Title: Three Brief Encounters

Author: Sarah Laing

In: Sport 27: Spring 2001

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 2001

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Prose Literature

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Sport 27: Spring 2001

Sarah Laing — Three Brief Encounters

page 36

Sarah Laing

Three Brief Encounters

The Hungarian Pianist

‘It's the story of my aunt,’ she says. ‘She got to study at the Vienna Conservatorium of Music when hardly any women were admitted at all. She was very good; when she played to Liszt at the end of the year, he lumbered on stage and took her in his arms, warts like fat peach rose buds so close up, and said, “You will be my student from now on.”’

Paris, London, Moscow, Rome, they all wanted her to play for them. Play those slender milk-fingered melodies, blush a little at the audience, heavy skirts foliaging her legs, a hint of ankle, yes, no? But she couldn't. Not without a chaperone, not without her mother, taut with her twelfth child.

So what does a girl do who has been denied a career? A girl who no longer can adjust the piano stool on stage, inhale, then drop her fingertips on the keys, soft as first snow?

A girl gets married. A girl gets pregnant to her oily-skinned, quick-spurting husband, before she's had a chance to choose the fabric for the parlour curtains. And when a girl is giving birth, that big-headed baby paralyses her down the left side of her body. No more sonatas. No more lush chords.

‘I remember hiding behind the sofa when she came to stay with us in Hungary,’ she says. ‘I hid behind the sofa and watched her pick out the melody with her right hand. Her left arm hung at her side like a ring-barked branch of an elm. The music was sad. My aunt played and cried.’

page 37

The Cat-loving Hermitess

‘She lived here alone,’ she says. ‘She kept the curtains closed and the vents taped up. She never let the cats leave the house, there were about ninety of them milling around her ankles. I don't think their fur was so soft, and they never got any sunlight. They would poo in the sitting room, and so would she. When the cats died, she would wrap them up in aluminium foil and store them in the cupboards. It was like an Egyptian tomb, except the cats didn't mummify.’

At night I hear them rustling. At night I hear their claws against the foil.

‘Don't worry about it, my mother's a spiritualist, she got the house cleansed especially. She got it fumigated as well.’

Regardless, I hear their ghost mewls.

The Fashion Queen

Alannah Hill sits on a tasselled scarlet ‘poshy’ damask, reapplying her powder with a fat brush. Big hair, blossom-toed slippers, ringleted lap dogs.

Alannah Hill sits on her marble-blush bench and talks on her pink phone. Louis XV hands her a martini and offers to do the dishes in the gilt-encrusted sink.

Alannah Hill sits in her sherbet-bomb balcony chair, wafting Chanel no.5. The diamanteés on her wrists twinkle, her tea is touched up with cherry liqueur. As the palm fronds swing so cool and sway so gentle, she tells us that she's written a novel, loves watching Neighbours and never, ever wears jeans.