Last chapter of Pearly.  I am going to make the whole story into an audio book, with Tabby as the voice of Pearly, and the very best flute players as the musical voice of Pearly and friends! (and a very good oboe player as the voice of Obi.)  Auditions soon!

Chapter 12

‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘That’s me. But how do you know me?’

He picked me up and looked even closer. ‘I can’t believe this. This…this is the very first flute I ever made! Pearly. See the ‘y‘? See the crazy underlining? That happened because I was waiting for an important call, and the phone rang and…she slipped out of the clamp. Incredible!’ he said, ‘ I never thought I would see her again.’

‘Well, she’s going cheap,’ said the flute-mender.

‘Oh, no,’ said Ad, ‘I can’t afford anything, mate, sorry.  You know, we’re broke.’

‘I’m literally saying you can have her for twenty quid, Ad. She still works OK. Got a lot of sweetness of tone.’

Adam put me to his lips. I thought I would faint with gratitude. I was being played. Thank the wondrous sun. We played ‘Syrinx’. I felt like my soul, which had been kept hidden in months, even years of silence and darkness, was pouring its light over the world.

Ad stopped playing. ‘I will have her,’ he said. ‘Georgia’s nearly eight. She’s ready for a lovely, special flute.’ I heard a flurry of notes changing hands.

A gust came in the window and I could hear Pixie and Clarence and Yammy calling, ‘Bye Pearly! Good luck, Pearly!’

While the flute-mender was writing out the bill, Ad played me again. He played a chromatic scale from bottom C all the way to top C and down again. During those lovely notes, I said, on the way up: ‘Goodbye, my dear friends. I hope you find kind homes. I will always think of you and miss you.’ And on the way down I said, ‘Pixie, Clarence, Yammy, cheer up! You’re in safe hands now, love you!’

I was taken to my new home, in a bumpy, creaky basket. We bowled along. Brakes squealed as we arrived. Adam took me up the garden path. He opened the door with his key. ‘Tokki?’ he called. ‘Tokki, you’re never going to believe what I found for Georgie.’

‘What, love?’ said a voice. I couldn’t place it for a moment, but knew I had heard it before. ‘Oh, a flute!’ she said. ‘It’s not like we’ve got any of them!’

I could tell this was a joke.

‘Not just any old flute, though,’ said Adam, opening my case. ‘Look, it’s the very first flute I ever made.’

‘But Ads! Georgie was going to play oboe!’ she protested. I realised the lady was Toccata. But if Toccata was here, where was Obi?

Toccata shouted for Georgie, who came running in. Hers was a quiet, shy presence. She stepped close and picked me up wonderingly. She stared at my engraving. ‘Is this really the Pearly?’ she asked.

‘Yes, Georgie,’ he replied. ‘It’s Pearly. You can have her for your very own.’

‘She’s the very first one you made? The one you were making when I was born?’

‘Yes, she was born at the same moment that you were!’

Georgie started to play. ‘Kookaburra sits in his old gum tree-hee…’ She played fast and neatly, by ear.

‘…merry merry King of the Bush is he-ee’ came a creaky old voice. ‘Laugh, Kookaburra, Laugh,’ we played together.

He struck up again: ‘There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Pearly, dear Pearly,’ he sang. ‘There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Pearly, my dear.’

‘Then mend it, dear Obi, dear Obi, dear Obi,’ I replied. ‘Then mend it, dear Obi, dear Obi, my dear.’

Obi and I, and Toccata and Georgie collapsed into laughter. Dizzy with happiness, we played ‘Ye Banks and Ye Braes,’ then ‘Loch Lomond’, ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,’ then, ‘Molly Malone,’ ‘I Could Have Danced All Night…..’

…..then ‘Doh, a Deer,’ ‘The Hills are Alive, ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ then ‘Chim Chiminee,’ ‘Just A Spoonful of Sugar,’ ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite,’ then ‘Greensleeves,’ ‘Edelweiss……’

….then ‘Circus Pony,’ ‘Wind in the Withies,’ ‘Circus Rag’, ‘Toffee Tango’, ‘Dance of the Street Urchins’, …..

…and we carried on playing, Georgie and I, happy year after happy year, until we could play the Martinu Sonata, the Neilsen Flute Concerto, Bach’s ‘Badinerie’, Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’ and even ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’, but….my best times were always the candle-lit evenings when Obi and Toccata would join us for our very favourite, ‘Dance of the Blessèd Spirits’.

 The End

Chapter 11.

I had to do something. I tensed my core, pulling it into a painful spasm, and flashed an intense bar of light towards Gerald’s eyes. He exclaimed, grimaced and dropped the head-joint.  Yammy gasped thanks as he clattered down on top of me. Gerald was exclaiming in agony, feeling about for goggles. ‘Gerald!’ came a yell from outside.

The man swore and banged the goggles down on the work-bench. ‘Oh darn,’ he said, ‘can’t get a minute’s peace!’

‘What is it?’ he yelled.

‘Gerald!’ shouted the woman’s voice.

‘WHAT?’ he shouted. ‘I’m TRYING to WORK!’

‘Your TEA! You forgot to take your TEA with you,’ she screamed.

Gerald swore and turned the horrible machine off. Grumbling, he shuffled off. I heard what sounded like a front door slam.

Then things happened so fast we didn’t have a clue what was going on. The door to the shed opened with a tiny creak, and a quiet, quiet hand gathered us all up and piled us stealthily back into the sack. Whoever it was picked up the whole sack, making an effort not to clank us. We were moved silently onto the person’s back and he started walking, very fast and very quietly, away from the shed. As soon as we rounded a corner, he started to run. We were jolted painfully about, tangling up keys, wires, tubes. Suddenly we started going extra fast. We heard loud waily scary noises. ‘Oh blimey,’ panted the flute-napper, taking off even faster up the road.

He took a sharp left. We were in agonies, being bashed about on his back. All of a sudden, we were thrown to the ground. Sharp prickles came through the sack. We were on a mass of something horribly spikey. Heavy foot-falls slap-slapped into the distance. The sirens went past. All was quiet. We breathed a sigh of relief. At least we were not going to be melted down.

We lay there, in the prickles for days and days. The sun shone through the tiny holes in the sack’s material. Rain dripped through and soaked us all. I felt my pads swell, and my keys start to stick. One day the wind got up. All the flutes in the sack howled and moaned the trauma of the past weeks. Pixie the piccolo squeaked in sadness as his wood swelled and cracked.

Then there were a couple of calmer, warmer days. We heard the grass being scuffled. Whistling. A dog sniffing around. ‘What you found, Buster?’ said a young voice. ‘Ooh. Yuck. Is it bodies? You ain’t found a body, have you, Buster?’ The kid peeked inside our sack. ‘Oh, phew, not bodies. What is it?’ He pulled out parts of Clarence and Pixie. ‘Oh!.. Clarnets an that. Flutes. You poor things. Someone’s gotta of nicked you from somewhere posh.’

He heaved us onto his back and set off, clanking. After about half an hour of trudging, we heard a bell ring above us as we went through a door. ‘Look, Mister,’ said the boy. ‘Look what I found.’

The flute-mender took us gently out of the sack, piece by piece, exclaiming with sorrow at our state. He set the lad to drying our pads by putting rizla papers in between the pads and the metal and squeezing our keys shut. What a relief to have moisture pulled out of you. The flute-mender turned a little air-heater on, so we would dry out, and laid our poor tarnished bodies on dry cotton, matching up foot-joints with bodies and head-joints. ‘Will you be able to mend them?’ asked the boy.

‘Yes, of course,’ said the flute-mender, ‘and you can help me. All instruments deserve to be saved so they can play again.’

We were so relieved. We lay basking in the warm, dry gusts. The flute-mender picked me up and started to polish my metal. He exclaimed in a low voice: ‘Oh….Pearly…I’ve mended you before! Never thought I’d see you again!’

He showed the boy my engraving and the scratchy line under my name. I tried to glint, but my shine could not get out through its tarnished coating. ‘A silver cloth should do it,’ said the flute-mender. He set to, carefully cleaning around my keys, on my keys, and all of my head-joint. He put an absorbent cloth through me, leaving it there to pull out the rain. By the time he and the boy left for the night, we all felt massively better and could not believe our luck.

The flute-mender worked on us for several weeks, humming. He seemed to be in no hurry, but calmly replaced our wires and pads, working eight hours a day with few breaks. When he finished me, he played a quick two-octave scale. I felt like I was awakening from a long sleep. It was so wonderful to exercise my voice. He put me on one of the little stands around the shop.

Yammy was on a stand near me. I had a chance to ask him about Lucy. What had happened to make Lucy and him be apart? ‘You know the story,’ he replied. ‘You know it already.’

‘I don’t, Yammy. I haven’t got a clue what happened to you. Is Lucy alright?’

‘I mean, you know the story, in the sense that…she…’ he almost choked… ‘she…got a new flute.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

‘A top-range Jupiter. Solid silver body. She was eighteen, going off to the Royal College of Music.’

I felt a rush of delight, that my work had not been in vain, but also pain, that I had not been allowed to help.

Yammy carried on: ‘So, she needed the best…’

‘But…you are, were, the best, Yammy.’

‘No, no…I wasn’t, you see…her mother….she traded me in….for Joopey.’

‘Poor Yammy,’ I sighed.

‘Then the shop sold me to a lady who gave me to her delinquent student son as a present, hoping that music would save his soul. He had no idea what I was worth, pawned me for cash at the first opportunity and that horrible artist man picked me up for next to nothing.’

‘Well, at least we’re not mobiles any more,’ I said.

‘Yes, thanks to you….Pearly, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Sorry I was mean. I understand more about life, now.’

The bell tinkled and a chap came in.

‘Oh, Ad, you’ll love my new consignment!’ joked our flute-mender, gesturing around the shop. ‘Forty-five of them, all fallen off the back of a lorry. See what I mean?’

I knew we had not fallen off the back of a lorry, but I thought that it might mean that we had been stolen.

They walked around, talking about all the different instruments. They finally reached me. ‘Yeah, I’ve seen that one before,’ nodded the flute-mender. ‘Came in in a terrible state. Honest, anyone else would have had to do away with her.’

The customer’s face came up close to me. There was an intake of breath and a pause. ‘What?’ I was thinking. ‘What now?’

‘Pearly?’ he said.

Pearly cover

Chapter 10

Melt us down? I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew I didn’t want to be a picture frame, or a candlestick. I felt panicky and helpless.

We were thrown in the back of a van for a journey that seemed to take thousands of bars. Then someone with a limping gait and rather a pungent smell, probably Gerald I thought, trudged down a squelchy path with us, pulled open a bolt with some difficulty, slung us onto a hard surface. I heard crackling and felt heat. He went out again. The atmosphere seemed dusty and smelt of wood-shavings, smoke and turpentine.

I was terrified, I can tell you. Was I no longer going to be Pearly? Was I going to be merged together with the others and become something else? Was I going to die? I held onto who I was, and said to myself, ‘Pearly, if this is the end, you have had a good life.’  I thought of all the things I had done in my life.  The most important thing was Lucy.  I felt a rush of the purest love for her. ‘You helped Lucy.  You knew friendship, with kind Obi and dear Flutty. You heard wonderful stories. You even played the faun, with most of an orchestra. You helped everyone to escape from the Old Man’s Cave.’ But nothing I said to myself helped, as I didn’t feel ready to die. I felt like I had so much more life in me to live, and to give, and knew there was so much music out there that I had not played yet.

Smelly Gerald came back. He tipped us all out on the work-bench. He started up a machine which made a whoosing sound. We could feel a sudden heat coming from it. We waited in fear. The light turned orangey. It was moving too much, it didn’t seem normal. Flickering reds and golds. Oh! I suddenly remembered Silvia’s candle-lit concert. It must be flames. I was so afraid. Suddenly Yammy’s head-joint was lifted away from my side. ‘Jeez! Solid silver!’ exclaimed smelly Gerald with a laugh. ‘God sakes, those idiots! Haven’t got a clue!’

He grabbed the torch thing which had a hot column of fire pouring out of its end. He was just about to start melting down Yammy’s head. Poor Yammy sucked a desperate gasp of mouldy air in to scream a high-pitched scream. He knew he was done for.


You might have noticed that the title of the book has changed.  I decided Pearly needed company on her adventures.  Have not updated the cover yet, but it’s on my to-do list!

Pearly cover

Chapter 9

It felt like The Blessed Spirits had given me my life back, so after this day, a spirit of rebellion rose in me and I decided that things had to change. It happened like this. The Old Man had strung up a new flute on my row. I could tell from the changing light what was going on. This poor flute was not happy to be strung up. He was shivering and shaking with fear as the Old Man bashed him about, threading his body and foot. As his head-joint was tied onto the wire and left to swing a big arc, he gasped at the cold, wide air in terror. I recognised his voice. ‘Yammy?’ I managed to whistle, using the excess of the gust he cast around him.

‘Pearly!’ he cried, terrified and sobbing. ‘Help me, help me, I can’t stand this.’

‘Don’t worry, Yammy,’ I assured him, ‘we’ll find a way to get out of here.’

This was a lie. If there was a way out, we would have found it by now, I thought. But then I considered again. What if I hadn’t tried my very best yet? Was there maybe a way? I thought and thought all night. How could we, together, stop the Old Man in his tracks? Without a breeze, it was not possible to call out, only to grasp tiny amounts of air with which to whisper. I was too light to be able to fight back physically. All of us flutes were too flimsy to be able to hurt a man. Fidel was too small and Clarence, though solid enough, was weak. Then I suddenly thought of that huge tuba. I could tell from his clunking how big he was. He was so big, he must also be heavy. I knew from the direction of the clunks that he was hanging quite high from the ceiling, on a level with us. Soon my plan was ready. I whispered it to Clarence on my left. Clarence squeaked it to poor Pixie to his left. Pixie squealed hoarsely to Fidel who bashed his strings on the curtain-rail thus setting the trombones off. All round the room you could hear whisperings, like a wave, like a magic force.

Then, as moonlight sent its faint rays into the room, we heard a new sound: it was a rather slow squeak, squeak…squeak, squeak. I listened with growing hope in my heart. It was the tuba swinging himself on his string. Over the course of the night, we heard the fibre after fibre of the string snapping. ‘Careful, careful,’ I sent around the room, ‘don’t snap them all: make sure you keep one thread!’

The next day The Old Man strung up a new warped viola, stopped for a coughing fit, shuffled under the tuba, raised his stick and thwacked it, hard. We heard the usual clunk, and then we all heard a much tinier sound: it was the tuba’s last string breaking. It’s like it happened in slow-motion sound. You could hear that last fraying fibre give, with a subtle snap. We all heard the tuba falling through the air. We heard that massive instrument give one last solid clunk, and we all heard the Old Man fall, groan and lie silent.

We spun around sickly in shock for a few days. I detected other human presence, people moving around, murmuring and soft exclamations. The silk threads binding us to the ceiling were snipped. Our pieces were crammed into a bag, all of us jumbled up. My core was with another flute’s head-joint and my foot-joint was rattling around inside poor Fidel’s delicate wooden body. Honestly, I didn’t know where I started nor ended. My head-joint was crammed up against Yammy’s. He was still shivering with grief and pain. I felt most odd, almost like I had died and become one with the universe. Except I knew I wasn’t dead. We were thrown all together in the back of a van. It was bumpy and dark. We were clattering about on top of one another. My core mourned my head-joint and foot-joint. My head-joint missed my core and my foot. My foot just felt kind of queasy. It’s not easy being a flute you know, especially when you have been taken apart.

On that long journey though, I came to realise some things. I remembered Lucy’s teacher, Silvia, saying to her, ‘Always think positive, Lucy. You can do it. Bar by bar.’ I wondered if there was any way I could see this latest development of my adventures in a positive light? It took a lot of thinking but I eventually started to realise that being together with all those other parts of other flutes was kind of wonderful. We had been created, all of us, to make music. At least we all shared a common purpose on this Earth. We might have been created in different years, different decades, even different centuries, but we had all been created by people who needed us to sound beautiful. And even bunged together in that smelly sack, we held it together. I could feel the others holding themselves taut, trying to hang on to their dignity. Our overriding worry was: were we being taken to the dump, to land-fill? Were we none of us ever to be played again?

I could not sense much from inside the sack. It was dark and painful, being clanked around with all the other instruments. Eventually we seemed to be inside, and were dumped on a table or bench, I didn’t know which. We were battered and worn. Nobody spoke as there was no wind, no breeze, no air even. I felt the despair of the other flutes, the pics, the clarinets, the trombones. Our despair was all muddled up with everyone else’s. We felt sick with anxiety that we would never be played again. We became aware of movement, people moving around, the bumping of things all around us that were being moved. People started opening the sack, having a rummage around in us, and then leaving it. People would pick up a bit of flute, say ‘Oh, flutes,’ and put it down again. One woman said, ‘Ooh, these are all in a bit of a state, aren’t they?’

‘Our Gerald wants em though, don’t he?’

The lady with her said, ‘Oh yeah, Gerald can make something out of anything, even old junk, you know what e’s like.’

I wondered what she meant. I thought it couldn’t be good, whatever it was. What did Gerald make out of old junk? Who was Gerald?

We found out soon enough. There were clouds of dust, crowds of people, shouting and a big hammer banging down with a yelling of ‘Going, going, gone!’ I realised that things were being sold and that soon it would be our turn. We were grabbed from the bench, held up in the air. My foot-joint was yanked out of the bag and held up. ‘A collection of damaged, mostly silver-plated musical instruments…’ said the loud man. ‘At least eleven kilos here…old metal and wood.’

As the hammer banged down, the ladies said, ‘See, I told you Gerald would want them. He’ll melt it all down and make us a massive picture frame, or candlesticks.’

Pearly: Chapter 8.

Pearly cover

Chapter 8.

Working on the faun was the hardest and best thing I had ever done. Deb and I had to learn first flute too, in case Eva and Flutty were ill on the night. We took turns. I can’t explain how wonderful the piece is. It seems to hold a whole world within it, a world free from pain and confusion, a world of peace and wonder. We can enter that world and could explore it for a life-time and not be finished. I loved handing over the phrases to Obi, having him develop the theme and hand it back to me.

One day, Deb asked Brian if she could take me home as she wanted to practise the harder passages of the faun. I was jolted and bumped about in her arms. I was aware she was walking on hard surfaces, going down steps. The noises were abrupt and scary. I felt sudden rushing draughts even through my case. Deb had me on her lap for a while, but there was a rumbling and a strange swishing of doors opening then closing. Deb put me down next to her. The long rumbling happened a few more times. The doors whooshed again. I felt a flurry as Deb got up. The doors shut. Then I heard, muffled and from a little distance, ‘Oh, my flute!’ but it was too late. I detected her voice shouting ‘Oh, please, my flute, my flute!’ but I was trundled away.

I was picked up quite soon after that and shoved into a musty bag. In the darkness of my case, I felt scared as a new person jolted and bounced me about. Over a few days my case was opened and closed. I was tossed onto a chair, left on a table, thrust onto a shelf. It was as if whoever had me just didn’t know what to do with me. After a couple of weeks of being chucked about, I was carried down a hill, taken through a door with a tinkly bell, so into a shop, I thought, and left there. Still in my case, I was put out on a shelf. I could detect the sadness of forgotten objects all around me. Old teddies, I think, from their talk, old dolls, stuffed dogs and old record-players. I slept, sad that Deb had lost me and that I would never get to play the faun with Obi, ever again.

I was picked up. I heard a rasping cough. My case was opened. Murky dusty light poured over me and foul air as again the person coughed. I was prodded and put back in the case. I was thrown into a bag and taken outside. I was bumped about and laid in a creaky container. I felt like I was travelling fast, but smoothly, and out in the fresh air. We spun round corners, zoomed down hills, creaked up hills. Then someone was carrying me up a path, I think. I heard the coughing again. We went up a step. I was chucked down onto something quite hard, like a bench. There was silence for a while. I strained my senses to try to detect where I was and what this new place could possibly be like.

I had almost started to doze, despite my unease, when the clips on my case were undone. I knew immediately that something was not right. The light was odd. Thin moving shafts of sun seemed to be cutting across the space in an odd way. What could that be from? I could sense an atmosphere of strangeness, the unusual, the scared. Cold, old hands took my foot joint and pushed fine tickly string through it with a stick. The person manipulating me was muttering strange words, and coughing and spluttering. I could not understand the words.

My core was picked up. My cleaning rod was used to thread silken thread through me. I was moved this way and that as knots were tied and retied and tested. My head-joint then had the thread put through the mouth piece and down and out again. My three parts were lifted and tied to something like a wire circle. My parts were spinning in thin air. I could not think straight. I felt sick. My foot joint was floating at an angle. My head joint was twirling crazily, and my core was swinging around and about. The metal circle above us squeaked unpleasantly. I had never felt this before. It felt like I was going to fall. This was much much worse than being dropped as a child learnt how to play C sharp! I wanted to be put together again, I wanted to be whole, to be held, to be locked, secure, in someone’s hands. ‘I cannot live like this,’ I wanted to scream, but, split into my parts, I had been silenced.

I had always been used to being held tightly nestled in my case, or held securely by somebody. This was disorienting. As my three parts started to swing more gently and slow a little, I could think a little clearer. I detected grieving, nauseous instruments all around me and realised with a jolt of horror where I must be. This was the Old Man’s Cave that Alto had talked of, the gruesome graveyard for dead and dying instruments. I felt like nothing had ever been this bad.

I hung there, dull and scared out of my mind, for many days. The big oak door creaked open and banged shut. The Old Man coughed. Dust settled upon my poor disjointed form. I swung, sick and ill with the silence, the motion and the torture. Flutes need to be played, I wanted to shout. Flutes need love, breath! Above all, we need music. We need sound and love, sound and love mixed together. But no breeze stirred that dusty room. I sensed the damp in the air corroding my silver. I felt a tiny popping on my surface where the metal was being hurt. Hundreds of other instruments and tens of other sad, grey flutes swung around me. Only when the sun sneaked through the high windows for a second, did they glint, but with a menacing, hard gleam, a disillusioned stare.

I made friends with a mournful clarinet called Clarence, and Pixie, a tarnished piccolo.  Next to them was a twisted trombone, so hoarse he could hardly make a sound. We were all four cheered up a tiny bit by a mad violin called Fidel, who had been hung by his strings from the light. He would swing on his strings violently enough to bash his body against a metal curtain rail, so he could make short sharp exclamations, like ‘Whoa!’ or ‘Enough!’ or ‘Pop!’ which at least interrupted the tedium.

Every day the Old Man stumbled amongst us, stringing up more sad instruments. He would poke and prod us, or pull the door back and forth, sending gusts to make us cry and swing. He swore and muttered angrily about his ‘installation’, whatever that meant. He sometimes fell over and bashed things with his stick. Every time he went under a huge, dented tuba which was hanging from the ceiling quite far from us, at the other end of the room, he would reach up and smack it hard with his cane. The tuba’s deep clank of misery became the deathly punctuation to our long days.

Only once did the Old Man open a window. A fierce wind tore the metal frame from his fingers as a freezing gust ripped through the room. Us mobiles flew in frantic circles, our parts clashing with each other, colliding, hurting, scraping my silver-plate. One flute screamed in desperation, as the air shot through her parts, ‘I refuse to be ART! I am a FLUTE! Let me be a FLUTE!

Not art! Not art!‘ we echoed, using every tiny breath of wind left in the room.

The flutes stilled and again we hung there, for dusty weeks, silently praying for a way out. The only thing that kept me alive was the memory in every cell of my three parts, the sweet memory of the faun, the bouncy Street Urchins’ Chorus from Carmen, the melody from Sheherezade, and Fauré’s Sicilienne, all of which I cradled in my mind and listened to again and again in my memory. If I concentrated hard enough on the music, I could almost escape my plight. It was as if I could no longer feel my body, I had become pure spirit.

One day, I woke up with an even deeper sense of despair. It was so bad, that I thought to myself, ‘Pearly, come on, there must be something in all the beautiful music you have learnt, which will help you now.’ Out of nowhere, the melody of the Menuet before ‘Dance of the Blessèd Spirits’ came back to me. I hummed it quietly to myself. When I reached the Lento Dance, the rhythm changed and the intensity, and I realised I was making sound that the others could hear. At least, other flutes were joining in with me, with low buzzing harmonies. There is a part of the Dance where the flute is very high, but very quiet. It’s magical. It has a huge power. It’s like as if the flute is holding back, holding on to massive amounts of energy that are just ready to burst forth. We got to that bit, and by now all the flutes in the ceiling were helping, humming, droning, whispering, and suddenly we burst past the limitations of our sad, split bodies and could all hear the orchestral version in our minds, as one. The Blessèd Spirits had come to help us…I could feel their shadows all around us, twirling, linking us all together….we were Dancing with the Blessèd Spirits…. we were the Blessèd Spirits.

Pearly: Chapter 7

Pearly cover

That very day, I was taken out of my case and run through my scales. The chap’s fingers were practised, deft, fast. We played Kohler studies, Gariboldi, Bach, even a Mozart cadenza, again and again, varying it each time. He took me right to the top, past top C to a top E. We flurried down again to bottom C. I was dizzy with excitement. This was the life. Real speedy playing, as much music as I could want. My player put me down and went off. I was aware of noises, bumps, a slamming door. Then commotion around me. Laughter.

‘Oh, you did get me a flute, Brian! Thank you!’ came a woman’s voice.

‘That’s alright, Deb,’ said Brian. ‘Got it for a song…works alright.. high notes aren’t bad.’

I was seized by eager hands. We launched into a trio, with Brian as conductor. He sang along hoarsely, tapping his baton upon a stand. Light flashed about, beams criss-crossing the room. Other flutes! Playing with me. What joy, what thrills. We played Kuhlau’s Grand Trio. There were difficult passages. I was flute three, but even so, my player’s fingers couldn’t really cope with the speed. When we got it wrong, she would collapse into loud laughter. She was fun, careless. She had not practised her scales, but she enjoyed the music. I ran up and down and around and about til I was breathless with happiness.  I didn’t have time to talk to the other flutes, as we were kept on the go the whole time.

After about two hours, the players put us down and went off to drink coffee. In Deb’s case, I think that meant coffee laced with something strong and fumey. She came back and sent warm gusts reverberating round my core. She was even worse at playing when she was drunk as she seemed not to care what notes she was playing. I didn’t mind too much: I was just glad to be played at all and pleased with my growing repertoire.

During the players’ second break, another flute was laid down beside me. ‘What’s your name?’ I whispered.

There was a pause. Then a sigh. ‘Flutty,’ she said. It rhymed with putty.

‘Flutty?’ I repeated, surprised. ‘Oh, sorry…that was rude, I didn’t mean…’

‘Yes,’ she sighed, ‘my player, Eva, was six when she named me ‘Flutey’, which, let’s be honest, isn’t that much better….’

I thought Flutey was quite a bit better than Flutty, but I didn’t say anything. Flutty carried on, ‘…poor little girl made the mistake of trying to write it on my case,  scrawling ‘FLUTTY’ in big tippexed letters that wouldn’t come off. Everybody took the mick. Her dad, her brother, her mum even. They would say ‘Have you played ‘Flutty’ today?’ and snigger.

‘Well…’ I said, ‘it’s not a bad name. Flutty. It’s OK, I think.’

‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘you’re sweet, but…it rhymes with ‘slutty’, so it can never be OK.’

We laughed.

‘Anyway, I’m far from slutty. Eva is twenty-one now. We’ve played together for a long time.’

This made me sad. I thought of Lucy. If only she could have kept me until she was twenty-one. What pieces would we be playing together now? And how was she possibly managing without me? Would Yammy be helping her like I helped her? Oh…for goodness sake…of course he wouldn’t be. He wasn’t capable of it, poor, perfect, soulless boy.

I told Flutty about Lucy and over the next few weeks, then months, we became best of friends. We met at the woodwind ensemble every week. We didn’t always get a chance to talk but we appreciated playing together. Kuhlau trios, Handel’s water music, ensemble pieces based on Carmen, The Magic Flute, Cosi fan Tutti and other beautiful works. I loved the sound that Flutty made. Her high notes were pure. Her Eva had perfect pitch and was able to tune each note exquisitely. I noticed too that together, they were making beautifully shaped sentences with every phrase. Their music spoke to me.  I learnt so much just from listening. I was beginning to guage the tension and tautness behind each note, the power stored behind them, ready and wanting to burst forth… but held and contained by the bars, the solidity of the time signature, the heart-beat, the structure. The phrases varied so much in dynamic, the louds and softs. Eva seemed to let out exactly the right amount of breath to control the note.  She swayed as she played, so Flutty’s light skittered around the room like magic. When Flutty was there, I felt fantastic. She spread happiness around her.

A few months later the players turned up for our weekly rehearsal. My friends were being taken out of their cases. There was a shuffling of paper as our conductor handed parts out. I heard exclamations of surprise. ‘Yes,’ said Brian, ‘I know what you’re going to say! It’s too hard.’

‘But Brian,’ gasped Deb, ‘It really is too hard! L’Après-midi d’un Faune!’

 I felt weak suddenly with anticipation.  Could it be true that we would be playing that wondrous tune again, and again?  If so, we were blessed beyond measure.  I vowed to myself that I would never complain to myself nor to anyone else, about anything, ever again, if it were true.

‘We can do it,’ said Brian, tapping his baton on the stand. ‘Take it in turns to play Flute one and Flute two.  There are some excellent woodwind chaps coming in to help us out on Monday.’

From the very first notes I was put back into that trance. It is such a sweet and bizarre chromatic melody. It’s like it’s come from before time, from when ancient humans made sweet flutes out of bones in the woods. I felt like I knew all about baby creatures stepping out into peaceful, high-canopied forests for the first time, even though I had never been in a forest nor ever seen a faun.

At the start of the next rehearsal, I was aware of French horns, violins and cellos tuning up. I heard a new woman’s voice as she received her part. ‘Thanks Brian,’ she said, ‘I’ve always wanted to play this…. and at the festival, what a great chance.’

‘We’ll tune to your A, Toccata,’ Brian said to her.

As Toccata’s A sounded,  I gasped:  the A was Obi‘s rasping voice: ‘Oh Lord…work, work, nothing but work!’ he groaned.

As Deb played my A, I shrieked out ‘Obi! Obi! It’s Pearly! Are you here?’

In his next A, Obi called: ‘Of course I’m blinkin here, otherwise how would I be talking to you, you numpty!’

Flutty asked: ‘Pearly! Who is Obi?’

‘He’s my friend, my friend!’ I cried, bursting with so much joy and pride that I managed to snatch at the feeble rays of the afternoon sun and explode them all around the room.

‘Alright, steady on!’ chuckled our conductor, ‘When you’re ready! We’ve got work to do.’

This is what happened next:  L’Après-midi d’un faune.

Pearly: Chapter 6

 Pearly cover

Chapter 6.

Shelley the cello gave a great gusty sigh. ‘Well, Obi was quite a good oboe in his youth…’

‘Hunh, quite?!’ spluttered Obi. ‘Don’t listen to her: I was top-notch, kid, top-notch.’

‘…and, new, he was bought by a top conductor, a wonderful musician, for his talented grandson, Gabriel. Gabriel and Obi played together for many years. When the boy was sixteen, they reached the final of Young Musician of the Year. Unfortunately Obi’s reed caught on Gabriel’s jumper, splitting just as they were to go on stage. The boy grabbed his spare, which was not properly broken in. Despite this, Obi managed well. The piece went wonderfully…until a high E flat, which came out a disastrous squeak.’

‘Oh,’ I murmured in sympathy.

‘Things went from bad to worse,’ said Obi. ‘Gabriel, of course, had forgotten to clean me, so there was water under one of my keys. Every time he tried to play a C, it came out as a B. Not a thing in the world I could do about it. The piece was in B flat, so it sounded particularly bad….wincingly bad.’

‘On coming off stage,’ said Shelley, ‘Gabriel entered the Green Room, yanked Obi’s three pieces apart, pulled his arm back, and threw them at the wall, one at a time, with all his strength. He then just left him there, crumpled and smashed on the floor.’

I don’t quite know how I did this, but with superflutan effort I managed to pull air from the room to let out a small but gruesome howl. I couldn’t bear this story.

‘It wasn’t his fault,’ said Obi quickly. ‘He didn’t mean to do it..lovely lad..’

Gosh, was he extremely forgiving… or was he blind? In a flash, I wondered if I too had been blinded… about Lucy. When she had left me out, had it been that she felt too lazy to put me away? When she had left me at school, in a cold locker, for more than a week, had it been on purpose, to avoid practice?  Yes, yes, I saw that it was true.  I had cared about her a lot more than she had cared about me.  As I realised these things, I felt all the light of my soul seeping out into the darkness around me.

‘Eventually another contestant gathered Obi up, wrapped his broken body in cloth, and took him to a repair shop.’

‘They, they managed, in the end….’ creaked Obi.

‘…They managed to patch him up, so he’d be fine for beginners, is what he’s trying to say.’

‘Yeah, so when I was taken out of my case, which was not often, I had to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’, and ‘Old MacDonald’, you know…’

We sighed. We did know.

‘….badly.…from playing Albinoni and Cimarosa.’ Obi sobbed. ‘Oh, how are the mighty fallen.’

Eventually we slept. The next day the flute-mender hummed tunes as he replaced my pads. I recognised one. Silvia and Madame had played it to us once. It was ‘L’Après-midi d’un Faune,’ by Debussy. I liked it so much I couldn’t help sparkling a little in time with his humming. When the mender had replaced all my pads he started to play. It was without warning and, not being ready, I squeaked nervously into harmonics. ‘Ooh, steady on, old thing,’ he said. He started playing the faun.

Oh, I can scarcely tell you what it felt like.  The peace that suddenly envelops you.  It’s instant and it’s out of this world. I had heard a nightingale sometimes outside Lucy’s window. It sounds like that. Or like the calm pools of water I had heard about as Lucy read aloud from Greek myths. Cool, limpid runs of notes tumble and fall. It feels like your mind is being stroked by an angel, which allows you to be full of wonder at the whole of creation.

The flute-mender stopped playing. ‘Hmm, you’re not so bad,’ he said. I tried to glint again at him. He picked up a silver cloth and gave me a polish. I heard a scratchy noise. He was writing something on card. ‘£250,’ he said. ‘Someone should buy you for that.’ He put me in the window on a stand. At least it was light. I could shine a tiny bit and glint at the world.

I stood there all day. The other flutes were mostly all new. Sweet babies, they knew nothing. They had not even played their first tune.  I told them stories, of music and love and life, Yankee Doodle, Molly Malone, Morning has Broken, all of which I had learnt from the pieces I had played with Lucy. They sighed and longed for life.

For the night, I was taken out of the window and placed back on the workbench alongside other instruments.  ‘Obi,’ I called.

He answered with a groan.

‘Do you know ‘L’Après-midi d’un Faune?’ ‘ I whispered.

He sighed. ‘Pearly, my dear! You are asking an OBOE! How could an OBOE not know the faun? I’ve played it with an orchestra, several times.’

‘But…it’s for flute, isn’t it?’ I asked.

‘The flute starts off,’ he answered, ‘but after a little while the flute hands over to the oboe…they share the melody.’

‘Can you…? Do you know…? Why is it so…wonderful?’ I asked him.

He sighed. ‘I’m getting you, lass….I know it’s special, but… nobody really knows.’

‘Is it..maybe…magic?’ I asked. I was scared he would laugh at me, but he didn’t.

‘That particular mixture and blend of notes sets the atoms buzzing at a frequency which activates something special in humans and in this world…’

‘But what is it, that special thing?’

‘It’s to do with ancient memories, the soul, freshness, childhood, perfection…the fact we all came from a star, something timeless and beyond us all….’

We all came from a star? Was that why I could bend light? ‘So…the faun…taps into all that, does it?’

‘The faun takes us back to before there was time. I think the composer managed to transcend, do you understand the word?.. transcend this world during the writing of it…Maybe he ate some dodgy mushrooms or something…. Ravel’s the best for that, makes the humans’ hearts soar…that’s one you should play.’ He hummed a snatch of it. ‘That’s the Daphnis and Chloe, have you tried that?’

‘I would, if only somebody could take me there,’ I said.

‘One day, somebody will,’ he promised. ‘Flute players can’t keep away from it. Not half of them can actually play it properly, mind…’

We talked about harmonics, resonance, tone, deep into the night, softly as the youngsters wanted rest.

The next day, I became aware of a new presence in the mender’s shop. All of us felt it. Dusk fell. We waited, straining our senses into the silence. ‘So…who are you?’ we whispered finally.

A low voice came through the darkness. ‘I am Alto…the story-teller.’ She sounded bigger than us, deeper and older. That night, all night, draughts whistled through her. She told stories of tunes: powerful melodies that change the world, that transfix and brainwash people. She told us of orchestral works, enormous concerts held in huge echoey spaces, the wonder of being an essential part of such creations of genius. As the night grew colder and darker, one of the older flutes beside me snatched at a passing current of air and managed to flutter, ‘Aaaltooo, teeell us about the Ooold Maaan’s Caaave.’

A shudder ran through the flutes. Everyone had heard vague rumours of the Old Man’s Cave. ‘Don’t even go there,’ groaned Obi.  ‘Honest, you don’t want to know.’

‘Ohh….the Old Man’s Cave,’ murmured Alto, ignoring him. ‘I had a poor battered friend, a piccolo…tiny scrap of a thing, called Pixie. He’d been left for a couple of years, damp, in a mildewed case… finally got chucked to the Salvation Army. An old codger bought him for four pounds fifty. Then…this old man…’ Alto coughed and her voice dropped even lower, ‘… took my friend, took Pixie into this room, this…dungeon…’, we all strained to hear, ‘…full of the corpses of old instruments, all mutilated, deformed. He put Pixie into a vice, twisted him into a spiral, attached fishing wire and hung him off the ceiling….he had become a mobile.’

We gasped in horror, ‘A mobile?’ If I could have hidden my head under my cleaning cloth, I would have.

‘Too scary, too scary,’ snorted the trumpets.

‘Why do you torment yourselves so?’ hummed Obi. ‘Forget about the Old Man’s Cave. It’s just a story…only half true. Or not even slightly true.’

We moaned softly, traumatised to the core. The rising moon glanced through dusty panes. Alto was getting into her stride: ‘There, Pixie told me, hang flutes of all ages. Spinning grotesquely around in the half-light, they are forever split into head, foot, body. They no longer speak, no longer sing. Dying musical instruments fill the ceiling space. Floating head joints, foot joints, swinging piano keys, spinning mouth organs, deformed trombones, cracked OBOES!’

Obi, despite himself, gasped in fright.

‘Dented cymbals, tangled triangles, ripped bongoes….and the silence….the silence is appalling…’

Alto fell silent. We all held our breath, imagining the quietness of this grey world. ‘But why?’ squeaked a baby trumpet. ‘Why would he be so cruel?’

‘He doesn’t know it’s cruel. He’s an artist. He is making art out of redundant objects.’

We finally slept as dawn was feeling its way through the windows. After that night, I tuned out and tried to sleep when Alto was telling her horror stories, as they made me unhappy.

A week later a raspy-voiced fellow came in, in a bit of a hurry. ‘I just need a flute. Any flute.’

‘What do you want it for?’ asked our mender.

‘Oh, ensemble, improv, knockin around. Doesn’t have to be great.’

The flute-mender’s hand hovered over several flutes. I could just tell he was going to pick me. As his hand pulled me through the air I whistled, ‘See you again, Obi!’

‘Best, kid,’ said Obi from the window, glinting sunshine at me from his keys. ‘Bach sonatas every morning: it’s the best workout.’

‘Bye friends!’ I shrieked as I was pulled apart, put into my case and handed over. My life was about to change: I was to become a working flute.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers

%d bloggers like this: