Ms. Jeanne sat facing her one window, staring down at the bustling streets below. Shed Autumn leaves pooled in great heaps in the street corners. Children were playing on the lawn of the next-door apartment building; a great whitewashed house with a wrap-around porch and ten rocking chairs, continuously filled by orange and black calico cats. The children were throwing a black ball across the yard to a boy standing by the road. Each time he would yell to them to throw it harder, and his heels would edge closer and closer to the road. This play made Ms. Jeanne nervous. She turned away from the window.
Ms. Jeanne’s apartment was small—the bed took up about a third of the space—but she liked it that way. She had just enough room for a stove, a bathroom, a small breakfast table that sat tucked in the sunniest corner opposite her window, and her three violins. The violins were her most prized possessions, each finding their way to her as a stray cat may find his way to a warm hearth. The first was a small concertina that she had acquired many years ago through a chance encounter with a bankrupt accompanist of the New York Philharmonic, long since a stranger to the stage and forced to sell his possessions to satisfy his vices. She cared to listen to his sob story, promptly paid him one hundred dollars, and plucked the little stringed body from his calloused palms. She left New York the very next day, as cities never agreed with her.
The second violin was from Austria, a serendipitous mistake on the part of Hütmannsberger violin makers, who were sending the instrument to a one J. Anthony of South Boston, but had somehow mistaken the address and sent it to her instead. She acknowledged the accident but had never returned the violin, it had too rich of a tenor tone. Instead it had remained a foreign beauty in the dullness of her quiet apartment.
The third violin was a gift from her uncle, a short and fat old man, who—although a heavy drinker and general ruckus-causer—was quite fond of a Bach concerto and the occasional Kreisler. This gift was one of his last to her, for he died not a year later from his bad habits and life of indulgence. She treasured this violin above the others for it was her one tie to her late Uncle, and therefore her Mother who had died during childbirth. Ms. Jeanne was small, only two or three, and had never really known her Mother. Her Father, a quiet and upstanding man, had brought Ms. Jeanne to her first violin lesson several months later, in hopes it would bring some joy to her life. Ms. Jeanne thought the music was beautiful in a sad and solemn way, for the wavering tones brought forth by her teacher’s hand sung of solitude and mourning, but filled the room with warmth all the same. Music became the one love in her life, and her violins were her children.
She thought about the years that had gone by; the years spent in the tiny apartment with nothing but the collection of dust to count the time that passed. It was a lonely life, with just her and the music. She felt forlorn, knowing that, when she passed away, her violins would make no more music. The music she played was her legacy, she hoped, and for Ms. Jeanne it seemed eternal. The music would stay when people didn’t, the music would feed her when sustenance was not enough, the music would warm her when all the fires had gone out.
With a shaking hand, she opened the violin case on the table before her. She could not grasp the latch. She tried with her other hand, but with no success. Tears slipped from her sunken eyes and pooled in the wrinkles of her face, only to fall in mocking pity upon the hands that would not cease their shaking. A strangled gasp escaped her frustrated lips, gulping in the hurt, the pain of the years that had passed, the anguish of her uncontrollable shaking. This darkness had been following her all of her life, since she first felt that unnatural quiver of her left ring finger during the third movement of Bach’s Double Concerto. Her shaking subsided, but only slightly. With great effort she grasped the latch and popped open the case. There her violin lay, a beautiful and divine object as unattainable as the clouds above. She stroked the velvet it lay in. The black lining seemed to stain her fingertips, and the shaking began again; a slow, and irreversible wave of tremors that shook her small life, and emptied her violins of their singing.