A Journal of the Arts
A piercing thud split through the orchestra’s enchanting performance. The corner of the grand piano cleaved through wooden panes, jagged lines separating varnished wood. Splinters clicked as they bounced off of immaculate white keys, either that or getting caught between the cracks. Nimble strings that had produced a grievous concerto just moments prior now cried out against their abuser, hanging vainly onto the breaking pieces of their exoskeleton.
The conductor blanched, hands suspended in air with strings of disturbance. He looked like a villainous puppet, dressed in a black tuxedo with thin white hair that resembled corn silk combed over a satiny bald spot. The orchestra stopped in cacophonous confusion, bows still on their strings as their eyes darted from the rogue soloist to the unsettled crowd.
The soloist heaved, slicked back hair falling over crazed brown eyes. His skin glittered in the harsh orange light with a thin sheen of sweat as he glared at the unmoving audience; they stared back, as if watching a lion in a zoo behind cracking glass. Observed. As he always had been.
Bred and groomed to be a prodigy up until he stepped through the doors of Juilliard, his name thrown around the ivy halls like an unpinned grenade. To them, he was a rival; he was the common enemy even the most passionate of nemeses united against. Armed with only a below-average violin and a gift he had never asked for, one he quite frankly didn’t deserve, he became the victim of orchestral terror; the grand staff had been torn off the page and ploughed through his chest like a wooden spike.
Here, in the harsh spotlight of Carnegie Hall, he turned to the appalled first chair violinist, the concertmaster, who met his gaze with unwavering provocation. He extended a slender, calloused finger; wordlessly, the concertmaster placed the violin onto his shoulder, slotting it perfectly onto the purple marks the instrument had sucked into his neck like a pestilent lover.
The concerto started once more, a single man carrying the piece to a close; the orchestra looked from the frozen conductor to the concertmaster, who played a discordant excuse of a concerto. His fingers dashed across the fingerboard with little regard for the piece itself; he pressed out each note without letting the uneven bow strokes catch up to him. It was enough to make Shostakovich roll in his grave, make him dance in all of his Saint-Säens glory; he murdered the piece, pulling note from horrid note with reckless abandon.
He played like death. It sounded like a flatline; the music had been killed, assassinated in its hospital bed, overdosed on morphine, smothered by the nurse with a pillow.
The soloist raised calloused hands, plucking in the air in an uneven rhythm. He was conducting, driving the train descending into hell off of the tracks it had laid.
He played for every scar on his hands. He played for every tear dripped onto ink-mutilated sheet music. He played for every skipped meal. He played for every dollar spent towards his own inevitable demise, only to be damned to second best. His bridge was falling, crumbling beneath his feet into the boiling water.
But he knew this wasn’t the end. It was never the end. He knew, as he played to the rogue soloist’s volatile cadence, that he and the strings scoring his hardened fingertips would never part with him. A toxic love. He was trapped; the music owned him and he was doomed to it’s bidding.
Everyone in the room was its slave.
A slave to the tempo, the once beautiful, even cadance the soloist had shot and killed like a fawn in the wrong side of the forest. A doe weeped for it, but the hunter did not; he only saw a dinner menu scrawled across the spotted fur. He dragged it by the ears through the Carnegie, allowing each eye to gaze upon it, to weep for what they had lost — something that had never been theirs to begin with.
They were two sides of the same coin, concertmaster and soloist; they both wanted to be one another. One striving for the validation he never got, and the other forced to live a dream that was never his own. The concertmaster played to become what he never was: number zero. Higher than first. He wanted to pull the wooden spike from the soloist’s heart and pierce it through his own; only he was deserving of it. Maybe then his sisters would embrace him; maybe then they would turn away from their own stifling vainglory and smile at him. Maybe they would consider loving him.
Don’t be daft. Their own wealth blinded them; piles of glittering gold reflected the sunlight tenfold, permanently leaving their own brother unseen, unacknowledged. He was well acquainted with the feeling; every one of his achievements had been disregarded since he was a child. By the time he had made it into Juilliard, both of his sisters had been well into their careers; identical twins sharing an identical fortune. One a beloved actress, the other on the executive board of a pediatric hospital she had co-founded (ironic, really, seeing as she had not an ounce of compassion in her blackened heart). He was third place in his own family, and that was without his numerous cousins and young aunts and uncles filling in the gaps.
The conductor dropped his arms. The orchestra began to whisper. The hall was erupting into noise again. They were looking away from him. Their attention was diverting. This wasn’t what he wanted. He needed it back. He needed it all back; he needed every eye on him, every heart beating in sync with his own as it had been just seconds prior. He needed their validation, no matter how superficial it may be.
His bow hit the edge of the wood. There was no string to catch it’s fall. Rosin left a juxtaposing white streak across the darkly varnished wood.
The G string curled around the scroll — an untimely ending.
The concertmaster’s hand froze; a red line appeared just above the knuckle of his thumb. It looked as though he had been whipped — god forbid he find it comforting, the only familiar thing he had felt in months. It reminded him of home.
The soloist retracted his hands. He glanced over at the conductor, who stared at him with both hands leaned on the music stand in front of him. He was an ugly man; the soloist almost felt bad for him, and judging by the golden band suffocating his purple finger, so did some poor woman. He waited for a harsh scolding accusing him of throwing his gift away.
Except now it wouldn’t be accusatory.
The concertmaster left the violin slotted between his jaw and shoulder, staring at his hand as if petrified; he did not blink, breath did not escape his lungs. Blood beaded on the surface of his skin, threatening to paint the fingerboard of his violin.
It wouldn’t be the first time, he thought with a sardonic grin.
The soloist glanced back at the stunned crowd, taking this moment to slip behind the marble and into safety, a place where hundreds of eyes weren’t looking down on him from high balconies through opera glasses, sitting in their velvet chairs and tailored suits. A place where no one around him knew who he was, what he was running from.
A deserter to the war he had started. He had injured the enemy, left him on the battlefield to rot. Left him for the sea of vultures to pick at his bones, his flesh the main course of their lavish full-course dinner.
They could have been something. The concertmaster knew that as he shrugged off his suit jacket, the pristinely ironed fabric crumpling against the marble like a crushed soda can. They could have made millions together, a perfect dichotomy. But their time was already up. The final grain of sand in their hourglass had funneled into the bottom half. There would be no words shared, no apologies, nothing to end their feud — and this is how it would remain. Star-crossed strangers.
Varnish glittered in the same harsh lights that had run a prodigy off of his stage. The concertmaster laid his violin in a bed of wooden shards, in the nest it had created.
He placed an arm across his abdomen, his hand leaving behind a red stain on his silken white shirt. He flashed his bleached teeth, folding his body 90 degrees. Scattered applause echoed through the hall.
This was his spotlight.