A Wednesday Duet
The gate stood before me, an ominous structure of blackened metal wrapped in vines. I looked behind me to see nothing but a dark, forest grove and a dirt road on which my station wagon, in desperate need of a paint job, stood parked. I shifted the silver case that was behind my back and pressed the gate bell. From somewhere, a buzzer answered, and the black gates swung silently aside to reveal a marble mansion standing at the far end of an evenly cut field. In front of the mansion shone a collection of black cars with footmen at the sides of each door like wax figures standing at attention.
The case’s strap slid off my shoulder and, shrugging it back into position, I began to make my way towards the mansion on the dirt road. Before I walked up the stairs to the front door, I glanced up at the clouded skies and remembered the weatherman’s predictions earlier this morning.
“It’s about to rain,” I said to the closest footman.
The man didn’t respond, and I was about to get a closer look to see if he was truly made of wax before the front door clicked open, and a woman in an ornate gray dress stood looking down at me from the top of the stairs. I hastily pulled out the folded scrap of paper from within my coat pocket and double checked the address.
“Uh, hi. I’m here to—”
“Yes, I know why you’re here,” the woman snapped. I hadn’t expected any less of a greeting from the mother of Sophie, whose daughter had sent me their address. She left the door open and waited with a slight frown on her powdered face while I climbed the stairs into the mansion’s tiled hall.
“Is little Sophie on her way?” I asked. “We should be starting soon.”
“She’ll be along,” she replied curtly. “She should be finishing her studies about now.”
She closed the door just as I heard the first raindrops begin to patter outside. Those poor wax footmen, I thought as I placed my hard case and dusty coat on the floor in front of an end table sporting a pretty vase of lilies on its glass surface.
I flipped open one of the lock straps to my silver case and admired the interior of the hall. So many rooms, and all very white.
“Oh, this won’t do,” the woman exclaimed, gray dress gliding across the floor towards me. “Not in the foyer, follow me.”
She swooped down to pick up my belongings and strode off to the far end of the room. Then she disappeared behind a door. I promptly followed her to see where she was taking my things. I knew better than to let someone run off with anything that belonged to me, even if I was a guest in their home.
“The foyer, was it? I think we would have been fine in there,” I said as I caught up with her, but the powdered-faced woman must not have heard me, because she kept walking down each hall, past each white room in the mansion. I kept thinking to myself how these rooms looked just like the snug lounge of the cake shop in town. I took a deep breath. Smelled like it, too.
Before I left the hallway into the room that Sophie’s mother seemed satisfied with, an arrangement of small photographs that lined the wall of the hall caught my attention. Each frame held a photo of a very young girl, whom I recognized to be Sophie, and her mother, who was more attractive when the pictures were taken. The father was nowhere to be seen.
“Now, this space is perfect, don’t you think?” she said with pride. She dropped both my case and coat onto a leather couch and sat down next to them with a wide smile. I returned her smile with a wary nod and surveyed the room. It was certainly emptier than the other rooms we visited, with only the couch, a table, and a lamp keeping us company. Then I looked through one of the large, empty door frames and saw the vase of lilies near the front door.
“Isn’t that the room we were just in?”
“Hm? Oh, I had to get something from the gallery. I hope you don’t mind the little detour,” she said with another smile that looked almost plastic. I was about to say that I could have carried my things to this room by myself, but I knew it was below her interest.
“How are you getting along with Sophie?” I asked. Seeing as how the only couch in the room was occupied by Sophie’s mother, I chose to sit down on the carpet. Although the fabric of the carpet was quite scratchy, it was better than seeing the powdered crease lines formed by her strange smile.
“Without you?” she answered. “Peaceful.”
“Was that all you wanted? Some peace?”
Sophie’s mother glared at me from the couch. “Some peace away from the man who did nothing more than teach my daughter a poor street performer’s trade!”
I ignored her last comment. It was Sophie who had approached me and suggested I teach her a ‘poor street performer’s trade.’ My business then was only to provide the lessons which her mother had insisted be paid for with Sophie’s allowance.
“So, this is what you did with the money then?” I said, gesturing around myself at the mansion. “Bought yourself a fancy house and all the accessories to go with it.”
“Why not?” she said with a smirk. “My father wouldn’t have wanted his wealth to idle about.”
Sophie’s mother then glanced down at my silver case and placed her pale fingers on its surface. “Whatever became of the man you spoke of who promised you a seat in his ensemble? Were you…selected?”
“Of course you weren’t,” she sneered as I heard her nails scrape against the case’s lid. That’s what the case is for, I thought to calm myself. To protect what mattered inside.
As I thought this, the sound of footsteps came rushing down a flight of stairs and in entered a little girl in a lovely yellow dress with chestnut curls and a smile bigger than her mother’s.
“Ross!” she squealed. “You made it!”
“Now, what did I say about calling me by my first name?” I said, grinning. “We’re a bit low on time, so why don’t we get started?”
“All right! I’ll go bring my stuff!” Sophie exclaimed happily. She disappeared through a door, only to reappear again with a silver case of her own. I looked at her mother, who still sat on the couch with that plastic smile of hers. I took my case and opened it on the floor, revealing a violin and a bow resting comfortably in their velvet beds. I pulled a music book from within the case’s interior pocket and began flipping through the pages.
“Why don’t we begin with—”
“I don’t remember you having such a nice violin,” interrupted Sophie’s mother, who was staring down at the wooden instrument on my lap. I held back the urge to scream at her, to say that I just wanted to teach Sophie some music.
“It’s new,” I replied, trying hard to mask my annoyance. “I got it after the first one…broke.”
After I mentioned this, the rain began to fall even harder. The room grew dimmer as the clouds outside began to pack together. Sophie stood up with her violin in her hands and flicked the room lamp on.
“Mom—” said Sophie, with a disapproving look on her face. “Please.”
“I’m sorry, precious face,” said Sophie’s mother apologetically to Sophie as she leaned back against the couch. The rain peppered the frosted glass window behind her, and the lamp’s glow made her body appear as though it were sinking into the thick layers of an oil painting.
“Go on with your little music lesson.”
Sophie’s mother stood up and left the room as soon as my bow struck the violin’s strings. I slowly drew out the note on my strings and watched her until she had disappeared down the hallway. Once she was out of sight, Sophie and I sighed with relief. I laid my violin onto the couch and rested its case across my lap.
“Here,” I said, opening a small compartment from within the velvet case. I pulled out a small plastic package that held an equally small puff pastry inside and handed it to Sophie.
“The plastic might smell like resin, but I know how much you like this stuff. It’s from that cake store we used to visit after lessons.”
Sophie excitedly took the package and hid it inside her own violin case before reaching out to hug me tightly.
“You’re the best,” said Sophie as she squeezed me even tighter.
“C’mon now, your mom’s not gonna be happy to hear us not playing some music,” I said.
“Mom didn’t think you’d come,” Sophie said as she stepped back to raise her violin up to her neck to tune.
“Oh?” I asked, unsurprised. I held up my own violin to my neck to tune together with Sophie.
“I told her I sent you a letter with our address written on it after we moved here from our old house. She wasn’t very happy when I said I was going to take violin lessons with you again.”
“Well, she let me in the house, didn’t she?” I said with a laugh, but stopped abruptly in thought as my own words echoed in my head.
“I think she wanted to show off our home. It’s been a while since anyone’s visited after we moved. Did she give you a tour around the house yet?”
I nodded, but I chose to refrain from telling Sophie that her mother most likely did it with an ulterior motive in mind, but it was true that the house didn’t seem to have had any guests over for some time.
Several years had passed since I had seen Sophie and her mother in their previous home; when I still gave Sophie violin lessons on Wednesdays. Back then, her mother was less rude, and I remember plenty of friends who visited her. Our friends.
“Do you still teach the Jones’ twins how to play the piano?” Sophie asked as she twisted the peg on her violin.
“Every Saturday. Their parents offered to have me over for dinner last week. You’d have liked what Mrs. Jones was cooking. I could never bake lamb like that at home.”
Sophie was quiet for a moment. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to imagine the meal or the Jones’ twins finally learning piano.
“Do you still live alone?” she asked finally.
“Never alone,” I replied, and tapped the hard, plastic cover on the violin case. “I’ll always have a few sheets of music to remember our lessons together.”
We both giggled like children. After settling down a bit, we took up our bows and took a deep breath before filling the mansion’s lungs with rapturous melodies.
An hour of practice, an hour of music theory, and the lessons were over. It had been so long before I felt like I was at home again and it was already time to leave. I saw Sophie putting away her instrument with a troubled look on her face.
“What’s wrong, Sophie?” I said as I locked the straps to my case.
“When will you be back?” she asked.
“Every Wednesday,” I answered. “As long as your mother doesn’t decide to move houses without telling your violin instructor again.”
Sophie’s hands gripped the handle of her violin case with apprehension at the approaching sound of clattering heels striking the tiled floor. I sensed her anxiety and knelt beside her.
“She can’t take away what you love, Sophie,” I said to her. “The music we played is proof of that.”
“But what if she br—”
Sophie hushed as her mother appeared beneath the door frame, arms folded and fingers tapping. I stood up with my coat in hand.
“Don’t you worry,” I said as I held up my case. “I’ll see you in a week, Sophie. Remember to study those sheets I gave you.”
Sophie nodded and hurried out of the room while her mother waited for her to leave.
“It’s cold out,” she said. “Let me hold your violin for you while you put your coat on.”
As I stared at her waiting hand, hesitation gripped me. I cautiously handed her the case and watched her walk towards the front door as if in a hurry to see me out of her house.
“You know, I never imagined I’d be inside such a nice home when I got that letter,” I said to Sophie’s mother as I threw on my coat and waved goodbye to Sophie as she looked back from the stairs in the foyer. Sophie’s mother didn’t bother to reply as she continued to walk up to the front door. I kept a careful eye on my violin case which was held tightly in her hand while she opened the front door to an onslaught of pouring rain. Outside, the wax footmen were now outfitted with raincoats and large umbrellas.
“Didn’t think it’d be raining this much,” I said and laughed half-heartedly. “I don’t suppose you have a spare umbrella I can borrow?”
I already knew the answer to my question and buttoned up my coat as tightly as I could. Then, I glanced up at Sophie’s mother who was smiling at me yet again, but it felt less forced than before, as if the rain had tempered it into a cruel, familiar mold. Her face hadn’t changed from the moment I first saw it. Part of my mind was glad I was leaving her house and the empty rooms that echoed nothing but the sound of falling rain. But those feelings melted away when from upstairs came the striking voice of a violin that cut through the rain and cold like a warm embrace. Even the footmen underneath their enormous umbrellas smiled when the music swelled in the air.
“How much did this violin cost you, Ross?” Sophie’s mother asked as she held my silver case up towards me in one hand while she held the front door open with the other. When she mentioned my name, I looked at her, hoping to see some sign to prove that I had been wrong about her.
But I only saw pain in them, a spiteful loathing that remained oblivious to the music that rang throughout the halls. Before I answered her, I took my violin case into my hands.
“Enough to see my daughter on Wednesdays.”
Writer: Tim Pak plans to become a full-time writer. He is currently attending Fullerton College as an English major and is working alongside other creative writing students in LiveWire. Tim is also working on a series of young adult fantasy novels that he is still in the process of developing. This is his first published short story.
Artist: Erika Flores is an art student at Fullerton College studying Ceramics, Jewelry, Sculpture and Art History. She has never shied away from working with different media and learning everything she can from the art world. Her work focuses on naturalistically depicting the human figure and animals. She draws inspiration from Art Nouveau, fantasy and the world around her.