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Violins with reflections

Out of tune – a short story

I can’t play the violin for myself. There’s so much pressure building up like a crescendo with its thunder. With every second that goes by, it’s a second that I’m leaving the violin to sweep up the attic’s dust. Some violinists would say that they couldn’t imagine not holding their violin for more than two weeks. Their bow is their third arm and their violin is their wooden body. Sadness is what they would be feeling. But the most frightening thing is that I’m feeling nothing. So what does that say about me?

Today was supposed to be my final violin exam. I would have been tuning and re-tuning and re-tuning again. My mum would have been fussing and pushing me out of the door to the car with the violin in its case because I’m always late and leave everything to the last minute. I would have been on stage and gone through the motions of a normal exam, just with higher stakes and an even greater risk of failure. Doubt and curiosity would swim in the examiners’ eyes and their smiles would be harmless, despite the lack of warmth and sleep on their faces. But as soon as the cinched bow glides down across the silver-lining strings, I would only hope that their harmony wouldn’t break from my trembling hands, straight posture and desperate breaths catching. And that the examiners’ smiles would finally reach their eyes.

Instead of taking what I worked tirelessly for, I was laying in my room and staring at the calendar, looking at that alarming red circle surrounding the number seven with capital letters written underneath: FINAL EXAM 14:00! The clock continued to tick on to 3pm and I couldn’t help but feel like I should have been there. But how could I when I haven’t looked at the case in a year? Sometimes when I hear violin music on the TV, I’d feel the urge to turn my left hand and place my fingers on phantom strings. My wrists stiffen and my left hand isn’t relaxed enough. I don’t look at the TV in fear that I would see another successful violinist, probably a prodigy who’s a decade younger than me. 

So when my dad found an old family video of me playing Christmas songs on the violin, everything spiralled. The phantom strings shook against my collarbone as I remembered the spongey texture of my first chin rest. My right hand followed the rise and fall of the much shorter fragile bow on-screen. I heard the laughter of my aunties in the background of the video as I slipped on the wrong note. The violin was singing simple songs, but it had strained hints of harmony. I finally looked up at the TV and I just saw a little girl wearing a Santa hat that was too big for her. She was still wearing her school uniform and her hair was in thin dark brown pigtails. Her back was slightly hunched as her eyes were glued to the sheet. But after she finished playing, the girl turned towards her familiar audience and did a curtsy with a toothy smile. And I just knew that this was the little girl I let down when I couldn’t pass the last exam.
I glanced at my dad who was sitting on the edge of the sofa. His eyebrows furrowed like bushes as usual, but icicles of tears dropped from his eyes.

That’s when I knew I had to get that violin back. My violin needed to be held and played, not for the sake of the grades, but for all those people who would watch and remember that little girl with a Santa hat and violin in hand. She deserves to grow up with me and not be locked away because of a few grades and harmless smiles from examiners. So, when I dusted off my violin case, opened it and held my violin and bow, I knew that this wasn’t me forgetting or denying that I failed. I wanted to try and play for myself.

Ivy Huang

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