The Last Time
My fingers and hands sweat. I smell a wisp of powder as I move my arm to place my violin correctly. I tap the bow with my right index finger. My task is to perform and earn approval. Have I practiced enough? Learned the piece correctly? I chew the inside of my cheek and taste metal. Now is the moment.
I perch my body in the tiny office. My eyeballs set on the painted black music stand. I adjust the angle twelve times before it is set in a spot I don't abhor. Mr. G sits at his desk that takes up half the room. His bald head rests in his hand as he stares at his copy of the music. In seven years I do not recall him sitting at the desk before now. His cologne is strong and the scent of a grandpa.
Notes loom in front of me. I adjust the chin rest again even though there is a groove in my shoulder from seven years of playing. The rosin tingles my nose sweet and powdery like I imagine cocaine to be. Some attain a similar high from music I suppose. It does take you somewhere else. I think about how I applied the soap-like block to the hairs of the bow before entering. I shift my weight from one foot to the other waiting for him.
He looks up.
I have never played for only one person. In class, I hide behind the two prodigies which leaves me third chair. It is a respectable position and visible to an audience. I am certain no one is watching me.
My vulnerability drips from the notes I lift from the strings and wood. My fingers come close to my nose. My bow is straight, as he taught me in sixth grade.
The last note rings in his office. I hold the violin's neck with my left hand and the bottom of the instrument rests on my hip. My bow tip drops toward the floor on my right.
"Have you had any help?" he is still looking at the music he chose for me.
My insides fall into my feet and puddle.
"Was it that bad?"
Weeks ago, his words warned against inadequate preparation and how he would not be embarrassed at the contest performances. We are all associated with him. It is why we are required to play for him individually. The man whom I see more than my own father has been let down and I am the failure.
My fingertips are on fire in this instance and are sore from pressing the neck and strings too hard.
He shakes his head as I wait.
"I cannot believe...," he cuts himself off, "It was amazing. You are sure you haven't had any private lessons?" He looks at me now.
"Your natural ability and talent...," his voice trails off and he looks far away out the door to the main orchestra room. He knows I will not play after I graduate and he retires. I played violin because my mother had played in high school. My heart is not always present even though my talent was natural so I kept playing.
He comes back to the moment in the office. I am a senior and this is the last contest.
"There is one combination I want to help you with." He hums the few bars, points, and says, "Try it again from bar ten."
The contest takes place and I secure a first place medal. It is the last time I hold the instrument.
There are times that I hear a piece of music that I have played and my fingers move with the notes. My right arm starts to move with the motion of the bow moving along the strings. Occasionally I cry and feel the music rise up in my chest choking me. My heart pounds again and I can see the baton moving with my foot tap at the same rhythm. I only revisit the pieces intentionally in the shower. The songs play loudly and I am transported back to a time when music could sweep me away. Among the droplets of steam is the only time I enjoy this pulse.
Tammy Breitweiser is the accidental inspirationalist. She is a writer and teacher who is a conjurer of everyday magic who is always busy writing short stories. Her flash fiction has been published in Cabinets of Heed, Spelk, Five on the Fifth, Clover and White
and Elephants Never
. Her essay is in the "I Wrote it Anyway" anthology. You can connect with Tammy through Twitter @TLBREIT
or sign up for her newsletter here.