It is a little long but I hope you like it ♥
Celie’s friend Laurel was having an engagement party. On Valentine’s Day. She’d asked Celie to play piano. Songs about love, she’d said. Laurel particularly wanted Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You. She seemed to be under the illusion (or was it delusion) that Whitney Houston had actually written that song. Celie wanted to tell her that it was Dolly Parton who’d written it and the best version of it was recorded by Linda Ronstadt in the 1970s. Much better than Whitney’s version. She said nothing, however, because Laurel didn’t like to be corrected. It was one of the reasons she had fallen in love with her fiance, Roger. He never corrected her.
Celie could imagine Laurel and Roger’s future together where Laurel made more and more outlandish statements about anything she cared to and he never corrected her. Their children’s minds would be full of inaccurate beliefs and misconceptions like if humans evolved from apes why are apes still walking around, there should be no apes left because they turned into humans; swallowed chewing gum takes 7 years to digest; a koala is a member of the bear family; dinosaurs and cavemen existed at the same time; Randy Jackson from American Idol was one of the Jackson Five; a kilo of feathers is lighter than a kilo of rocks; Lady Gaga has male and female parts.
One of Laurel’s children would probably go into politics.
Celie didn’t want to go to the party. All of Laurel and Roger’s friends were either married or in long term relationships. It was depressing to be a single person at a party where everyone else was in a relationship and making goo goo eyes at one other. Sickening too. She felt like Bridget Jones without the cool English accent. And the great job in publishing. And the diary.
Celie suspected Laurel was going to try to set her up with someone. She hoped not. The last time had been a disaster. Celie and investment bankers didn’t mix. She didn’t care about capital markets. Securities exchanges and designated jurisdictions sounded even more boring than her Aunt Nora’s stories about the best ways to iron tablecloths. She never thought she’d say it but steam, starch and the many benefits of a double-jointed elbow were preferable to debt-equity linked and derivative products any day.
Celie didn’t think much about being on her own until things like Valentine’s Day came along. It was one of the worst days in the world for single people. Not because single people hung out, waiting for Valentine’s Day all year with bated breath but because everyone else made such a song and dance about it.
Got a date for Valentine’s Day?
Got a date for the big day?
Going somewhere special for Valentine’s Day?
Going somewhere nice?
Got a date?
Got a date?
Got a date?
Celie was a good girlfriend. All of the boyfriends she’d had said so. But she was bad at getting to know people. It made her feel awkward and uninteresting. She liked the point where you knew the other person and they knew you – not the stuff that came beforehand.
In some ways it was depressing. Getting to know people. They sung about it in her Aunt Nora’s favourite musical, The King and I,
Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
like it was the most wonderful thing in the world; but the truth was that getting to know people sucked.
Especially if your heart was on the line.
Celie had an old upright piano on wheels that she was taking to Laurel’s party. It was fortunate that she lived across the road from Laurel and that there were no steps out of her front door or into Laurel’s; otherwise it would be hell to move a piano.
As it was she had to get the beefcakes – Laurel’s three brothers – to move it. Tom, Tim and Dennis ran a furniture removal business which they’d named The Beefcakes as a joke. Turned out that the name was the best gimmick they could have thought of for drumming up business. They were flat out.
The Beefcakes knew a lot about moving wardrobes and fridges but they weren’t so great with pianos. Bulls in china shops, rough and ready, was the way Celie looked at their technique. When they’d moved her piano over to Laurel’s house for Christmas the piano slid sideways on Mrs. McDermott’s magical winter lake display on the front lawn (which was really just an old blue tarp from the back shed decorated with cotton wool to look like snow) and had damaged the E flat key above Middle C.
Glub. That’s what it sounded like now. Like porridge blowing bubbles in a pot. Not like E flat at all. Its sister key, F, didn’t sound too crash hot, either. Flub.
Celie could usually play around keys that glubbed and flubbed except when certain songs were requested. In addition to I Will Always Love You written by Whitney Houston, Laurel wanted My Funny Valentine. There was a suggestion My Funny Valentine might have been written by Michael Buble but Celie pretended not to hear. She was too worried about playing a song in E flat without a working E flat key. Or an F. It was going to be a nightmare.
She’d got a piano tuner in to give her a quote and he’d said it would cost 800 dollars. 800 dollars to fix one key. She felt like sending the bill to The Beefcakes. She mentioned it to Laurel but Laurel got that look she had when she thought you were about to correct her – as if someone had suggested canned soup for dinner – so Celie decided to bring it up later when Laurel was in a more reasonable mood. But of course, later never came.
She thought of playing Valentine in a different key but it just didn’t sound the same. So she glubbed and flubbed her way through a week’s worth of rehearsals. Hoping no one would notice.
On the day before Valentine’s Day Jamie knocked at her door. Celie thought he’d come to complain about the awful sound of the piano. Her face burst into flame out of shame and the fact that Jamie was so beautiful. Like Brad Pitt’s younger brother. She was wearing a T-shirt that said Put down your guns and pick up your guitars and was worried Jamie would think she was some kind of radical feminist guitar loving socialist who wouldn’t think twice about wearing a Choose Life T-shirt to a funeral or one that said A Woman needs a Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle to a wedding.
I’ve come to fix the piano, Jamie said. Laurel sent me.
Jamie had a Masters of Music. In composition. He tuned pianos in his spare time. He thought it was his duty to do so because he had perfect pitch. He thought that My Funny Valentine had one of the most haunting melodies in music and was very nicely constructed. After he had fixed the keys Celie played it for him and he applauded. Celie usually didn’t get applause, just requests for anything and everything by Coldplay. Sometimes Muse. Or that Immortal song by Evanescence. Over and over again.
It was hard being a two bit party going piano player who never got applause. When Jamie applauded she lapped it up.
They ordered pizza and played one another their favourite songs all night. It was as if they had known one another all their lives.
Just after midnight Jamie said he should go. He kissed her goodnight. An actual, proper kiss. Celie tried not to swoon. She’d been single for so long she’d trained herself not to jump to conclusions. But her heart was beating faster than it should.
On Valentine’s Day afternoon The Beefcakes turned up with their ropes and dust sheets to move the newly tuned piano. Celie hovered, fearing the worst. Fortunately, Mrs. McDermott didn’t believe in decorating for Valentine’s Day – she was saving her energies for Easter. Celie could already smell the wallpaper paste she used to make her papier mache bonnets wafting across the road – so her lawn was clear, allowing for better manouevrability.
Celie felt a bit pathetic and desperate. All morning she’d been thinking of Jamie, hoping he’d call her. Hoping he’d confirm that his presence last night (along with the pizza crumbs on the living room rug) was real.
But he seemed like a dream. Men like Jamie didn’t just turn up on doorsteps claiming to be piano tuners, let alone kiss the people whose pianos they were tuning. That was like a miracle or a fairytale. Or the eccentric imaginings Celie had always feared would engulf her, taking hold.
The piano made it in one piece. Safe and sound, said Beefcake Tim. She’s tip top, said Beefcake Tom, playing chopsticks. No freakin’ worries, said Beefcake Dennis.
Celie played a few scales, arpeggios, chord progressions. They were right. The piano sounded good, even better than before. Jamie had a magic touch.
The engagement party was an event. Laurel worked the room telling everyone so. She said EVENT in capitals, raising her eyebrows to attention like she’d had too much botox.
As Roger raised a toast to his beautiful never-to-be-corrected future wife Celie was instructed to play I Will Always Love You.
It was always a crowd pleaser, especially on the climactic, soaring chorus.
The whole room joined in.
I YI AY YI AY YI AY WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOUUUUUUU YO AY YI AY
When everyone had recovered from the taxing vocal caterwauling at the end of the song, Celie was instructed to play My Funny Valentine.
It was 10PM and Jamie hadn’t shown up. Celie was disappointed. She’d actually thought he had been as interested in her as she was in him. She felt like she would burst into tears.
I just need a minute, she said to Laurel who didn’t even notice, she was so busy talking about how barcodes were invented as a form of mind control, and went outside.
The moon was out. It was the type of moon you see in dreams, all hazy and silver blue.
Did I dream him? Celie asked the moon. Did I conjure him up out of the loneliest place in my heart?
When Celie went back inside there was a mark on the piano. On the keys. She immediately thought it was one of Laurel’s flabbergasted friends, staggering, emotionally drunk on too much of Laurel’s self-congratulation and conspiracy theories.
But it wasn’t. It was a heart. A little red paper heart placed delicately on the E and F keys.
Celie looked around the room. Looking for Jamie. Someone asked her to play Yellow by Coldplay.
She broke into the opening bars of My Funny Valentine. The melody line climbed, tentatively, before falling. Over and over it rose and fell, higher each time. As she played the keys Jamie had mended the little paper heart caressed her fingers. Like tender petals left to dry in the sun. Soft.
She was in a reverie as the song took hold. Half in, half out of tears. Wanting him, missing him, acknowledging she hardly knew him. Wondering why everything really good was so hard to hold on to.
Don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day.
Someone called out Clocks as she finished. But from the back of the room came the sound of clapping. Applause. No one ever applauded at Laurel’s parties.
Jamie stood before her holding another paper heart. He turned it over. It said I love you.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, Jamie said. But I love you. I’ve never felt like this before. It’s a feeling I’ve only ever dreamt of.
Me too, Celie said. I love you too.
Jamie kissed her.
I want you to know that the song is true when it comes to us, he said. It will be true.
What do you mean? Celie said.
The part, my favourite part, Jamie said. About each day being Valentine’s Day. That will be true with us.
Celie had heard of such things. Of people falling in love at first sight. Of men being romantic and sentimental and caring, but she had never believed it. She didn’t dare believe it.
But Jamie had said it and she could see he meant it.
Each day is Valentine’s Day.
And with Jamie it was.
*** Lyrics from My Funny Valentine by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. 1937 WB Music Corp.