go and wreck your life? He feels her breath on his neck, smells the perfume Daddy always bought her at Christmas.
“Enough, Eddie,” she says in almost a whisper.
For a moment he tries to think what there is enough of and cannot think of a single thing.
“This has to stop,” she says. “No more demands for endless piano playing. No more refusing to eat. No more creeping into my bed.”
Eddie doesn’t creep anywhere, ever.
“You’re too old for all this nonsense. Do you understand?”
Why is it up to him to understand? Everything was just fine. Yet now his mother is beside him the notes that fell on him earlier appear to have gathered round his eyes and nose, poking at every pore, teasing like so much black pepper ground directly over him.
“I’m not playing stupid football,” he replies.
His mother sits back. Her scent disappears.
“Maybe not football,” she says, “but all the rest. Just stop. Now.”
Ruth Brandt’s short stories and flash fiction have been widely published. She won the Eyelands Book Award 2019 for an Unpublished Short Story Collection, the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing Prize and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions Award. She tweets at @RuthABrandt. www.RuthBrandt.co.uk.