The Flute Player (After Rousseau)


I don’t know how long she has been here. In my room. I have only just awoken and was aware of small scraping noises. It is she, wordlessly setting up a small music-stand in the corner of my room. This, or was it other rooms? I begin to forget, mix mythologies together, confuse people with each other, lose the thread…

My head clears a fraction, I glance across and she is unpacking her flute. There is no conversation: she quietly determined to let the music do the talking, I afraid to speak lest it breaks the spell and she returns to phantom essence. This is all we have by way of tenuous relationship. I bide my time, silence my tongue, keep my own counsel.

Now the light in the room is more focused. She glances across, an enigmatic look that is impossible to put words to: luminous yet distant; and places the flute to her lips. There is a pause, longer than I’d hoped for. I long for music, for light. Something distracts her, do I detect a flicker of irritation in her dilated pupils? A slight chill pervades the air. The moment has gone. She gently lowers the instrument from her lips and proceeds to pack it away in a small case made especially for the purpose. The music stand is dismantled and carefully packed away too. There will be no recital today.

I fall back to sleep, and when I awake she is gone. A fragmentary darkness descends from above and envelops the room, an immense safety curtain between myself and the theatre of the outside world.

Fade to black.


The Academy for Unwanted Children stands high on the leafy hill, the windows opaque. I had always wondered about the exact purpose of this imposing edifice when a child myself. Now we find ourselves, years later, on speaking terms with the couple who run the impenetrable establishment.

He brusque, Glaswegian, with an endless stream of euphemisms for drinking: “Just popping down the post office” he says, or “renewing my books at the library”. If he said he was “going down the pub” people would wonder what he was talking about. She friendly but distracted, a free spirit to the world but imprint marks left by chains around her eyes, a hint of domestic slavery.

They would call in at Village Books, where my first wife worked occasionally, and would make small talk, leaf through books and put them back on the shelves, arrange dinner dates, and so on.

The days passed.

But one night, after my wife had left me for the last time, and the rooms above the barber’s shop in West Norwood changed their countenance forever; there is an unexpected knock at the door. I stumble down the white steps to find her, the lady from the Academy for Unwanted Children, standing motionless in the doorway.

Invite her in (gauging her expressionless eyes) and notice she has been weeping. Pour her a drink: red wine (we don’t keep tea or coffee) and make desultory conversation - eventually I fathom she’s had a falling out with her husband in the pub across the road and, on leaving, found her way here in somnambulist trance, attracted by the light in the upstairs window.

An hour passes. More wine and music. We are lying on a small single bed, converted into a makeshift divan. She is taller than I remember, still elegant, now promising faithfully to stay the night with me but refusing to take any of her clothes off. “How can you make love if you don’t take your clothes off?” I reason with her. She stares at the ceiling. I pour another drink.

Eventually we reach a strange compromise where the lady from the Academy for Unwanted Children is lying full length on the makeshift divan, but still wearing her evening dress, and I crouching naked at her feet with my birthmarked back turned towards her, my over-enthusiastic cock clenched tight between her tense ankles and, with a final effort, manage to release my wellspring of happiness high into the air, across the room, and splashing against and down the side of the impassive upright piano - making a statement, of sorts, about the relationship between art and pleasure.