The Charming Maestro by Lauren Bell

He said he was a maestro. If anyone came up to him and asked him what he was, he’d say, ‘I’m a maestro.’

‘How fascinating! They’d say. We’re in the presence of a maestro!’

Sometimes he would say he was a man, other times, he admitted that he was a failure. It took a lot out of him to admit that, but someone had to do it.

A hand on his arm led him to a table, nicely furnished, not too many flowers and frills, you see, it was tastefully done. He flattened a napkin out and tucked it into his shirt collar and placed his hands in his lap. He watched the party-goers moving across the floor like pawns in a game of chess. He noticed their idle chatter, their languid laughter, their masking of insecurities. He smiled.

Somewhere behind, he heard a woman’s voice, nasal, and aurally appalling say, ‘I heard there was going to be a maestro here today. Does anyone know who it is? Is he famous?’

Another voice, thicker and a little slurred from the flowing alcohol said, ‘I’m sure he’s already here. I overheard a chap saying that he wasn’t the usual kind.’

The woman said, ‘Do they have to be a particular type, these maestros?’

‘Oh yes, you see they’re a funny lot.’

She laughed at this, and even though the maestro couldn’t see her, he imagined her face creased into furrows, tears clustered into the corners of her eyes.

‘Now, I really can’t wait to meet him.’

At this, the maestro closed his eyes, the action timed to the music in his head, the song floating through his veins. The woman didn’t sound particularly charming and her laughter left him cold. He hoped they wouldn’t meet.

‘Can I get you anything, Sir?’ a rather buxom woman with high colour in her cheeks said. Her mouth looked sad but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

‘Just some water please,’ he said.

‘Sparkling or still?’ she said.

‘Tap. Thank you.’

Her eyebrows lifted half an inch higher on her painted face, her mouth souring into a moue.

‘Suit yourself,’ she said and walked off.

He watched her go, her hips swaying this way and that as though she balanced invisible plates there.

What a charming woman, he thought. This time, the smile reached his eyes.

‘I don’t think he’s here,’ she said.

‘Who?’ asked her friend.

‘The maestro, of course.’

‘Oh, he’s here all right. I bumped in to him earlier,’ her friend said.

‘Did you? Where is he?’

‘Oh, he’s somewhere about. Quite an odd little man actually. Thought much too highly of himself. I didn’t really like him.’

The first woman scanned the room, so many smartly dressed men and women filled her vision.

‘It’s a wonder we found each other in this,’ she said to her friend.

The charming woman had been gone an awfully long time. He looked at his watch. A whole twenty minutes had passed and there was no sign of any tap water.

Perhaps she thought I was joking, he mused. I could have been. But I wasn’t. I hope she knows that I wasn’t.

And then it hit him: perhaps she was playing a little joke of her own.

The guests continued to come and go, most of them came, a few left. The ones who left looked rather glum, their eyes like unpolished brass, their shoulders slack as though they were made of marshmallow. The maestro couldn’t understand what they had to be so disheartened about.

He tugged at his napkin which looked like a small sail on the front of his shirt and placed it in his lap instead. There was still no sign of the charming woman and her sad mouth. He thought about her twinkling eyes. Yes, there was definitely something in those.

‘What a disappointment,’ he said. ‘I was really looking forward to meeting the chap. I’m such a fan of his work. Borderline fanatic, actually.’

‘Apparently, he’s already here. Been here a while,’ she said. ‘But I haven’t seen him yet.’

‘Have you asked around?’ he said.

‘Oh yes. Everyone knows he’s here but no-one has met him.’

‘Well someone must have seen him, spoken to him, to know that he’s a maestro,’ he said. ‘I suggest you start asking around again. You start on the left and I’ll take the right.’

He must have closed his eyes for a moment too long because she said, ‘Anything else I can get you, Sir?’

The maestro opened his eyes and saw a fat jug filled with water. A slim glass, narrow as a candle, sat beside it.

The charming woman looked down at him. He noticed that her mouth wasn’t quite so sad anymore, and the twinkle in her eye was as sharp as a knife edge.

‘No, thank you.’

He picked up the pregnant jug and poured a sliver of water into the narrow stem of the glass.

‘Enjoy,’ she said and turned on her heels.

He watched her go, sashaying to and fro, as though she listened to her own song, and stared at the glass in front of him.

Suddenly, he wasn’t thirsty anymore.

The room seemed to close in around him. So many bodies pressed into such a tight space. He was about to close his eyes again and this time, really embrace the song within, when a hand touched him gently on the shoulder.

A woman’s face, as white as the moon, with two neat ice cubes for eyes looked expectantly at him.

‘I beg your pardon, Sir, but are you the maestro?’

The man lowered his head, his eyes like semibreves, feeling the notes humming within.

‘No, dear lady. I’m ashamed to say, I’m a failure.’

Lauren Bell lives in Birmingham, loves rainbows and is often drunk on inspiration. She spends her time entertaining myriad ideas for possible short stories and a potential novel. Her work has been published by Bare Fiction, Firewords Quarterly, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro Online and The Pygmy Giant.

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