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Open Features: Finale

Simon enjoys listening to classical music. However he values solitude so highly that he decides to stop attending concerts. Before acting on his decision he meets Susan, a diplomat's wife, at a concert... Brian Lockett's story will hold you in its thrall through to the last sad paragraph.

After careful consideration of the consequences Simon decide to stop going to concerts of classical music.

It was not that he had ceased to enjoy classical music. On the contrary, it was precisely because he enjoyed it so much. He had been introduced to the concert hall in his teens. His first concert had thrilled him. He could still remember the programme: the Egmont overture, the Beethoven violin concerto played by Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Debussy‘s La Mer after the interval.

In his lifetime he must have attended hundreds, if not thousands, of concerts. He had enjoyed all the trappings: the dressing up, the journey to the concert hall, the careful study of the programme notes, the ritualistic, ordered entrance of leader, conductor and soloists, the interval buzz, the applause.

Then the trappings had ceased to appeal. He had got to the stage of slipping into his seat at the last moment. He never bought a programme. He sometimes didn‘t even bother to applaud, even when he had enjoyed what he heard. And then the journey to and from the hall, crowded public transport, parking difficulties and fees, discarding and then collecting coats, hats, briefcases. And nobody seemed to dress up any more. On the contrary, some concertgoers seemed to go out of their way to dress down.

And, of course, the behaviour of audiences had changed beyond all recognition. There had always been coughing, of course. But - premature applause? Scarcely concealed humming of the ‘big’ tunes? Beating time?

Why did many of them come at all? He could not believe that such people were genuine lovers of classical music.

All these were elements in his careful consideration. It was at what was to have been his last concert that he changed his mind.
He found himself sitting alongside two women who, he guessed rightly, turned out to be mother and daughter. The daughter he thought uncommonly plain, but her mother, a woman of about Simon’s own age, was attractive in what he characterised to himself later as a restrained way. Intelligent, well-spaced eyes. Expertly applied and scarcely perceptible make-up. Good facial bone structure. Simon liked symmetry, order, lack of ostentation. This woman was all that.

She caught his eye as they were both looking round the thinly filled auditorium. “What is keeping people away tonight, do you think?” she asked with a smile.

“The words world premiere in the programme. That’s always a turn-off nowadays.”

“Worse than first UK performance, do you think?”

They both laughed. She nodded towards the younger woman.

“I try to persuade my daughter to widen her musical horizons, but I have a hard job selling her many of the new and commissioned works you hear in concert halls nowadays. Modern composers seem to be their own worst enemies.”

During the interval Simon found himself telling them both of his decision to abandon concert-going.

“Nowadays you can get all you need at home if you invest in quality equipment. You can avoid all the hassle of dressing up and going out - not always an attractive proposition, particularly in the winter. You can turn the lights down, stretch out, surround yourself with refreshments, make notes ... ”

“Make notes? You make notes while you listen to music? Are you a professional musician or a music critic?”

Simon felt embarrassed. He had never before told anyone that he made notes. Now he had told a couple of complete strangers.

“Well, yes,” he said awkwardly. “I might tell you about it some time. If you’re interested.” It was left that they were interested and that he would think about telling them more.

At the end of the concert the mother said that she would be attending another in a week’s time. She hoped she would meet him again then to continue their discussion.

“Yes,” he said, forgetting his decision. They exchanged names.

In fact, Simon and Susan met at several concerts, sometimes with and sometimes without the daughter, Monica. They had a number of meals together and talked about anything and everything. When Simon discovered she had a husband, he told her quite sincerely that he would like to meet him and deliberately contrived to get himself invited to their home. Her husband, she explained, was in the Diplomatic Service and travelled the world. He had never shown any interest in classical music.

Simon valued the woman’s friendship and her apparent interest in him and his views. He did not have any close friends or relatives but had never felt the lack of them.

“What you never have,” he told her on one occasion, “you never miss. That’s trite, but true.”

She hesitated.

“Don’t misunderstand me, please, but I’m surprised that a man of your charm, ready repartee and all-round niceness has never married. It’s none of my business, of course... ”

People had said something similar to Simon on more than one occasion in a variety of circumstances. He had a ready answer.

“I’ve thought of it a number of times, but I reckon I’m too old to think about that sort of thing now. I’m pretty set in my ways, you know. And in my opinions, too. I don’t reckon I could demonstrate the give-and-take necessary for a successful marriage.”

“Give-and-take,” she repeated softly. “I must tell Geoffrey about that.”

The meeting with the husband Geoffrey went off better than Simon had anticipated. He had expected a certain suspicion, a coolness, an awkwardness in their relationship. He mentioned this later to Susan.

“That’s easily explained,” she said. “He knows you’re not after me. He’s got the idea you’re interested in Monica.”

“Monica? I am old enough to be her father. Why should he ...?”

“It’s not very complimentary to me, is it? You don‘t have to answer that.”

Simon was glad he was not expected to, because he was not certain what he could say.

The concert trips widened into walks, lunches, dinners, visits to galleries. Simon never invited Susan to his home. He liked the situation as it was. It seemed very pleasant, relaxed. It gave them both, he believed, so much innocent pleasure.

Susan seemed to know instinctively that he was reluctant to talk about personal matters, even when circumstances were at their most inviting. One summer evening. when Monica was staying with an aunt and Geoffrey was in Zurich at a conference of diplomats, Simon went round for dinner and they sat together for a long time over coffee on the patio in the cool of the evening talking of nothing in particular. Simon seemed particularly relaxed and, after a couple of glasses of wine, began, unusually for him, to muse about the advantages of life alone.

“I do not bore anyone or make anyone jealous or angry. And no-one does any of these things to me.”

“Doesn’t that strike you as rather negative, Simon? You know, living in a cocoon, away from the real world?”

“Music is the real world. All the emotion I need I can find in music. Surely you’ve found the same.” He paused. “Oh, I was forgetting about Geoffrey.” He frowned as if trying to solve a difficult problem. “It is different for you, I suppose.”

Susan got up and moved swiftly across to him. She took hold of his hand resting on the table, pressed it to her cheek and then kissed it.

Simon was taken aback and drew the hand back to his chest. Susan didn’t say anything. She seemed to be waiting. He stood up.

“It’s late, Susan. Selfish of me to keep you up. I must be going.”

Without another word he walked quickly through the house and let himself out.

The incident disturbed him and he thought about it for several days. He concluded that he must have misled Susan in some way. He certainly had had no intention of disrupting a stable family life. He began to regret things he had said which, he thought, must have been misconstrued. He had been rather amused that Susan's husband believed he had designs on Monica. What an absurd idea But the notion of some kind of romantic relationship on a deeper level between Susan and himself ... For Simon everything was spoilt. Things had been going so well.

He deliberately refrained from contacting her for a couple of weeks. To his surprise, she posted to him some tapes and CDs he had lent her, together with a couple of books. There was no note. He puzzled over this for a short while and then shrugged his shoulders and returned to his pre-Susan routine. Except that he stopped going to concerts.

He was building up a library of recorded music which he dipped into with great pleasure at home. The notes he made whilst listening - which he had never got round to explaining to Susan - became formalised when he acquired a personal computer. They had started as descriptions and impressions promoted by music which particularly appealed to him. Quite naturally, they developed into a treatise arguing the pleasures to be derived from classical music and their superiority over more popular pleasures, such as food, sex, literature and the visual arts. He found himself less and less inclined to go anywhere after work and delighted in his self-sufficiency and wholly satisfying life-style.

It was quite by chance that some years later his eye was caught by a newspaper heading: Lady Crimpson - accidental death verdict. He vaguely remembered a report of Geoffrey’s knighthood, but had paid it little attention, beyond wondering idly how Susan would cope with a title.

At Southwark Coroner’s Court yesterday a verdict of accidental death was recorded on Lady Susan Crimpson, wife of Sir Geoffrey Crimpson, recently appointed ambassador to Switzerland. Lady Crimpson was struck by a train in the early hours of the morning last week in a marshalling yard near Waterloo station.

The coroner, Dr Luke Burton, was told that Lady Simpson, 48, suffered bouts of depression and was known to wander the streets of London during the night after drinking heavily either at home or in various public houses and clubs on the south bank. Her daughter Monica said that her mother’s personality had altered dramatically a few years earlier following a change in her personal life, details of which she was allowed to write down and pass to Dr Burton, who ruled that they need not be made public.

Leonard Distan, the driver of the train which struck Lady Crimpson, admitted that security at the yard was not good and agreed that it was possible that in a confused state she had wandered into the yard and on to the track. He was unaware of the accident until a patrolling security guard ran up to him and told him that a body had been found on the line.

In announcing the verdict Dr Burton said that the evidence pointed to a tragic accident. He expressed sympathy for the family and said that he would be recommending a review of security at the yard.

Simon’s first reaction was one of disgust. The sordidness of what he had just read made him feel ill. A drunken woman, wandering from bar to bar, doubtless being ejected from some of them, perhaps being mistaken for a prostitute! Could this be the intelligent, cultured, educated woman to whom he had confided his thoughts on music, the human condition, the meaning of man’s existence? She had been a kind, gentle, generous-spirited creature living in comfortable circumstances with her husband and daughter.

She had more than once agreed with him about the value of order and discipline in life and shared his view that the absence of such qualities was the cause of many of the ills which bedevilled contemporary society. It was with a feeling of nausea now that he recalled their comfortable, relaxed conversations. The woman had turned out to be shallow and weak. How could he possibly have been taken in by her?

His disgust was slowly turning to anger as he recalled their final meeting. He had recoiled from her intimacy because ... He felt confused. He put on his coat and went out for a walk to clear his head. Impulsively he walked into The Railway Tavern, bought a drink at the bar and sat down at a table in a corner. Even as he did so he realised that he was only deepening his confusion. He did not suddenly go for walks. He did not go into pubs for a drink for no reason at all. He was not meeting anyone. He had no reason to be there. Generally speaking, he did not like pubs. They had no place in his routine. This was all Susan’s fault.

He sat for a long time over his drink. He looked up from time to time. Business was slack. The barman was reading The Racing Times spread out before him. The few customers were talking quietly.

Traffic could be heard whenever the door opened. For the first time he formed the words Susan is dead in his mind. She wasn’t with her husband or her daughter. She was a memory. And even that would fade. For the first time he wondered if her death had anything to do with him. But how could he be blamed? She had misinterpreted his friendship and, as soon as he had realised this, he had done the right thing. It would not have been right to disrupt her settled, ordered life. Was it possible that she had been unhappy? How on earth could he tell? They had agreed that happiness was stability and certainty. Had she perhaps only pretended to agree?

He spent a long time staring at his glass and left only when there was a general exodus. As he walked home he remembered, almost felt, the touch of her hand on his. Had she been hoping that he would return the touch? He would never know. He passed couples as he walked. Some were holding hands, some had their arms round each other’s waists, some were laughing, touching. They were young, he told himself automatically. For the young everything was possible. The discipline, the tidiness of life came later.

For the first time in his life he felt an outcast. It was not a pleasant feeling. It had all started with a newspaper report about a drunken woman who had been hit by a train in a place where she should not have been. He had known her before she had been reduced to that state. Simon knew that he would manage to cope with feeling an outcast. But he was not sure that he deserved to.

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