P = chapter sixteen
The Piano Teacher
by Kim West
In the months after the death of his wife, Ronnie had found that he
felt strung out in a state of limbo. Once he had jumped into the world,
the resulting birth of his new sexy persona had been a miracle to him,
after a lifetime of peeking out at the richness of other people's
existences. But the shock of where this had led to still set him
Incredibly, there were no questions asked about Elsie's death. He had
tenderly washed her and dressed her in her nightie. Then he wandered
the house for the rest of the night. In the morning he called the
doctor, telling him that he had woken to find that she had died in her
sleep. The doctor had examined her and found her cause of death to be a
massive stroke. Ronnie had accepted that. Yet he knew that he had been
the cause. She hadn't slipped away peacefully. She had died impaled on
him. Once he came to and realised what had happened, he had been
devastated. He had killed her. There was no doubt in his mind about
that. Because of his shock at this outcome, he therefore found the role
of grief stricken widower came to him easily.
Later, as he reflected on the turn of events, he was feeling bitterly
lonely. His neurotic, paranoid old wife, who had barely drawn breath
for any other reason than to talk, was suddenly no more. This left a
bizarre silence in their house and Ronnie at times would strangely
begin to miss her.
In her neighbourly way, Steph kept an eye out for him and would invite
him in for coffee when she caught him in the garden. It was on one of
these occasions that she offered him the bag of clothes.
"Ronnie, have them will you? I don't want to see them go to a stranger.
You take that big coat too, for the winter", she implored him and he
accepted without a second thought.
However, it wasn't actually long after this that Ronnie had put his
house up for sale and arranged for house clearance. The flirtatious
postmistress had started to accommodate him and so he moved his "
burning needs" in to accommodate her. She was very satisfied and he
wasn't lonely any more. She secretly gloated on her catch, but kept
things at a matter of fact stance during the day. He at the grocery
counter and she in her little security cubicle. They addressed each
other as "Mr French" and Mrs Toggle" during the working day. This
arrangement really suited Ronnie, and so he soon turned yet another
page in his life, finding that he could for once be very content. He
respected this new lover in a way that he could never have found the
will to respect Elsie. Mrs. Toggle, for instance smelt very clean and
had pretty nighties. Mrs. Toggle cooked lemon meringue pie as light as
a cloud. Nicely rounded, with most shapely calves, Mrs. Toggle would
do, he thought. His "burning needs" calmed as Mrs. Toggle accommodated
him almost every other night and the respect he bore her kept him calm
enough on the other nights.
In the village, gossip raged as to the nature of their relationship.
Half of its population was morally wounded by such behaviour and the
other half just sighed. Ronnie confused them. He had undergone such
changes. The organism of the village stretched itself to cope and
incorporate the quirkiness of ordinary folks' lives. Its tentacles
usually soothed the ill or bereaved, especially if these were regular
participants in village rituals of church going, pub going, post office
gossiping, tidy front gardens and general quietness.
A newcomer could be rapidly absorbed by resorting to these agencies and
so Steph was soon life and soul of fund raising initiatives and the
village pantomime. Her children's excellent progress through school was
nurtured by many admirers. There just weren't that many young families
in the village nowadays. Steph was their treasure. The ugliness of
Edward Stenton's murder had been swept under this treasure and rarely,
if ever, mentioned. Elsie French's death had been assimilated into the
village round. Not particularly liked by anyone at all, Elsie had
therefore been swiftly dispatched and forgotten.
Ronnie, however, with his decadent transformation, his bereavement and
the rapidity of his subsequent entanglement with their busy-body
postmistress, was quite another matter. Now the balance of things was
askew. Whereas such matters would usually be worn thin through constant
chatter in the Post Office, it was now the Post Office itself that came
under scrutiny. Gossip moved out and about and preoccupied streets, the
pub, bus stops, garden fences and coffee mornings. But whereas Mrs.
Toggle was initially rather proud of the stir she was causing, Ronnie
was oblivious. He never noticed the hush as he entered the pub
nowadays. Neither did he notice his grocery customers lingering behind
shelves to catch some indiscretion between him and the postmistress,
but the postmistress did notice and quivered with excitement. Joan
Toggle was herself a new woman. Sensual moments effused her life with a
new quietness and gentleness. She noticed for instance the texture of
things more keenly. Licking of envelopes took on a new sensation. The
application of the stamp sent ripples up her arm. Sometimes between a
dream world and reality, she hung suspended on the demanding routines
of her job. No wonder things began to slip a little. Papers wrongly
addressed and inaccuracies in the takings.
"It's because she can't concentrate", the comments would come.
"He's like Svengali", it was suggested.
Ronnie liked to walk by the river on his "nights off" from servicing
Joan Toggle. So every other evening he followed a path, which led from
the grounds of the village primary school, past the row of houses where
Denise and her parents lived, and down to the river. He took to walking
this route regularly now in all weathers and so it was that Denise came
to see him as the personae of Edward. After all, he was the same
height. He wore the big coat and others of Edward's clothes.
"There he goes again"; she would muse, as she gazed absent-mindedly out
of her bedroom retreat.
"He won't be long. Soon he'll be back", and she would spend the rest of
the evening preparing for his arrival. The sacred objects around her
room were dusted, fondled and repositioned over and over again. She
washed and dressed in her nightie to wait for him.
Ducks were flapping about and fussing. Ronnie sat on the slightly damp
bench, protected by Mr. Stenton's big old coat. He felt dignified in
this garment and also when he wore others of the clothes that had been
passed onto him by Steph. Wearing the old piano teacher's garments made
him feel like a better person. He chuckled to think how affronted Mr.
Stenton would have been to consider his old, then tramp-like, neighbour
would soon be wearing his clothes. Then, after a quiet moment to
reflect, he would converse with his poor dead wife.
"Elsie, if you can hear me now, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so
persistent. You gave what you could, but you see it was never enough
dear. Never enough. I wish I could have been a better man and left you
alone, but I couldn't. You know what it meant to me and honestly love
you were so much nicer when you were quiet. Of course I never meant to
make you so quiet. I hope you understand."
Ronnie sat in the way that entranced fishermen stare for days at the
end of their lines. A small damsel fly fluttered in and out of the
reeds and Ronnie could feel his old stick agitating him again so he
unleashed it and reached for his climax in a naughty fantasy of Joan
Toggle's tiny nightie to the orchestration of yakking mallards. Once
again, he was released and safe to return to his new lady on her night
Back in her doll-like bedroom, Joan opened a Katherine Mansfield novel,
fluffed up her pillows and gazed fondly at the empty space beside her,
thinking of her man on his nature ramble, maybe feeding ducks or
picking wild flowers for her.
A little later, Ronnie returned and she heard the sound of running
"Ah, he's having a good wash. I like that about him."
And so time passed.