Peter sings Blake

The following is an extract from In Search of Lost Girls that Alan McCluskey read at Payot Rive Gauche in Geneva on Thursday April 9th 2015.

(…) Standing next to Andrew, seated at the piano, it was a relief to have a small space around him in which to move freely without fiery hands groping at him. Concentrate, he told himself, or you’ll be singing “Tyger, Tyger burning bright…” instead of Jerusalem. He smiled at the thought, mentally thanking Mrs Greengage, his English teacher, for his growing knowledge of literature. When Andrew began to play the opening bars, Peter took a deep breath, relaxed his shoulders and neck and prepared to sing.

Peter couldn’t help it, his heart swelled at Blake’s words and tears welled up in his eyes. Had they not crossed England’s green and pleasant pastures to get to this seaside village? Luckily no dark satanic mills marred this part of the world. He glanced at the congregation as Andrew played the few bars that hailed the second stanza. Many people were moved. When the piece was over, the congregation got to their feet to applaud the two girls. Andrew stood next to him clasping Peter’s hand, beaming as the two of them attempted a rather clumsy curtsey. Andrew’s dream had finally come true: for the first time he had played before an audience.

A number of people called for an encore. Peter leaned closer to Andrew and whispered in his ear. Andrew nodded in response and sat down again at the piano.

“I know how much people like to sing Jerusalem,” Peter said, smoothing down his dress as he did so. “I bet some of you found it hard to resist.” A couple of people chuckled. “Andie and I will perform it again and this time you can sing along. And while you do, I’ll try to improvise a descant.”

The congregation stood to sing, an air of reverence and expectation filling the church. During the first stanza, Peter joined the people singing in unison but when it came to the second stanza he let his voice soar above them like a wild bird on the wing. He loved that voice, he loved that freedom as he reached up. “…I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand till we have built Jerusalem on England’s green and pleasant land.” On the very last note his voice slipped from under him and plunged two octaves making a dreadful rasping sound as he came abruptly to a halt. His voice had broken.

He burst into tears and hid his face in his hands terrified that everyone had noticed and would know he was no girl. He soon realised that couldn’t be the case because nobody rushed to unmask him. Everyone applauded wildly, carried away by the music. Despite their ovation, he couldn’t stop crying. He had lost a treasured part of himself, for ever. (…)

Read more about In Search of Lost Girls.

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