Fortissimo

By: Chris Elim V. Chua

1, 2 lift. 2,2 lift. Now pizzicato, and-

“Enough of your foolishness. How many times will I have to remind you that you are not good enough, that I am better than you in every, single, way? Just get with the program and give up. It would do everybody a big favor,” Maylin sneered.

She was always one to make fun of and belittle my playing. She would always find every flaw in my practice, no matter how small and insignificant. Going on constant tangents about how music was an art of perfection and should not be touched by the hands of the incompetent and unworthy, often referring to myself.

But it seemed that her sermons regarding her had been on the rise in numbers recently. With an upcoming competition, it seemed her insatiable ego had grown to its peak. She was the school’s star musician after all. She was all the teachers’ favorite, her playing was phenomenal, and everybody loved her.

Compared to her, she was right, I was nothing. My proficiency with the violin didn’t even come close to her immaculate style. Her opinion mattered to everyone. She was a goddess. I should’ve just given in when she told me to.

But, I couldn’t. Playing the violin was the only thing I had left. I had no friends, no one who loved me. I only had this. And it was the only thing I had left of my mother. So I’d keep playing no matter what even if it wouldn’t matter to everyone, including my own father. I just had to keep going.

After my practice, I rushed home before Father arrived. I hid my violin minutes, before his car could parked in the driveway. I greeted him as he approached the doorstep.

“Hello, Father,” I attempted to say with as much courtesy as possible.

“Yeah, hi. Make me dinner. I’m tired. I’ll be in the living room,” he slurred.

Oh, he was drunk again. He had never really recovered after Mom died. I couldn’t blame him really. I never got over it either.

Heaving a sigh, I made dinner for the both of us. I called him when it was ready where he proceeded to begin with our nightly “talks.”

“So, you still play with that silly toy of yours?” he chided.

“It isn’t a silly toy, Father. You know how much the violin means to me. I’ve always loved it ever since mom-“

“Do not talk about it. She left us, Aine. You, me. Us. Why do you keep holding on to her memory?” Father shouted.

“She didn’t abandon us, Dad. She died. I know how much it hurts because she meant everything to me, too. But she wouldn’t want to see you like this. See the man you’ve become. Don’t tell me about holding on to her memory, because you drown yourself in booze trying to let her go,” I said with tears in my eyes.

“Get rid of it,” he said.

“What?

“Don’t play the fool girl. I know you still have her violin. Get rid of it,” he snarled.

“What? No, Father. I can’t do that. That violin is the only thing I have left of her.

Don’t take that away from me, please,” I all but begged him.

“Did you really think I didn’t hear the sounds coming from your bed room? That I didn’t notice? Did you take your own father for a fool? I let you keep playing the violin all these years because I knew how much it meant to you. Even if it kept reminding me of the woman I had loved with all my heart. But now, I want you to get rid of it,” he demanded.

“Don’t make me do it, Dad. Please. You know I can’t do it. Don’t make do it,” I begged, crying. What would be left of me if he took the violin?

“Yes, you will-“

“No.“

“You will do as I as. . . I. . . say!”

I only felt numbness when the slap connected. I fell on the floor in a trance until reality came crashing back on me. I ran into my room. My father’s cries fell on deaf ears as I locked the door and sat there by the entrance for a while.

I sat there, letting my mind understand what had just happened. When it did, I began to cry. I cried and cried and cried out of the despair that I wouldn’t be allowed to play again. I went to get my violin that lay on my bed, no use hiding anymore; I guess there never really was in the first place.

I looked at the case, wondering what to do now. I have only done the only thing I knew, play. It was always a comfort for me to hold my violin, maybe because I loved the instrument so much, or because of all the memories that came with it. I never really cared to question it. I played my favorite song, the song my mother taught me right before she died.

It brought all of my memories of her back. The joyous tone bringing back memories of us frolicking in a field, making crafts, and all of our wondrous misadventures filled with childish mischief. Then the song changed, bringing with it memories filled with melancholy—Mom patching me up after I hurt myself, being hugged by her when I was bawling my eyes out, and the time when she was getting more and more sickly yet still wanting to have fun with me.

Eventually, I finished the song. I couldn’t give this up. I just couldn’t. I simply loved it too much to let it go. I would prove them all wrong. Maylin, my dad, everyone who ever doubted me and my dream.

Aine, sweetie. I want you to remember something for me. Don’t ever give up on what you want to do. I know you love the violin so much, but eventually there will be people who will hate you for what you love. You know what you should do, just keep on going. Eventually you’ll get there, I just know it. I recited in my head my mother’s last wish for me.

I know, Mom. I know. I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I’ll show them, and I think I know how.

After I had finished signing up for the competition, I found Maylin waiting for me as soon as I exited from the queue.

“So, you’re entering the competition. Tell me you’re joking. With your second rate skill you won’t make it past the first round. Ohhhhhh this is going to be hilarious. I can already see the look of sheer humiliation that will be plastered on your face.” Then, she chortled mocking. For the first time since she had started bullying me, I chose not to avert my gaze, but rather looked her straight in the eye.

“I know I might never be as good as you, nor will I ever become as good. But that won’t stop me from pursuing this,” I defiantly responded.

In a split second, I saw the emotions in her eyes changed at a rapid pace. What first looked like a surprise, transformed into fear, before ultimately transforming into boiling, searing anger. “Fine then, but know this. On the day of the competition, I will make you beg for mercy personally. And when you do, I will give you none,” she said, coolly without the usual mocking tone in her voice.

After the exchange, we went our separate ways, leaving nothing but an air of animosity behind. The only thing to do now was to prepare for the competition.

Eventually, the day did come. Musicians from all the other schools in our region came to our school to compete. All of them showed incredible skill and talent in their craft. Maylin, of course, was effortlessly going into the finals. I had my work cut out for me. I had worked so hard and so long for this, I just had to make it at least near the end.

I poured my heart out, giving it everything I’d got. With each movement of my bow, with each note, I put myself there for everyone to see. All the pain I had suffered and been forced to hide in a somber adagio, all the moments when I could finally feel at peace and be free in a carefree allegro. Everything. I gave everything because there was nothing else I could possibly give without letting my Mom down.

I managed to make my way to the finals. I guess my performance seemed to be enough for the judges. While I was preparing in the backstage, I came across Maylin again.

“How lucky of you. I guess the judges had bad taste. I just want to let you know that I am going to make sure that you lose to me. I am the best. I will always be the best,” she said. ”I have to be,” she muttered just loud enough for me to barely hear.

She took the stage first. The judges and the audience were expectant of her magnificent performance. Then she played…

She played my mother’s favorite song, When Love Happens.

She played everything perfectly, nothing off timing, everything perfectly toned. It might have been the best performance I had seen her give. Yet it seemed so, empty. Everything looked so rehearsed, like a puppet made to look human, yet it wasn’t. It was the same piece, but it lacked the life my mother always played it with.

With a final bow and an arrogant smirk sent my way, she exited the stage. Then finally it was my turn. I looked at the audience, the judges. I found scrutinizing stares and inquisitive eyes directed at me, waiting for my performance to judge my worth.

Now it was time. So, Mom, this is my dream. To show to everyone, to tell your story. I love you. Then, I began. Through the song, I told everyone our story. All the sadness, all the grief, all the regret, all the happiness, all the hope. A warm feeling enveloped me as I played. Like the warm meadows where my mom first taught me how to play.

When I finished, I found the audience silent, not a single eyes without tears. To my surprise, I locked eyes with my father, who gave me a teary-eyed smile. I could only stand there, speechless. So I simply bowed and took my leave off the stage only to hear roaring applause as I entered the backstage.

I came upon the shocking sight of Maylin in tears.

“Why? Why can’t you just give up? Why do you have to be the one person who’s better than me at something?” she sobbed out.

“Unlike you, I had everything to lose if I gave up violin. I would not only give up on myself but I would also disappoint my mother if I couldn’t give her the last thing she asked of me. Of course I couldn’t give up,” I answered.

“You think you’re the only one who had everything to lose. All my life, I was told that I had to be the best at everything I did. In academics, in sports, in life. Music was the one thing valued above all else in my home, so of course I had to be the best at that by any means necessary. Day in and day out, I practiced so I could be the best. I was for a while, anyway, until you came. You could do the one thing I couldn’t. You could put your heart and soul in whatever you played. That’s why I bullied you so much. So that you wouldn’t take my place at being the greatest in the one thing that mattered most. I’ve failed, obviously. Feel free to gloat at my failure as much as you want. You deserve it for everything I’ve put you through,” she admitted.

“No. I’m not going to gloat. What good would that do me? You can’t really be the best at everything. I mean look at me. The only thing I can do well is violin. You can’t put your heart into something if you aren’t really passionate about it. You’ll find yours eventually. You just need to keep looking,” I replied.

“I really am sorry about everything. I guess I really am quite foolish, am I not? I’m not asking for your forgiveness, but I just hope what I did to you can be put behind us,” Maylin said.

I looked at her and wondered if I would ever be truly able to forgive her for what she had done. Maybe in time, but now she was just lost, so I might as well help her find her way back wherever that may be.

“Ok,” I said.

“The judges are announcing the placements. What will you do, when you get your award?” she asked.

“I honestly don’t know. Maybe I can place it on my mom’s grave. I’d like to think she would be proud with what I’ve got here. Or even if I didn’t get anything, I know she’d still be proud,” I said. “After all, I chased after my dream. And I made it.”