Imperfect Harmony

By: Jay Northcote

CHAPTER ONE



“Are you sure I can’t persuade you to stay?” Maggie asked. “You might enjoy it, and the people in the choir are ever so friendly. Why not give it a try, just this once?”

Maggie meant well, but John inwardly recoiled at the thought of spending time in a room full of strangers. Friendly strangers were the worst because they’d want to engage him in conversation, and then inevitably he’d have to answer questions about himself, and talk about things he preferred to keep locked up tight inside.

“I don’t really think it’s my cup of tea, Maggie. So I’ll pass.”

“It just seems daft for you to have to drive back and forth twice.”

“It’s no trouble.” John kept his voice light, but he curled his fingers more tightly around the steering wheel, staring ahead into the darkness beyond the swish of the windscreen wipers. The tension in his muscles made his back ache. He could never relax while he was driving. “I’ll help you inside. Then I’ll come back and pick you up at the end.”

“Your mum always used to talk about how musical you were,” Maggie said. “She played me the CD you sent her a few years ago, of that band you used to play with. It was so beautiful, the way you played the violin. Don’t you miss making music? If you don’t fancy the choir, maybe you can find an orchestra or a folk club instead?”

John gritted his teeth against the spike of pain her words elicited. A lance through his heart, sharp and fresh, it took him by surprise. His grief had long settled into a cold, grey pall that he wrapped around himself to keep the world out. He did miss making music, but he missed so much more than that. Music represented the joy he’d lost when David died. John couldn’t even listen to music anymore, much less pick up his fiddle and play. Choked by the sudden rush of unwelcome emotion, he couldn’t reply.

Maggie seemed to sense she’d pushed him enough and changed the subject to something safe and neutral. “It’s foul, this weather, isn’t it?” She sighed. “It’s the only upside to me being stuck in the house at the moment, nobody would want to be out in this anyway.”

As if backing up her words, the wind buffeted John’s car and the icy rain fell faster.

“Yes,” John agreed. “Even Billy didn’t want to go out tonight when I came to fetch him. Once around the park was all he was good for. I’ll take him for a longer walk tomorrow if it’s nicer.”

“It’s very good of you,” Maggie said. “I’m so grateful for all you’re doing for me. I hate being a burden. The doctor said I could drive again in a few weeks, so at least you won’t have to be my taxi service for much longer. But I won’t be taking Billy on any long walks for a while yet.”

“I don’t mind.” John slowed down for a junction and turned into a side street. “It gets me out of the house, which is no bad thing, and Billy’s good company.” He gave Maggie a sidelong glance and a smile. “Like his owner.”

Billy was Maggie’s dog—a lively little ball of white fur who was always gratifyingly pleased to see John when he went next door to take him for walks. When Maggie had a hip replacement three weeks ago, John had gladly volunteered for the duty, as well as offering her lifts when needed. It was the least he could do for Maggie, who’d been a good friend to John’s mother during her illness and was endlessly kind to John—if a little keen to drag him out of his shell and into community activities.

Luckily there were still some parking spaces outside the church hall where Maggie’s choir met. John made sure they arrived a little early so Maggie wouldn’t have to walk too far. She was managing well on one crutch, but she still tired easily. After he parked, he got out and hurried around to help her out of the passenger door.

“Thanks, love,” she said, patting him on the arm. “I can manage now.”

A vicious gust of wind whipped a strand of hair into her face. It was dark, still sleeting, and probably slippery underfoot. There was no way John was going to leave until she was safely indoors. “I’ll just see you inside. Let me take your bag.”

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