Fish, a wet cold fish, that’s what Lazarescu reminded her of! The lights were on now and the audience on their feet giving rapturous applause. Rapturous applause for a lacklustre concert – to put it mildly! Freshny was on his feet, clapping for all his worth. He looked down at her, his eyes saying, ‘Why aren’t you joining in this standing ovation?’
Matilde stood up and hit her hands together, watching the bald-headed old man bow and bow; surely he’d barely be able to move tomorrow, she thought. She’d never enjoyed the scrape of the cello, but Freshny had got her a ticket. Made a big deal of it. Surely she’d heard of Lazarescu, the most famous Romanian cellist of all time? Then a look of incredulous disdain when she said that, no, she’d never heard of him.
Now, a young woman was presenting Lazarescu with a huge bunch of red roses. He looked around the concert hall, his eyes wide, his mouth gaping, gasping for breath it appeared. Just like a fish. Well, she was no musician, even though she’d suffered five years of piano lessons, but even she could tell the performance had been littered with errors. Not wrong notes exactly, more ill timing and horrible phrasing. A jarring crescendo where there should surely have been a diminuendo?
Matilde had a bad taste in her mouth. She wished she hadn’t come. But she supposed she wanted to make an attempt to keep her relationship with Freshny alive. She was a hard-working and successful estate agent, he lectured at the university in particle physics, whatever the hell that was. But whatever it was, it made selling bricks and mortar something trivial, something that was only just above collecting trash on the street.
Thank God, Lazarescu had finally bowed himself almost to death and retired from the stage, and the audience were chatting and gathering their coats. Looking underneath their seats for the miscellaneous rubbish stowed at the beginning of the concert.
“Wasn’t it wonderful, Mattie,” Freshny was saying.
“What, oh yeah, wonderful.” She mustered a smile. “Look, I’m sorry, nothing radical but I need to go to the ladies.”
“OK, I’ll wait for you outside the main entrance.”
After queuing till she was bursting, Matilde finally felt the cool toilet seat beneath her bare thighs and gratefully emptied her bladder to the sound of a waterfall and the smell of asparagus. Well, it was a ‘power food’ wasn’t it?
She thought of Freshny. He was handsome, athletic, obviously intelligent, but there was something. Something about the way he seemed to look down on her. Always making snide comments. Didn’t she wonder about ‘dark matter’? Actually, no, she couldn’t give a stuff about it. Nor about gluons and bosons, whatever the hell they were. They didn’t make her laugh or hug her or bring her to ecstasy in bed, they were just theoretical nothings, theoretical nothings driving a wedge between her and the man she loved, or once loved. She reached out for the toilet paper.
Outside the concert hall, it was dark and cold. The crowd was thinning as taxis and lifts pulled up, or people walked back to their distant cars, camouflaged by London’s murky night. But where was Freshny? The pick-up zones had spaces, but no Mercedes. Time ticked by and cars drove off and people walked by, looking at her and wondering. She felt embarrassed and fiddled with her phone. Where the hell was he? Then she noticed a message.
“Matilde, sorry I’ve gone home. Please take a cab to your place, I’ll refund the fare. Freshny.”
Holy crap, what an insult! It was freezing out there and there weren’t any fucking cabs!
A black limousine pulled up and a window wound down. To her astonishment, she saw it was Lazarescu.
“Madame, are you alright, it is late. Everyone is gone. Do you need a lift?”
She felt a pang of gratitude. “Well, actually, my boyfriend had to … had to go somewhere … urgently. He sent a message just now to get a cab.”
The old man smiled. “Where do you live?”
“That’s a long way.”
Lazarescu smiled. “Well, it just so happens we’re headed in that direction!”
Suddenly a suave young man was at her side, opening a rear door for her with a white glove. She realised he must be the driver.
He smiled. “I’m Eugene, Mr. Lazarescu’s son, please join us. We will be happy to give you a lift. You were at the concert I assume?”
“Yes.” Matilde felt relief. “Yes, I was.”
His eyes met hers and she felt a jolt of electricity.
“I do hope you enjoyed it?”
She got into the car feeling happy and excited. “Yes, … Mr. Lazarescu’s playing was … a revelation to me!”
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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