Danny expected the Oaktrees Retirement Home to smell of death. It actually smelt of disinfectant and Christmas dinner. His dad dropped him off in his Austin Montego but Danny didn’t want help with the hardshell synthesizer case, the stand and – heaviest of all – the amplifier. A girl about his age showed him into the hall. She didn’t seem impressed by him or his equipment.
Most of the residents were gathered near a television set. Others sat around the hall, in pairs or on their own. No one showed much interest as he set up his kit near two withered red balloons taped to the wall. The only mains socket was already in use. Danny pulled out the plug. He paused to see if there was a commotion – perhaps it fed someone’s life-support machine or, worse, the television set – but there were no screams or alarms, and the music of Going for Gold continued in the background.
He’d attracted his first fan, a slight woman with curly white hair who made Danny’s own grandmother seem young. He resisted the urge to play his special arrangement – his music teacher at school had advised him to save the best for last.
‘It’s a Yamaha DX7,’ he said. ‘See this memory cartridge? That makes it do all the instruments. It’s like having an orchestra here.’
He played a few notes.
‘There’s the saxophone.’
‘Saxophone?’ said the woman. ‘That’s not a saxophone.’
A bald man wearing a sports jacket came over and started looking round the keyboard.
‘This one’s a bell,’ said Danny. ‘You must admit that sounds like a bell.’
‘I don’t really know.’
‘And it does effects, too. Listen: thunder, helicopter…’
Danny pressed a few keys for each sound. But when he reached the air-raid siren, the woman reeled away with her hands over her ears.
‘Stop it,’ she said. ‘Turn it off!’
The siren made its leisurely climb and fall, soon joined by secondary tones which sometimes thickened, sometimes distorted the main sound. It seemed to be not so much an alarm as a city-wide keening, a cry from every bunker, street and cellar.
‘Some of us have heard a few too many of those,’ said the man in the sports jacket, making a cutting motion with his hands.
There was a moment of inertia and then Danny fumbled to change the sound. He accidentally pressed the button that started his arrangement. The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin’ blared out from the amplifier, embellished by whirling arpeggios that Danny had programmed on the DX7’s synth strings.
MICHAEL HURST’s writing has been chosen for the GWN prose competition at the 2016 Cheltenham Literature Festival, the May 2017 Stroud Short Stories event and the second print edition of Ellipsis Zine. You can find him on Twitter @CotswoldArts.
Image: By Speculos [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons