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Voices from the Past

Voices from the Past



(June 1979)


Edgar Hatchet, small time composer, slept in late as a sort of reward for his latest achievement. He had just finished his fiftieth unpublishable symphony and had hummed himself to sleep with the theme from the final languorous final movement. So he lay with his alarm carefully switched off and a fresh pink pillow slip under his head.


He had never before dreamt about his music, nor about anybody else's, since the mind likes to rest and dote on other things. But this evening Edgar found all his music coming back to him.  He was, after all, the begetter of these compositions, and  a father has a right or even a duty, to see his children from time to time.


The first child was a boy, but he had a strange reptilian tail supporting the small of his back, just like some latter-day camptosaurus.  As he came into view, he turned and grimaced savagely, so that all his features emptied of any filial piety he may once have had.  He pointed a blunt scaly finger accusingly at his father and sang the tune that was his substance in a hollow voice. At first it was a manly march, worthy of the finest army, to be played on tubas, trumpets, trombones and sousaphones to the accompaniment of wild kettle-drums, and Edgar knew him for his very own son.

Hatchet's sleeping form was even twiddling the toes of his left foot in time to the music, just beyond the edge of the blanket.  But the music gradually lost its hot-blooded inspiration and petered into a long lamenting coda, lethargic and cold.

His toes twiddled less rapidly and began to curl up in embarrassment back under the blanket.


"You have cursed me, father, with this encumbrous tail, this superfluous reptilian coda.  I can never be accepted in Melodian society, but must hide away for ever.

Perhaps I may appear once or twice, like some freak to be pointed at in ridicule by respectable middle-class Melodians, but behind my back you can hear them saying they would never let their daughters marry one!

So I drag my tail in prehistoric hatred of the man who begot me, never to amputate it, for it is a symbol of my hatred!"


The shock of this revelation did not awaken our "hero" in a sweat.  He slept on as the pink of his pillow got darker and damper.  He had never been addressed by one of his compositions before and therefore had a horrified but pressing curiosity to know how his other sons and daughters were faring.


His first born daughter at least did not seem to be as physically deformed as her unfortunate brother, but her face was no kinder.

"My dearest daughter" he began, forestalling her reproaches, "Tell me your name. You are so pretty and deserve a beautiful title.  Tell me what it is."


"You may well ask!"  She spoke as if two people were speaking at once, one much older than the other.  One voice then took over, the older one: "I'm your 'Sunshine Sonata', your very first piano piece, whom you locked away in your bottom drawer.  You lost me in your folded sheets until I was so crumpled that the greatest pianist lover in the world could not have decoded me!  I fell into a deep and boring sleep.  My limbs went all numb for lack of lack of touching, for lack of caressing by a pianist's fingers."

The younger one took over from her and sang a little of her substance.

"Don't you recognise me, fickle father? I'm your 'Song of the Rosebuds', which you wrote twenty years later. Same notes, same body.  When my mind touched the identical twin mind of my aged sister I nearly lost my sanity.  I felt both loved and abandoned.  I didn't know, when you played me, whether you were really thinking of me or whether your real love was still the poor lost Sunshine crumpled at the back of some dark drawer!  Whenever I tried to console her, the very action of consolation was a kick in the teeth for me.  Each time you played me, my schizophrenia grew, till now we are mad enough not to know our own father."

At this point the two voices were again speaking together, but you could hardly say they were speaking in harmony: it was like an unresolved diabolus in musica, clashing and getting ever louder and harsher.  The words were no longer audible but it seemed as if the thorns of the rosebushes were growing and twisting to pierce the very buds on their stems, and as if the summer sun was scorching the rosebushes to ashes, which reformed only to burn down again.  A hot summer wind blew up carrying the tune in weird and varied harmonies across a desolate garden patch, stripping those bushes not yet burnt of all their petals and leaves, and ending with a mad hot whirlwind of clashing cymbals, blasting trumpets and grand pianos falling from ninth-floor flats down into the poor garden.


Edgar's toes had curled up under the blankets and he gave a short whimper before turning over onto his left side.  The abyss was opening blacker in front of him, as he wondered what other horrors he could have unwittingly been responsible for.  But he still wouldn't wake up, fascinated as if by a serpent.



The third child was neither boy nor girl.  Quite naked it walked up to Edgar's piano-stool and stood displaying its credentials - or lack of them - for all to see. Edgar rushed to draw the curtains, but the child squeaked a warning not to touch them:


"The shame that is yours cannot be hidden by mere curtains!" it began in a high but firm voice.  "My name is 'Piece in A minor'!  How can you have been so callous as to give your own child such a name?  Not only have you banished me to anonymity, you have not even had the decency to complete my cadences.  Here I stand ostensibly in A minor but hovering in F major with an infuriating E-flat buzzing in my ears or tickling the soles of my feet.



You flung down the paper leaving me unfinished, unable even to speak to my brothers and sisters, who would not recognise a eunuch amongst tunes.

How dare you call yourself my begetter?"


The child sat solidly down on the keyboard, its buttocks choosing that chord where Edgar had rejected him, and faded from sight, leaving the composer rolled up like a frightened hedgehog under the sheets.


No sooner had the sexless one vanished then Edgar's second son came fast on its heels.  Slamming down the piano lid and grasping a cello in his right hand.  The spike was fortunately already taken out, for he proceeded to tuck the unwieldy instrument under his chin, firmly against his throat, and, stretching as far as he could, he began to wind up the A string so tightly that it was close to snapping.  The sound that issued forth as he began to bow the cello was that of a wasp being strangled, but the unwilling father recognised the tune with a sudden shock.  It was his viola concerto, a compact little piece where the poor instrument never descended onto its lower strings to make some contrast with the unmelodious and excessively high-pitched main theme.  

To give him due credit, Hatchet had never insisted on its being performed again after the great viola player Yehu Suzuka had broken five A strings in a row at one rehearsal.

Nevertheless, there stood his son, the ill-fated viola concerto, glaring at him from behind the fat body of the cello wedged firmly between chin and shoulder.  The A string finally snapped and lashed in Edgar's direction, brushing the tip of his nose and waking him with a start.

He looked fearfully round the room and rushed to the bathroom.

As he returned, he went to look at his 50th symphony, but standing on top of the manuscript was a little green man, not like some verdant natural leprechaun but venomous green like a copper compound with crystalline skin and a gleaming grimace of pure malice.

Before the creature had a chance to clarify his reproach, Edgar had taken the hint and snatched the pages to tear them in little pieces.

As the pieces floated down out of the window, fluttering gently in the warm Spring breezes, Edgar resolved never to touch music again: a resolve similar in weight to him as that of a husband denying himself his conjugal rights.  The Muse would remain unfertilised because he, Edgar Hatchet was suddenly - and understandably - terrified of her.  He was impotent and his offspring to date would become deep-frozen orphans suspended in their animation.  He himself was in suspension and began to despair of life itself, after the voices from the past had told him how bad a composer-father he had been.

He allowed himself the blasphemy of muttering to himself: "At least they're not real human beings, their suspension cannot matter to the real world!"


There was, as he said this, a pounding on the door downstairs:

"Open up at once Mr Hatchet, in the name of Her Majesty!" came a firm and authoritative voice.

He rushed downstairs to open the door, and blenched to see not only three burly policemen but a straggling crowd of cold and hungry creatures, some of whom approximated to human beings.

He recognised a scaly tail behind one of them and the raven hair of his identical schizophrenic daughters.

"Are you or are you not Edgar Hatchet, small-time composer?"

He gulped down the remnants of his pride and nodded his head slowly in affirmation.


"I must caution you, you are not obliged to say anything, but anything you do say will be taken down and may be used in evidence."

The middle policeman nodded to the other two, who stood with pencils poised and notebooks.

"Do you recognise this sorry crowd?" he continued.

"I..I...I think so" mumbled Edgar, "but I couldn't put a name to each of them.  It's been so long and I've only just decided to give them up."

"Give them up?!  Are they cigarettes or something?  These, Sir, are your progeny, your children, sons, daughters, eunuchs, hermaphrodites and freaks, your beloved offspring!  They came clamouring to our police station, claiming protection saying that you had already killed one of their number and were threatening to slay them all."


At this point the policeman on the left produced the gory remains of the crystalline leprechaun all torn to pieces.


Edgar reserved his right to remain silent.  In fact he was too confused and horrified to speak, and his brain was spinning in circles of logic so heated and tortured that they would have melted several silicon chips.


The vision finally faded, however, and Edgar went out into the garden to pick up the scattered pieces of his 50th symphony.


"Ah! If only I were a short story writer!" he sighed.



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MP3 of my reading of this story around the time it was written (a bit hissy - sorry!)

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