She put on the music and closed her eyes. The cello sang out to her and she pressed her fingers to her mouth. Even now, she could hear him in the other room. There were numerous recordings of his work that were at her fingertips to listen to. But none of them ever sounded right. Was it the lack of the other stimuli? Seeing him weave and rock with the music. His face contorting into raw passion and intense focus. The slight vibration that could be felt through the floor. Perhaps these were the things lacking that made his recorded music feel empty. Without him present, his music had lost its soul. Turning the music up, she began to rock with her arms wrapped about her, moving with the music. Fingers digging into her shoulders and tears spilling out, she struggled to contain her grief. But it was too much. At first, it oozed out. But then something inside her gave way and it all came in a hurtful rush. Falling to her knees, she sobbed. Clutching herself tighter and rocking quickly, no longer matching the music.
Painting him in her mind, she struggled to bring him back. The long blond hair that flew free as he set himself into frenzy. His pale blue eyes, almost lacking in color, squeezed shut. Long, thin fingers and hands worked the strings and bow. His form hunched over in an awkward embrace with his cheek against the scroll. Knees balancing the cello between them while it swayed on its endpin. The worn and faded jeans that hung loosely from his legs made quiet rasping noises as the fabric rubbed against the chair. A stained T-shirt completing his most formal attire.
He’d always declared that music was about love, not looking lovely. But he had been lovely. In every way that she could imagine, he was beautiful. Quiet voice and reserved speech made his slight form seem smaller. Without the cello, he would fade away. His grandeur only came to him when he played. Sometimes she believed that he felt he didn’t exist without it. This gave rise to jealousy even now. She could not bring him to life the way the cello had. She could not speak to his core and drive him into creative madness. He had paid his soul to that devil long before he had met her.
But this was foolishness. She wiped her hands roughly over her cheeks and used the edge of the table to pull herself up. Her legs felt wobbly, but she forced herself to walk into the kitchen. When passing the door to the dining room, she turned her head to avoid looking at it. That had been where he had played. The kitchen had been large enough for a table which left the dining room empty. He had liked playing there because the large windows let in comforting light which to read the music by. His music stand and cello still waited for him there.
Stopping, she pressed the palm of one hand on the door. It was wrong for the cello to sit there, brooding for a master that would never come. When her sister visited, she allowed her to dust it, but it otherwise went unattended. The cello should be given to a young musician who could not afford to buy their own. It is what he would have wanted. But she couldn’t part with it. Not yet. It seemed the only piece of him that remained in this house. To give it away would be the same as cutting him away forever. She was not ready.
Leaving the door and the cello that sulked behind it, she continued to the kitchen. Once there, she made herself a strong cup of coffee. Adding three heaping spoons of sugar and enough cream to turn it light blond, she sipped at it carefully even though the cream had cooled it to tepid. She looked up to the shelf that held all the little bottles that the doctors had given her. It offended her that they thought grief could be medicated away. Did they think that this gaping hole in her heart could be filled with those?
Picking up one of the bottles and shaking it, she considered it a moment before twisting open the top and shaking one out into her hand. She swallowed it with a sip of coffee. Cup in hand, she slowly climbed the stairs. Beside her bed were an ashtray and a pack of camel crush. The bad habit had come back to her on the day of his funeral. Now it didn’t want to leave. And to be completely honest, she didn’t want it to either.
She lit one and puffed on it absently. Alternating between mouthfuls of coffee and deep breaths of smoke, she settled herself into the bed. Once these vices were consumed, she crushed the butt out and clanked the mug onto the bedside table. Rolling onto her side, she reached her hand out and ran it over the place he should be sleeping. That side of the bed was cold. Closing her eyes, she wished for sleep.
The cello screamed.
Her eyes flew wide as she flipped back the covers. She sprinted out into the hall and nearly tumbled down the stairs. Once at the dining room door, she skidded to a stop and pressed both hands against it. Listening intently, she wondered if she had been dreaming. But then the cello whined and she knew she was awake. How could she go in there? It was not her fault that it was left alone all these months. She had done everything to keep him here with them both. Why did it hate her?
A single string plucked in a rhythm that suggested it to be knocking on the door. Either it wanted out or wanted her to come in. Either option seemed dangerous. Once out, she could not control it. And if she went in it would be its domain and she at its mercy. Would it spare her as she had spared it? Perhaps that had become the source of its rage. Maybe it had longed to die with its master and she had denied it this.
His mother had wanted the cello buried with him, “so he could play it in heaven.” What a crock of bull shit. Putting it in the dirt would only offer it a slow decay. He would not have wanted the cello to suffer that kind of demise. She now wished (like she had a hundred other times) that she had asked him what he wanted her to do with it. But she had been in denial right up until he had taken his last breath. Because of that, she had been completely unprepared for his family as they swooped in. She had no say in his funeral plans. But he had left her all he owned so she had been able to save the cello.
“What do you want from me?” she whispered to it.
There was no answer. It never answered her. When she slept, it wailed out its agony. But when she came to it, she was greeted with this painful silence. Maybe it was time for her to go inside. With her hand wrapped around the door knob, she took slow deep breaths. The cello thrummed like a purring cat. The door swung open silently and revealed the cello sitting on its stand in the middle of the room where he had left it. Her sister had been caring for it. The wood gleamed and the strings glimmered. It was beautiful.
Crossing the room and standing before it, she sighed. They had never really been friends. Like two women in love with the same man, they had always resented what he had afforded the other. She ran her fingers along the edge of its full curve. She knew the truth. She had always known the truth.
“You were his first love,” she murmured to it. “And his greatest.”
She knelt down in front of it so that she was eye level with its bridge. It felt like looking at a woman’s breasts.
“He had been unable to love me the way that he loved you.”
The cello made an odd forlorn sound as she ran her fingers over its strings. It had shared her grief all those months. Mourning was such a hard thing to do. No one had any answers. All humans are mortal and eventually die, leaving behind loved ones to suffer the absence. With all the centuries of death stretching back throughout human history, you would think there would be a handbook for this. But no, there was no magical equation to give the answers to his death.
Then everything became clear. The faint light cast from the lamp post beside the walk way shone with frail fingers through the window. But now the light seemed brilliant. With its glow, she could see the cello in all the glory it had ever known. Rising to her feet, she walked around it to the chair was squatted behind it. She sat and brought the cello between her legs. It felt so familiar there, like the touch of a lover. She blushed at the strange thoughts that rushed in behind that single observation.
She could feel him standing behind her and reaching around to take her hands. His right hand gripped hers hard so that it clung tightly to the bow. On the left hand, his fingers pressed down so that hers were forced firmly against the strings. She jerked her arm and the bow moved in a spasm over the strings. The cello offered a quiet petulant cry in protest of her ignorance. She smiled, trying to imagine the first time that he had drawn the bow across these strings. Had it given a similar protest?
But she knew nothing of the cello’s history. Was it his first? Or had he learned his art on another one before bringing this one into his life? Perhaps his hands had already known the art before it had graced this fine work. Maybe the cello’s indigence came from having never before known the hand of the novice.
Now she knew she need not fear, hate nor avoid this beautiful creature. Its heart shared something close to the suffering that her own knew. From it, she could feel him drawing out and stepping back into the room so that he could look at them together. It was a sight that his living eyes had never beheld. Was this sacrilege? No. She could see the smile that was creeping across his face. It must be wonderful to see the two women in his life finally coming together with some sort of fragile peace between them. But this was an image only in her mind.
Drawing the bow slowly and firmly, she brought out a hesitant and shy sound. It felt skittish, as though it wished it could run from her. But it was held there firmly by the nature of its being and she was glad of it. Pressing her cheek against the scroll she could feel the way that his hand had once pressed against her cheek. And she could see the way that his cheek had pressed against the cello the way she did now.
Looking up, she watched as the weak light and the dim shadows coalesce into something substantial. Awake, not dreaming or imagining, she saw him come into being. Looking as frail and sick as the day that he had drawn his last breath, he stood on unsteady legs. He wore only the light which hung from him in strips of brittle gauze. She drew the bow again and his pale eyes opened to look at her. He stared at her, silent and gaunt.
“Why did you have to leave us?” she asked.
His mouth opened, but he remained silent. Feeling her hands compelled, she moved them as beckoned and the cello sang; rising up as a shared voice for all three who had been silent far too long. Triumphant and gallant, the music poured out of them and filled the house that had been so hollow. Tears fell onto the scroll and ran down the smooth wood. The cello drank them and their song became full of their shared sorrow.
It didn’t matter that the music she played was horrid. No instructor would have praised her pathetic efforts. But the cello did. It called to her to continue to sing with it. And he clapped when they finally fell into silence. This was what she had been looking for. All the emptiness that had filled the long months had been here crouched forlornly in her dining room.
Then he was gone; just another trick of the shadows and light which was banished by the rising of the sun. That vision had been woven of imagination and memory, bound together by longing. But she didn’t need his vision any longer. She had his voice.