Though a few years shy of fifty, Charlie-Ray is a man withering on the vine.
He’s sat at the piano.
His head hangs awkward, askew – like it’s all too much trouble for his spine to hold up. A solitary spotlight casts his eerie shadow deep across the stage.
Everyone who was once here has up and gone already. I guess they all had lives to go back to.
Charlie-Ray makes under-the-breath groans as he caresses the keys, letting each note breath, letting each one speak, letting each one be. The melody is from an old-time musical, but in that version was full of words, leggy dancers, smiling faces. The way he’s playing it has me close to tears – it always did.
He stops mid refrain, stares at his hands.
‘I’ve been playing this tune for over thirty years,’ he says, ‘and you know something, melodies don’t ever change, they’re written in blood. It’s me that does the changing, every time I play it is a different me.’
Is it? I wonder.
He smiles as a million memories come flooding back all at once.
Let them only be good ones, I wish.
He takes a deep drag on a cigarette that’s been wasting away in an ashtray, coughs from deep down and looks over.
I’m sat five tables back in the shadows, but he knows it’s me.
‘Lydia, is that you? How you doing?’
Last time I spoke to Charlie-Ray was a decade ago, when two years too late I found strength enough to say goodbye. Yet here I am feeling all the love for a man I knew could never love me back the same.
‘You remember what I said the day you left… that I hope the man you end up with knows he’s the luckiest guy on the planet… well, does he?’
‘Yes he does.’ I say.
Charlie-Ray turns away, takes one more hit before he grinds the cigarette out in the ashtray. His gaze follows the exhaled smoke as it rises and fades, lets his hands hover above the keys for a moment, then lowers them slowly and begins to play another melody written in blood.