I rang the bell, and looked through the letterbox. A dull, dusty, rusty tinkle came from the bowels of the building. No answer. I rang again. An old man hooked a bony finger round the edges of a torn lace curtain behind a grimy window-pane, and squinted at me. the finger let the lace fall across the man’s face. he left the window. I heard footsteps in the hall, fingers on the catch, and then the front door creaked open
Who are you? Who sent you?”
‘David Colcroft … Sylvie ... Sylvie Lorbin sent me. Are you the caretaker?”
“Oh its you .” He eyed me and I him. Both cagy. He said “Come this way” as he turned his shoe squeaked on the old linoleum floor. Brown suede shoes, I noticed. “I didn’t think you’d come” he pushed past me and took 3 plastic sacks out of a battered tin dustbin on the side walk, and brought them inside. “Yes its these, take them” he gave me the sack and led me along a hallway that smelt of cabbage, cat’s piss and candle wax. A dull throbbing drone came from the depths of the building. II knew that if it drew my attention it would set off my tinnitus. “Yes I threw nearly them out. Didn’t think you’d come. This place is nearly clear now- the builders will be in next week.” I was about to leave when the old man glared at me “I was there on the 21st of May 1971, you know. I saw it happen”. 21st of May 1971? He was there? Where? I didn’t have a clue, but I noted the date, and looked at him. He ushered me towards the door and I was sure I could see a slight cruel knowing smile, flicker into the corner of his mouth. He half turned before he shut the door, and said ‘Goodluck. You can’t carry all this bags, You’ll need a cab. Don’t worry the Foundation will pay’
I hailed a cab and headed home clutching three large black plastic sacks. I was relieved to get out of the city noise and back home. I took the weight of the sacks off my back as soon as I shut my front door. My shoulders ached. I rubbed my muscles, left the sacks on the floor of the hall while I made myself a cup of coffee, sat down and and stared at the sacks in the hall for a few minutes and as I got my breath back I began to wonder what was inside before I opened them. The first thing I pulled out was a plank of wood, about eighteen inches long with a crudely drawn musical stave scratched into it, and a row of five 2 inch nails hammered, carelessly, but precisely on the bottom line of the stave, Eb. At one end, there was a yellowing label with neat handwriting that I recognised as Sylvie’s from the letter. It read: ‘Kirk Yetholm 1969. A bookshelf.’ I looked through the rest of the sack. It was full of scribblings on pieces of wood, toilet paper, cigarette packets, and several bits of writing on the back of labels from tins of Ambrosia Creamed Rice. Some of the scribblings were clearly bits of music, others seemed like arcane and unknown alphabets, and each scrap was labelled and numbered by Sylvie. I opened up the second sack, and found three box files. They contained notes, again in Sylvie’s hand, that listed the items in the first sack, and arranged them together, by song title. The scraps from the first sack contained the fragments of songs that Sylvie had painstakingly put together. The third sack had another box file, labelled “Press cuttings/obituaries.” and a book, “The Sound Virus: Abna Dforlock’s Piano Miniatures”. Abna Dforlock. I hadn’t heard that name in a while- he was the infamous Viennese composer whose impossibly difficult piano compositions were rumoured to make the player ill. To the few aficionados who knew of him, the very mention of his name was considered bad luck, and he was never mentioned by name 'The Polish man’ he was referred to, the Macbeth of music. And what had he to do with Opil Lorbin? Who? I was hooked. Opil Lorbin had entered my life. It took the best part of a year to sort all the scraps, press cuttings, objects and Sylvie’s notes into a coherent story, I had to talk to Sylvie and others who knew him and slowly I pieced together the extraordinary story of Opil Lorbin. This was the story I put together:
When Opil arrived, all he brought with him was five cases of rice pudding a hangover, two reel to reel tape recorders and a cloud of angst. For the first few months in the cottage, he would rise at four in the afternoon, walk over the hills in the long summer evenings, and then, as dusk fell he would play the beaten up piano in the corner furiously for hours, rocking insanely from side to side as if in a cradle, and while he played he would gibber, and everyday, on a diet of rice pudding, he would play his way into exhaustion until he would fall asleep just as the morning light spread through the hut. This routine went on unchanging for about three months, as he tried to contact his lost self, with little success, but tenacious as ever he did not give up, knowing that persistence would pay off, and pay off it did but not in a way that anyone can have imagined. Sheikh Ibn Harrington Himm Himm Himm, an English mystic, healer and piano salesman happened upon Opil whilst on a hiking holiday along the Pennine Way. Himm Himm Himm had an immaculate sense of hearing, and had heard Opil’s crazed piano playing as he walked downhill towards the cottage At first the furious piano sound and then the gibbering, but he paused as he approached the hut and heard another sound, it was a faint, plaintive, half humming, half muttering struggling to be heard amidst the incomprehensible torrent of notes bursting from Opils fingertips. The Sheikh knocked on the door of the cottage, and it fell open. Opil didn’t notice. The Sheikh tip-toed across the carpet and sat on the frayed sofa, closed his eyes and tuned his ears to Opil. Not to Opil’s tortured playing, but to a quiet murmuring void in Opil’s heart. At first he heard the sound of wind rustling amongst pine trees, birdcalls, and the cries of a badly injured younger woman being soothed by an old woman, singing under her breath, and applying dressings to the younger woman and these sounds invoked an image of this scene happening in a cave high up on a mountainside, and then as the face of the old woman emerged into his mind’s eye, he saw that face in the photo of Petenya’s mother on the mantel piece in the cottage, and as the face of the younger woman emerged, the Sheikh saw Opil’s aquiline features. The Sheikh began to hum what he heard, echoing back the murmuring to Opil, but on one note, as a drone, on an Eb. Opil’s gibbering began to anchor itself, on that Eb and, as it did so, Opil’s piano playing began to mellow, Opil’s hands began to soften, even out and slowdown, and sculpt flowing shapes on the keyboard, and until his right hand settled on an Eb and his left hand shaped chords around it, and into Opil’s mind for the first time in his waking hours, floated memories of his childhood, of his mother, her smell, their playing together, while old Petenya listened on, rocking in her armchair Now you might have expected that the refinding of such powerful hidden memories after such a long long time- 20 years- would cause a surge of grief, but for Opil, the memory brought him feelings of bliss. For three days and three nights, without pause for sleep Opil Lorbin and the Sheikh Ibn Harrington Him Him Him, hummed, mumbled, droned, murmured, and gibbered and giggled to each other non stop, until at long last Opils’ eyelids dropped shut and he slept deeply for seventeen and a half hours. When Opil awoke the Sheikh was gone.