Another Gloomy Sunday
Ivan knew he could be boiled down no further; playing background music over dinner. He played Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, over and over for the ungrateful guests at the Eternity Hotel, a very respectable hotel in all its five star splendour. Ivan had no real choice but to play. Quite simply, he needed the money to eat, pay his rent, and to buy the odd indulgence; otherwise he’d be somewhere well away from here, where all the keys are black. He entertained the thought of giving free piano lessons to poor but talented students as a debt he owed for his art, the art which had once given him his opportunity, instead he pessimistically crushed this thought in order to spare someone else the trauma of his experience.
Each night, as he played the same set pieces to the occasional clap he remembered the thrill of the symphony orchestra and how he was the centre of attention playing his favourite piano concerto. The uplifting personal exhilaration when bowing to thunderous applause on completion of Rachmaninov’s famous piano concerto number two, lingered among his everyday reminiscences. He never questioned touring Europe and America being totally devoted to his art and how he had sacrificed family and friends in the pursuit of perfection. One series of events though, clearly stood above everything else at the forefront of his mind; that one horrid week when he had been bed stricken with influenza; how Beatrice, the French viola player, had convinced him to rest and that everything would be back to normal when he was well again.
‘Don’t be too long in bed,’ she half joked. ‘I hear your understudy is one of the director’s nephews.’
‘I guess my understudy can replace me for a few nights.’ Ivan managed a painful smile. ‘I haven’t missed a night in four years.’
‘Just in case you get bored, I brought you a few of my favourite movies.’ Beatrice ran he fingers across Ivan’s forehead. ‘When you feel a little better of course. The newest is August Rush but I also have two of my all time favourites Gloomy Sunday and Copying Beethoven.’ Beatrice smiled.
‘Thanks – what should I watch first?’
‘Oh, you’re a big boy.’ Beatrice laughed. ‘I’m sure you’ll choose wisely.’
‘Go on; get out of here before I give you my virus.’ Ivan wanted rest now.
‘Which virus is that? Sorry, only joking, OK, you are right. I’ll check on you tomorrow.’
‘Beatrice.’ Ivan paused, thought about how lovely she was. He wanted to say he loved her but instead said, ‘good luck tonight’.
‘Thanks. See you tomorrow.’ Beatrice quietly left.
Ivan slept restlessly that night, waking up in pools of sweat, having cold chills rattle his aching muscles. By mid morning the following day though, he felt the worst was over. He even managed to have some chicken broth with chopped garlic which Beatrice had made for him.
‘Maybe you’ll watch a movie tonight?’ Beatrice said and raised her eyebrows that seemed to hint.
‘Well,’ Ivan said. ‘I do feel a little better but of course, I would prefer to be back with the orchestra. I should really come down and practice.’ Ivan now spoke as if he was one hundred percent well.
‘No, don’t worry, you must rest and I’m sure you’ll be well again soon.’ Beatrice blushed.
‘What is the understudy like on stage? How does he play in front of a Parisian audience?’ Ivan put his hand on his chin.
‘Oh he plays well but not as well as you of course.’ Beatrice responded without emotion.
‘Alright then put a video on before you leave; your choice.’
Beatrice picked out Gloomy Sunday pressed play, smiled and left.
At first, Ivan rather enjoyed Gloomy Sunday’s melody and even wanted to play it on a piano but as it repeated in his mind, he became totally engrossed with it as he tried to extrapolate its meaning. There was something the music was trying to convey but he just couldn’t grasp what. That night he again slept badly and woke up several times with his pajamas saturated in sweat but by mid morning he felt much better again and even got up to read Gloomy Sunday’s blurb. He found it hard to believe that a song could trigger a spate of suicides. Later that day when Beatrice came to visit, Ivan was even more amazed when she told him that the composer of the Gloomy Sunday song had committed suicide.
Ivan vividly remembered his meeting with the orchestra’s directors the following week. How he was told the time was right for the understudy to take his place. The understudy was a wonder boy; he was more technically and stylistically correct; played with a passion that transcended seamlessly to the audience. What did they know? What right did they have to replace me? He angrily thought to himself and began to play the third movement from the Moonlight Sonata. As he did he imagined wandering into a snowstorm; continuously repeating this Presto Agitato several times; each time going deeper into the storm until eventually his mind was completely blank, completely white, as if it had to be this way, a culmination of the forces that had been around him and those that now enveloped him from within.
He stopped playing and looked at his audience. Not one smile or glance floated his way. This is it. He solemnly concluded. I’m not coming back here. It was Sunday night and in any case, only five minutes till an early nine pm finish. Ivan’s sub conscious mind instructed him to play the session out with Variation A from the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Variations, the first piece of music he’d ever been taught at age 7 by his inspirational grandfather. To Ivan’s amazement he received some applause from an elderly retired lady whose husband had gone to relieve himself.
Ivan’s two bedroom apartment was a brisk five minute walk from the hotel. He lived on the third floor and always walked up the stairs. The apartment was well clad with all necessary modern features and fixtures. He often sat on the balcony which faced Port Philip Bay. Tonight a gentle cool breeze blew up the bay into the apartment. He cut himself a slice of Bruny Island artisan cheese and a piece of dark rye bread with which he poured a glass of Centenary Hill Shiraz. As he sat on the balcony, he flicked through the TV guide. To his astonishment Gloomy Sunday was on SBS. This was no coincidence. He remembered Beatrice and was still intrigued how a song could trigger a spate of suicides. He finished his wine and food before walking back inside to watch the movie.
He began to feel so alone and remembered going to the movies with his parents and sister when he was a young teenager and how great the atmosphere was at a suburban movie theatre. Ivan sighed. No lover, no wife, no kids, no friends, are they important anyway? Am I important? He questioned himself and then poured another glass or wine as the movie started.
This time the Gloomy Sunday melody felt so much closer to him than when he first heard it. He knew its meaning and where was it leading him. It lead him to the balcony and onto the balcony rail, it lead him to an almighty thud on the footpath below where his mind became forever blank, forever black.
Andrew Mansell, 2005. ‘2 of 7 from the Seven Ways series.’