The quartet: A short story

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The musicians on the street were nearly perfect. More so than any other sound-sellers the locals of the city of rain had ever heard, the violinist, the cellist and the pianist played classical music in the rain like classical music was played in the royal theater. They certainly were of that caliber, and everyone recognized the tuxedo standards they wore, issued exclusively to royal musicians.

Out of all the people who ever stopped to look, to listen or even to pay, however, only one person had ever stopped to dance. The boy stood before them in leather shoes laced much too tightly and worn much too thin to be appropriate for rain, and the musicians were concerned. It was cold and he looked like he was trembling.  

They soon learned, however, that their concern was without cause for the shoes were in fact made for dancing, as they saw when the boy’s foot suddenly curved to the most elegant point. 

He was not in want — he simply wore the shoes outside to spite his mother with their soil, for she was the one who laced them every morning and replaced them every night. His feet bled in unbroken shoes as crowds cheered, but the beauty was lost on him. He had left school on this particular day, intent on dancing down the boulevard to the tallest building in the city.

And not stopping.

Instead, his feet had carried him to the sweet sound of the classical music, and now he, in his rapidly dampening black sweater, black tights and black shoes, was sculpting a storm to the music.

He was a dancer after all.

His feet touched the stone, just barely, exactly on the beat of the pianist’s left hand.

The musicians were surprised by the boy’s sudden whirlwind of motion. He broke into ballet so elegant that even the rain tried to take part by flying off the lines of his arms and legs in perfect spirals. What surprised them more was his musicality, for when they changed and sped up without warning, he was doing spins perfectly in time with the violinist’s down bow. His feet touched the stone, just barely, exactly on the beat of the pianist’s left hand. Few musicians possessed such sensitivity. He could not have known the piece prior to their performance, for they were playing off the page and into the air now. The boy seemed not to notice and made himself part of their ensemble.

He danced around them as if he had known them for years. He covered the pianist’s hands and rested his head on his shoulder. He looked right into the violinist’s eyes because he knew who was controlling the piece. He dropped to his knee before the cellist exactly when the piece ended, and the pedestrians cheered and paid like never before.

 

The musicians did not belong on the streets in the rain, but they had left because they could stand it no longer. When the moment came for chairs to be decided, the orchestra tuned its heartstrings to news it already knew was bad. The violinist, the cellist and the pianist stood with their instruments, left the chairs they were given and left the theater they had chosen because they knew then that their choice had been unwise.

They had tried speaking with the director, but he had said very plainly, unabashedly, that the violinist and the cellist would never be good enough. The pianist was very good, but he didn’t like the director very much and the director did not like him at all. So he had left with his friends only so long ago, and they had stood in the rain in their crisp black tuxedoes quickly falling limp in the cold.

The pianist was glad he left, though. Although he knew he was good enough to play the grandest grand piano ever created, he liked his little keyboard and his friends far more, for when he played on the grand piano, the director always told him that he was too violent and always told him to tone it down.

But how could he tone down the violent beating of his heart? He played fatal pieces and pounded the keys because that was how he always played. He played to the rhythm of his father pounding some stranger in the corner of the house — he played his song to the beating. His father had always told him not to be a dangerous man. He told him to be proper.

Apparently, the most proper thing his father could think to be was a pianist, and so the pianist had begun playing at a young age to drown out the sound of someone losing their breath, gasping for air. The director hated it and told him to tone it down. But now, with his little keyboard, it only took the turn of a volume knob and he could pound the keys as violently as he wanted to and the piano would only ever make the amount of sound his friends needed. But he could still play at the beat he needed.

The violinist was glad he had left because he knew that he was good enough to play in the royal theater and sit in the first chair. But he also knew that the one who currently sat in the first chair had paid for new velvet seats in the theater box and that he had not. So the violinist was glad he had left.

The cellist was glad he had left because he hated being told by others what he should be. When he played his cello and really played it well, it wailed for him. It cried and moaned for him in warm, sensuous tones. He embraced its curved figure from behind, bowed his head over its neck and played it beautifully. But the director said he needed to match his instrument. His big body could not properly match a sensuous cello. His hard amber eyes did not emote enough to carry its wails. The cellist was glad he had left because even outside of a reverberating room, people heard well enough. Even if his arms weren’t willowy and his eyes weren’t watery, his cello could still cry like a babe.  

The dancer was glad he had left because, for the first time in his life, he danced. Before he had simply moved, learned, moved and learned more. His movements were beautiful, but his fingers fell limp in their line and his feet pointed and pointed until they were gnarled and twisted back around his ankles and suddenly he couldn’t stand on them anymore. But his mother always laced them back into beauty with his stage boots and pushed him in front of the curtain to perform.

The dancer was glad he had left because now he wanted to keep his shoes on and dance to the music in the rain.

Of course he was good. He practiced so hard so that his shoes would wear out. Then maybe he could take them off long enough to learn how to walk without pointing his toes. The dancer was glad he had left because now he wanted to keep his shoes on and dance to the music in the rain.

 

The musicians watched as the dancer made his way around the fountain. They were not playing anymore, but the dancer still seemed to hear their music and he danced around the stone rim of the fountain like a figurine in a music box. The pianist found him talented. The violinist found him intelligent. The cellist found him beautiful.

The dancer understood the pianist’s beat and made it pound with his feet on the stone, his arms flying. The pianist was grateful for the beating because it felt like someone was finally hearing his heart.  

The dancer knew the violinist controlled the music most and that the other musicians followed him, so he did too. The violinist liked that the dancer knew he was right.

The dancer heard the moans of the cellist and reached out his arms, arched his back and looked straight into people’s eyes so that they heard it, too. The cellist now understood what the director had meant when he said he needed to emote, for the dancer was so beautiful when he did.  

 

The musicians loved the dancer and wanted him to dance with them forever. But they had given up their titles and could offer him nothing if he stayed while he was still young and talented beyond breathless belief.

The dancer did stay, however, for it was only with the musicians that he could dance.

They had sent him away the first few days after he had found their music again. They told him that his future was sparkling on a stage in front of thousands of people. But he had already stood there and seen that nothing sparkled onstage. The lights and the curtains, the high-titled wives and their diamond collars, the high-titled husbands and their silver cufflinks never sparkled.

The musician’s gray world of sparkling rain was the only place where the boy was a dancer, and so he ran.

 

The musicians on the street were nearly perfect. Today they played slowly, very sweetly, because today the rain was only a light drizzle, but the puddles from yesterday were still oceans in the stone. They were together in this piece, but they could barely feel anything.

And then the dancer burst in front of them and froze in complete stillness. His feet were cut and bloody and curved into perfectly elegant points.

He danced.

And what made the dancer so beautiful that every theater in the city of rain wanted him was this: he danced like a storm with arms so large and bows so deep that the audience could barely breathe before suddenly breaking into absolute stillness. It was not good for the heart to change so quickly, and people love what isn’t good for them. 

And then his movements would be small and still, flourished only at the very tips of his fingers or the turn of his head. They had to lean in and beg for more to see. It was only when they grew so agonized that they were crying for relief that he granted them one last leap and a bow, so that their tears turned into ones of absolute joy. 

And the music stopped. And the quartet left.  

Contact Kristina Kim at [email protected].

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