"That's fine, Michael. You can't expect to learn it in a week." Ethan smiled gently at the young man who sat opposite from him in the tiny study that doubled as the teacher's lesson room. Mike hardly needed violin lessons anymore; he only needed practice, but Ethan was glad for the company. He'd only just moved to Brooklyn, near one of the arts districts outside of Manhattan.
He'd left the few friends he had behind, and after Mike left the apartment Ethan sighed and slumped in his chair. The loneliness was affecting him again. He knew he'd have no visitors for another week, at least. I need some cheering up , he thought. He stood up and walked into the main room and opened a cabinet of videotapes.
He lay the tapes out on his couch. Each one was labeled in library code and he mulled over them for a bit. Ethan made his choice. The others went back into the cabinet and the pièce du jour slid into the VCR and started to display its precious contents on the TV screen.
Ethan simply watched for a minute, smiled, and traced the path of the ballerina as she moved across the screen. It was an instructional dance video, one of many he'd gotten from an old friend at the university. The camera work was amazing. Crisp, clear shots of the girl, her perfectly fitting training outfit, and her feet--beautiful, with a recent pedicure not yet chipped or dirtied, and light pink toenails which glowed from the white mat on which she stood. He loved the tapes, and not just because they satisfied his need for stimulation. They were art . Looking over the street from his apartment, Ethan could see people casting wary or hopeful glances at each other as they passed, lecherous beggars or drug addicts pressed together talking about some girl on the corner, or the men who checked left and right before exiting the doors of the Christian Sex Shop with their arms wrapped around unlabeled white plastic bags. Ethan took satisfaction in knowing he had sophistication and dignity, and lent those to his fascination.
Breaking his gaze at the television, he picked up his violin. He fixed his eyes on the dancer and began to play. From watching the video time after time, he knew her every motion. He matched each note to her. It was a piece with purpose, a dance, something delicate and hopeful and gorgeous like her.
A new student was to arrive Tuesday, three o'clock sharp. She arrived ten minutes late and he invited her up to the apartment. He didn't know quite what to expect; he didn't even recall how she'd gotten his number and made an appointment.
The woman at the door was a wild-eyed bohemian with dirty blonde hair that curled around her tanned face and dark brown eyes. A rope macramé overlayed her white linen skirt and her sleeveless pink shirt matched the color of her lips. Her beaded sandals flapped against the floor as she stepped aside, then she cast them off.
"Yes. And you are?" he asked. He put his hands in his pockets and smiled. Something about her filled him with such contentness that he had to smile.
"Laurel Kemp." She set the violin case she carried on the ground and shook Ethan's hand.
"Well, Laurel, nice to meet you. Come this way; the acoustics in the study are much better than here and it's where I conduct lessons." He led the way to the other room and listened to her soft footsteps following him, as if to prove to himself that she existed. They sat down, facing each other. "Do you have anything you'd like to play, just to start? I need to find out what kind of level you're at in your studies."
"Certainly." She shook her head to get her hair out of her eyes, and lifted her violin under her raised chin. "Beethoven." A majestic sweep of her arm, her wrist bent, her long fingers delicately holding the bow, and she began to play. The melody of one of the more obscure violin works filled the small room and Ethan leaned forward in his chair. Normally he'd close his eyes when faced with something so beautiful, but as with the girls in the dance videos, this experience of beauty needed to be seen as well as heard.
The two grew very close over a period of several weeks. She invited him to parties and poetry readings; he, in turn, frequently invited her to fancy restaurants or up to his apartment. Usually they'd play for a bit, she reclining on the couch playing something on the violin as he massaged her smooth feet and perfect toes; on days when he was weary he'd simply sing along to the melody she played.
Ethan even dreamed about her sometimes, although he never quite did see her. He knew the curve of the arch of her feet, he knew the tone of her skin, he knew the sound a violin made when she moved the bow across the strings and the way it felt when she turned that same gentle touch on him. But for all the times he tried, he couldn't see her face. He knew what color hair she had, what color eyes she had, but if she had changed those he doubted he could find her in a crowd.
One day she came to his apartment and said nothing when he greeted her. Leading Ethan around tables and chairs, Laurel eventually reached the study and, with her eyes, asked him to sit facing her as they had the first time they'd met.
She took out the violin and played. Her eyes remained closed throughout the song. With every note, the instrument mourned. After a few minutes she ended the piece with a clear C#-- uncertainty , Ethan thought.
"I've never heard you play anything like it," he said quietly when she had finished and was returning the violin to its case. "What was that?"
"Something I wrote," she answered.
"What are you telling me?" he asked, leaning close. He'd long considered violin to be the closest instrument to the human voice and he knew that it spoke volumes when the voice could not. He knew what he'd heard in those notes, but he had to make sure.
"Only that I can't stay," Laurel replied, and she closed the gold clips on the violin case.
"Ah. I see." Ethan remained sitting. In truth he was too stunned to stand, to kiss her, or to do anything but watch her go.
"I'll miss you." Laurel unlocked the door and stepped out into the hallway, then closed the door behind her.
Knowing that he was helpless to stop her, Ethan got up and locked the door. The click of the deadbolt satisfied him somewhat. It did, however, absolutely nothing to stop the rush of emotions overwhelming him.
He did the only thing he could. He went to the couch and picked up his old friend, the violin.
The videos were useless. He hadn't touched them in months and he knew that watching them would only intensify the pain and loneliness. Instead he looked to the wall and raised his chin in defiance. Ethan placed the bottom of the instrument under his chin and began to play. He played a ricercare for violin, shifting from note to note; he asked questions and mulled on the future in the major keys and demanded answers to his bitterness in the minors. And, like a proper ricercare, it reached no grand finale. Ethan let the final tones resound after he lifted the bow. Their search yielding nothing, the notes faded into silence.