She Plays the Violin- Part 3

At eleven, Violet plays her first solo with the school orchestra. At twelve, her grandmother gives her, as a gift, her first real violin: a Cecilio, made of carved spruce and maple. At thirteen, she places fourth in a state-wide violin competition by performing an excerpt of Bartók’s “Sonata for Solo Violin.” At fourteen, she’s playing regularly at church services and receptions all around Aylon County, sometimes for a little bit of money, which she uses to buy nail polish, or earrings, or scoops of cookies and cream at the ice cream parlor on Main Street. At fifteen, her mother disappears, and no one can find her even though the police search and search, and then Violet doesn’t play anything for an entire month.

The high school orchestra teacher, Ms. McKay, takes her aside one day and says, “You haven’t been practicing.”


Ms. McKay closes her eyes and sighs. “Look, Vi, what are you doing to cope with this? Please tell me you’re doing something. Seeing a therapist. Talking this over with your sister. Eating your feelings, even.” Violet doesn’t have to ask how Ms. McKay knows what this is, because everybody in Avett’s Landing knows, and they all look at her strangely because of it. Like her body has been marked by the disappearance, and her sadness is written into the patterns of her skin.

She doesn’t mind the way Ms. McKay talks to her, though, because Ms. McKay says what she’s really thinking. When Violet first came back to school, two weeks after the day the police showed up at the Garretts’ house to ask questions, Ms. McKay didn’t say I’m sorry, or what a blow to your poor family. She just slipped Violet a bottle of shell-pink fingernail polish. “I’ve noticed you wear the prettiest colors on your nails,” she said. “I got this bottle the other week for myself, but I think you could use it more. Take fifteen minutes for yourself, okay? Just to paint your nails.”

Violet looked down at her nails. Shreds of a glittery silver polish from three weeks ago still clung to the half-moons of white at the base of her nail beds. She usually changed the color every week, since the pressure of strings and bow ate away at the perfect rectangles of lavender or gold or robin’s-egg blue, but she hadn’t thinking about any of the little routines that took up space in her mind. “Thanks,” she said, and she meant it. She took the bottle of nail polish and tucked it into her bag.

Now, as she sees the same look of gentle, open concern on Ms. McKay’s face, she says, “I haven’t been thinking in terms of…coping strategies, exactly.”

“It may sound stuffy, but it’ll help. If you’re not letting everything out through music, then…you can’t bottle all this up inside you.”

“Who says I can’t?” Violet says, her voice strident. She’s been doing this lately: clipping across people’s soft words of comfort with sudden anger. Later, when she’s lying in bed at night and she can hear Lina’s sighing breaths from across the room, she always thinks about her outbursts and feels ashamed.

Ms. McKay holds up her hands. “No one. Sorry. But if the traditional stuff isn’t doing it for you, try screaming along to some rock music or something. Tends to work for me.”

“Aren’t you too old for that?” Violet says, and she smiles a little.

“Yes, probably. But-” and she leans a little closer, as if telling a secret – “I don’t actually care that much. And neither should you.”

Read Part 4