‘I…I didn’t think,’ stammered Lucy, ‘…why now?’
Her mother said, ‘You’re nearly on grade five? For higher grades you need a better flute.’
I felt a rush of pain. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Did I …did I really get NO SAY? Was I not going to be consulted at all? I was shocked. And shamed. Was I not good enough? Did Lucy’s mother not have a clue how much effort I had been putting in? All that delicate work and encouragement of Lucy’s musicianship? I felt utterly betrayed. But still I did not grasp that that interrupted phrase of Fauré’s Pavane was the last thing I would ever play with Lucy, and that she would never play any piece with me ever again.
I lay in my case on Lucy’s shelf. I heard them play Fauré’s ‘Sicilienne’, and the Poulenc ‘Cantilena’, which had also been one of our favourites, and the Bach ‘Adagio ma non troppo’ (which they played too fast, needless to say.) This was all pure agony. I wanted to be playing them. The new flute, whom she called ‘Yammy’, (OK, you can laugh! Permission granted) had no delicacy. The pieces were devoid of dynamic contrast. The end of quiet notes would tail off, flat. The C sharps were too sharp. Yammy just…. didn’t care.
Yes, that was the difference. He made no effort. His parts moved exquisitely, oh yes, but he relied too much on his technical brilliance. His solid silver head-joint couldn’t help but caress the sound, but in a nonchalent, passive way. My whole work had been geared to endless adjustments and responses to the way Lucy played. We would produce the sound together, but Yammy did not even realise that work was required of him. I tried to talk to him from my case, but he ignored me.
A month or so later, Lucy’s mother was cleaning up. She flicked a duster over my case. ‘We’ll take this old thing back to the shop, see what they’ll give us for it.’
‘Oh!’ exclaimed Lucy. ‘Let me look at Pearly one last time.’ She opened my case. Light flooded in. I tried to glint, but found I could not. Lucy stroked my tarnished keys. ‘Sorry, Pearly. I’m sorry.’
‘Oh, Lucy! You are silly,’ scolded her mother. ‘It’s just a flute. Some other child will be glad of it.’
Lucy slotted me together and played three notes of a scale, but her friend turned up, so I was left, out of my case, on a chair. It felt better at least to be in the open, in the light, sun-starved as I was. Out of nowhere, a voice pulled air from the room to drawl ‘So…fancy yourself a flute?’
It was Yammy. Hmm. I just lay there, light-bathing, and said nothing.
‘Why are parts of you so dark, old girl?’ he glinted. ‘Does your player not polish you?’
A breeze from the open window tickled my pads. The energy in Lucy’s room was always shifting. Air moved around like it was spirit. I sighed. ‘Yammy,’ I said. I stopped. Where could I even begin? I thought for a moment. ‘You are a wonderful flute. You sound so bright and clean.’
‘What would you know?’ he scoffed.
‘The Fauré is beautiful, isn’t it?’
There was a silence. ‘Is it?’ said Yammy. ‘It’s the same as all the other pieces. I don’t really…evaluate them.’
‘Don’t you like some more than others?’
‘It’s not my job to compare,’ he said stiffly. ‘It’s my job just to play them.’
‘Well, next time you play it….try going a tiny bit slower?….relax….like, enjoy the phrases?’
‘Hunh, like I’m gonna take advice from an amateur. I mean…is there something wrong with your head-joint?… Your notes just then sounded so crude..like..buzzing.’
I didn’t say anything. Maybe I was a bit rusty from having been left so long. Also, Lucy’s mother had never thought to take me back to the shop for adjustment or cleaning. He pressed on: ‘Where’s your owner? What are you even doing here?’
I nearly told him. With just one gust of wind I could have burst into angry sobs and shrieked: ‘You stupid thing! Do you think Lucy learnt to play the Pavane all by herself? Who do you think taught her? Like totally DUH!’ But I had only a pathetic draught from the window. ‘I’m just…visiting…..on my way to the menders.’
‘Well, get a massive overhaul!’ he hooted, laughing as Lucy thrust the door open, grabbed something, then banged it shut again behind her. ‘I suspect you’re beyond repair, to be honest.’ He honked again. ‘Maybe they’ll melt you down? You’d make a good tray or beer mug.’
I gasped. That fear had not even figured in my fears repertoire til then.
Later, as Lucy’s mother came back into the room, my resolve gave out and I jabbered, ‘Yammy, please…look after Lucy. Help her play the best she can. Don’t let her go flat when she’s running out of breath. Just…put in…’ I nearly said ‘more’ but I stopped myself, ‘lots of effort!’
He gasped. ‘You.. can’t be?… Lucy’s old flute? No wonder she was so pleased when I turned up. I get it now. ‘
As Lucy’s mother yanked me apart inexpertly, I said: ‘You lucky flute to have Lucy! Enjoy every…’ and then my joints were forced into their case, the wrong way round and the lid was slammed shut.
I was taken to a ‘used instruments’ shop. Someone changed a couple of my pads, tightened my screws and gave me a clean with a silver-cloth. I would not shine though. I felt like I would never shine again.
I lay out on the workbench deep into the night, missing Lucy and feeling cold and exposed. My screws and wires ached from being tightened. A rising moon cast pale beams through the window. I hadn’t the heart to play with them. An owl hooted outside. ‘Oh, blinkin shut up, bird,’ creaked a voice right next to me.
‘Who’s that?’ I whispered, clamping up with fear.
There was a pause. ‘Obi…,’ came a defensive rasp.