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I met the maestro in late April 1999.
You see, my name is Eleanor Finley. I reside in Apartment 507, and I absolutely adore the place. It’s very peaceful and well-maintained. The landowner, Mr. Grouse, is a wonderful old man who keeps a garden behind the building. His wonderful landscaping draws new tenants to this apartment building like prospectors to a gold mine. Everyone here generally keeps to themselves, and everyone is happy.
The maestro showed up March 25th. He was a curious fellow from the very beginning, and most of the other tenants kept an eye on him. He moved into Apartment 407, the one right below mine, and would often stay there for days at a time. He never spoke to anyone, not even Mr. Grouse, though he would nod and smile politely. I often heard the sweet melodies of a violin wafting up through the floor during those periods. The maestro had a hand for the instrument, and I know for a fact that all of the tenants around him enjoyed his playing.
As I listened to him play his violin, I often wished that I could meet the man. I happen to have had a bit of musical talent myself in a former life, though my world was made up of black and white piano keys and not violin strings. Still, I reasoned, he and I would probably get along very well.
On that late April morning, as the sun was cresting the cherry trees on the hill, I heard him playing his medley once again. That’s when I finally worked up the courage to pay a visit to the maestro. I gathered myself together, wafted down the stairs to his floor and stood in front of his door for what seemed like an eternity. After a bit, I finally reached up and knocked on the door.
The music drifting through the doorway fell silent. I could hear his footsteps coming closer and closer to the door. Soon he unlocked the door, opened it up and stared rather crossly at me.
We locked eyes, and for the longest time I wondered if he would simply slam the door in my face. Instead, the maestro smiled, nodded and beckoned for me to come inside and have a seat, which I did with much gratitude and enthusiasm.
Once I was seated on the dusty armchair he offered me, the maestro picked up his violin and, with a nod in my direction, began to play once again.
Three days in a row I visited the maestro, and three days he politely sat me down on that old armchair and opened his heart to me through music.
On the fourth day I wandered down to his apartment and let myself in. I discovered the Maestro bent over a piece of paper with hastily-scrawled notes on it. I sat in my usual spot and watched him work with great expectations.
I’m sorry to say my expectations were not met. The maestro spent a good hour huddled over that paper, scribbling his notes and barely giving me even a cursory glance. This distressed me a good deal, but what saddened me was the sight of his violin laying in its open case on the chair next to him. He would occasionally glance at it as if he longed to play for me, but then he would shake his head and return to his notes.
I’m ashamed to say that I grew very impatient with his behavior, and I finally marched to his side and leaned over his shoulder to look at his work. To my surprise, the poor soul was doodling musical notes on a hand-drawn music scale. All this work, yet he didn’t bother to play the very notes he had penned.
I’d had quite enough of this behavior, and I reached over to his violin and plucked one of the strings like a guitar. The maestro nearly jumped out of his seat in shock, and he briefly glanced over to see what had happened. Now that I had his attention, I decided to try to cheer him up by strumming a bar from one of my old piano compositions.
The maestro paused, as if in deep thought. For his benefit, I repeated my musical performance. As if in a trance, the maestro penned the very notes I’d played onto his paper. He stared at the notes for a long time as if reading deeper into their meaning. Then, to my utter delight, he stood up, pulled the violin out of its case and played the notes he had written down.
When he was finished he nodded to himself, seeming quite satisfied. He then proceeded to play the song again, this time imbuing the melody with his own heart and soul. I nearly fainted at the sound of my old composition being played with such beauty once again. When the maestro was finished, he lay his violin down on the table and sat down to write on his score once again.
I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I reached for the violin and plucked out the next bar of my composition. Once again, the maestro seemed surprised, but he quickly wrote down the notes I had just played. Then, once again, he picked up his violin and played the music he had just written.
We went on like this for quite some time, I giving him the notes to play and he putting his own spin on my compositions. Soon we had two of my original compositions written on his hand-drawn music score. We might have kept going, but the maestro decided it was time that he lay down his pen and rest. I, finding nothing else to do, simply let myself out and returned to my own apartment.
The funny thing was, neither of us had spoken throughout my visit. In fact, the maestro did little to acknowledge my presence.
Next time I visited the maestro, he was once again seated at his table and attempting to compose a song. And once again, his violin was in the open case on the table. It was almost as if he was waiting for me to play him more songs.
Well then, if that’s what he wanted…
Our relationship quickly became a symbiotic one. I would help him compose music by offering up my own compositions and, in exchange, he would add his own touch to them and play them for me to hear. It was beautiful.
That day when I walked into his room, he was sitting at his table in his usual position. This time, however, he wasn’t even attempting to compose. Instead, he simply sat there, pen in hand, and waited.
It took me a couple minutes before I finally realized that he wasn’t waiting for inspiration to come to him. He was waiting for me. He was waiting for me to inspire him! As if he couldn’t think of a song on his own!
If that was the case, I decided, I’d give him a song he’d never forget.
I didn’t even bother strumming this time. I picked up his bow and drew it across the strings, causing a horrid screeching sound.
The maestro jumped out of his seat and backed away in horror as if he’d just seen somebody murdered. “Oh, you like that?” I said with a smirk, and I started playing even faster. The room filled with the sound of a thousand cats dying violently, but I didn’t care. The maestro, in a desperate attempt to make me stop, tried to grab the bow away from me. I kept playing, ignoring his futile efforts. He needed to learn that he couldn’t just use me.
Eventually there came a knock at the door. The maestro glanced frantically at the door, then finally grabbed the violin and nearly threw it in its case. I set the bow back on the table, unable to play anymore. That was fine. I think the maestro learned his lesson.
When I left the room, the maestro was across the room from his violin, watching it with wide eyes as if he expected it to come to life and attack him. He never bothered to answer the door.
I stayed away from the maestro for three days. I only returned because something strange happened. I heard my own music coming from his room. Not from his violin, but from a piano. It sounded as if I was in the room playing for him. This had to be investigated.
I drifted down the stairs to his room, where I discovered the maestro sitting in the armchair I used to use. On the floor next to him was a radio, and this seemed to be the source of the music. As I watched, the radio began playing one of the songs I had taught to the maestro.
As the song began, the maestro sat up in shock. He listened to the music, and his head slowly sank toward his lap. What was he doing?
I glanced over at the table, where his violin rested. Next to it was some kind of thin plastic case. On the front was an old monochromatic photo of me playing my grand piano.
I heard a quiet sob behind me, and I turned around to see that the maestro was crying. Crying? Why? Had my lesson hurt him in some way?
Perhaps he needed some help. I moved into position next to his violin, listened to the timing of the music, and then I began strumming along with it.
The moment the maestro heard me he stood up and glared at his violin. “You!” he said, the first word I’ve ever heard him speak. “I can’t believe this! I thought you were teaching me an original composition!”
I stopped playing the violin and backed away. Is that what this was all about?
“I told them that what I play is original,” the maestro continued. “Now they’re accusing me of stealing your music.” He slowly sank back into his chair, and I began to wonder if he was even talking to me anymore. “Why didn’t you try and tell me? I’m ruined.”
Ruined? And he was blaming me? What was the idea?
The maestro eased himself back into his chair just as my music stopped playing. Now all that was left was the sound of his quiet crying. “What do I have left?” he whispered quietly
What did he have left? He had a lot more than I did! He had talent, an instrument to play. I wanted to tell him this, but I couldn’t think of an easy way to say it. Instead, I picked up his violin off the table and tried to take it to him.
He didn’t turn around to see it until I lost my grip about halfway there. The violin slipped from my hands, fell to the hardwood floor and shattered.
The maestro immediately turned, and the first thing he saw was the violin. “Noo!” he cried, and he rushed to it and began frantically scooping it up off the floor. I stood next to him, searching for a way to apologize. The neck of the violin was cracked in half, and the bottom half of the case had broken free from the top, only held together by the strings.
The maestro cradled the remains of his beloved instrument, now too shocked to cry. I wasn’t the least bit certain that I could do any good here. All I could do was gather myself back together and leave.
The last thing I heard on my way out was the maestro beginning to sob once again.
The next night I returned to the maestro’s room and discovered something rather shocking. The maestro’s violin was lying out on the table, still in its state of disrepair. The maestro himself was nowhere to be found.
I was searching the room for any sign of him when I heard my piano music start playing from another room in the apartment. A moment later, I heard a thump and a cracking sound.
I began to search for the source of these noises, and I finally found them in the maestro’s bedroom. There he was in the closet, hanging from the clothes rack. A chair was pushed over on the floor in front of the closet. The maestro’s eyes were rolled back, but he had died with a smile on his face. Perhaps he had been comforted by the music he was playing on the radio, which was sitting on his bedside table.
The maestro had hung himself. I knew I should have been disturbed, but in a way I was sort of relieved. Perhaps we could continue our musical relationship since we were now the same. After all, I’d been a bit lonely since I died twenty-three years ago.