A Memory of Leaves
It was not the first time that Violet had ever been in Carnegie Hall before, but every time she stepped in through that door, going inside it was like walking into a magical world all on its own. Her mind went back to the first time that she ever set into a music hall when she was ten years old, ironically, the first time that she had ever heard Alexander play. But this, this was entirely different. This place was Carnegie Hall, the most famous musical place in the entire world. And she was inside it. Her heart raced and soared to heaven. Even the smell of it reminded her of music.
"You act like it's the first time you've ever been here," Ms. Paulson said, chuckling as she led Violet to the area where the ticket booth was.
"I know," she said. " But it's like every time I come in, it's like the first time."
"It was like that for me too, the first couple of times... But you get used to it after a while. I must say though, that Carnegie Hall is absolutely gorgeous."
Violet hoped that they had the seats up at the highest point. Some people considered these seats the worst in the house, as they were so far away from the stage, but Violet, being musically inclined, knew that these were the best seats. This is where someone could hear the best sound and where someone with a bad migraine would be miserable. Crisp and loud, it was as if, the stage was right behind you when you sat at these seats.
"We do have the best seats in the house, don't we?" she asked.
"Yes." Ms. Paulson nodded. "The very best."
That made Violet more at ease. That way, she could allow herself to get totally and completely lost in the music. It would be no one but her and the music. She would perhaps even forget the fact that it was Alexander Kafka playing the piano. Maybe even imagine that it was she herself on that stage. She couldn't deny that was what she wanted more than anything in the world.
Violet was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't even realize that they were in the hall. She snapped back into reality, observing the crowds of people underneath her and around her. The people at the bottom, of course, were well-dressed, perhaps better than she and Ms. Paulson. Everyone seemed more on their line. There were even some children sitting down. She was surprised to see how mannered they were. Her previous experience of children wasn't too pleasant and it was not something that she even wanted to think about. She was here to listen to Alexander play for the second time in her life.
And she knew, now that he was older and more experienced that she was going to take home something more than she did when she first heard him play so many years ago. Violet began to wonder when the actual performance was going to start. The lights were still on bright around the walls and hadn't dimmed yet, a sign that the performance was about to begin.
But soon after she fished through the program, noticing Alexander's repertoire, the lights flickered. Her heart squeezed tightly in her chest and her pulse quickened. His first piece that he was going to play was Chopin's Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor. One of her absolute favorite Chopin pieces of all time — and one that she had never quite begun to learn.
She nudged Ms. Paulson quickly and asked, "Could I play this?" She pointed to the music and looked at Ms. Paulson directly in her eyes.
Ms. Paulson looked at her with arched eyebrows and a half-smile. She was looking at her as if to say, 'Are you kidding me?'
"Of course you can play that, silly. You've got the chops for it."
Violet couldn't help but let her smile reach her eyes. That was one of the pieces that she was dying to play, but never had the courage to ask her about it. Until now. She shifted in her seat when the surrounding lights dimmed down to almost nothing, save for the lights on the stage, which were burning brightly, focusing on the grand piano. Was it a Steinway and Sons? Violet peered to observe. She had always wanted to play on one of those pianos. The sound that came out of them was divine.
The audience clapped just as soon as Alexander Kafka walked on the stage. He was taller than she had remembered. But then again, that was seven years past. Violet didn't realize that she was the only one still clapping while everyone else stopped. Ms. Paulson nudged her and as Violet turned to look, saw nothing but Ms. Paulson's wide eyes.
That's embarrassing. Really embarrassing. I'm just going to hide now. That would be good.
Violet's eyes naturally went to the stage just as soon as Kafka sat down and adjusted the position of the piano bench. Sitting there for several moments and then putting his fingers on the piano, she found herself admiring the way he carried himself. Yes, the expression on his face was rather serious, but there was something in the way he sat. Something that she wished she had. Confidence.
Chopin's Scherzo started off sotto voce, very soft, and then within moments, Kafka was hammering loud notes on the piano as if it was second nature to him. Violet didn't think it was possible, but Alexander's playing was even better than when she heard him the first time. As soon as she closed her eyes, she was being transported again to another world. Her world. Not very many musicians could do that.
Violet's eyes remained closed as she imagined that it wasn't Alexander on that stage but herself. All those eager eyes, waiting for her to make music. All of those people sitting in the world renowned Carnegie Hall, just savoring every note she played. She felt the way her fingers danced as if they were gliding against smooth glass. She wanted this so badly. Wanted to be like Alexander — famous and renowned for beautiful playing. Would she get there if she was accepted into the conservatory? Violet perhaps felt that it wasn't the right moment to be thinking of something like that again, but it wouldn't leave the front of her mind. Here, she just wanted to sit back and enjoy the music, but her doubts and fears were attacking her at full, relentless force. Nothing was going to take them away. And as she thought of the root of all of these fears, she closed her eyes again.
She frowned as she saw the image of her mother. Her lack of support and her mother wishing that she turned out more like her and her father. Her mother's lack of understanding of her real passion. But then she smiled as she remembered all of the times her father brought her to music lessons, the pink roses after every recital she ever performed in. Her father was her support system. Ms. Paulson too. She turned to glance at her for a moment and smiled. Though the other woman was watching him play the piano and not looking at Violet, she was so grateful that Ms. Paulson brought her here and invited her. She began to find it funny how much closer she was to achieving her dreams. That is, if she would allow herself to drown out those thoughts. Those negative, blistering thoughts that festered over the years. But she wasn't going to let his be a cause of true resentment for her mother. Though it was so tempting to feel that way. She was, after all, her mother.
Her thoughts were broken by the sound of the audience clapping. He had finished the Scherzo. Violet frowned, sad that her thoughts got in the way of the enjoyment of the music. She looked down at the program, noting that the next piece he was going to play was something that he wrote himself. There was even a little bit of information on the piece. It was called A Memory of Leaves. A composition about his experiences growing up in New England and how the season of Autumn was important to him. The first few notes were soft, like how he began with the Scherzo, but they stayed soft and mellifluous. Like the notes were floating on marshmallow clouds as the sun shone through them. The beginning was beautiful and the longing for beauty that was behind the notes was something that Violet felt in the core of her soul. After a while, Violet closed her eyes.
She was walking down a road, the Autumn leaves falling down at her feet. Some even crunched beneath her boots as she kept on walking, the sun's rays peeping in through the branches of the trees. Colors of deep scarlet, gold, and russet were the dominating colors. The leaves were so beautiful to look at. Violet hadn't seen such beauty in so long. Tears pricked her eyes and she put her hand to her chest as she kept on walking. The notes of the song were still present in her heart, in the depths of her soul. Hearing the trickling water of a brook, she walked up to it, bent down and looked deep into the water, studying her own reflection. What she had become. She hated to look at herself. Instead, she just kept her eyes closed and listened to the wind. The notes that would not stop playing. Smiling, she sat herself under a large oak tree, the leaves on the ground acting as a pillow for her. The clouds in the sky looked like a treble and a bass clef. Even some looked like marshmallows. The sky was cerulean. Violet's favorite shade of blue. There it was again. The same sound, they were the same sounds from earlier. They were in her head now, a haunting melody that made her heart grow even heavier than before. But what she was hearing in her head — it was the most beautiful sounds she had ever heard in her life. Even though there was harrowing sadness all around her.
Violet's eyes opened as soon as the crowd began applauding again. The song was one of the most beautiful pieces she'd ever heard and she couldn't believe that Alexander Kafka had actually composed it. It was about autumn. She narrowed her eyes, thinking that it sounded somewhat familiar to her. A piece about autumn. Though she tried to pass it off, there was something about it that wouldn't leave her mind. There was a brief intermission now, so people were rleaxing in their chairs, talking among themselves.
"What did you think of that?" Ms. Paulson whispered. "Wasn't it beautiful?"
"Yes it was... Very. I can't believe that Alexander composed it."
"He's skilled. He's definitely on his way to becoming one of the greatest young musicians who ever lived. I can't wait to see what he comes up with in the future years."
Me too, I suppose. But then again, even though I wish all the time that I could have that kind of recognition, I know it's not going to happen with me. I'm just a silly little girl with big dreams. Who doesn't have those? I have to be realistic. There's really no Carnegie Hall in my future.
"You enjoying the concert so far?" Ms. Paulson asked.
"Yes, I am. Very much."
"I don't know." She narrowed her eyes. "There's something you're not telling me. You weren't even looking at Kafka playing during the Scherzo. I notice things, Violet, and something is wrong. Want to talk about it?"
"It's my mom..."
"Your mom again?" she rolled her eyes. "What did she tell you this time?"
"Nothing. It's just everything she's told me over the years. I feel that the only way to get her to understand me is to play here, at a place like Carnegie. That's never going to happen, though, so why waste my time trying to get her to understand me? But honestly, I just want to forget about it all for now. I came here to see him play and I just want to forget about everything else."