“Are you up there? Can you come down and clean up your clothes, please?”
A disgruntled pre-teen in pajamas hobbled down the stairs and clumsily gathered up the mound of shirts by the fireplace.
“It’s three o’clock! Why haven’t you dressed yet?”
With a mumble, she walked back up the stairs dripping with laundry and disappeared.
Her mother gave a big sigh and continued writing the week’s lesson in the back of the violin book. “And brush your teeth!”
I laughed quietly, my instrument wedged beneath my arm like a banjo.
“Okay, would you like to play the solo you’ve been working on?”
I lifted my violin to my chin and planted the bow on the metal strings while the mother sat on the couch and leaned her elbows on her knees, passing her hand through her hair. The wooden bow bent slightly as it took in my arm weight and drew across the strings. A crunching sound emitted and my left hand played entirely the wrong note.
“Oh, uh, sorry, I’ll…”
“Yep, start over.”
The music began again. I kept one eye on the notes in front of me and the other on my teacher, while the violin was being played somewhere in between the two. If I planted a finger a tiny bit out of place, her head tilted to one side. If I played something especially well, she looked up and watched intently. She never interrupted.
“Good,” she said once I had finished, picking up her own instrument from the thick cushion next to her. “Now, let’s play together, starting right here where the sixteenth-notes…have you showered yet?”
Another daughter, slightly younger than myself, emerged from the hallway—”No”—and ascended up the staircase.
A sigh. “My mother is picking them up in fifteen minutes, and they’re not even awake!”
The front door opened and closed, and heavy footsteps thumped into the basement.
“Oh good, that’s my friend coming to see what’s wrong with the furnace. I’d like to stop using the space heaters down there by the piano. But it’s always so cold, even up here! This house is just so cold.”
I looked around me. The useless fireplace with large, drooping candles inside, the walls covered in heavily-framed photographs and clocks, the high ceiling with the wiry chandelier dangling over the dining table across the room. Each light bulb on the chandelier was a different color, brand, or pattern. I ventured to say, “I like it, though.”
“It looks nice,” she replied, “but it just doesn’t function.” Her head moved about too, looking around at what she had hung, made messy, cleaned, decorated, and ultimately established with her daughters. “I need to move.”
Out the window, I watched her mother arrive and walk toward the door. She hesitated halfway, looked at the ground, and bent down to pull weeds from the garden.
“There’s my mother. Oh, those ferns are just so big. Did you notice the tree stump? My dad cut it down and piled the wood behind the house. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I loved that tree, but it was badly infected or something. I didn’t want it to make my whole yard sick.”
She sat on the couch once again, leaned her elbows on her knees, and passed her hand through her hair. The treasure, her violin, rested quietly and modestly on the pillow by her side. Waiting, calmly and patiently, to be played. “I just want health insurance, you know? And a day off.”
She laughed at herself. Such dreams. “Well,” she stood from her seat elegantly and swept her violin to her shoulder with a flourish, “Bach doesn’t care.” I could almost see the instrument smiling, tipping its hat and saying, yes indeed, I accept this dance. “Let’s start again.”