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“The string.” **WARNING CONTAINS ADULT THEMES**

October 19, 2015

He sat, his eyes wide, expectant. The lights dimmed, the overture began, and he was enwrapped. The music swelling around him like a beautiful warm tide, caressing his senses and filling him with a rare bliss. He leaned forward on his seat, the violins soaring, the horn a tender counterpoint. The tympani drum throbbed and he felt it throughout his being. The first movement started, the sweet restraint of strings and woodwind, then the unbridled passion of brass and percussion. He was trapped in time, suspended like a fly in amber, every fibre of his being, filling, twitching. When at last the applause had ended, the curtain closed, the lights bright , he wiped tears from his cheeks and got to his feet, his legs shaky and ungainly.

He stood, a glass in his hand, his eyes roving about the small bar. It was beginning to thin, the night luring customers to other places, other experiences. Outside the rain came down in unrelenting sheets, the windows foggy, the streetlamps a vague blur. Waste coats and bowtie, the bar staff attended, pouring drinks, smiling, the sound of ice. He was just about to leave, just about to return to his empty life and look on the internet for other riches, other concerts. Maybe next time he would try Vivaldi or , Chopin, or even a piano recital. His heart leapt at the possibility of music, the exciting, revitalising strength of sound. He closed his eyes, remembering that this experience, this concert had been a fluke. For he didn’t consider himself to be a musical person, that is to say he never learned an instrument. Of course, as a child he had blown down the throat of a recorder and made it shriek and howl with outrage; he had banged a drum, but had never understood the spirit, the aching intensity of hide mouth and wooden throat. The concert had been a date, she, his now ex, arranged it. When they split up, citing various reasons, differences in opinion, thought, ethics, he had decided to attend by himself.

Coat on, mind made up, he got to his feet. Then he stopped. There she was, the lead violinist. His breath caught in his throat, his heart twisted through his ribs, and he sat back down. An hour ago she wore a clinging blue dress, her face intense, her fingers expertly moving, her right arm smooth and gentle, the bow sliding across the strings. Now she wore jeans, now her hair was up, but he recognised her. She sat, her eyes tired, a bottle of water in front of her. He sat, his stomach a fisherman’s nightmare, knotted and confused. She looked at him, a fleeting glance, her eyes like sapphires, bright and alive. Before he realised it he stood next to her, hands in pockets, ashamed and afraid.
“Hello,” he managed, his mouth dry.
“Hi.” He had read the programme, he knew her name and wasn’t afraid to use it.
“Rachel, i.. I loved the performance.”
“That’s sweet, thank you.” Accent European, English perfect.
“I’ll, I mean, you play like an angel.”
“Thanks.” A smile, half irritated, half meant. Her eyes furtive beneath long lashes. “You’re very kind.” She offered, sipping her water.
“I’ll see you again. I mean…”
“We’re touring,” she yawned. “We’re in Newcastle tomorrow.” A wave of sadness washed over him.
“I see. Oh well. Anyway, must dash.” And he did just that, walking out of the bar, into the night, the darkness swallowing him.

He attended other concerts, sitting in the dark, the music filling him. He would buy the programmes, learn about the musicians and gaze at their photos, longing and lust blossoming like a mutating flower. He would purchase recordings of the concerts, Mozart, Debussy, Brahms. At night he would play his CDs and listen to them in bed. Sometimes he looked at the programmes, the sound of the CD filling his room. He would listen and look, and he would touch himself, fantasising that he was with them, that their fingers touched him, that their mouths kissed him, that they played their music only for him. In February he saw a poster in the local theatre. It advertised a recital, a violin recital given by Rachel Molovich. His heart stopped, he began to tremble.

“I waited for you,” he said. She turned around, shock in her eyes. It was late, and she was scared. “Where were you? I was in the bar.” Rachel shook her head, not quite believing her ears. She was in the reception of the Grand hotel.
“Who are you?”
“James, you remember me, I went to one of your concerts. I’ve got CDs, pictures, programmes.”
“Oh. How did you know where I was staying? And what were you waiting for?”
“You. Just wanted to see you again. I’ve missed you.” She felt sick, like a great slug was sliding inside her guts.
“Well, I really must go now.”
“Of course. Will you play for me?”
“What?”
“Will you play your violin for me?”
“No… no, I’ve got to go.” She brushed past him, the scent of her perfume hanging in the air.

He saw it in a second hand shop, a cheap, student quality violin in a battered plastic case. He held it, feeling the wood, smelling the rosin, stroking the strings. When he got it home he lay it on his bed and played his Corelli CD. The music filled the room and he held the instrument, closing his eyes and letting the throbbing sensation of arousal overwhelm him. Afterward he booked more concert tickets, obsessively reading the programme notes and studying the musicians, frantically searching for a connection, a sign. The next month, despite his escalating credit card bills, he travelled to Dublin, Glasgow and Manchester, watching Rachel play, listening to her exquisite music. He was convinced that she played for him alone, that despite the crowded halls and theatres this was somehow a private performance. He would send flowers, chocolates, wine. He would wait for her at the bar and find out where she was staying. But when he saw her, when she came close, he melted away, terrified that she would be angry with him, that she would spurn or insult him.

She was pretty, young and vulnerable, a woman who bore a passing resemblance to Rachel. When he saw her she wore a short skirt and crop top, her feet thrust into high heels, the streetlights gaudy glow a stage light. He watched her for three nights before buying the dress, the long, elegant evening dress of blue satin. Despite her vacant eyes, her haggard profile he approached her.
“Don’t talk,” he whispered.
“Do you want business?” she asked, her accent of the north, lazy, slow.
“Yes, but don’t talk, just come with me and do as I say. Ok?”
“It’ll cost ya.”
“I know. That’s ok, I have plenty.” And that was true, he had withdrawn a staggering amount to see him to Austria, where an open air concert was to be held. But when he saw this sad, desperate human being, his plans changed.
“What do ya want?” she asked, gum in her mouth, make-up running, cheap, lonely.
“will you come with me to my flat?”
“It’ll cost ya.” He got out a thick wedge of notes and waved them in front of her face.
“For the night. I’ll give you more tomorrow.”
“I don’t want no funny business…”
“You’ll be safe,” he said, smiling in the dark.

The CD played, the strains of the violin concerto loud in the small room. She stood, a small pathetic figure, wearing a blue dress and holding a cheap violin.
“Play for me Rachel,” he said huskily, laying on the bed.
“I’m Beth.”
“Play for me Rachel.” He repeated, unzipping his trousers.
“I can’t play!”
“Try!” he shouted. The sound was a blazing, chaos. A thing of tension and screeching, pain and horror. She ran the bow over the strings, tears running down her face, and he lay, a ghastly parody of love and music.

When at last the CD had finished, she dropped the violin and reached for her clothes.
“No Rachel,” he said breathlessly. “No, you can’t go. Talk to me, tell me about yourself.” The working girl called Beth swallowed.
“I’m from Rotherham,” she offered.
“Don’t lie, don’t play games, you’re from Warsaw.”
“Ok.”
“Tell me about your first violin?” Beth shrugged. “Who made it?”
“I don’t bloody know!”
“Why are you playing these games Rachel? It’s ok, you know me.” He stared at her, his gaze uncompromising and hard, and she felt scared. “Play for me. Play the Mozart you played the first time we met.”
“You’re bloody mental,” Beth whispered, anger overcoming despair.

She stood up, the violin tucked under her chin. The CD played and the violin made its torturous song whilst James lay on his bed, sticky and wet. Revulsion threatened to overcome her, but she kept calm. The other girls had told her about men like this. It always started off tame enough, but give them enough time and it would escalate to the point of danger. Anything could happening this situation, rape, pain, chaos. But she kept her calm, biding her time.

When the police came, the flat door splintering, they found a man wearing a blue dress, a broken violin on his bed, his skull caved in. A pile of concert programmes lay open, and a CD played classical music. On closer inspection they found a violin string tied around his neck, garrotting him, cutting off his breathing. Apart from the violin and the string there was no further sign of struggle, no upturned furniture or damage. Just a note written in a neat hand, scribbled on the back of an envelope.

“We all do what we can to survive. I once walked the streets to pay for violin lessons. I once sold my body so I could learn to do better, to succeed and play like an angel. What I did, I did for all the women who have ever dreamed. You’re not the only one who can find out where people are. Rachel.”

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From → Fiction, Short story

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