This all must follow a pattern, don’t you know?
My eyes follow the Siberia of semibreves, stretching out across eighteen bars at least. I can tell they don’t trust me with this piece.
“Why’ve I only got the long notes?” I go straight to the conductor, holding back my French horn, cradling it defensively against my chest.
“Oh, it’s just the part we need you to play,” he says idly. I’m telling you though, it’s a pattern. First they start ignoring you, stop commenting on your pitch and tuning, your tonguing and rhythm. It’s nice for awhile, not getting the abuse, but soon you find yourself suspicious. The saxes and trumpets are getting hounded for their dodgy rendition of melodies while I’m sitting at the side, content and stupid. No, it’s not right. The pattern’s coming out.
“Do you even want me here at all?” I find myself asking, against my better judgment.
“Oh, it’s not a case of wanting, darling, it’s needing. We absolutely need you to blast out those long clean notes for us.”
“Oh for f—”
“Now now, go do your warm up.” I hate the way he shuts you down like that. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I feel nauseous; the thought of blowing lungfuls of warm air into that piece of metal doesn’t exactly appeal right now. Everyone around me is getting boisterous, laughing and kidding around, knocking sheets off their music stands, the trombonists playing loud and silly glissandos.
I have a theory that they start like this, then kick you out. When you start to feel like the one sane person, silent and still amongst the hurricane, that’s when you know it’s time to leave. No need for dead weight in a band like this, as he’d say. Everyone must communicate, must work together. The rests and breaks mean something too. It’s probably bullshit.
“You know, it’s a shame you’re standing around doing nothing, cos that French horn looks so damn pretty against your skin when it’s played.” Oh god. I turn, trying to source the location of this sudden bout of shitty banter. Melanie. The flute player, the little elfin embodiment of musical perfection. She once did an impromptu solo from the balcony of Kings Theatre, during a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I heard she lured a guy into bed with renditions of the ‘In Dreams’ melody from Lord of the Rings. I also heard the guy cried afterwards. You can fill in the blanks there.
Talk about blanks. Just look at this bloody part! It’s literally all rests and semibreves, not even a cheeky quaver or two to liven things up a bit.
“What d’you want me to do?” I retort to Melanie, who’s now standing over me, eyeing my sheet music. “I mean, it’s not like a lot of practice is needed or anything. Think I can nail those silences easy enough.”
“Oh, I see.” She brushes her pinkie finger over the staves. “Gosh, he really hates you.”
“Wanna take some time out?” I look at her in earnest.
“I think I’ve got enough time out in this, don’t you think?”
“Oh I know, come on then.” She leads me down a corridor or two until we’re outside, standing on a wet and windy street. There’s nobody about, it being Thursday evening, long after the closing hour for late night shopping. Musicians work at ungodly times.
To my surprise, she draws a fat joint from her pocket, rolling it round her fingers as if pondering whether or not to light it.
“Oh Melanie,” I say, grinning. She lights it and I watch her cheeks compress to little dimpled hollows as she sucks in the first draw. We pass it round and don’t talk.
“He’s a bastard anyway,” she says, after a pause.
“He means well. Talented guy.”
“I don’t know.” I’m thinking about how interesting her mouth is, the faint pink stain on the end of the spliff. How is it possible for her to play so well when she fills her lungs with this shit? The weed swirls round my empty stomach.
She must’ve heard it rumbling.
“I’ve got an orange,” she says, drawing one out from another pocket. I swear she must’ve been a pilgrim in a past life. Carries her life around with her, as if waiting to arrive somewhere.
I watch her dainty fingers peel the orange. As her nails claw into its skin, a sharp sweet smell lifts my senses. My head is swimming. I can hear every scrape and pull as she pares away the rind. Takes the first piece and pushes it between my lips. Nothing ever tasted so good.
So nothing happened. So we stood around outside the practice hall, finishing the spliff, sharing the orange. I watched her lick the juice from her lips as she watched the passing traffic. The lamplights stretched out into the distance, down the road towards the shop buildings, whose windows were closed up for the night, the bright city sinking into its disappearance. After a while, I felt better. We went back inside. We played through the song, and I guess it went well.
I’m getting better at intervals.
by Maria Sledmere
(Flash fiction February prompts: orange, theory, picture of sheet music).