Back, forth. Back, forth.
Megan was trying to learn vibrato on the violin. Her fingers ached and throbbed. It took so much effort to get them to move back and forth, back and forth. Her arm ached from holding up the violin for so long. To top it off, sometimes she couldn’t hear any vibrato at all. She felt like chucking the stupid piece of wood out the window.
She turned around. Beside her, sitting on a chair and fully absorbed by the video games on her phone and iPad, was her mum, Mrs Brown. Mrs Brown had been a professional violinist when she was younger. She taught Megan the violin every morning. Apart from that, Megan also had violin lessons on weekend afternoons with another violin teacher. “Mum!” Megan said irritably. “Can you see if my technique is right? This vibrato is harder than it should be. I think I’m doing something wrong.”
“Hmm?” Mrs Brown said distractedly. Her thumbs tapped rapidly on both sides of the screen. She put the phone down and picked up the iPad. Vivid colours flashed across the screen. “What did you say?”
“I said, can you check if my technique is right!” Megan lowered the violin and glowered at Mrs Brown.
“Er –” Mrs Brown looked up for a second before another vivid flash of light took her attention and her thumbs went back to their vigorous tapping. Flames leaped up in Megan’s head and she stormed out of the study. An unbearable hate for technology was brewing in her heart. It wasn’t the first time this had happened; Mrs Brown had been spending a lot of time on her video game lately and didn’t stop even when she was meant to be teaching Megan violin. Out in the hallway, Megan threw herself down beside her violin case. She shoved her violin and bow inside and slammed the lid. Then she stormed up the stairs towards her bedroom.
“Hey, where are you going?” Mrs Brown called. “We still have ten minutes!”
Megan hmphed and didn’t reply. She stomped into her room and slammed the door behind her. The hate of technology was even stronger than before. Impulsively, she picked up her iPad from where it sat on her desk and chucked it at the wall. A dull bang reverberated around the room. It flopped onto the floor, a tiny spiderweb of cracks spiralling out from one corner. A gaping hole in the wall showed where it had hit it.
Immediately, all the anger drained out of Megan. She hurried over to the wall and sat down, inspecting the hole. She wasn’t concerned about her iPad; the cracks were tiny. Plus, there was already a big crack right down the middle from when she’d dropped it on the kitchen floor once upon a time. It was the hole she was worried about. It wasn’t exactly small. What was she going to do about this, she wondered in panic?
A thump-thump-thump came from the stairs. It was Mr Brown. Megan hurriedly grabbed a theory music worksheet from its spot on her desk and taped it over the hole. Her walls were covered in posters of famous music pieces and famous artists and bands and other music-related propaganda anyway, so it didn’t look too different. She grabbed her drink bottle and laid it on the ground, just in time for Mr Brown to come in.
“Are you and Mum okay?” He asked in concern. “I heard you yelling.”
“Er, it was nothing.” Megan stood up awkwardly. “She was just playing video games again.”
“Oh, right.” Mr Brown’s brow crinkled. “I’ll have to talk to her about that.” He surveyed the room. “What was that bang?”
Megan’s eyes darted around, landing on anything but Mr Brown’s face. “It was my drink bottle,” she said, picking it up and fiddling with the cap. “I dropped it.”
Mr Brown scrutinised her face. “Well, if you say so.” He backed out of the room and prepared to close the door. “And yeah, I’ll be talking to your mum. I think she’s been spending a mite bit too much time on that video game of hers.” He closed the door softly behind him.
Megan took down the music worksheet and sat down next to the wall. She stared at the hole. Its black ovular mouth stared back at her. Would the wall fall down because of the gap in it? She thought. Would the house fall down? Her heart thumped and hot blood tingled along her arms, as if she was on the verge of hyperthermia. She wished she could turn back time.
She didn’t know how long she sat there for. At long last, she pulled herself up and sat down at her desk. She had to do homework. She opened her laptop and logged in. But she couldn’t concentrate. Involuntarily, she started searching about holes in walls. Should you worry about one? How to fix one? There are cheap services near you, her screen told her. But she couldn’t get a professional someone to come fix the house and not have her parents know. Diy options, her screen told her next. One option was to fill up the hole with toothpaste. Megan looked in despair at the hole. It was much too big to fill up with toothpaste.
Mrs Brown called her downstairs for lunch. There was salad and pizza. Megan’s two little brothers and little sister were already there. Over the table, Mrs Brown apologised to Megan for being so absorbed in her video game.
“I’m sorry for not paying attention to teaching you, darling,” she said apologetically. “It won’t happen again, I promise.”
“It’s ok, Mum,” Megan said numbly. Mrs Brown smiled happily and Mr Brown nodded approvingly.
All around her was the sound of her siblings and parents merrily munching on food. She nibbled on a tasteless leaf. She had no appetite. She wanted to cry. They were so carefree and content. But she? She had to carry around this dreadful burden. The weight of it sat, dark and heavy, inside her heart. She tried to smile and make herself eat so no one would ask her what was wrong.
After lunch, Mrs Brown took her little sister upstairs for her nap. Her two little brothers quietly played together with lego. When she stepped in through the doorway of her room, the hole stared at her like a blackened eye. She’d forgotten to cover it up before she went downstairs for lunch. She was wholly unprepared for the loathsome sight. She felt frightened by it. Hastily, she walked over and taped up her music worksheet over it.
She sat at her desk and tried to do homework. But still she couldn’t concentrate. She came back to the wall and sat down beside the hole. She took down the worksheet. She carefully reached her finger inside to see how deep it went. It went in up to the middle of her finger. The first knuckle. In a daze, she went downstairs and out into the backyard. She tried to see how thick the walls were. She tried to figure out how deep the hole was. It was difficult, because the wall where she’d punched the hole was up against the fence that separated their land and the neighbour’s land. She couldn’t see the face of the wall. She fervently hoped that the house wouldn’t collapse. She wished she could ask her dad. He was an engineer; he would know. But she didn’t want to divulge her secret. She shivered, feeling sick, and went back inside.
It started to rain. The light dimmed. The temperature dropped. Mr Brown turned on the central heating. The droning whir filled the house. Megan sat by the hole, staring into nothing. Then she felt a tickle on her hand. There was a breeze coming from the hole!
Megan placed her palm against it. Yes, there was definitely a wind coming out of it. She groaned. What if the hole had punctured one of the central heating’s pipes? Or, what if the hole had gone straight through the wall and was now leaking air inside?
Then she remembered something. It was from a long time ago, when they had first moved into this new house. The central air conditioning system had been a never-before-seen luxury. Her parents had turned it on; it had been a cold winter day, much like today. She remembered feeling a breeze through the gap under a door.
She got up and put her foot against the gap between her bedroom door and the floor. No breeze. Not giving up, she opened it, slipped out into the silent hallway beyond, and closed it again. She put her foot against the gap on this side. And yes, there was a breeze.
Megan breathed a sigh of relief and went back to her room. So the hole wasn’t the only place in the house with a breeze. She theorised that the wind from the central heating was blowing into the hole and bouncing out again. It wouldn’t have gone through the whole wall. And it wouldn’t have punctured a pipe, because that would’ve caused a lot more damage and her iPad would have broken a lot more. She picked up the book she was reading from her desk and sat down by the hole to read. She felt much calmer. And a little reassured. She concentrated on the pages and let them take her.
She didn’t know how long she read for. But it was the calmest she’d felt the whole day. Even the tickle against her hand from the hole’s little breeze was calming.
The deep rumble of the central heating died down, then disappeared completely. (It blew for a while, then stopped for a short while so it wouldn’t overwork; and the pattern went on and on until someone turned it off completely.) A renewed silence permeated the house. Rain pattered gently against the roof and the window. Megan snuggled up against the wall with her book and felt positively serene.
But then she noticed something was wrong. The tickle on her hand was still there.
She dropped her book and pressed her hand against the hole. There was still a breeze. She raised her head and listened for the central heating. Nothing. That had turned off for its rest period. So why was there still a breeze coming out of the hole?
She tried to go back to her book but couldn’t focus. Had the hole really penetrated the entire thickness of the wall? Was it letting in cold air from outside? She tried to recall if she’d felt a breeze through the hole that morning. But she couldn’t remember.
She rubbed the inside of the hole. It felt damp. Was the rain was leaking in?
She tried to go back to her book, but it was in vain. Once again, there was no space in her mind for anything but depressing thoughts about the hole. There seemed to be no end to the things she had to worry about. She sat there, feeling numb, staring off into space. She wanted, very badly, to turn back time.
Her little sister woke up. She heard her and Mrs Brown come out of their room. “Megan, time for your violin lesson!” Mrs Brown called as she jogged down the stairs. It was a Saturday; Megan had violin lessons with her other teacher on the afternoons of weekends.
Megan got up as if in a dream. She opened her bedroom door and went down the stairs. She picked up her violin case and study books from the hallway downstairs and made her way to the car.
The drive to her violin teacher’s house took around ten minutes. During those ten minutes, Megan’s mind never left the hole. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. Were abominable bugs festering in there right this moment? Was the damp providing a good home for them?
They reached her violin teacher’s house. His name was Mr Howard. He was chubby and only a tiny bit taller than Megan. His spiky black hair stuck up in all directions. He wore square, black-rimmed glasses. He swore sometimes. He was a humorous guy and a very good teacher. He stood on the patio and welcomed Megan in. They went to the study.
Megan put her violin case down and unpacked it. When she was done, Mr Howard picked up one of her music books. “Can I hear this study, please.” He leafed through to the page he’d given her for homework last week. He put the book up on the music stand.
“Ok,” Megan said. The notes blurred in front of her eyes.
“Remember to use wrist vibrato.”
She could barely lift the violin up and hold it there against her shoulder. It seemed to have become very heavy. She put her fingers on the fingerboard and tried to play. It took a big effort to get them to move. A tremendous one to get them to move back and forth, back and forth in her trash version of vibrato. Everything felt heavy. The heavy burden of what she’d done sat like a leaden stone in her heart.
Back, forth. Back, forth.