A New York Symphony
Violet couldn't believe that she was actually going to meet him tonight. There were other people there, gathering around his dressing room to ask him questions about his time at Gillman. Violet's heart pounded. After all these years of using Kafka as inspiration for her piano playing, she was actually going to meet him in person. This was something she really never expected to happen. It was going to be one of those moments where she would tell her grandchildren about the day she met one of the greatest pianists in the world. But even though she was here and he was there, she couldn't help but wonder how someone like him — even though he was an insanely talented pianist, could have performed at Carnegie Hall, especially Isaac Stern Hall. The question was heavy on her mind as she and Ms. Paulson made their way further backstage. Beads of sweat started to form at the nape of her neck and her throat was growing drier.
"Is this really happening?" Violet asked, not looking at her directly.
"I suppose so. But you're meeting someone very important tonight. And it's probably not Alexander. He'll be there, I guess."
A cold blast of air came in through the vent that they were standing near. With it, released the scent that reminded Violet of stairwells of hotels, hospitals, libraries. The shuffling of feet against the cement floor sounded like brooms. A high-pitched violin floating like a bird came from one of the practice rooms. Another pianist playing in another corner. The sounds and smells were everywhere for Violet. In all her years of being a pianist, it was this moment, this strange moment, where she felt closer than ever to music. It was funny, she thought, that it wasn't the moment where she closed her eyes while Alexander played the ethereal notes of his original composition: A Memory of Leaves, but it was the moment when she was around people that she desperately wanted to be around.
"So much music," Violet said, staring at a wall as if it was outer space itself. "I have never been backstage before."
"There's a first time for everything." Ms. Paulson smiled, her eyes lighting up. "But what's even greater is when you go through that door. I'm just waiting for the groups of people to leave. I want you to meet this person. It's vital that you do."
Violet furrowed her eyebrows and cocked her head to the side, trying to comprehend what she was saying. There was almost a hint of sadness laced in the other woman's voice. Or happiness? Violet couldn't tell.
It seemed like they stayed that way for hours, leaning into the wall, staring at the ceiling. She wondered what was going on in Manhattan as they waited. How many people were crowded in the streets, going from destination to destination? She could almost hear the sound of cars honking, sirens wailing in the distance. The conversations of people from all corners of the world. It was in that moment, it was like she was looking at New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, admiring the blinking lights that looked like sparkling diamonds. The smell of petrichor wafting through the streets after a long period of no rain. It was true. New York City was a special place, even though some places were not so easy on the eyes, like the construction that was going on for edifices that were being remodeled. Or the sound that used to always frighten her — the hiss of the subway vents and the sound of the subway rolling through.
She imagined that at this very moment, there was perhaps a subway barreling through underneath their feet. There was another world underneath the city. A world where musicians were free to be who they wanted to be. She chuckled to herself, remembering the story that she heard. People don't pay attention to the musicians on the subway.
They do, but they don't.
She remembered hearing the story about how very few people recognized Joshua Bell, the famous violinist, when he was performing. People just passed him by, without a care or even a passing thought. Only a handful of people stopped to ask for autographs — or to just appreciate his playing. The revelation made Violet sad deep in her heart. People just didn't make the time to appreciate the more simple things in life. They were more focused on themselves, not on the world around them.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the door in front of them finally opened, with it a wave of people rushing out, their pens and moleskins in their hands. Violet looked at Ms. Paulson and didn't speak, bu her eyes told the other, 'Are we good to go in?'
She nodded and gestured for Violet to go in first. She gulped. This was harder than she thought it would be. It was as if her feet were plastered to the floor. She could hardly move them at all. Her hands were sweating and her heart thundered in her chest. This wasn't a good idea, Violet told herself. This wasn't a good idea at all, but she didn't have any choice, did she? Unable to shake the feeling that this meeting was important she found the strength to inch her way in the room. She peeked in, noticing Alexander sitting down on a chair, not speaking. He was just sitting, staring at the floor, as if staring at nothing at all.
Would he notice me if I came in the room?
There was someone else in the room, chatting away on his iPhone and nodding his head at the same time. He was short, curly hair, long-nosed. He must have been in his forties at least. He was still in conversation with the other person on the line. Violet turned around, looking at Ms. Paulson, her eyes showing confusion.
"Just go in," she whispered, "no use standing in the doorway."
She gulped again, unsure if it was a good idea because the man was on the phone.
"There's someone in there on the phone."
"Just go in." Ms. Paulson shook her head.
Violet jumped the gun and just walked in. It seemed like Alexander was still lost, still not paying attention to anything else. Awkward. But it was even more awkward when Ms. Paulson was still not in the room and the other man was finally off of the phone. He looked at her with furrowed eyebrows, as if confused as to why someone like her was alone in the room. She was trembling.
"Do you need help with anything?" he asked. "Are you lost?"
Violet wanted to say, but the right words weren't even forming in her brain. If she said anything at all, it would have been some gibberish that would have made her look like a blubbering fool. She didn't want that.
"This is Violet," Ms. Paulson said, as if by some miracle, coming in at the right time.
Violet noticed that Alexander briefly looked up and Violet waved tentatively, her hands trembling. "I'm Violet. N-Nice to meet you," she said directly to Alexander.
"Hello." Was all he said.
"I'm sorry, I had to take a quick phone call. Paul," she said, walking up to him and greeting him by kissing his cheek once. "This is Violet Hudson. You know, the one I've been talking to you about."
Violet gulped. Ms. Paulson had been talking about her?
I hope it's good things.
"Oh Violet!" he said, his eyes lighting up. "It's so wonderful to meet you. I've heard so many good, no, great things about you."
"You have?" Her voice squeaked. "She never told me anything. I don't even k-know what I'm doing here to be honest."
"Well," he said smiling, "as you can see, you just heard Alexander Kafka perform. He's one of the budding artists in the Gillman Conservatory of Music, on top of being the top pianist at Gillman Conservatory. He's in his last year at Gillman, which is why he was able to do Carnegie Hall. He won last year's piano competition, and this is a perk of winning first place."
I still don't see where this is going, even though I'm really trying to. I don't know what to say.
"That's... that's incredible," she said, looking at where Alexander was still sitting. He wasn't looking up.
"Well," the man named Paul said, smiling at her. "I heard that you are planning on attending Gillman yourself, am I right?"
"Well..." She shrugged. "I'm planning on recording an audition tape."
I'm about to pass out here on this floor, surrounded by people. Why did I agree to come here tonight?
"That is wonderful news. Oh and forgive me, my name is Paul Stein. I'm one of the piano professors at Gillman."
"Are you his teacher?" Violet thought it felt strange asking the question, but the conversation fell naturally on it.
"Yes," he said, nodding. "I am his professor."
"I thought his grandfather was teaching him."
Violet's gaze flickered to Alexander, who had finally spoken. He looked at Violet, his eyes serious, expression serious as well.
"Oh," Violet said, shoulders slumping. "I'm sorry to hear that."
He didn't say anything else; he only nodded. This was awkward. Violet couldn't even look directly at him. This was not quite the meeting she was expecting. She didn't know how it would play it out in her head, but it was nothing like this. She felt the disappointment in her mouth, taking over her entire body. To the point where she didn't know what to do or really what to say next.
The conversation came to awkward silence. So silent that she could hear music even with the door closed shut. Or was it in her head? She didn't know. But it was like fireworks in her mind. When she thought about it more, it definitely was from the music she heard earlier that night. There were so many things that she wanted to tell him, but nothing came up that seemed appropriate for the moment. She felt it would have been far too rude to ask for an autograph. She didn't know, but he didn't seem to be in a very good mood. Being a complete bother was the last thing that she wanted to be.
Alexander stood up and looked at Paul, then Ms. Paulson, then Violet, briefly. He said, "I'm going to go practice for a bit."
"Alexander, are you sure? You just had a huge and intense performance. You need to go and rest. Go on home. I'm sure Melissa would want to see you."
"I suppose you're right..." He rubbed his eyes.
He was about to leave, but Violet stopped him momentarily by saying, "It was nice meeting you..."
With that, he was out of the room and the door closed behind them. Violet decided to take this opportunity to sit down, letting herself sink in the chair.
"Honestly, I wasn't prepared for this," she said. It was the truth. She had no idea that Ms. Paulson had this up her sleeve the whole time.
"That extra ticket was for me the whole time, wasn't it?" Violet asked, shaking her head at Ms. Paulson.
She pursed her lips and shrugged. "Guilty as charged."
"I didn't know you knew Paul Stein."
In truth, Violet had heard of Paul before, but never saw a picture of him. If he'd passed her by on the street, she would have never have noticed him. Until now. Ms. Paulson was an incredible teacher.
"Actually," Paul said, smiling. "She's my cousin. My father was supposed to meet with you tonight, but I just got off the phone with him. Unfortunately, he fell ill and could not attend today. However, my father is willing to meet with you. He's Richard Stein."
Now that's a twist. Something I wasn't expecting at all. But his father is Richard Stein? What on earth? Why would one of the most renowned piano teachers in New England want to meet with me? It doesn't make sense.
Violet eased up a little, knowing at that moment, that Mr. Stein was family to her piano instructor. And from the pictures she saw of his father, Paul Stein definitely resembled him. But there was still something sad in her eyes when she looked at the other woman. It didn't take Violet long to figure out that something was up with this picture.
"Do you have any questions for me?" Paul asked, seemingly trying to fill in the brief second of awkward silence.
I have so many I want to ask, but I don't know where to begin. Ms. Paulson is looking at me like I should know what to ask, but the truth is, I don't. I wish that Ms. Paulson told me about this so I would have been more prepared. I understand that Mr. Stein is practically family, but I wish that she would have just told me.623Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡy3lirSuQBx