Ludwig’s Friday Morning

No tongue in the bell and the fishwives yell but they might as well be mute. The composer cannot hear his maidservant arguing about a basket of fresh trout or the striking of hooves on the cobbles outside. As far as he is concerned there is no outside. He lives in a world of muffled echoes in his ears and cold piano keys under his fingers. He recalls being woken in the middle of the night as a child and straining to reach the keyboard from a huge ornate stool. Now, in his forties, he fills the stool with his portly body and music sheets with staves of fat, resounding notes, waiting to be brought to life by an orchestra.

Ludwig looks out of the window. The street is full of the to-ing and fro-ing of servants, laden with baskets of bread and fish. It’s Friday. He is waiting for Karl, his nephew. He used to enjoy their music lessons, but he is finding it increasingly difficult.

He doesn’t hear the gentle tap or the creak of the door, and jumps when a hand touches his arm.  The child reminds him of his dead brother; he is nothing like his mother, the queen of the night. A gentle boy, he is afraid to press the piano keys, in case he hurts them. How would a son of his own have touched the keys?

‘Do you know where the ivory for the white keys comes from?’ he asks the boy.

Karl shakes his head. He loves his uncle dearly and wants to please him, but this is something beyond his knowledge.

‘Elephants!’ Ludwig roars, unaware of the volume of his voice. Karl winces and forces a smile.

‘Elephants, Uncle?’ Karl asks. ‘I have never seen a real elephant. What do they sound like?’

Ludwig leaves the window and sits down at the piano. Karl climbs onto his knee and places his hands on his uncle’s. The notes leave the keys, rumble through Ludwig’s fingers into Karl’s smaller hands. Together they marvel at the size and movement of pachyderms and play their lumbering music until they are called to lunch.

© Kim M. Russell, 2016


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I’m reblogging this piece from five years ago as some readers may not have seen it in its original form, and it follows on from my recent found poem ‘Dance of Joy’, which is also about Beethoven. An abridged version of ‘Ludwig’s Friday Morning’ was published by Paper Swans Press in 2017 in their flash fiction anthology Flash, I love you!

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