Would Gina be able to find her voice and finally face up to her fears… about Simon too?
Solo. The word filled her with utter dread.
It was Diane’s idea; she should take the blame. She’d corralled Gina into the Ladies at work and asked her to “just sing one line”.
Gina turned bright red. “Don’t be silly. I can’t, I’m too embarrassed.”
“OK, well go into a stall then so I can’t see you.”
Did Gina even want to join a choir? How would she fit it in with all her other courses and clubs?
Still, Diane, the new girl in the office, was a choir enthusiast. She hummed at her desk and sang through her lunch break.
She bubbled with energy, giving a smile even on the greyest mornings when all their office manager could mutter was, “People really shouldn’t be so high up in a building they can see the tops of the rain clouds. It’s depressing.”
One line? Gina locked herself in a stall, her heart thundering.
The first line of Daisies Are Our Silver, a hymn she used to sing at primary school, came to mind. She cringed; sure she’d sound like a nervous sheep baa-ing away.
“I can’t do this, Diane.”
“You have a lovely voice,” Diane said, even though she hadn’t heard Gina’s yet.
“No really, I’ll sound horrible.”
“Yes, I’ll be that, too.” Gina expected her friend to look upset when she left her hiding place.
Instead Diane smiled.
“Just come to the hall tonight and see what you think. You’ll only have to sing solo once. After that, you’ll sing with the rest of us.”
Diane tapped away at her computer all afternoon, shooting sidelong glances at Gina. At the end of the day she spun her chair around to face her.
“So, are you coming tonight?”
“I can’t, I’ll miss my watercolour class.”
Diane frowned. “But you might enjoy singing more. Have you thought of that?”
Gina shrugged, wondering what her new friend really thought of her and her hundred hobbies.
Were the clues too obvious to miss? Was it clear that her relationship with Simon, her boyfriend, was disintegrating since their move into a home… or rather a derelict house… of their own? Would joining one more club really any difference?
“So where are you going tonight?” Simon asked when she pulled on her coat that evening. He screwed up his face behind his glasses as he stood mid-lounge, a paintbrush full of yellow gloss held aloft.
Had she ever heard him sing? she wondered. After three years together, they must have heard each other do practically everything. Surely, he sang along to the songs on the radio that played non-stop as he worked on the house. Yet she couldn’t remember.
“I’m off to choir practice at St Mary’s church hall. A music teacher runs it. It’s all very informal.”
She sounded far more enthusiastic than she felt.
She stood twirling her scarf, her stomach tightening with nerves.
Was she really going to choir practice? She suspected Simon wouldn’t care if she ran off to burgle a few houses so long as she was out from under his feet.
“Bye then,” she said, waiting a moment just in case he asked her to stay.
But no. Since they’d quarrelled a few weeks ago, snapping and snarling their way through the biggest row they’d ever had, they’d both much rather be alone.
The church hall’s old wooden floor had a voice all its own as Gina walked towards the assembled choir half an hour later.
They were a mixed bunch: from teenagers to snowy-haired old ladies.
“There you are.” Diane’s eyes glistened with excitement. “Let me introduce you to Mr Smith, our choir master. He’s always looking for new recruits.”
She led Gina over to a glossy upright piano in one corner of the hall. “Mr Smith, this is Gina.”
The man at the piano glanced up and smiled. Balding and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, he had to be over sixty.
Gina’s stomach churned. Smith was such a common name, after all. She hadn’t thought for a moment he’d be someone she knew. It all came flooding back.
“You sound nasal,” he’d said years and years ago. “Do you have a cold?”
He was definitely the Mr Smith, her drama teacher from high school. Drama class was supposed to have filled her with confidence: actually it had left her frozen to the spot during her first improvisation.
“Are you part of this play?” he’d asked while the rest of the class giggled.
Now, in the church hall, Gina swallowed hard. He wouldn’t recognise her, would he?
“Gina.” He smiled. “What are you going to sing for us?”
Sing? She shook her head.
“No.” She stared in panic at Diane.
“Oh,” Diane said in a rush. “Gina’s just… just visiting tonight. To see what she thinks of us.”
Gina nodded quickly. “Just… just… visiting,” she stammered before she lost her voice completely.
When she reached home again, old words from weeks gone by sang through her head as loudly as anything the choir had sung earlier.
“We need triple glazing,” she remembered Simon snapping.
“What’s wrong with double?” she’d barked in return. “Have you seen our bank account lately?”
How could an argument over stupid windows finally break us apart? she wondered as she entered the lounge. Trying to finish this house was starting to feel like trying to climb Mount Everest.
The air was getting thin and neither of them could breathe any more, let alone think straight.
Simon yawned as he rollered emulsion on to the ceiling.
“Coat three,” he muttered from his ladder before slapping his mouth closed.
They’d stripped plaster from these walls together. They’d replaced the rotten floorboards elbow-to-elbow. But their planned six-month overhaul had turned into a year-long slog.
Their patience had run thin both with the renovation and with each other.
They barely dared talk about anything house-related now in case it led to Armageddon.
She bit her lip.
“It was Mr Smith in the church hall. The Mr Smith.” Had Simon even heard her over the noise of the radio? “I used to feel sick before drama class. It felt like being tortured. He made us sing once. We all stood and sang one line as he walked up and down behind us.”
The music blared, Simon blinked down at her from behind the glare of his glasses. She couldn’t see his eyes. His roller slurped its way across the ceiling.
“So don’t sing, then,” he said matter-of-factly, as if the answer was obvious. “Why upset yourself?”
She glared around the room. I hate this house! she longed to yell at him. Look what’s it’s doing to us.
Instead of saying a single thing, she went hurrying into the kitchen, with its half-finished units and its half-tiled floor.
Tears welled up as she stood there all alone.
Give up, Gina. Take his advice. It’s just not worth the pain any more.
D… d… d…” she managed at her next choir practice in the hall as the dreaded Mr Smith studied her from his seat at the piano.
He began the hymn she’d requested again.
“D… d… d,” she croaked. Her voice died.
“She has an awful cold,” Diane said in a rush.
“She has stage fright,” Mr Smith the Unmerciful pointed out.
“A fear of failure. We all fail, Miss…” His head tilted. “Miss Stevens. Gina Stevens. Yes, I remember you.” His eyes narrowed; he looked like a snake about to strike. “We last met when you were twelve.”
Gina froze. She couldn’t bear to lift her head and look into the faces of the people close by, judging her for her cowardice.
“Do you want to be part of this choir or not?” Mr Smith boomed out. “There’s nothing wrong with your voice, young lady.
“You just need some practice using it, that’s all. Use it enough and it’ll become second nature.”
His tone softened a little.
“Take a deep breath now. I want you to sing just one solid note right from your diaphragm. Laaaaa!” He sang loud enough to set the windows rattling.
There’s nothing wrong with your voice, Gina thought through the din. So use it.
An image of Simon flashed into her head, Simon, daubing paint, consumed by his work, distant and soundless.
She remembered him after their row clamming up and swallowing hard. No decision had been made about windows, that day or any day since.
No real decisions had been made about anything lately, including setting a wedding date.
“Laaaaaa!” Gina pushed the note out of her chest. She sang it loud and strong. Even Mr Smith blinked in amazement.
Before her one note had even died away, Gina had charged out of the door.
Slip-slurp, slip-slurp, slip-slurp. Even Simon’s roller dares to have a voice, Gina thought when she reached home this time.
She was a trembling, agitated mess as she stood watching Simon adding another coat of paint to the fresh plaster of the walls.
He’s painted his feelings all over this house. He’s tiled them onto the kitchen walls.
I disappear as much as I can now and make my feeling into pottery. I turn them into landscapes at art class, she finally admitted to herself.
We’ve become so good at so many new skills of late but we’re still failing at one important one. We have no idea how to argue with each other.
Now we’re crippled by fear in case we carry on doing it so badly we fall out of love with each other.
“I sang tonight, Simon,” she said to him. “I actually sang. Even though I was petrified, I still did it. I knew I’d never get anywhere if I didn’t. But… but…” she took a deep breath. “I’m still not happy with the idea of going solo.”
Her head spun alarmingly, she could barely breathe.
Sing, she told herself before she frowned. Can we beat our stage fright that way?
“Simon, will you sing to me?” she asked gently.
How vulnerable that would make you feel, she thought. We used to share everything, Simon, every breath we took. Nothing frightened us.
“Sing to me,” she said as if it were the most intimate thing she’d ever dared ask him to do. Let the sweet notes overtake the sour ones.
Simon took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes as if needing time to gather his thoughts.
Gina held her breath as he lifted his head and looked at her.
“All right then,” he said.
He picked her special hymn. Daisies Are Our Silver.
Did he remember that she’d told him why she’d loved that song? How it had made her reassess all the commonplace things around her and realise just how wonderful they truly were?
She joined in, her voice a shaky soprano, his a deep rumble. They were both awkward and tremulous to begin with but they stumbled on, discovering old harmonies between them they’d almost forgotten.
Only then did their unchained voices soar. Only then did they begin to form once more their own, very special, choir.
We’re sharing another lovely family-themed story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during March. Look out for the next one!