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.
She thinks back to her high school orchestra playing at the Meyerson. She remembers her teacher telling everyone to play the first note of measure thirty while he gives his “wait for it” smirk. She still remembers the pure joy she felt as the sound from every instrument filled the air, merging, bouncing off of every wall, and making its way back to the stage. It carried a life-changing message:
“This is what you created.”
This corporate cafeteria was definitely not like that.
People start filing in as she tunes her violin. They all wear excited smiles - not for her - but for the “on the clock” break they were getting. Their eyes widen 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). Please note that business casual attire will be required for this event.
Playing an hour for five hundred dollars 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.
Her 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, looking inquisitively while perched on her shoulder.
“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 garments into the opening of his lower garments, and then tightly wrap a piece of cloth around his neck?”
“Wait- and females have to do what?!”
The companies never noticed that she wore the same light gray cardigan, gray dress, and black flats to every event. It was the only business casual attire she owned. Hair was easy, just tie it up in a nice, elegant bun. Her roommate would apply her makeup for her. 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, piercing eyes look down the violin’s neck and fingerboard. She listens to her own heartbeat, her living metronome; trying desperately to feel each phase of her heart’s cardiac cycle.
She breathes in the rosin dust lifting violently off the strings as her ten thousand dollar violin sings a bittersweet song of joy and resentment.
Silence fills the air, signaling the employees to smile politely and clap. They turn back to eating cheese and drinking wine.
With payment in hand, she drives home and opens the door to a one-bedroom apartment. Heading to the small dining nook, her “room”, she lets out a sigh of relief as she slumps down onto her sofa bed. She smiles, elated, thinking of the next few months she’ll have to devote all her time to her music.
As her roommate rushes out the door for work, she leans back in and playfully says:
“I’d give anything to play like you.”
Which always yields the same smirking response:
“No, you wouldn’t.”