It was odd seeing his fingers lie so still. All Julia had seen those fingers do was poise their elegant selves on the strings. A voice inside her head had her convinced that if she placed his violin on those hands, his pale fingers would come alive. One look at the casket, however, had her mind reeling. He wasn’t going to play for her anymore.
It was a plain casket, inky-black, just like his violin case. She looked at his calm face and the wrinkles around his eyes, coloured in dark circles. He was clad in his wedding suit. Julia wondered if it was on purpose; the casket and his dead body paid homage to his violin and her mother. She felt sick. She had known for a while. She had tried to help too. But you can only read one’s mind so much.
“Do you see, Julia?” Mark had his violin tucked under his chin, his fingers in position on the strings. He wiggled his ring finger. “The third finger never moves. It stays right where it’s supposed to be on the A-string.” Julia nodded along but her focus kept shifting to the wedding ring her dad insisted on wearing. He picked up the bow again and his arm moved up and down as he grazed the bow on the violin strings. His fingers on the fingerboard changed positions in tandem with the tune.
Julia swayed with the sombre melody, concentrating hard on how his fingers moved from one string to another as quick as his bow did. He was one with the music. Those few moments when he would play, she believed, were the moments they bonded the strongest.
“Why do you press your little finger on the E-string? It’s an open string on the melody. You don’t need to do that.” Julia chuckled as Mark set his bow down.
“If you trust your body enough, you can make it do whatever you want, Julia.” His eyes beamed at her in a way his lips couldn’t. “Your little finger is weak and people don’t prefer playing the violin with it but I believe that you should. Trust yourself with your violin. Always let your fingers move comfortably on it. Only then will it obey you. If you will, you can do anything. Always remember that, honey. Always trust yourself.”
Standing in front of his casket, she remembered how ruefully he had looked at her that day. How his face didn’t have the same colour and he looked like he had lost weight. Where did it go wrong? When did she convince herself that he was okay? That he didn’t need her help? Her eyes pricked and tears fought their way down her cheeks. She wished she could have read his mind as easily as she could read his music.
She took his hand in his and winced at the coldness. She turned it around and looked at the bruised wrists. The haphazard cuts on them reminded her of the time when she had stumbled upon him playing his violin in a frenzy. His arms moved swiftly and the bow scratched on the strings. He had looked so broken and she wished she was mature enough to understand why. Her face contorted and she sobbed quietly. Her own fingers itched and she folded them into fists. “I wish you’d have told me, papa. I wish we could have talked about other things, not just music.” She stuttered and wiped her tears roughly. Her eyes moved back and forth from his face to his hands and her feet wouldn’t move. She caressed his cold cheeks and kissed his forehead. Another moment of silence and then she left.
An ebony case, not much longer than her arm, sat on the kitchen table when Julia came back from choir practice. A small note stuck to the neck of the case said ‘Do not open’. It was her fifteenth birthday and Julia was hoping for a makeup set, at most, but the thing in front of her looked far from it. It looked much better.
“Oh, so you found your present.” Mark appeared in the kitchen, a soft smile playing at his lips. Julia beamed at her father. “Is that what I think it is, dad?” She chirped, unable to control her excitement anymore.
Mark tapped a finger on his chin dramatically. “Is it? I guess we’ll just have to find out!” He clapped his hands together and Julia giggled. Her hands reached out to the case to open it but Mark stopped her.
“Julia!” He came to stand beside her. “It’s not just a violin, sweetheart. It’s your violin.” He emphasised pointing at her and continued. “It’s not just an instrument. It’s your best friend. Your most loyal companion. Your confidant. An extension of yourself! Worship it. The first time you open this case is the only time you’ll see it dismantled. You’re going to put it together, Julia. You’ll give it a life. So, don’t just grab at it. Take your time to remember this moment, capture it into your mind and then open it.”
Julia’s eyes widened as she heard the passionate speech. She marvelled at the beautiful case, its length and curves. She felt the soft and sleek wood on her skin. She closed her eyes and tried to picture it in her mind. When the exact image popped up, her smile grew wider and she opened the case with delicate hands. The body of the violin sat snug covered in lustrous varnish inside. The bow was taped on the underside of the case cover with the bridge and chin-rest on its side. Julia jumped in delight and hugged her father delightfully. “Best present ever!” Her muffled voice on his stomach made him grin. He hugged her back.
The memory played like a track on loop in her mind and his voice kept ringing in her ears. She tried to tune it out and concentrate on the priest’s words instead but her eyes stayed glued to the casket hovering over the grave. She couldn’t resist the nauseous feeling.
“Amen.” The priest said and Julia bowed to it. With her permission, they eased her father’s casket in the grave. Her head wouldn’t stop spinning and she clutched at her arms to prevent her from toppling over. The casket disappeared into the ground just like Mark would lay down his own violin case in a chest in their basement. Julia's eyebrows furrowed in protest but the image kept swimming in front of her. Before she knew it, her body was shaking. Someone patted her shoulder and she guessed it was her aunt but at that moment she saw nothing but her dad’s grave and a film-reel full of agonising memories.
People started scattering away and she heard a few condolences for her but her feet felt weak and slippery on the damp grass and her lips could only quiver. Soon she was the only one left. She was alone and it hit her then. Her dad was gone. Her mother was never there. She felt like something was splitting her head from the inside and she felt like retching. She turned and ran to a nearby tree. She leaned on the bark and shut her eyes close. Bile threatened to claw up her throat. She sank to her knees and bawled.
The cut on his wrists. Her bow’s thin hairs. The chest and the violin case in it. His fingers perched on the violin’s strings. Her assignments. His “I love you, sweetheart” on the phone. The train ride and her heavy legs. The ambulance siren ringing in front of her house. The bath tub. The blood.
Her stomach contracted painfully and an acidic taste took over her mouth. It all came out and she heaved. She fell on her back when her throat ran dry and nothing came out anymore. Helplessly, she wailed at the top of her lungs.
It was at the funeral reception later when Julia got up on the stage with her violin. Back at the grave she had chided herself at losing her sanity and promised that she’d perform their song, even if it killed her. She moved to the centre and placed the slender instrument under her chin. She felt bare in front of all the people gathered for her father. Dressed in funeral clothes, they stared at her with mournful pity and Julia fought the urge to storm out. Instead, she closed her eyes and imagined her dad and herself sitting in the basement opposite each other, just like they used to.
“From the top, Julia. Just like we practised alright?” Mark encouraged her. She took a deep breath and raised her bow to the instrument. A finger rested on the G-string, she raised her elbow slightly as the bow touched said string. “Stretch your third finger.” His voice echoed and she corrected her position. She moved the bow on the string and a sombre melody replaced the silence in the room.
She didn’t open her eyes as her hands fell into familiarity. Her neck taut and her hands graceful, they moved on their own. She heard her father sing and matched the melody on the instrument.
“These wounds won't seem to heal,
This pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase.”
His voice was melancholic, even back then. Signs. Triggers. Ignorance. She frowned at her nonchalance. It was their song and he had played it for her, the music as morose as his voice and maybe even his thoughts. “Your violin is an extension of your own self. Never forget that.” He had said. Then why did she not pick up on the sorrow his violin had been crying out?
She felt her heart syncopate with the music. The instrument felt heavy against the pulse in her neck. She jabbed it further in, felt the blunt pain and channeled it to her bow. The bow slurred on the notes as it moved back and forth on the D and A-strings and her fingers co-ordinated. She pressed her fourth finger on the A-string and the violin weeped in a lugubrious rhythm. She felt hot tears on her lips but kept playing.
“When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears
When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
But you still have all of me.”
His voice floated in and danced around her. She cried back with her violin. His superficial presence comforted her but also made her heart constrict. Grief took over her in strides and her fingers pressed down on the strings for dear life.
“You still have all of me.”
His voice reverberated in her mind and she felt helpless. Her hands trembled as she swiped her fingers on the fingerboard. Her little finger jabbed on the string harshly and cut itself. Tiny droplets of blood pooled on the fingerboard and she kept playing through the agony. The violin physically sobbed with her through her seeping blood as she placed two of her fingers on the D-string and arched her elbow to simultaneously play the two middle strings.
D, A, D, A, D.
The bow screeched on the instrument. “You’re doing great, sweetie. Just like that. Be gentle on it.” He edged her on. She grew gentle on her violin and played the last few notes tenderly. Her bow stopped as the last note escaped into the air and she opened her eyes. Mark stood in front of her, his face proud and healthy. Her limbs went numb as she dropped her hands from their position. The bloody violin crashed onto the floor with a thud. Her tear-stricken face smiled at her dad.
The sound of people applauding cut through the air and his silhouette dissolved with it.
Song credits: My Immortal by Evanescence