With violin in hand, she walks onto the small fold out stage.

Not a walk of confidence, but of humility. Her steps echo through the cafeteria, crisp and hollow.

“Another poorly constructed room,” she says to herself, as she thinks back to her high school orchestra playing at the Meyerson.

She still remembers her teacher give his “wait for it” smirk. She remembers him telling everyone to play the first note of measure thirty. She still remembers the pure joy she felt as the sound from every instrument filled the air, merging with one another as they bounced off the walls, then making their way back to the stage, carrying a life changing message:

“This is what you created.”

This “hall” was definitely not like that.

People start filing in as she tunes her violin. They all wear excited smiles, but not for her. They smile because of the “on the clock” break they were getting, eyes widening as they look at the cheese spread the company has laid out.

Holiday gigs paid well and the requirements were always the same:

We’re holding a company event to show appreciation for our employees. We need a violinist to play some live holiday music during the celebration. A recorded piano accompaniment will be provided. Business casual attire will be required for this event.

Playing an hour for half a grand was a great paycheck. She went through the provided playlist which contained upbeat songs like Jingle Bell Rocks and Here Comes Santa Claus.

“Just have to do this last corporate function, then I can skirt by for the next few months without working,” she thinks to herself.

With her fingers and bowing on autopilot, she counts all the ill fitting dress shirts the men wear. The backs of their muffin tops wrinkled and creased from sitting in a chair all day. She imagines an alien visiting Earth for the first time, standing beside her.

“So let me make sure I understand this, human. When a male of your species enters this building, he is required to stuff his upper garment into his pants? And tightly wrap a piece of cloth around his neck?”

“And females have to do what?!”

The companies never noticed that she wore the same light gray cardigan, gray dress, light gray belt, and gray heels to every event. It was the only business casual attire she owned. Hair was easy, just tie it up in a nice tight bun. It looked elegant. She’d have her roommate apply her makeup. She’d skip polishing her nails though. They were always filed well past her calloused fingertips.

Only a few more minutes until the end of the event. This is when she’d always “sneak in” one of the pieces she composed. Her focus changes. Her eyes piercingly look down the violin’s neck and finger board. She listens to her own heartbeat - her living metronome - trying desperately to feel each phase of her heart’s cardiac cycle. Rosin dust lifts violently off the strings as she begins to play. She breathes it in.

Three minutes for five months of work. Her ten thousand dollar violin sings a bittersweet song of joy and resentment. She executes flawlessly. Silence fills the air, signaling to the employees to turn and clap, before going back to eating cheese and drinking wine.

...

She gives the invoice to human resources, and receives her check shortly after. She drives home and opens the door to a one bedroom apartment, greeted warmly by her roommate. She heads to the small dining nook - her humble living quarters - and sits on her sofa bed. She smiles solemnly thinking of the next few months she’ll have to devote everything to her music.

Her roommate turns to her and playfully says:

“I’d give anything to play like you.”

Which always yields the same smirking response.

“No, you wouldn’t. ;-)”