CHAPTER TWO

 

Gerald Matthews stretched out a hand and switched off the tinny alarm on his pocket-sized alarm clock to prevent it ringing unnecessarily.  For he was already wide awake, having anticipated the alarm some fifteen minutes in advance of the 7am deadline at which it was usually set.  On this occasion, as on a number of previous ones, it was an inconvenience he might just as well do without!

     The practical details of getting up were normally an ordeal for Gerald but, today, the sight of the sun streaming in through a narrow gap in his curtains and the exuberant twittering of local sparrows acted as a kind of invincible goad, and before long he was up and about, frantically hunting  for suitable clothes to wear, scrutinizing his stubble-ridden chin in the oval mirror of his dressing-table, and generally making a fuss of himself.  When, in this fussy fashion, he had washed and dressed, combed back his curly fair hair and polished his new shoes, he sped downstairs, threw open the front door and, almost skipping out onto the garden path, began to vigorously inhale and exhale large draughts of suburban fresh air.  Yes, it was definitely the kind of day to make one feel pleased with life!  One just had to be grateful for weather of this magnificent calibre.  If the cloudless warmth lasted through to the weekend, he would take himself off somewhere for a long walk.

     Sated by his spell of deep breathing, he re-entered the semidetached house and swiftly made his way towards the kitchen at the rear.  However, he hadn't been in there long enough to fry some bacon when a clamber of footsteps above the ceiling indicated that Mr David Shuster, eligible bachelor, lecturer in English, and sole owner of the two-storey property, had risen from the living-death of drug-induced sleep and moronically entered the bathroom, where he would remain for at least another thirty minutes - the fact of his regularly being obliged to contend with the often critical, though sometimes admiring, attention of large numbers of female students having made him, in Gerald's view, somewhat over-solicitous of his facial appearance.  Thus by the time Shuster arrived downstairs, impeccably well-groomed, Gerald would be either clearing away the dishes or, assuming he had already done so, reading one of his many music scores in the adjoining study.

     As it happened, Gerald had just swallowed his last mouthful of toast and was greedily downing a large mugful of thick, sweetish coffee when Shuster entered the kitchen and was heard to proffer exuberant salutation, a manner of greeting which Gerald automatically reciprocated, albeit slightly surprised by the other's uncharacteristic early-morning exuberance.  "Now don't tell me that you're in a good mood this morning," he hastened to add.  "What, exactly, were you dreaming about?"

     "Oh, much ado about nothing," Shuster briskly replied with Shakespearean gusto.  "It went in a flash as usual."   He walked over to the fridge.  "Good God, don't tell me we've run out of bacon already!" he cried, peering in.

     "On the top shelf," said Gerald, carrying his empty mug and plates to the sink.  "I only took two slices this morning."

     "Ah, yes."  Shuster's hungry eyes alighted on the elusive bacon like a bloodthirsty hawk upon its tender prey.  "So how did the music lesson go last night?" he asked, taking command of the frying pan.  "I trust you weren't overly exasperated again?"

     Gerald Matthews smirked ironically in tacit response to this assumption, since he was only too aware of the cause of his Thursday evening tantrums, and replied that it was fortunate for him that he didn't have to see Lorraine Smith more than once a week, since she had all the traits of an utter wastrel.

     "Something of an unwilling piano pupil by the sound of it,"  conjectured Shuster, turning the sizzling bacon over and adding a couple of small eggs to the rather large frying pan.  "You seem to get lumbered with so many like her."

     "Yes, and, what's worse I can't get rid of them," Gerald sighed.  "Why, she still can't properly differentiate between major and minor diatonic scales!"

     "Really?" exclaimed Shuster with apparent unconcern.

     "And I've been going over them with her for the past five months!" cried Gerald, patently exasperated.  "Her sense of interval recognition is virtually non-existent."

     "Dear me," mumbled Shuster, more for his own benefit, it appeared, than for Gerald's.  "So you lost your temper again."

     "Fortunately not!  But I certainly took it out on the piano afterwards.  The grand style, so to speak."  Gerald thought he detected an involuntary wince on Shuster's clean-shaven face at this point and, transferring his washed crockery to the draining board, tactfully added: "I believe you were out at the time."

     "I was indeed.  Invited out to dinner, actually."

     "Not your eminent colleague, the unmusical physics genius, by any chance?" conjectured Gerald smirkingly.

     Shuster smiled patronizingly as he scooped a well-fried rasher onto an empty plate.  It was a standing joke between them that Loper, the physicist, couldn't tell the difference between Mozart and Beethoven, being tone-deaf.  "No, not this time," he calmly replied.  "Friends of a colleague, in fact.  Keen literary minds from down under."

     "So you actually had dinner with Australians for once."  It was like Gerald to jump to concrete conclusions.

     "New Zealanders actually," Shuster corrected.  "Though, quite frankly, I wouldn't care to be entertained by them every week.  It was a demanding experience, both gastronomically and intellectually.  Still, a refreshing change!"

     "Glad to hear you say so," said Gerald, who was now ready to depart the kitchen.  "Well, I must be off in a minute, since I don't want to arrive at the office later than eight-thirty this morning.  Incidentally, there's a literary chap there by name of Michael Savage who might interest you.  I made his acquaintance some time ago, but he's certainly an unusually elusive man.  Not what I'd call sociable at all.... As it happens, I invited him over here last week, but since then I find it difficult to avoid the impression that he's trying to snub me."

     Shuster feigned indignant surprise.  "Really?  And how old is he?"

     "Oh, twenty-three or twenty-four.  He did tell me the other day."

     "Good grief, don't tell me you belong to that perennially eccentric category of age-forgetters!" exclaimed Shuster with cynical relish.

     "Not as completely as I'd like to!" retorted Gerald, whilst admiring his fair countenance in the hall mirror.  "I should like to have remained twenty-five for ever."

     "Humph!  Think yourself fortunate that such wishes are only granted in fairy tales," the lecturer's manly voice boomed from the kitchen.  "Else you might have lived to regret it!"

     "Not the way I live," the twenty-eight-year-old narcissist shouted back and, with a departing chuckle, he was out through the front door and into the sunny street.

 

     On the tube, Gerald pondered various events of the previous evening's piano tutorials.  Like the two occasions, during the second lesson, when he had almost lost his temper with that wretched girl Lorraine Smith, who would never, it seemed to him, come properly to grips with her scales and arpeggios.  Of course, her parents were fairly well off and only too keen to help her get on in life, as they say.  But, as often happened, the children of such parents had their own ideas on that score, being disinclined to take seriously those things that they didn't want to take seriously, with a consequence that they not only wasted their parents' money but, in combating parental pressures, simultaneously reduced their own flair for life.

     This Lorraine Smith, for example, was fifteen or sixteen (he couldn't quite remember which) and a strapping wench, to boot!  For all he knew, she might have been going through the sorts of emotional upheavals which young girls of that age usually experience, and consequently be susceptible to periodic mental aberrations of the kind she often exhibited during her piano lessons.  Still, he couldn't be sure and wouldn't have wanted to conjecture presumptuously, for both their sakes!  He recalled that midway through the Mozart sonata - a performance, incidentally, with fewer mistakes on her part than during the four previous attempts at it - his eyes had wandered from the score and keyboard to her hair and profile, before encompassing her breasts with a swiftly penetrating glance doubtless encouraged by the low-cut blouse she was wearing, only to return thereafter to the bright ivory keys of his upright piano and refocus on her gracefully tapering fingers.  To be sure, he had then summarily corrected a misconstrued interpretation of Mozart's legato indication.  For such little sly investigations of this and certain other pupils' physical appearances to which he occasionally succumbed usually had the effect of morally rejuvenating him, and he would undoubtedly have corrected her playing a lot more, had the opportunity of a more leisurely and detailed investigation of her person regularly presented itself.  However, as a piano teacher, business had to take precedence over pleasure, since he couldn't afford to jeopardize the sanctity of professional etiquette over some teenage beauty who, in his opinion, still couldn't properly differentiate between major and minor diatonic scales.  That would have been an unpardonable indiscretion!  Besides, if compensation was desired, he would be instructing Miss Stephanie Power that very evening, and she was even more attractive than Lorraine.  He definitely wouldn't mind seeing more of her.

     Alighting from the half-empty carriage at his usual station, he hurried up the escalator as though it were merely a staircase, dashed, season ticket in hand, past a slightly-bemused ticket collector, and rushed out into the dazzling sunshine of the glorious 25th June.  It was a ten-minute walk to the music firm and he would be there in good time if he didn't stop en route, as sometimes happened, for a coffee at the nearby Italian café where, at this time of day, a wait in the queue was almost always guaranteed.  Glancing at his watch he decided, in view of the fact it had just turned 8.20am, to abstain from another coffee until lunch.

     Even at this relatively early hour the streets leading to work were thronged with purposefully striding bodies of all shapes and sizes, each of whom was pursuing a secret destiny oblivious of the many other destinies hurrying by to time's pressing dictates.  Yet, although he was very much a component of this universal coercion, Gerald had enough presence of mind to note a variety of features - from an old man's white-washed wizened face to a young girl's rather heavily made-up eyes - which engaged his passing attention.  He stopped briefly twice en route to stare, firstly, through the window of a small music shop with many bright covers of topical and even post-topical songbooks on display, and, secondly, at an array of saucepans and other domestic utensils in a nearby general store - an experience which instantly connoted with the fact that Michael Savage was leaving the firm today.  For they had visited this particular store together just over a week previously, and on that august occasion Savage had divulged his intention of leaving while Gerald had been closely examining a large baking tray, an item he reluctantly but stoically purchased the following day.

     So much for the facts!  At any rate, it was up to Gerald to seize upon the occasion of his colleague's imminent departure by inviting him for a drink and/or meal at lunch time, thereby acquiring the opportunity for an exchange of mutual intentions and problems, as well as possibly even securing ongoing access to his colleague's potential friendship - assuming, of course, that that was mutually acceptable.   However, the recollection that he wanted to be at the office by 8.30am immediately precluded any further dalliance on his part, and he set off, once more, at a fairly brisk pace.  It was now 8.27 and he would certainly have to hurry if, in accordance with the rules of flexitime, he wanted to leave work at 4.30pm that day.  He was so looking forward to seeing his star pupil, Miss Stephanie Power, again!

     

 

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