As I arrive at school, no one else seems to be here, so I head to music. I find a clock, which tells me it’s only eight; I guess I woke up earlier than I thought. I enter the practise room to find Abi, wearing a knitted hat that completely hides her hair, admiring the print I have come to think of as mine.
“Hi! Sorry about yesterday, I completely forgot I had to stay behind for a revision session. Are you alright?” she says. I have to take a moment; she said it all so quickly, like she’d been preparing it for hours. Maybe she has.
“How long have you bee–ʺ I try to ask, but she cuts me off before I could finish.
“Oh, about an hour now,” she says. She stands up from the table and walks up to me, her bright eyes looking up at me with energy I don’t think I’ve ever had. I see her violin resting in its case on the side.
“Um, I foun–ʺ as always, my stammer gets in the way, “–nd it upside-down on-n th-the f-floor yesterday.” Her face falls, suddenly concerned. She glances over at her violin, then back at me.
“Was it alright? Did you notice any scratches? Any marks?” she asks frantically.
“It was fine.”
“Are you sure?”
I nod quickly, she breathes out audibly and the smile returns to her face. She looks at me, biting her lip, I guess she’s expecting me to say something, but I don’t have anything to say. After a while, she remembers something and grabs the music I gave her yesterday.
“I’ve been looking at this bit here,” she points to the section where the violin’s part is very basic, “I was thinking I could improvise a little and see if I could think of something more interesting to play, what do you think?” I consider the idea, I had tried to write something more elaborate there, but it never seemed to make any sense. Maybe it would help for her to try something different, it would give her a chance to have some input as well.
“OK, sh-shall I play with–ʺ
“–Yes please,” she replies, interrupting me again. I can’t quite tell if she’s doing that to stop me from struggling or just because she gets impatient. I choose to believe the former, but I doubt if she’s already worked out which sounds I can’t say.
I nod and find my flute, assembling it as quickly as I can and loosening my fingers with a couple of scales. I hear Abi tuning by ear, not even giving herself a note on the piano as a reference. Does she have perfect pitch? If she does then she’s very lucky, it’s extremely rare. She notices me watching and apologises for taking too long, I shrug off her apology. She puts the music on the stand and counts us in.
I start to play the first phrase, but I make a mistake almost instantly and stop. Abi looks at me questioningly; evidently she didn’t hear the wrong note. I point it out to her but she still just shakes her head.
“You should have just kept going; it doesn’t matter if there a few wrong notes. Let’s try again,” she says before counting me in again.
This time I don’t mess it up; now that I’m properly focussed I am able to play each note easily, even able to vary the tempo slightly to try and add feeling. Abi’s entrance is sublime, introducing true emotion with her subtle phrasing, stressing exactly the right notes so as to not overpower my part. As we approach the section in question, she begins to play with more haste, building tension and energy, I try to follow her lead but keep finding myself behind. I concentrate on hitting each note in time with the shared beat in both our heads, letting her experiment with her own part.
I notice immediately what she’s doing, after I finish each phrase, I hear it echoed in a lower pitch. It doesn’t seem to quite fit though, so she starts playing in close harmony. She seems to dance around the melody; her bow moving faster than I knew was possible. Then she stumbles upon a new counter-melody, everything falls into place, its pensive lingering contrasts perfectly with my rhythmic, almost excited tune.
My fingers tire quickly from playing at the high speed that Abi prompted, so I have to stop playing after a couple of runs through. I apologise repeatedly to Abi, but she doesn’t seem to mind too much. I start to disassemble my flute, but I find my left hand unable to maintain grip to separate the stiff joints. I tighten my fingers, ignoring the pain but still unable to hide my difficulty. Abi looks over from where she is writing out her revised part.
“Do you want me to help?” she asks. I nod reluctantly; I don’t usually accept help from anyone, preferring to hide my struggles and battle through on my own, but I see little point in putting myself through the pain this morning. She gently takes the instrument from my hands, allowing me to relax my gloved fingers. I can’t help but notice her stolen glances as I flex each joint to try and loosen them; she tries to conceal her curiosity, but unsuccessfully. Eventually, she opens her mouth to speak.
“Um…I don’t want to sound rude or anything, but...why do you wear that glove?” she asks, uncertain and clearly trying to avoid offence. I consider the question briefly, before providing her with a simple answer.
I take off the glove, unveiling the melted flesh beneath.
“Oh God!” she exclaims as she watches me let my fingers stretch. As she becomes accustomed to the sight, she seems intrigued rather than repelled by my disfigurement. “How…I mean, I know you probably don’t want to think about it but, how did this happen?”
“I’d rath-ther n-not say.” I reply, keen to get off the subject.
“Does it hurt? I know it must have at first, but is it alright now? How do you manage to play the flute? It must be–”
“–Please, can we drop it?” I interrupt, glancing at the clock in the hope that I can use it as an excuse to leave. Her bright eyes darken, she seems disappointed with herself, as if it’s her fault I got mad. It wasn’t, I shouldn’t have shown her my hand, I knew it would bring up all these questions, I just didn’t expect to have to answer them all at once. Seeing her exuberance fall away so quickly hits me with a pang of guilt.
“Sorry, I didn–ʺ I swallow my words and try again, “Didn’t mean-n to sn-nap.”
“No, it’s fine, I shouldn’t have asked, I’m sorry,” she says in a rush before checking her watch. “Oh, look, it’s time to go, I’ll see you later V, Bye!”
My sister runs from the room, gasping from her tears, I hear the front door slam. My mother calls after her:
“Naděžda! Vrátit se!” she screams, but to no avail. Naděžda’s sobs echo through my head long after she leaves, reenergised by my own whimpers. I look longingly at the place she cowered just a moment ago, hoping that by some miracle she would return, but she never does. She never has.
With a quick wave, Abi scoops up her bag from the floor and leaves me alone, knocking the music from the stand as she goes. I watch her leave, sub-consciously nursing the leather of the glove over my scars and back into its rightful position. Damn. That did not go well. I shouldn’t have taken my glove off; I knew fully well that I would get angry. The memories it brings to my mind never fail to fill me with hatred, disgust and bitterness.
I feel my gloved hand tighten again, all my relaxation wasted in a second of frustration. I hate him. It’s his fault my parent’s marriage fell apart; it’s his fault I wasn’t allowed to stay with my mother. It’s his fault I’ll never see Naďa again. I keep running out of patience, still, after so many years, I can’t accept what he did. The tension in my hand comes not from my injury, but from my desire to hit him, to be able to take out this aggression on him rather than Ellie or whoever else happens to be standing in the way. I hate myself for that. I know aggression will never solve the issue, it will never bring my sister back to me, or me back to my mother, but I hope that maybe he’d understand how much pain he put me through. Damn. This isn’t me, these threats and wishes of pain aren’t who I am. They are attachments, tumourous growths on my heart, seizing control with their warped understanding of right and wrong. I’ve tried every cure I can find, but still they grow and I’m starting to think they’ve spread to my brain.
The bell rings, stirring me from my daydream. Damn. I’m going to be late again; I fumble with my flute case, snapping it shut and leaving it on the table. I run out of the room, catching my foot on a chair which sends me crashing into the corridor.
I manage to knock over a boy from my art class, I hear him grunt in pain as my shoulder lands on his chest. I scramble to my feet, trying not to lean on him as I do so. He rises slowly, clutching where I had made contact.
“Sorry,” I mutter quickly.
“S’alright,” he mumbles with a grimace. I try to help him up, but he shrugs me off, so I turn to head off to my first lesson. He waves a hand at me to tell me to stay. “Are you that girl who attacked Ellie?” he asks, still holding his ribs. I hesitate.
“Y-yes,” I reply eventually. He flashes a smile, accompanied with a pat on my shoulder.
“She ‘ad it comin’, I wish I’d been there to see it,” he says with a laugh. I stare at him, I hadn’t realised that someone else sees who Ellie really is, behind her façade of innocence. Although, thinking of the bruises she showed me, I feel a little sheepish thinking of her so negatively. I can begin to understand why she behaves how she does, not that it excuses her, I still hate her for what she said and I would still react in exactly the same way if she insulted me again.
He bites his lip; unnerved by my stare I didn’t realise I was still giving him. I look down, letting my unruly hair hide my face in my embarrassment. He taps me on the shoulder as he walks away, his touch strangely comforting.
“See you ‘round,” he says. I keep looking at my scuffed shoes, gathering marks, holes and damage as quickly as myself. A heavy hand lands on my shoulder, startling me, I turn to face the owner of the hand. Damn.
“Shouldn’t you be in class?” Mr Firth’s booming voice rings in my ear.