UNCONSOLED

“Now Stephen, before the sweet course we must rest.  Why don’t you play something for your mother on her birthday?”  With this the hotel manager had waved towards the upright piano by the wall.  That gesture – that casual wave towards the dining-room upright – was one Stephen was to recall again and again over the years.  And each time he did so something of the sickening chill he had felt at that moment would come back to him.  At first he had looked at his father in disbelief, but the latter had simply gone on smiling contentedly, holding his hand out towards the piano… An idea had flashed through Stephen’s mind – an idea rejected the very next instant – that his parents were conspiring together against him.  Certainly from the way they were gazing at him it was as though they had no memory at all of the anguished history surrounding his piano playing.  In any case, the protest he had started to formulate had faded in his mouth, and he had risen to his feet as though it were someone else doing it… For one giddying moment he saw the possibility that he would somehow perform at a level never before attained, and that he would finish to find his parents smiling, applauding and exchanging with each other looks of deep affection.  But no sooner had he commenced the opening bar, he realised the utter impossibility of any such scenario… He played on nevertheless.  For a long time… the figures at the edge of his vision had remained very still.  Then he had seen his mother lean back slightly in her chair and bring a hand up to her chin.  Several bars later, his father had turned his gaze away from Stephen, placed both hands on his lap and bowed his head forward so that he appeared to be studying a spot on the table before him… and when at last the piece had finished, Stephen had sat staring at the keyboard for several moments before working up the courage to look round at the scene awaiting him.  Neither of his parents was looking at him.  His father’s head had now become so bowed the forehead was almost touching the table surface.  His mother was looking in the other direction across the room, wearing the frosty expression Stephen was so familiar with.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled.

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