Breathing was difficult here. It was dark, musty, damp, and even a little mouldy. Tin roof shook in the wind, the punishing sun having long receded- leaving no trace of the trademark Australian heat. Wood; rotten, cracking and splintered- was laying everywhere- threatening to trip me at every shuffle. No moon shone in here, and there was only a hint of light from an old stuttering light bulb. But nothing broke the icy stare of my parents as they waited for me to play for them. My fingers trembled against the violin pressed to my chin- from excitement or fear, I had no idea. Yet- as another moment passed, and their relentless assault had yet to pause, I raised the bow to the strings. I played a quick warm up- waltzing matilda- and then let my shaking fingers stretch. They’d never appreciated the beauty of the violin. I flipped to a new page, the rusty metal sheet-holder groaning in complaint. The piano was the classical instrument of choice- it was what ‘all gifted children’ learnt. My parents would never listen to me. Not even if I’d listened to their incessant pestering and quit the Australian tournament.
“The piece is Tzigane, by Maurice Ravel”
The introduction was met by silence, and I felt a smirk creep up and across my face as my parent’s crossed arms didn’t shift. They would accept me, eventually. I began the piece promptly, my eyes remaining focused on the chairs behind their stiff heads. Fingers flying in perfect 4/4 time, blue and brown eyes stared somewhere behind me, as if they were embarrassed to look at me- embarrassed to see their son play the violin. Like blood made a difference in the country where neighbours were family.
Flashes of daisies, green, red, blue and yellow coloured the insides of my eyelids. A boy forced to learn with kids four years older because he was ‘smart enough’. Memories of a sweltering sun, pounding on a tin roof above the boy danced before me. A time forgotten, left alone to sweat in that shed, for hours, and hours. And what it feels like to think about ‘what you did’ for days upon days. Nursing welts and bruises until they healed, feigning accidents to friends and practising the piano to his parent’s content.
And then the music! The trill! A grin burst across my face as my fingers flew, the bow sliding, arching, hissing and twirling. It was alive! I was alive! My parent’s faces seemed to shift, almost undiscernibly, and my eyes narrowed. They were listening. I felt the tempo slow down slightly, and my heart pumped me on, playing a slight bit faster than time. Bad, bad, bad- bad. I managed to match time easily again, but the faces of my parents seemed to harden. My teeth ground together. My movements became harsher, each note precise and each dynamic followed to a point.
Snap, tick, tock, snap, tick, tock. The beat of a steady metronome, engraved in my mind. Fingers trailing the length of the piano- child’s hands stretching further than they should. Playing faster and faster. No escape from the classic torture. Always achieving, level after level, awarded certificate after certificate. Up and up he progresses, never peaking and always awaiting his fall. Next is a bow, stretched taught and hunting freedom. Across the wire it flies, singing muted noise in the night.
I growled harshly, the song speeding up again and taking my movements with it. I was not in control. The music was in control. Each beat, each tone, each quiver of a string took me further and further into my trance. Again, and again, I trilled, spun, shook and sped up. Over and over, the song repeated in variations, moving my fingers, making me glow.
The disapproving screams of parents. The bite of pain clenched my stomach, hunger and loneliness twisting my gut into a tangled knot as I wait out my time in the heat of an Australian afternoon. The stern yells of an angry mother, pounding my back with the bow of a violin too big for me. Cries of anguish on my half, watching my precious instrument in the hands of my father- too big, too rough- leaving scrapes down the polished wood as he watches me. Threats constantly pushing me onwards, to progress, improve, break down, cry, and die inside- to hate those faces, stretched too far into smiles of contempt and smugness. Pride- not of whom I am, but of whom they whipped me into.
My fingers faltered as I stumbled on the uneven ground… My bow hit an open note, my jaw clenched as I fell… Pain spread through my wrist and fingers as I caught myself awkwardly- the cramped position or hours of practise earlier adding to the tightening of the muscles. Hissing, I stood up and continued my song, forcing my way through the pain, my fingers catching on the strings, first sluggish, then unmoving.
Memories of red, pain, blood and tears streamed through me. My father’s hand as it grabbed below my wrist, twisting until the bone splintered, and I gave into the pain- letting my violin drop. The lies, the façade, and the pain of being told I could never play again. The threat of imprisonment, betrayal by my own body- in a free country- a country of sun, and barbeques, mateship and loyalty.
My arm was re-broken, after all the years I’d spent trying to regain use subsequently to it being crushed. All the years I’d spent with well-meaning psych teams and tried to regain some sense of childhood… I could have foamed at the mouth.
Mother’s head lolled to the side, now looking toward the roof- and pure rage spread through my limbs. What happened to having supportive parents? Look back. My unrelenting fingers bent to my will, each twitch like a new stab of hell. Look back. The song was close to the end, and I felt tears brimming as my arm burned. Look back. I hit the final row of music, finished pages scattered on the ground around me. Look at me! I finished the last bar, fingers imprecise on the chording, yet correct…
And she had not looked back.
Wood hit wood. My bow clattered to the ground. There was no applause. There never had been, and there never would. I stood forward, bowing. And I was met by silence. Placing my violin down, I took another step- eyes glued to my mother’s slouched form. Before any words left my mouth, father’s cold stare cut through me, holding my remarks back.
Still, the silence unnerved me. My shoes caught, and I tumbled from the stage, toward my parents. Catching myself with my opposite foot, the ground shook, and my father’s head lolled slightly back as his body fell to the side, almost a mirror image of my mother.
But instead of tears falling, laughter bubbled from my mouth.
I didn’t need their approval any more. I didn’t need it at all. For the years I’d been away, the shed had remained all the same, broken wood, hot tin and that same, dreadful corner, unlit by the flickering light. That corner- the same one that my parents’ stiffening corpses lay in.
My voice was a whisper, masking the insane edge that had crept in over the time of my arm’s rehabilitation.
And their encouraging smiles were wide- crimson across their necks.
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