She had told Mindy in the office her only wish was never to cross paths with me again, but surely she didn’t mean it. The Carla I knew couldn’t be this spiteful. There were many good memories, too many of them to discard: halls filled with concertgoers for whom we played in solidarity; cocktail-fueled afterparties where we laughed on and on; vibrant discussions that revolved around the most brilliant composers, our opinions always perfectly aligned. I refused to believe it, and so I drove on and on in the rain, like a stalker, searching for her apartment complex.
It was in the heart of Brooklyn, but I didn’t remember the exact address, and she wouldn’t return my calls. I did remember the façade to be very singular, painted with an impressionist rendition of a woman in a purple ball gown. I circled the neighbourhood many times, turning into a different street every time.
For the third time of the evening, the same pop song came on the radio. I changed the station, landing on a soaring rendition of Ravel’s Bolero, but quickly changed again. I had enough classical music in my life as it was. Ultimately, I settled for soothing jazz music driven by an exquisitely bluesy saxophone.
I liked jazz. Classical music was my bread and butter, but jazz was the relaxing droplet of water that made its way down my spine whenever my muscles felt tense. It was a remedy, a god-sent healing potion that never failed. Jazz music knew how to draw me into a flow where the dreary world around me vanished completely, and so completely did it vanish that I almost missed the painted lady staring right at me from the other side of the street.
I slammed on the breaks and spent the next half hour or so maneuvering my car into a successful parallel park, then dashed out. My heart pounded against my chest as I rushed into the building. She lived on the fourth floor I recalled, but there were two doors on the fourth floor. I took a chance and knocked on the left one. An old woman dressed in a fluffy night gown answered.
“It’s 10PM!” she yelled, outraged.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry Ma’am, I didn’t mean to disturb.”
“Well you certainly did.”
“It’s just, I was looking for my friend.”
“I’m not your friend.”
The voice behind those words was not that of the old woman. I spun around to find Carla at the threshold of her apartment, staring at me with heavy eyes. Anger always had a tendency to enhance her beauty. Her locks of golden hair hung by the side of her cheeks, which had turned to a bright shade of red.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Gillingham,” she told the old woman. “Let me take care of her. Liza, inside, NOW.”
I obliged as the old woman muttered “good riddance” behind me and shut her door. One minute later, I was sitting on Carla’s tweed couch. She sank into her armchair, right in front of me.
“I explicitly told Mindy in the office–” she began, ready to pounce.
“I could not believe it,” I replied.
“Oh please Liza,” she said with an eye roll so pronounced her pupils almost disappeared beneath her eyelids. “There’s no way you’re that stupid. You betrayed me, what did you expect?”
“I most definitely did not.”
“What do you call it then?”
“They offered me the position. I accepted it.”
“I still had many years ahead of me as concertmaster, and you know it! The right answer would have been a resounding no.”
“You know how these things go. One does not simply just say no, there are repercussions.”
“Yes, and the repercussion was that I lost my job!”
Carla got up, an aura of fire dancing around her.
“I had been concertmaster for eight years,” she continued, “and I knew that day would come. I knew they would try to push me out. We literally talked about it just a couple months ago.”
“And I was on your side.”
“Really? Were you? Did you know at that time you’d be next on their list? You must have known. You just listened to me crying that night at the bar like Judas, telling me everything was going to be alright while you secretly plotted my demise.”
“Absolutely not! The day they asked me was the day they told you, I swear.”
“Well congratulations Liza,” she said, getting dangerously close to me. “You are the New York Symphony concertmaster now. You lead the orchestra; you get the violin solos; and most importantly, you get to leave my apartment right now.”
“I’m not leaving, not until–”
A tense silence followed. Carla caught on to it. In a sudden epiphany, she saw through me.
“Let me guess. Tomorrow is your big opening night at Carnegie Hall, and you came to ask for my blessing.”
I swallowed, my saliva burning down my oesophagus like a particularly spicy hot sauce.
“I’m playing Schindler’s List, and I could not possibly do it without your approval.”
“This is beyond. You know how much this piece means to me, and your guilt is finally catching up to you.”
“It’s not guilt, it’s decency.”
“Any shred of decency you may have had, you lost a long time ago. Now get out.”
Her cold stare pierced into me like a shard of ice. I could not bear it any longer. Before I could object, my feet moved on their own and guided me towards the door. My brain faced fight or flight and chose flight.
I got back into my car, dashing again under the relentless rain. I had lost. Carla, who had been my best friend for years, would never speak to me again, let alone give me her blessing for tomorrow’s performance. The thought of playing the piece without her support terrorized my soul. For the first time in years, I felt performance anxiety as I drove away into the night.
“We’re on in three minutes.”
I was shaking like a leaf backstage. My tremors were so strong they sent ripples down my (ironically) purple dress. Our stage manager promptly noticed and came to see me.
“It will be fine. The Maestro has faith in you. You wouldn’t be concertmaster if he didn’t.”
I smiled, but it was all for show. Carla had accused me of losing my decency. Truth be told, I had lost my confidence. It had flown right out the window the day she left. The other musicians left the comfort of the lounge to head for the stage. I was the last one left behind, still trembling in my seat like a child before her first recital.
Mustering all the courage I had left in me, I finally took place on stage. The stares of the concertgoers were more violent than I remembered. I felt like they were intruding on my privacy, on my right to fail alone.
Time came for me to give them the A. I raised my bow and gently positioned the hair on top of the open string, then released my elbow. The note came out fine. We tuned in perfect harmony, and suddenly the performance did not seem so scary anymore.
The first five pieces came and went without a problem. Then came Schindler’s List. The other violins launched into the opening measure, and I waited in angst for the solo to come. There it was. No turning back.
I put down the hair and bowed, before abruptly stopping in horror. I had started on the wrong stroke. The whole orchestra came to a halt. It felt as if the very fabric of time had been torn apart, reduced to shreds. There were no seconds or minutes anymore, only an eternity humiliation.
My eyes went straight for the audience. Whispers could be heard. They could sense my horror, my fear, my shame. I looked left and right, desperate, searching for a sign, anything that could keep me going. That’s when I saw her.
There she was, sitting right in the middle of the red seats. Carla looked back at me and nodded. At first, I thought it to be a mocking nod. How could it be anything else? But then she mouthed:
It will be alright. Keep going.
I had her blessing. I raised my bow again and started on the right stroke this time. The orchestra followed. There were hundreds of measures left to be played, but in that moment I knew it would indeed be alright.