Holy Guacamole! And apologies

The Snottor does not know what to say.

Loyal followers of his musings have likely noticed the current lack of them. We are now, he pedantically observes, in the month of November, and his beloved readership remains deprived even of his October pearl. There is no one, of course, to blame, but The Phlox. 

The Phlox has recently been seized by the affliction commonly known as “college applications”—she explains to the Snottor, who, be-scaled eyebrow raised, remains unimpressed. 

Needless to say, she has been grounded. During her convalescence, The Snottor will politely hold her hand to aid her in updating this site, as he does not grace technology with his esteemed presence.

Again, apologies. The Snottor has tried to deliberately ‘lose’ The Phlox many times, in similar instances, but consistently with limited success. She likes him an inordinate amount, despite his scolding. Unfortunately, he doomfully informs his readers, she seems to be sticking around. 


The Snottor’s current patronee author, in the midst of the second draft she has sent him to upload on his illustrious blog, has been struck with a third draft. The themes she thought were her themes were not actually the themes. It turns out (so she babbles to the dubious Snottor), the book was really about something else all the time, and it has recently revealed itself (she adds something concerning and incoherent about “The Muses”) to her. The Snottor does not know when the next regular update from his unfortunate authoress will come–however, he can assure the reader (as much as one can be assured, from such a type) that she really is working on it, and is going back to her beginning for another revision to try to strike truer towards what the book is trying to say.

The beloved readers’ feedback, she wishes to add, has been invaluable. The beloved Common blue violet (who might also know himself as the GUJ) in particular has provided the authoress with such troves of invaluable feedback that she really must revise her novel all the way over again from the start to do the insights she has gleaned as better a justice as she can manage.

The Snottor, sighing, thanks the beloved reader for their patience with his patronee. She is a very willful, young flower, he has found, and does not do everything perfectly on schedule. The next update the reader will receive shall be a reworked, third draft.


No Chapter This Week

The Snottor regrets to inform the beloved reader that, due to adverse weather, the author is not sending him a chapter this week. He finds this very disappointing, as he goes on with all his duties no matter what the weather, having a hard reptilian skin and sharp claws, and finds his current patronee to be a weakling.

First Violin : Chapter 4

Missed last week’s update? Find chapter 3 here.

New around here? Navigate to BOOK in the main menu to see what all of this is about.


Light-brown fingers, short, soft on the bottoms and just a little cracked and dry on the glistening tops, danced back and forth in marionette concentration across the little yellow keys of the piano. The puppet-master was above, dark, concentrated eyes between the music and then the hands as they went like waves. She looked after her notes as if they were something to be caught, and catch them she did. Up and down, up and down gaze, like a cautious driver’s from the road to the speedometer and back again. 

Because it was morning, the kind of chilly early morning of a half-regretful spring, the house was quiet and still save for this rogue action. Outside the dew was ice-cold on the short green grass. Inside Elliot was lounged sleepily on the gray couch, face in his hand, arm propped up on the side of the sofa. His palm pulled his cheek long and strange, like a sleeping dog, eyes with lids swollen from sleep watching the straight back, undulating arms, impeccable posture and concentration before him. 

He was finding the song mildly annoying. It seemed to a glorified scale, or perhaps an etude; the product of some bored composer. Whatever it was, it went over and over again, the same rhythm, similar notes. On and on, spiraling and unending. To add to the insult, it had woken him up. 

The house seemed to be catching its breath in the stillness it unexpectedly held. For the first time in the last two weeks, everything was still. There were no open boxes, littering the floor. There were no open doors, propped by a sawdust filled rag-mouse. The cars in the driveway were not ajar in any way, they were not being unloaded, they had nothing spilling out of them. 

Elliot had never moved so efficiently in his life. He was catching his breath too.

The hands stilled, fingers held themselves down in a final exhale on the keys, the resolving chord. Elliot looked up in surprise. The glorified-scale-song had seduced him into assuming it would never end.

Anne rose, putting her hands behind her, pressing her lower-back as if supporting it. She winced, walking stiffly away from the piano, Elliot observed with sleepy half-interest, half-concern as she sat down on the other end of the couch. He turned his head to watch her, still lolled to the side on his palm. Eyes still barely cracked open. 

Anne’s small hands traced their way down bare calves, pulled off the shoes she always wore, the old-fashioned spool heels, hard and stiff, olive-green leather. She unlaced the burgundy ribbons, crumpled lace. Glossy. She pulled the solid footwear off, letting the shoes land with a clunk on a carpet foreign to Elliot but now his own. Her toes looked squeezed together, the bone at the base of her largest one was rubbed shiny and looked sore. She was leaning down, gaze pained, rubbing and squeezing her feet hurriedly as if anticipating another impending item on her list.

“Why don’t you get a pair of sneakers, Anne? You look like you’re killing your feet.” Elliot offered, and she looked up, bent over the injured objects as she was. She shook her head.

“No, this is what I wear, Elliot. It’s fine.”

This, the man thought, was absurd. He straightened up in mild indignation.

“But you’re hurting yourself, don’t be ridiculous, Anne.” 

Anne gazed at him with her lips quirked somewhat in her coldness. She seemed to be looking him over with some sort of mild interest, the mild interest of Elliot the lab assistant over an unwanted insect fallen into the killing jar, whom he did not understand and did not particularly wish to. Her palms sheaved back up her calves, she adjusted her skirt and rose, pushing her feet, wriggling like fish, into the hard objects that greeted them. She tied the ribbons. 

“I have to go to work.”

“Where?” He asked in mild surprise, rising up in his slouch still further to meet her standing gaze.

“University. I’m teaching a class. Can’t be late.”


“I daresay they’ve have enough of the substitute.” She en-wove her shoulders to the sturdy, padded back-pack straps of her case, shaped and glossy. It was a high-tech hard-case, blue. She put a bag on her shoulder, the soft leather messenger bag. Elliot watched, limbs unmoving and sleepy, as she walked busily to the door. But it was not many steps before there seemed to be something unsure in her gait, resistant and undecided. It culminated in the turning of her toe back towards him, the half-turning of her body, full-turning of her head. She was not thinking to conceal the unsureness on her face—she looked sorely torn, like a little girl with the option of a puppy on one side and a pony on the other.

“I suppose you’ll have to watch Renata while I’m gone,” she spoke, avoiding his gaze. “Mrs. Locklear canceled, a friend of hers had a stroke last night.”

Mrs. Locklear was Emil’s mother. Emil’s mother with wavy hair dyed blonde, honey-blonde. Elliot received this in double-surprise—first, in confusion at the odd choice of name for Renata’s grandmother, and second, at the dawning realization that Anne was, in fact, trusting his stained hands with the jealously guarded child. Elliot raised his eyebrows in unconcealed surprise. 

“I won’t be gone long. Make sure she has breakfast. I—I have to go to work.” She said this with a sort of finality, as if attempting to put an end to her unsure tone. From the way she said it, it was obvious that work was very important to Anne, almost as if she’d laid the intonation for the two of their benefits. Elliot, brows still raised, shrugged and nodded.

“Sure.” He spoke the word with the friendliness of being caught off-guard, Anne lingered for a moment, unsure, before turning hurriedly and marching out the front door. It closed behind her, Elliot heard the key turning heavily, loudly, clacking. 

He sat in surprise, in the silent, sleepy living room, pillowed in the soft couch, for a good long moment. He blinked at the now-closed door, large and solid and painted brown, before rising heavily and stiffly at the realization of his duties. For all the petty resentment-flinging he could engage in with the Hungarian, the unexpected and rather-against-her-will handing over of the sacred burden was something to be treated with the utmost weight. Elliot hardly even thought about it; it was an unspoken. 

He crept cautiously towards the forbidden bedroom door. Elliot had grouped it as such in his mind as much from feelings of spite and avoidance as from respect for the ladies of the house, but forbidden it was, or seemed to him. The door, like the walls, was painted cream, the kind of color that could look well on its own but not with anything you could put beside it. 

The door creaked open, Elliot’s head and head only entered cautiously in the dark room, peering about in the first reconnaissance. It was very dark, not as dark as a room at night, but as a room shadowed in the morning by a closed door and cloistered windows. The bedroom was large enough to be comfortable, but had no room lying idle or to spare; the walls were that same cream, and to the right of the blinded window was Anne’s bed, the same large one she’d had in her old house. It made Elliot feel unexpectedly sorry to see it; he was not accustomed to feeling many pangs for Anne, not any more since her ungratefulness had overcame it, and yet he did, here he did. It is hard for a poetic soul to help feeling constricted at seeing a widow’s bed unchanged but so much changed, and looking at it made him feel lonely.

He turned away after a long gaze. It was not Anne’s loneliness that he was here for, unexpected though the sentiment was. It was for the mattress on floor, swathed generously in softs; sheets and a comforter, off the edge a little light-blue quilt with a large daffodil. Amidst it all in the silent room, in the soft room, in the dark room, lay Renata. Her lips were parted, and the cheek squashed into a pillow squeezed them like a fish’s. Her soft lids were closed, her long hair, straight and sleek and seldom tidy, was very wild indeed from her sleep. Elliot noticed with surprise that her arms were draped cozily around a soft mound of tousled black curls, and with a cautious step closer his suspicions were confirmed. The treacherous Rosco was indeed fraternizing with the acquaintances who were not friends, in the forbidden room, no less. Without Elliot’s knowledge, no less. This effected him rather strangely. He was not overly fond of Rosco—in fact, he often held him in good-natured contempt—he half-expected, every morning when he woke the afflicted dog up, to find him not alive at all. 

But here he was. Renata’s. The pierce of loneliness Elliot had felt a second before came again, no longer sympathetic, but entirely for himself.

This was silly, he told himself. He was such an affected lout, he told himself. Although his family would never have believed it, Elliot was in fact aware of and occasionally disgusted by his affected, romantic enmirings.

Unsure of how to proceed further, Elliot Roberts hurriedly turned on the light. Renata woke up like a bolt of lightening at this, so suddenly it made him jump; she sat up in an instant, eyes snapped open and wide, and her movement jolted Rosco awake as well, scrabbling clumsily and frightfully into a sitting position beside her. 

This was disarming and unexpected to a man who woke up slowly and only slowly, languidly and only languidly, dreamily and with enjoyment in being exactly in the early-morning reverie that he was. Well, not anymore. That was when he had lived alone. That was before the unknown early-morning piano practicing.

“Uh, good morning, Renata.” He began awkwardly, putting his hands into his pockets. She, thoroughly tousled but eyes sharp, stared at him as she seemed to be getting her bearings. At the non-appearance of an answer, Elliot reopened his lips. “Well, uh, your mum’s out, she told me to make you breakfast.” Renata gazed back but did not budge. She apparently would not be prevailed upon. Elliot scratched the back of his head. 

“What do you like to eat? Cereal?” There was no answer. Elliot gazed around at the room, at a loss. The dark-wood bureau, the window-blinds, offered no aid. He suddenly felt a surge of frustration. Renata was only five, maybe six. This was easy.

“Come on, come on, get up.” He walked to the bed, taking her by her thin, childishly toned upper arms. They felt small and soft in his grasp. “Get up and wash yourself, and I’ll make you something to eat. Come on,” he heaved her up with the appropriate gentleness, but she slipped down from his hands; she had gone entirely limp and deadweight in his grasp, and now that she had slid free she began to scrabble away over the sheets. Elliot, however, would not be so easily beaten. “Come back here, come on—“ he reached after her quickly, falling onto all fours over the already-vacated bed. Rosco assaulted him friendlily, eyes bugged out, tongue wet, tail wagging.

“Rosco, stop it,” Elliot sighed, pushing the over-enthusiastic visitor away to look up again, scanning for the fleeing girl. He spotted a moving pile of Anne’s clothes and dived at it; the creature escaped and he was left with a formerly wrinkle-free, formerly perfectly folded magenta cardigan in his grasp. At this point, straightening up, he was struck by the absurdity of the situation, and the absurdity of his role within it. Elliot Roberts took a deep breath, not the calming kind, but the harried one. He placed the cardigan back on the floor. He walked, lips pressed tightly together, out of the room, keeping his glance firmly ahead of him. He would not humor her. He left the door open.

Elliot Roberts opened the kitchen cabinet—his kitchen now, his cabinet. He paused for a moment, thinking it a little strange. But then he smirked. It really was his, he thought. He’d know it well enough with all the money he’d lose over it. With every pound he paid out he would feel it, he thought. It was rather his own fault, but that couldn’t keep the resentment away from the woman who needed to live somewhere mildly suburban, who needed to live in a detached house, who needed a driveway—the longer he spent with Anne, the more acquainted he was becoming with all her odd rules and notions. Elliot had rules and notions too, but his were conceived from dreams and fancies, and thus had little logic. But Anne’s—Anne’s lacked the logic without the fancy, without the dream. 

Elliot shook his head to get out one of the cereal bowls. It was perfectly white and glossy and without design, thin as if you could snap it in half, but solid enough. He laid it down onto the counter with a heavy klink, long fingertips bent and weighted in the middle of the dish. In the pantry he was confused by the selection—amidst a wide array of other foods that never found their way into his pantry, he laid his hand on a little white box of Kashi Golean Crunch. His face displaying his revulsion, Elliot popped open the top tabs and peered in suspiciously. He was instantly greeted with the sweet smell; he drew back in alarm, wondering who ever would buy such stuff for their children. 

His own choice, the plain Cheerios, was not present. Elliot rifled a good few minutes in the pantry shelves to be sure, but between lots of pasta (the thought of it nauseated him) and canned soups, paprika and trail mix, there was none of his cereal to be found. 

At this point Elliot was attacked by indecision. He glanced guiltily at the bedroom, then at the little cereal box, then nervously down at the bowl. What would be worse, he wondered? To give Renata this, or to not make her breakfast at all? Anxiety seemed unbearable to him when he was alone. He tapped his leg nervously. 

Elliot sniffed the cereal again. Perhaps it didn’t taste quite as sickly sweet and complex as it seemed. He pulled out a sticky clump, placing it cautiously between his teeth. The saccharine taste hit his tongue, his taste-buds seemed to quiver as saliva rushed to the scene. It was rather an alarming experience, and Elliot spat it out hurriedly in the direction of the sink. No, this would certainly make Renata sick, there was no way he could, as a responsible adult, feed this to her. 

Elliot took a short, cylindrical glass cup from the shelf, and filled it with milk from Anne’s carton in the fridge. Elliot never drank milk. It left a bad taste in his mouth. Hopefully this would be a compromise between making the girl too sick and not feeding her at all, which her mother certainly wouldn’t understand. He looked over at Anne’s little mantle clock—it had light-colored wood, a thin gold rim around the round glass—atop the piano. The arrows read 8:15.

Elliot, cup in hand, entered the forbidden bedroom with catlike steps, cautious. It was still dim and could have been empty, it could have fooled you, cradled unknowing in its oxygen crammed with quiet anticipation, in the little breaths coming from somewhere, unseen and bated. The hero laid the cup on the bureau and wished desperately for deliverance. 

Anne arrived home at 10:30 in the morning. She hung her bag on a hook by the door, she turned immediately towards the rooms with anxiety. 

The house was quiet. Elliot, sitting on the couch, craned his head back towards Anne at the sounds of the door. One foot was propped against a leg of the rectangular coffee-table, upon which was a small cup of milk. There was a trail coming down from the lip of the glass, as if someone had taken a sip. The sour, thick taste was still coating the inside of his mouth.

“Hullo, how were the kids at University.” Elliot asked this very calmly and very amicably, he seemed strangely subdued and looked almost a little listlessly sick. Anne entered in immediate suspicion.

“Where’s Renata, Elliot?” She asked, eyes scanning the empty remainder of the couch, the empty dining table, the empty rug. Elliot smiled in that same weak way that he apparently thought would be comforting, extending a thin beige-panted leg over towards the left of the piano across from him. Anne followed his direction as his big toe, swathed in the gray sock with the thin black and red stripes, indicated the old scarlet armchair.

This also was empty, but the fact did not seem to cause her any confusion. She hurried over towards it, under the man’s odd gaze, squatting down in the careful manner women in skirts seem to understand by instinct, contorting her head strangely to be able to see under the wildly frayed bottom of the chair.

“Renata—“ she’d begun, and Elliot knew that beneath she would be meeting the large brown eyes, the little girl curled and pressed beneath the chair, arm bent oddly to be able to hold the yellow pencil. 

The woman turned up to Elliot in something of relief tempered immediately by coldness. She rose. “You didn’t even try, did you?” She asked, quirking her lips as if she wasn’t surprised. Elliot pressed his together in an attempt to restrain himself. He tapped his foot, knee bouncing, on the coffee table, leaping up at her words.

“Anne—hey, now that’s not fair—“

“It’s the truth. Please, Elliot. Don’t trouble yourself with little things like children, they’re beneath you.” She spat, turning away. Elliot picked up the glass of milk and left. 


“So you and Anne went to Rosemary House?” Dax asked quietly, looking up from the instrument case he was bent over. Elliot did not catch the brown eyes trained up at him. He shrugged as if it wasn’t important.

“Yeah, we went a little bit.”

“And you got a new house?”

“Yeah.” Elliot shrugged again, fixing the warm-looking tuning peg of his instrument between the long light-colored tips of his fingers, focusing down on it. 

Dax nodded at this, holding Elliot for a moment with a pointed, perceptive look that made the man uncomfortable before turning down to his own instrument, taking it up from the case. 

The silence made Elliot antsy, and he choked out a wry laugh to fill it. Dax looked up. “That house’ll cost me longer than any of this,” he joked lamely, and Dax listened, he cracked a little, lips-only sympathetic smile in return. “Remember that time,” Elliot began suddenly, still with that joking smile, zipping up his case. “that we were all at the beach and you set off those fireworks?” 

Dax seemed just a little surprised at this. It was the kind of surprised where his face didn’t move and he didn’t look up, but his gaze paused for a moment. Just a moment. He seemed to recollect himself as he looked up, calm.


That was all he said. Elliot shrugged, taking up his violin case by the handle and handing it over to Dax, who had his own already dangling from his other hand. 

“So you really don’t mind at all, about this?” Elliot asked quickly, Dax straightened up, a case from each hand. The man shook his head. 

“I don’t. I’m going to the Luthier’s for mine anyway, I need to pick up a re-haired bow. It’s really nothing.”

“Thanks, then. I’ll get it when they’re done with it and pay.”

And so Elliot was left. He was left with his hands empty. This was strange. He put them in his pockets. He was left, left to go back home to the house with the little anemones blooming outside, so out of character. Every time he looked at them he wondered how long it would be until they died from neglect. 

And so Elliot was left. He went home to the house whose new owners spelled flower death, without his violin.

He thought to practice and then he remembered and rolled over miserably, restlessly, listlessly, on the daybed-now-without-a-window. It was a fact Anne had cruelly and craftily concealed until they had been bound by law to that house, he reflected, that there was no large window suitable for his settee. The large windows were on the backside of the house, in the little dining room right behind the living room, and of course Anne wouldn’t allow any room-shuffling. 

And so now Elliot lay on the black-framed, green-velvet daybed, and when his eyes grasped up they were cut off, unexpected every time, by a too-close, too-dim, too-plain, too-solid wall. And so now Elliot hid in misery as the exercises were run through on the lower-toned viola from the living room, longing for his dear, for his soul. He never thought about it like that unless he couldn’t have it, that violin. Then it was everything, then he was shot with regret, with longing. It only I had it, if only I could play who-knew-what with my fingers pressed against the strings and my hand commanding the bow, then everything would be inexplicably and suddenly perfect.

That is what he told himself. 

Elliot could only roll in misery for so long before the energy of it all bred enough restlessness to demand escape. This would not do. Elliot, having writhed onto a position on his back, rocked his legs up and backward over his front, using the momentum to fling himself childishly out of bed. He did not much mind being childish (he didn’t really think the things he did deserved that name, anyway) if no one was there to watch. And besides, those things, those immaturities Anne would scoff at, they were the most interesting. Anyone worth their salt would see that. 

He grabbed the book on the floor and opened his bedroom door with equal momentum, entering the world that was not his own, entering the world of the woman sitting upright in a way inappropriate for a slouchy couch, phone at her ear and computer on her lap, notebook and pen beside her on the cushion. The world of the little girl he saw out the window, mucking in the little yard, bleak and grassy, out back. Alone in her own little universe of pointlessness, it could seem, as the frisbee she handled did not go anywhere, just tossed up and down, back and forth. Rosco ran after it, but the thrower did not seem to notice. Elliot had respect for the private wanderer and dreamer, for that is how he saw himself. 

In a moment’s glance this house offered no respite for him, no solution. The old book under his arm, thin paperback cover cracked, white beneath the colors and title peeled in patches off, he walked briskly through. Unseeing, to the front door. Anne had perked up in suspicious half-curiosity at the sight of him; it wasn’t really any interest for him, he could tell. This was Anne’s way. It was more the sort of nondiscriminatory action of a meerkat acting as sentry. He did not acknowledge her. 

Instead he acknowledged the large gold-colored handle of the door, round, instead he acknowledged his feet on the little porch of those same stout wood beams, brown-painted. Instead he sat down with a heavy creak on the moldy wicker chair, white gone gray, left by the previous homeowner. And inherited, he decided, by Elliot. He cast a look over the street, over the other houses. A sleepy street, calm houses. There was a women, older than he and Anne but still young, of a thin and tall demeanor, inspecting her gutters. There was an old man, soft wisps of white hair, standing and breathing the air as if there was no time at all, nothing more important to do than grow roots and look, crinkled eyes small and narrowed, at nothing. He did this while his tiny dog of white curls urinated profusely on the street-corner. 

His bedroom, the room supposedly his retreat in that house, was really, Elliot decided, a pasty illusion. For really there was no escape. It was a cheap trick and deceit. It was Anne’s house, it was living all the time with a stranger, it was never having a moment unscrutinized, uninfluenced, or private. 

Elliot opened the book, which was overdue at the library, he remembered, in his lap. He crossed his leg, which looked funny, he knew, because it stuck out so long. But he didn’t give it too much thought. The book was called Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. It could be thrilling, at points, Elliot thought. The words. They were thickly done, they imbued the ordinary and the small with an epic rivaled by Homer. But he was often too distracted to read.

“Are you out here?” 

Elliot turned in mild surprise as the door opened halfway beside him, as Anne’s top-part appeared from behind it, holding on from the edges like she was leaning from it. Elliot picked up the book in an attitude of showing her what he was doing. 

Anne eyed the thing for a moment. “Oh, that looks pretty long.”

Elliot shrugged, holding it from its spine so that the two of them could get a better view of the thickness of the pages. 

“I suppose.”

“Hmm, are you really going to read all that?” She asked, barely laughing in a way that seemed uneasy. 

Elliot shrugged again, quirking his lips in a sort of considering attitude, as if he certainly could have, but wasn’t sure if the volume was worth his time. He could see Anne’s eyes following his movements in the closeness of anxiety. 

“I—I’ve never been that much of a reader myself. I like audiobooks.” Another nervous laugh. The realization was to him rather shocking, from the good-grade-prestigious-institution-highly-skilled-never-slouching Anne, but he retained his composure with the same attitude of in-control indecision. “I didn’t know you read.”

“Yeah, I do.” His answer was unconcerned. Of course it was affected. It was an unconcern nearly haughty, as he gazed appraisingly down at the book, before Anne’s voice, come rapid and with a change of tone, made him look up.

“Oh, is that your sister?” A jolt wracked Elliot, surprise ending his listlessness, his pointless minute-eating—Anne’s dark eyes were trained with interest on the young woman with the pistachio-colored bike, busy walking it past the little dog and towards their house. Elliot’s followed.  

“Gracie!” He called excitedly, catching his breath in the call, waving enthusiastically at the little Elliot-in-miniature. Well, not quite. Where her brother was taller she was shorter, where Elliot was flat she was just the slightest bit curved and womanly, but barely. More girlish than womanly.

Where Elliot’s hair was glossy, down about his shoulders in little curls that started halfway, hers was flat and pulled back. They were both light-colored but his skin was warm and of life, vibrant. Hers was pale and white.

At the sight of Elliot, eyes wide, mouth wide in a toothy smile, waving his arms over-theatrically at her, Grace smiled somewhat wanly. She never ignored her brother. She was that kind. But the smile got wider, like she couldn’t keep it in. 

She was, in good form, wearing stripes. Loose shirt around her thin form, three-quarter sleeves, ecru with honey-colored lines.  

Anne watched as the woman laid her vibrant bike, an attractive low-seater with reaching handlebars, against the side of the house. She watched as “Gracie” mounted the front steps calmly, eyes trained on the man awaiting, spread and exuding, at the top. She had her thin lips still lightly turned in a sort of considering, half-amused smile. It was at once a little humoring and a little fond. Her eyes were narrowed, barely, at him. 

The Roberts siblings had an aesthetic appreciation for stripes. They understood their value, they always owned at least one effected item, and wore it with the appropriate respect. 

This, the stripes, filled the brother up with warm anticipation. He smiled larger. No one understood him like Grace, he thought. 

Elliot, after gazing at his sister for a grinning moment with open arms, squeezed her in a calorie-burning hug. Anne, standing, unsure whether to stay or leave, watched in uncomfortable bemusement. 

This was perfect, Elliot thought, as he squashed Grace in an embrace he saved only for her. This was the best thing that could possibly have happened, he thought. Forget Anne. Grace, she was his most successful beneficiary. If it weren’t for Elliot, he fancied, Grace would undoubtedly not be standing here today. Elliot, he thought, well—Elliot was her guardian angel.

This, Grace, with her typical unnapreciativeness, did not seem to exude as she was finally released. Elliot held her proudly at arm’s length for a moment, before his surveying eyes darkened. 

“Gracie!” He exclaimed, face turning drastically, tone accusatory—hurt. “Put your mask on, Gracie! There’s a little kid in this house, we’ve probably got germs galore—she has a runny nose—I can’t believe you biked all the way here without it—“

Grace turned to Anne, her face still with that lightly-affected imperturbability to it, eyes still narrowed, lips still narrowly turned up. 

“It’s fine, Elliot. I started a new medicine. And you’re being very rude to Anne—she doesn’t even know who I am.”

“Don’t be silly, Gracie, of course she knows who you are—Anne,” Elliot added, turning to the Hungarian awkwardly present in the scene, “this is my little sister.”

Grace extended her hand, and Anne took it. She noticed the girl’s fingers, nails cut short and stinted like Elliot’s, but caked and impressed with dusty-dry clay in grooves that didn’t wash out easily. 

“I just thought I’d stop by,” Grace began, withdrawing her hand and touching her loose satchel with something of a glow, scarce-concealed, “to bring Elliot a present.”

“A present!?” Her brother exclaimed, wide eyes growing wider still. Grace adopted the littlest sort of smile, nearly mischievous, as her veiled eyes turned to the house around them.

“It’s a house-warming visit; and I thought I might as well get your birthday out of the way at the same time.” 

“Well what is it, Gracie?” Elliot prompted excitedly, as no present appeared. She shrugged, moving towards the door. 

“I can’t house-warm unless I’ve seen it,” she informed him quietly, and Anne thought she was both keenly aware and eager to use her present power, in the most unassuming, sly manner possible. 

The young woman pushed open the heavy brown door, peering into the bungalow with quiet interest. Elliot appeared aflutter at her shoulder, grasping at the knob.

“Gracie! Don’t touch that! It’s not clean!”

She seemed not to have heard him, entering the house. Elliot followed anxiously behind, and Anne, with an unsure look at the forgotten Thomas Wolfe volume on the porch, came after him. 

Grace was an acute surveyor of the house. She seemed to be thinking about how the rug felt on the soles of her shoes, taking in the disappointing color of the walls, casting a dubious second look at Anne’s Hungarian espresso maker. The second look was for the odd, rather phallic spout. This was a look the object was accustomed to by now, living in a foreign country as it was. It seemed un-offended. 

While Grace inspected the piano with her keen, quiet, unrevealing glance (this made Anne feel rather uncomfortable. It was always an often unfounded suspicion of hers that people scrutinized her home), Elliot was going about loudly in the kitchen. He was alit with anxiety at Grace’s hygiene brazenness, flustered even though he would have been sorely disappointed had it been gone. 

He was squatting, spider-like, at the cabinet whose double doors he’d thrown open below the sink. His poky knees extended long to either side of him, pants crinkled around them. Anne, one anxious eye still on the unperturbed Grace, watched as the violinist hauled out a pair of large rectangular bottles of rubbing alcohol. They were attached by a plastic halter that went around each beneath short white bottle-caps. 

As he feverishly yanked off the halter and unscrewed a bottle, he kept on casting looks at his sister’s rebellious exploits, adding “Renata wiped her nose on that yesterday!” Or “Rosco peed there!” Or “Just wait a moment!”. It made him feel so important, so purposeful. It was wonderful. Now he was getting out the spray bottle of bleach cleaner. 

The inspection, however, was not gratuitous. Grace seemed satisfied, heading back towards the door as Elliot was dumping the rubbing alcohol on a hairy microfiber towel.

“Hey! Where are you going?” He called, twisted around so that he missed his aim and spilled all over the counter—the strong odor instantly hit Anne’s nostrils, offensive. It singed her nose-hairs.

“Well I don’t want to bother Anne; it’s her house too. Come on, Elliot. Your present’s outside.” So matter-of-fact, was Grace. Anne wondered vaguely if she and Elliot had been raised in the same household. 

“Can I please see what it is? Please?” The brother begged as he followed her, wiping his hands together to sheaf off the dripping cleaner. It left big dark splatters on the floor, and Grace couldn’t help but smile at the power she was wielding. She turned out of the way as he dived at her satchel, yanking it out of his trajectory as she turned into one of the wicker chairs. 

“You’ll be disappointed, it’s not much—“

“Oh come on—“

She, still smiling half-mischievously, removed from her bag a book. It was of a pleasing hardcover, substantial. Elliot twisted his head to get a square look at the little volume nestled in her lap; the whole cover was a drawing of a shipwreck, waves spurting, stormy sky. A young man in a rowboat was lurching towards it, seamen rowing. The title, in a white box, read Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. 

He looked up at Grace. She shrugged as she handed it to him.

“I thought it’d be something you’d like,” she began, with him adding hastily and supplementarily, Oh I’m sure I’ll like it. “Rose—you know Rose?”

Of course Elliot knew Rose. She was one of Grace’s friends—one of Grace’s odd friends, he would add, as it seemed all her friends were odd. One of Grace’s issue friends, as it seemed all her friends had issues. She also had a lot of hair, brown and messy curls, thick and very long. She’d been a witness for his and Anne’s wedding, if a wedding it could be called.

“Of course I know who Rose is—oh, thank you—“ he added in appreciative surprise as she drew out a second item from her satchel; a bag of Milano cookies, already opened. 

“Her parents love it,” Grace went on, and Elliot added a hmm in between munches of the crunchy soft goodness, tongue tingling as it hit the fudge sandwiched between two thin wafers. This was the signature treat that was bland enough to banish his doubts and sweet enough to make him slightly lose his mind. It touched him that Grace remembered it. 

“whenever they go on a road-trip—her dad’s from America, and they do that when they visit his family.”

“Ah,” he announced hazily between crumbs,

“They’ll be driving for hours and hours—even days—“

“God!” He exclaimed, drawing out another cookie. His leg was crossed, and he was quite comfortable on that porch beside the familiar face, the way she always sat with her back unstintedly upright without effort, because she was made that way, but her shoulders somehow slouched, legs together and hands resting one on each thigh.

“And they take turns driving, you know, and they read Horatio Hornblower to each other all the way.”

“That’s awesome—this same book, over and over again?”

“No—I think there’s eleven in the series, or something. Anyway, she was talking about it, and it seemed like something you’d like. Lots of battles and adventures.” 

“Thanks,” he said it high as if he were surprised, long in appreciation, clapping her on the shoulder.

“Happy Birthday,” she smiled, lips curling as in very pleased with herself indeed, in that quiet way Grace could be. “happy twenty-sixth.” 

Elliot felt himself to be brimming over on the inside with liquid gold, warm. This had turned out to be a wonderful day. 

Grace paused in the cookie-munching silence, surveying the neighborhood keenly. 

“This is nice,” she remarked, turning to her brother. “do you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s ok.” He shrugged. The gold evaporated as he considered her words, as he considered the street. He didn’t like it all that much. But it was alright. 

This must have been apparent in his voice, as Grace’s gaze became more scrutinizing. 

“How are things with Anne?” She asked it in a way so calmly, so without confrontation or demand. It was quieter and quicker, almost confidential. Elliot lowered his tone in response. 

“They’re…alright.” Elliot had nearly hovered on the edge of a flood, but no, not today. With the idea of the deluge, with the beginning, it had been too much. Too much to say, and none of it would have sounded right. And he didn’t have the energy for it. He shrugged again. 

“Did you expect you’d have to live with her?”

“Not really, I—I don’t know. I think I kind of did, a little bit.”

“Hmm.” Grace tapped her foot lightly on the boards beneath them. Elliot watched it. 

“So,” he began, ending the pause. Grace looked up. “how are things with you?” It was really only a curtesy catching-up-with-you question, because Elliot was already confident he knew the answer. Things must be going well; first of all, the unexpected visit. Then the presents. And she had entertained his hugs without the least bit of coldness or distracted haste. Grace shrugged. “Well?” He prompted, and she shrugged again. 

There was another pause and now it was Elliot who drummed his foot, lightly. Grace looked away with an interest Elliot thought had to be fake, scanning blithely the trees barely starting to flower along the street. 

Then her phone buzzed. 

At the same moment, both brother and sister dived at it; the sister was faster, and this was perhaps only because it was in her bag. 

“Elliot! Stop!” She nearly squealed (as close as Grace could come to a squeal), before trying to reclaim herself with the smile of a person clearly hiding something as she held the phone close to her. She was clicking a button quickly before moving to put it away.

“Gracie, what is it—“


“Let me see—“

Elliot succeeded to wrestle the thing from her grasp, two sets of thin arms taut, he stood up quickly to hold the phone above her reach.

“Elliot!” She gasped, amazed laughter breaking in with her indignation, clawing up, but he, amid the arm-waving evasion, was able to get a glimpse. Yes, he saw it, and practically squawked when he did.

“Who is Robbie?” He exclaimed, voice hitting a high-note—phone still waving out of the way above him as he turned to look at her with wide eyes, demanding. Grace stopped snatching at the phone. She tried to look suave, uncaring, to thwart him—but there was a smile breaking around the edges, moving violently towards her eyes. The smile won, and as it did, the realization of horror dawned on the protector, on the knight. The realization of failure. Grace, at her brother’s gaze (Elliot was always very easy to read), giggled.

“He’s just someone I’m dating, Elliot, it’s not the end of the world—“

Dating? You’re dating someone?”

“I’m twenty-three, Elliot, you’re not my dad—“ she sighed, miffed around her amusement.

“Why didn’t I know about this?”

“Don’t carry on like that, Elliot, it’s not like I’ve lived in a box my whole life, you know—“ her tone was becoming harried, nearly a little annoyed. Elliot grasped at something invisible that wasn’t there, at the air. This seemed to be his version of wringing his hands.

“But—but—“ he spluttered, and she sighed, recovering her smile, slightly.

“He’s really nice, if you want to know. I met him in the produce section of the grocery store.” That smile again, curling up the edges of her face, something cat-like. Elliot stopped spluttering. He stared at her.


“He’s really nice. I met him in the grocery store produce section.” She repeated, and the grin curled up even farther.

“Oh.” Elliot said the first word as if all the wind had gone out of his sails. A pause. Grace watched. “How long have you been dating him?”

“A couple months.”

“Does mum know?”

“Yeah, she knows.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” Elliot’s voice pitching high, affronted. 

“I’m telling you now,” Grace offered, helpfully and unsympathetically, shrugging. Elliot sat down heavily, remaining breathing in silence for a few moments, processing the new information. He was part horrified at his skills as an older brother, half shocked at Grace for keeping something this important from him, not to mention not even consulting him first—

“You—I mean, are you guys serious?” He asked, at once grave and lame, looking up. She had crossed her arms low over her stomach, fingertips resting on opposite elbows. She tilted her head. 

“I guess, yeah.” 

“And you’re—I mean, you’re being safe?” 

This was something choked. Grace narrowed her eyes still further. It was the closest she came, in her daily round of expressions, to Elliot’s face-contorting scowl. 

“I’m not a kid, Elliot.” She said it curtly, he could hear the irritation. He blinked in the chair. He was having that feeling of something slipping away, right before his eyes. Himself, out of control. Himself, unable to stop it. He felt very weak—and strange. As in, perhaps, unsure what to say. He breathed and looked up again. 

“I—well—I mean, congratulations.” He didn’t want Grace to be angry at him. That would be worse. When Grace got angry it was like a building that never forgot, its foundation compromised, full of cracks, spreading and growing by the day. Elliot never knew it until it blew up all around him. She suddenly smiled, warm, looking down. It was like the smile she would give to customers if she had to run the shop, except there was some extra sort of warmness. It was real, that was the difference. She drew out a cookie from the bag and took a bite of it.


“And you’re still taking your medicine every day?” He asked quickly, and she smiled pursingly at him. 

Yes, Elliot.”

“Well, alright.”

The house was dim in afternoon as Elliot was cleaning the counters. The orange microfiber towel, ends curled up from trips through the washing machine and beloved of Rosco’s hair, moved back and forth across the smooth surface under his palm. It would get stuck when he ran out of bleach cleaner between it and the counter, would twist away from his skin, he’d spray more nose-burning liquid down. 

He thought of Grace’s excitement and her curling tomcat smile and felt cheated. He felt cheated in a way that weighed pounds, that weighed down his insides and filled his head with gray air. Cheated and lonely. Why should he? Why shouldn’t he, Elliot, be happy? Why should he lay another day in misery, why should he ever feel sad or sorry again? He thought of Rose, Rose with her crazy hair. He’d never thought about her before, but now—would she want to go out? Maybe she was fun. People with issues could still be fun; Grace liked her, at any rate. Maybe she was as good at distracting herself as Elliot could be. Maybe she’d enjoy the charade. 

“What are you doing?” Anne asked, shouldering her viola case on one side and taking Renata’s hand on the other.

Elliot looked up. His mind was foggy. He blinked—to refocus on the current world, the real world, the present. On the woman and the girl, on her clean, shiny, round brown calves taut in her posture, on the little dirty pink sneakers beside her. He found his voice. 

“I was just disinfecting,” he told them, “in case Grace comes back.” 


“So do you know anything about this guy Robbie?” Elliot had the phone, his little silver phone, pressed against his ear. It looked small beneath his palm, beneath fingers lightly folded. He was tromping to the Minndish. It was more exciting to have a phone-conversation walking; people might overhear parts of it. 

There was a sigh on the other end. This was unsurprising to Elliot and yet it infuriated him. He pursed his lips tightly, looking both ways with eyes flicking and head unmoving before proceeding stiltedly across the street.

“Elli, don’t you have other things to worry about?” This was one of his mother’s airs. There were two. This was the more likely one; the one where she was busy, or preoccupied, or tired, or stressed. It was the one where they just wanted each other to go away, but would never let the other one go. “Don’t you have a wife or something—“

“Mum, she’s not my wife—“ Elliot responded, intoning the words forcibly in his vexation. 

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t think of her like that, Ellie, the point is that she is your legal partner and you now also have a legal daughter, don’t you?”

“I guess,”

“And you’ve moved into a new house, so you are with them every day.” Mrs. Antoinette Roberts was just as good as her son at pressing her words deep to display her irritation. This ratcheted the young man up even more, picking up his pace to one even more purposeful and violent.

“This isn’t about me, mum, it’s about Grace—“

“That’s another thing, Elliot. Grace has a mother and a father who can watch out for her. You don’t need to be her Saint Brenard dog—“


“I always said it would serve you better to worry about yourself, Elli, and what’s going on with you. You bust a vein over whatever Grace is doing and here your own parents haven’t even met these two people living with you, we haven’t even seen your new house, we have no idea what you’re doing—“

“Hello.” Elliot said this word quickly, he said it curtly, he laid his violin case down on the ground with a cruelty it certainly didn’t deserve. A Chinese man, in young middle-age, looked up in surprise. His head was mostly shiny, peppered with short dark stubble in a balding pattern. His limbs were bent in his customary posture, the one of a small man with ceaseless energy. He was holding his cello by the neck, standing up on its endpin. The capable fingers of his other hand had been curved over the strings, as if he’d been pulling at them to test if they were in tune. 

“Everything ok, first violin?” Hop asked good-naturedly, recovering from his surprise with a smile that half-entailed, amidst the friendliness, the customary tense question. This was a theoretical question and did not entail anything terribly specific. It included, in fact, a myriad of possibilities. Is your shoulder injured again? Did the Luthier step through your violin by accident? Did you not practice? Did you not get that shift you keep messing up? This array of possibilities could be summed up in those anxious two words, and they were really, the violinist thought, not about himself or his wellbeing or anything of the sort at all. 

“Everything’s fine.” Elliot responded grumpily, sitting down heavily onto the plastic chair, its wide seat receiving him with a squeak. “How’s Mai, how’s the kids,” he was not looking at Hop as he breezed these matter-of-fact, curtesy questions; instead, he had turned over in his seat, bent down at the waist, to open the clasps of his violin case. 

“Good, good!” The cellist replied enthusiastically, sitting down and wiggling himself into a satisfactory position before looking up with a smile. “Mai-Mai’s got that grant she wanted.” 

“Oh, great!” Elliot replied, looking up from his violin in surprise. “I thought she wasn’t going to hear about that for a couple weeks?”

“Nope! She heard back early—want an A?” Hop asked, drawing his bow across the highest-pitched cello string. 

“Nah, we should probably wait for the others to tune.” 

“Good idea. Hey, for once you’re early.” Hop chuckled, and Elliot shrugged, giggling a bit himself. 

“Don’t laugh yet, our practice might get derailed because of Anne going into shock.” There was more appreciative chuckling over this wry comment, before a waiting silence fell over the room. Hop’s dark eyes had become intent and concentrated on the music stand before him, as if he had entered his own world. His brows were furrowed slightly as his fingers flew back and forth along his strings, hitting the neck of the cello hard enough each time to produce an audible ring of the note he was on. From the sound of it, he seemed to be going through a particularly hairy section of string-crossings and shifting fast notes. He was getting them all right, however; it seemed more a nervous tick, something to do, than anything required. Elliot gazed down at the violin held in his lap. The golden wood, and that chin-rest—it was from timber of swirling chestnut brown. He hadn’t had time to properly welcome it after its return from the Luthier’s. There’d been enough else to occupy him; worrying about Grace, flusters about Grace, it was like a disease but Elliot never tried to fight it. And then scheming about Rose. Scheming about how he could ask Grace for Rose’s information without her (Grace) knowing that he (Elliot) was lonely, or that he was unhappy, or his intentions about anything. It seemed a bit impossible. But it was important not to sacrifice his pride. 

And then all that, of course, with Anne on top of him. At least the air she breathed was; coming in, coming out, being flustered about this, or that. Practicing when he wanted the practice, giving Renata a bath right when he was going to shower and she was being ridiculous because they would be home for the next hour but if he didn’t shower right then he wouldn’t be able to and—

The door opened and they looked up. 

“Hullo,” Dax said the word without looking at them, eyes down at the door he was holding open for Anne. The violist bustled in busily, frazzled, stopping short to look at the first violinist in surprise.

“What are you doing here?” She asked before she could stop herself, and Elliot shrugged with his lips, not sparing much facial energy for her. He didn’t move his eyes or the skin around them at all. It was a very dead acknowledgement. 

“How much longer till the concert, Anne?” Hop asked, shifting in his seat and straightening his back in eagerness to begin. He was holding his bow straight over his strings from poised fingers, the tendon along the inside of his forearm taut and ready. 

“Two months. And we haven’t even finished the second movement.”

“We’ll do fine,” Dax reassured quietly, unzipping his case. Anne’s face was hard and un-comforted as she pushed the shoulder-rest onto her viola. She was holding the large instrument against her thigh for leverage. 

“If we could meet more we’d be fine, maybe.” Her response was harsh, she didn’t look up at them, and the shoulder-rest she was cramming on too violently slipped and hit the back of her viola was an alarming bang. “Shit!”

“Alright! Ready! One-two-ready-go!” Elliot began with a breath of irritation, speaking fast to draw the group to attention. Dax, surprised, hurried to sit down. Anne had been taken off-guard too, and, recovering, cast Elliot a dark look before stepping over to her chair, swinging her viola onto her shoulder. 

“Where are we starting?” Hop asked hurriedly, still poised for action. Elliot scanned the music. 

“How about at M.” That was where the ensemble starting getting a little shaky. The three others nodded, immediately focused, eyes trained on their music. Then they looked up at him. 

“One-two-ready-go,“ Elliot counted off, voice softer, eyes skirting over them. This was a holding-breath moment, it was a moment when you had to rise, just little bit, over yourself. You had to all look at each other and think of nothing except what you were about to do. They started. The music went together. Elliot tapped his foot. This was slightly amateur, and he knew it, but the tenseness demanded it, they needed to stay together. They did; Dax botched up a few quick notes but he stayed on the beat. 

They kept together. He played off of Dax, he turned his gaze to Hop and he turned his violin too, Hop’s eyes, dark touched liberally with the brightness of focus, seemed glued to Elliot’s bow, matching. Ah but then it was Elliot’s part, Elliot got to rise—he did. He did with vibrato, he wiggled and waggled his notes to move something inside you too, because that’s what, he noticed, vibrato did. Practicing alone he’d felt the pulse, how it curved his brows in something like pleasurable anguish when he vibrated enough. He moved his bow softly, picking up the notes with just a little traction to not sound wispy, he caught delicious light. 

“Um, could we stop a minute?” Dax asked cautiously, and Elliot, frozen in his delicately suspended position, stilled his bow and turned.

It did hurt, just a little bit, to be cut off at such a moment. Dax seemed, by his embarrassment, to pick up on that, but he kept on.

“Right there—Anne, could you play your part there?”

Anne nodded, eyes still focused on the music. She assumed an upright position, pulling her bow across the string, moving her fingers. Elliot hadn’t properly heard her line there when he’d been playing. 

Watching her he was indelibly struck by her fine technique. Her body was aligned perfectly, her bow-hold was something statuary, the way her fingers looked, grasping and effortless. Her fingers on the neck of the viola, too: they held perfect arches and moved from the perfect place at her knuckles. For the fourth finger, a reach for her small hand on that large instrument, he saw her fold in her first knuckle into the neck of the viola expertly, being able to reach that far note in a way so natural—

This always miffed him a little about Anne. There was a reason he never wore his King’s College shirt, the one his family had forced upon him, to any music event whatsoever. It miffed him too that he’d met Anne at the Royal Academy of Music. That was something. That was a tee-shirt you could wear. Of course she didn’t have one. 

“Elliot, could you play your part again?”

Elliot obeyed the order in a moment. It was a very nice little part—he played it, swaying his violin at the appropriate moments. Elliot considered music something of a full-contact sport, you had to feel it with everything of your body. Posture sacrifices, he thought snootily, were essential for the most expressive and loose playing. This made him feel better.

“Yeah, ok, thanks—I think” Dax paused, a little uncertainly. Elliot gazed expectantly back, which seemed to make the man nervous enough to hurry on. “well I think you and Anne are supposed to be playing together there—I mean, I don’t know, but I think those two parts might be playing off each other, or at least talking to each other.”

“Oh,” Elliot responded quizzically, raising his eyebrows. “ok.”

“I mean, do you want to try that again—I don’t know,” Dax didn’t seem to be much enjoying his role as group-leader, shrugging apologetically, “from there again?”

“Sure,” Elliot steadied his violin again at his shoulder, looking purposefully over at Anne. There were enough shy people in music, like Dax, that Elliot was used to it by now, but it always made him want to laugh: when the warring factions of timidity and awkwardness were struggling with a musical idea or comment too essential to be kept away. Elliot never suffered this malady.

He gave the cue. Elliot had worked endlessly on his cues; they had first, in high-school, surprised and frightened him—that revelation, when everybody’s looking at you, that moment of lightning fear and understanding. It demanded immediate action, no matter how unprepared—he’d practiced them endlessly, the attitude, the solid counting, the nodding, the eye-contact, the breathing. 

He looked at Anne, over his vibrato and bow, over the beautiful curved scroll at the end of his violin. She, over her bow pulling back and forth, gazed back. He played to her, then off her. Off the lilting, sinisterly beautiful lower with his own. It wasn’t too hard if you were trying to. It did sound nice; it required purpose, but it wasn’t too hard to look at her and her bow, to make it a conversation. Although this interplay was more of a lament, he thought. There. 

“Well?” He turned to Dax, and the man, who seemed to have had a hesitation on his lips, was stopped by this. 

“I—I don’t know.”

“Ok, let’s move on.”

“Elliot,” Anne cut in sharply, putting her hand on the top of her stand as she glared at him. “Dax clearly has something else he is trying to say.”

“What? I’m sorry—Dax, what did you want to say?” Elliot apologized hurriedly and profusely, turning to the second violinist, who quickly avoided his wide eyes. 

“I—I don’t know. Maybe—maybe you guys could practice that part at home or something? I don’t want to take up practice over it, but, I don’t know. Maybe try breathing together or something—have you ever done the thing where you sing both of your parts together?”

“Oh yeah, I think I’ve done that.”

“Ok, great—I mean, obviously everybody has stuff to work on—“

“It’s fine, we’ll work on it, Dax.” Anne cut him off, turning the page of her music, but she might have been staring, threatening, into Elliot’s soul. Inwardly, he shrugged. How could he help it if their ensemble wasn’t up to Dax’s standards? It sounded alright to him.

After practice the sun was shining. Shining into the petals of the daffodils, and Elliot fancied, walking with his violin case on his back, that their colors were a celebration for that light. Maybe they were sun-worshippers, or at least appreciators. Maybe they were its children. 

He breathed the air. It was fresh, it was fresh as spring. His shoulder hurt a little, but he hardly felt it. Practice was good, it made him feel nice, it made him feel happy to be playing. 

What use have I for pride, he thought? What use of I, he thought, for anything less than what I could be doing?

His earlier doubts seemed silly to him, inconsequential. 

It was a lovely day, the kind of lovely that was not something merely you saw, half-empty. It was the kind that went in through your nostrils and straight into your veins and that touched your soul on the way. It was the kind where after cloudy days you see the sun but you feel it too. It illumined the daffodils. 

When he got to a street-corner he stopped. He took out his cell-phone, he sent Grace a message. It was very light-hearted, as if it didn’t matter at all. And, really, it mightn’t have mattered. It really mightn’t. Who cared what she thought; who cared what anyone thought. 

He got that book, that Hornblower book, and he felt very dutiful and important to read it. It felt like the gentlemanly, thoughtful thing to do. He read it outside, because it would have been insufferable not to, and the longer he read the more he slouched and curled into the seat, knees extended with a lower leg and foot over the edges of the chair. And he did like it. He wasn’t a big reader, but he did like it, it made him want to be on a ship in the Napoleonic war. How much more exciting? But then again, not too much; it was tempered with the fine air, the jubilant air, and with the idea, the anticipation of a date and of talking and of fun. He felt completely, and utterly, content. Right where he was. That was something that for Elliot was always fleeting.


Tune in next week for what happens next!

First Violin : Chapter 3

Missed last week’s update? Find chapter 2 here. Find chapter 1 and an explanation about what all this is about under the BOOK tab in the main menu.


At the seaside, the sands were cold and hard. They made a frigid sheaf over ankles and the tops of feet. As for your toes, they would feel cold too, and so very, very clean. Even if they were atop gray sand dirty with shells and ocean-muck.

The water came merging with the sand, the lightest sea-glass-blue turquoise, into flat foam. You could look out farther away, darker the longer it got, under a gray-blue sky. It was not warm, it was not balmy. But it was not unpleasant. Strange, but it could be cold and you still have no inclination to leave. There was a breeze, and it blew past you unassumingly as if you might have not existed—but it stroked your bare shoulders just the same. It passed like velvet over your skin and your body, it made you squint your eyes as it picked up your hair, gentle but moving and unchanged, all the same. 

A low, long, navy-blue car trundled unsurely over the rocky and strange curves of the road. The asphalt had no lane lines or helpful paint of any kind, and made the highest point in the vicinity. Vague clumps of wind-trampled ocean-grass dotted the sparse edges in remote collections. Anne, eyes and face as unchanged as if she’d been sitting still, was being jostled along with the car as Elliot went searchingly over another inexplicable bump that rose up only on one side of the thin road.

The classical music station was playing so quietly as to become unnoticeable in the background; Anne’s firmly-built, old-fashioned suitcase slid slowly with the tilting of the vehicle against her leg, then back again. Elliot was curled up tall over the steering wheel, mouth open as his eyes as he scanned the horizon, the car going slowly along. 

Anne turned her gaze back to the scene before them. There was apparently something more to be seen over the edge, but the elevation of the plain, sandy, sea-grassed place the road wound along obscured it. She followed the tilting picture with her eyes, if not her mind. The silent passenger in the backseat behind Elliot was making her anxious. She stole another look at Renata, hoping the girl wouldn’t notice. Whether her daughter did or not, blank brown eyes listlessly gazing, her mother couldn’t tell. This distressed Anne further.

The young violist had questioned her skills as a parent before this. She had doubted them from the moment she knew she was going to take on the role. But there had been bigger things to worry over, something else to think about—this particular strain of anxiety had never encompassed her entirely, had never been unshakable as this before. 

Besides, Renata had always been fine. Anne would come out of the music room into the den to find Emil and the little girl tussling on the ground, laughing. They would pretend to be animals, but the game would mostly be in the noises they’d make, that they’d conjure up through their lips. Anne could remember it, how she would smile begrudgingly, shake her head in fond disapproval. 

She would never have done the things Emil did. 

She would never have laid on her stomach with the child beside her, folding origami. It made her love him. It made her love him so much, so much she couldn’t even say it and hardly understand it. She’d just have to smile and turn away. 

She turned her head  away from Elliot, as if she were looking out the window. She felt her lids burning, her throat withering tightly in sudden pain—she pressed her cheek and the bone against the window, hard. She wasn’t going to cry. She pressed her cheekbone harder into the beige plastic. I don’t know anything, I don’t know how to do what he did, I don’t know anything. They would have come out anguished and wet, nearly a wail. 

Anne never voiced such things. Never.

But that couldn’t help her feeling them.

The car trundled on down the asphalt of survival. 

She was so very good at some things; and they hadn’t come easily, either. She wasn’t some sort of prodigy. She was just a hard worker. And now she was good.

But there was the girl in the back seat; Anne checked the mirror, feverishly, to see if she was still there. She was. Contrasted with the skill of years and hours and forevers, there unbreakably beyond the practice and the rehearsals and muscles sore from too many hours and plane flights and English and playing outside and sweating but playing it out was the girl in the back seat. Anne did not even know how to get her daughter to speak and it made her sick, it made her panic. It made something in her insides spin out of control. How many silent car-rides had it been, since the last one with Emil in the passenger seat? 

Of course Anne wouldn’t ask her. She wouldn’t say, Renata, say something. That would be admitting, acknowledging to the air and to the world. 

Even if it didn’t change reality, it was always better to keep it in. There was something very intrinsic in Anne that knew that saying it out loud would make it unbearable. When it was inside, only you had to bear it, and you had to bear only yourself. She thought of the man sitting next to her, behind her averted face, and she wanted so very much to be alone. 

“Yes! There it is—I told you we weren’t lost, Anne. I know this road by heart, just like I said. See?” Elliot turned to her proudly, and Anne turned her head back towards him with a jerk the moment she realized his words were for her. He pointed a finger—pale, losing the redness rapidly as he ungrasped the steering wheel. The road was going down now, slowly, and she could glimpse a house over the edge of the barren scene. 

It was more of a cottage, Anne thought, as she scanned the place with a gaze practiced in holding firm; it looked old but not dilapidated, old enough to be as much a part of the sea-swept landscape it occupied as the ocean-grass or sand. 

Everything but the house was bare. Large bricks painted white, a red door she could see even from here. Her face didn’t change. She didn’t yet trust it, her skin, her muscles. 

“I didn’t say I didn’t trust your directions,” she remarked, cold, gazing stoically ahead at the place. 

“Alrighty then,” Elliot replied obligingly—like he was humoring her, she thought—with a sort of dubious friendliness. He seemed to be in a very good mood, one that had been steadily improving since she had agreed to his odd scheme. “Hullo back there, missy, wake up!” He called, adjusting his mirror to get a view of the silent Renata, who looked up at him from her blank reverie in surprise. “We’re here,”

Her daughter turned her wide gaze, now sparked with a little excitement (although still without a smile; she did not smile idly), to the window. She leaned upon the glass, peering out to get a view of the house as the road curved.

“Now, you and Renata can get out here if you like and walk on the beach, and I can get all our stuff in.” Elliot offered charitably, and Anne cast him a look of surprise. He was in a very good mood. This sort of attitude was certainly not unheard of from Elliot, but it always took Anne, who associated him most with his airs of snappishness or drama, slightly off guard. 

“No thanks,” she said quickly, turning her gaze from him and back onto the lonely landscape before them, “I don’t mind doing it myself.”

“Alright,” Elliot shrugged, quirking his lips conciliatory as he parked the car. “this is Rosemary House. Lovely name, don’t you think? I always liked it.” He seemed very perky, as he sometimes inexplicably was (Anne had decided long ago that she disapproved of Elliot’s mood-swings), springing out of the car with his long legs like a happy spider.

He was opening the trunk with a thoughtful brevity behind her as she opened her door with a click, sliding out of it awkwardly. Anne had never been able to find away to dismount a car with dignity. Her legs were always too short, or the car too low. She straightened up and the air that flew up her nose, that hit her lips, was immediately different from the stifle of the car. It was indescribably fresh, pure, as if it were filled with water droplets, or air as some sort of celestial fabric. Her nostrils drunk it in, surprised. 

Their clothes blew with their hair in that sparse, sandy place; they narrowed their eyes. Anne lifted her trunk out handily, holding its awkward shape by both arms. Moving now instead of sitting and with her senses engaged, it wasn’t hard to forget about the thoughts that’d chased her doggedly for the car ride. It happened without her thinking about it. 

But she wasn’t really enjoying herself. She didn’t smile. You could drink in beautiful air and be in a sandy place, and still not be happy. Your brain can register things, you skin and your nose and your lips, you eyes, your ears. They can all be working fine, and that does not mean your heart has to leap in joy after it. Undoubtably Elliot’s was. Anne gazed over at him through eyes thinned nearly closed by the wind; he appeared very busy looking for a key to the place. Her heart sank dully, as far as it could, which was not much. Here they were, stranded, and he wouldn’t be able to find a key. She couldn’t believe she’d agreed to this. 

“Renata, don’t forget your bag, please. Come on,” she addressed her daughter curtly but not unkindly, for Anne was not unkind; she felt too tired somewhere on the inside to say anything to Elliot, although she could feel the beginnings of many appropriate remonstrances for coming without a key making their attempts. They died half-heartedly within her. 

Renata stretched back into the car obediently, folding herself over the seat noodle-like, to emerge with her little backpack. It was unmistakable in its glossy pink plastics, a princess stamped ecstatically on the front. Anne didn’t know how her daughter could like such a thing; she had begun to voice her distaste on the couch, lounging back in between an Emil and Renata sandwich, cozily-socked feet crossed where they were propped up on the coffee-table. Emil had had the computer on his lap, a picture of the bag pulled up on the screen; he had stopped the grumble in her throat with something benign and fatherly, something kind and sympathetic to humoring Renata’s feelings. Emil did not get riled up about things.

Ordinarily, Anne thought dully, as the car doors were closed, as she and Renata straggled up behind Elliot to the front of the cottage, she would never have been prevailed upon. She could see it easily in her mind; herself, unswayable by Elliot’s ludicrous suggestions. The scenario had happened many times before.

It is strange how you can envision something, and yet it can be so inexplicably out of reach, Anne reflected. The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed sparkles apparent in Elliot’s manner and being seemed utterly foreign and incomprehensible to her, observe and understand them she could.

In Anne’s mind beaches were bright; sunny. Sand as light as Elliot’s skin. 

Nothing she had ever glimpsed or imagined had been anything like this sort of beach. The sand was more of a gray-white, and she could tell by her eyes alone that it was coarse and wet, sharp and cold. The day was not awful but the sky was laid over calmly by light-gray clouds in thick stripes, thinly over a dormant sun. The water was empty and without many bright reflections; there was a breeze, as she had felt earlier, and it was not warm. It was cool and silky. The sea-grass lay itself against the ground, tangled and voluptuous, before it. 

Anne, a virgin before the seaside, did not think this could be called a beach at all. It was something altogether different. 

There were other houses, too, besides the cottage. Spaced haphazardly but respectfully, the nearest was a one-story of pastel-yellow wood. There was a little boy, freckly and pale, red hair cut short and sharp. In long, baggy shorts he had been mucking about, dipping; now he was watching them curiously from the sandy pools by his quiet yellow den.

“Aha! Aha! I knew it was here; it’s always here—“ Elliot exclaimed suddenly, breaking the breeze-swept, gray-swept quiet—he laughed gladly, reassured. The edges of Anne’s lips tilted up regimentally, mirthlessly, and momentarily into a farce of a smile.

“Now, do you have all your things?” He asked, turning a little tarnished key in the lock, tenderly pushing open the red door. Anne nodded. Elliot seemed to smile in spite of himself, and it was not really for them. The edges of his mouth curled up nearly like a cat in that convulsive gesture, they made his eyes flash excitedly. 

Anne followed him in. She held the clunky, old-fashioned suitcase awkwardly by both hands; he seemed to have forgotten his bags, she noticed. She stepped onto something surprisingly soft and altogether different from the sand, from the stoop. She looked down in muffled surprise at the lavender bathmat masquerading, apparently, as a thing suitable for a front door. The sole of her sturdy high-heeled shoe had met the soft, flattened thing, unsteadying her. She looked up, rather discombobulated, at Elliot’s voice.

“Well,” he breathed, clasping his hands loosely in a brisk movement. He looked around the tiny hallway pleasurably, “welcome to Rosemary House.” 

To the left of them was a staircase up to the second level; straight ahead the rooms of the lower one. Anne’s eyes moved about her numbly, as if her gaze might float away. Elliot had turned to a sizable, open book on an old, antique-looking little bureau of dark wood and curvaceous edges.

“Let’s see—oh, too bad, not too many people here—“ he bent over the large, lined pages, taking up a pen.

“It is the off-season.” The words came out coldly the moment they’d fallen into her head. Anne looked away from what Elliot was doing, taking a step into the main rooms, peering about her. It made her feel uncomfortable that there were other people in this apparently quiet house, the locations and activities of which were currently a mystery. 

“Nope,” Elliot’s apparent disappointment could not be too dampened by his overall excitement—but the disinterested Anne could hear it in his tone. “nobody I know. Hmm.” He seemed to be writing his name down on the log, before straightening up after a moment of pause, regaining himself in a breath. “Alrighty! Come on, I’d better show you your room.” 

Anne withdrew from the opening to the other rooms, following Elliot up the stairs slowly, step by step. Back straight, hips aligned, arm hanging long, taut from the suitcase suspended, appearing weightless at her side. 

“The Animal Room, the Seaman’s Room, and the Lemon Lodge, which is code for the Honeymoon Suite,” at this he laughed appreciatively and for no one in particular, “are all downstairs, but the Lemon Lodge is down as occupied in the log, and there aren’t any other rooms down there with more than one bed.” Elliot had reached the top of the stairs in his side-walking, tour-guide fashion, and was gazing at whatever the second story held. Anne set down the suitcase atop the texture-less carpet, oatmeal-colored. They were in a set of hallways that seemed spacious and light but really had no room for much but walking, as the sides quickly slanted down with the caprices of the roof. Elliot led her past the first door, left half-open, to the second.

“That’s the Blue Room,” he indicated, jerking his head back towards it in explanation. “It has two beds, but it’s reserved. Some family’s coming at the end of the week, I guess. They got the West room too. But this,” he added in a delicious, anticipatory tone that did not get the excited smile in response he seemed to have wanted. Elliot manfully continued. “is The Queen’s room.” Anne really did find the generosity in Elliot’s present attitude strange, at first. She followed him silently with her eyes, considering—but no, she’d seen in before. He had these moments, inexplicably. Yes. Perhaps he was a madman. 

The Queen’s room was small, cubic, and cozy—there was a window to the outside, and a yellow flower print with a white background on the curtains and linens. The walls were white; there was a small, old-fashioned sink in the corner with a mirror, and a large, boxy white dresser. There was a simple wooden chair painted in light green, and the flower print of Italian-stationary yellows and golds had apparently been found on wall-paper as well, for specific flower designs had been cut out proudly and pasted to the walls in places above the bed, and on the white-painted knobby tops of the headboard. All in all the little place, cozy and perfectly sparse, was taken up mostly by the blossom-speckled bed in the center, unassuming and soft. 

It was nice, Anne thought—Elliot certainly seemed to think so—yes, it was—but she did not feel terribly charmed. It was hard to feel charmed by anything. She felt, nearly uncaringly, like the greatest anticlimax in the world as she laid down the heavy suitcase beside the bed, wordlessly. She detested Elliot for his demand of an audience, for reaction. But only mildly. That was all she could muster on those wet shores. 

“Hullo in there—are you two the keepers of this little sand-creature?” The soft, mirthful voice at the door pulled both their gazes—in the doorway was a man in a casual buttoned-up shirt, sleeves rolled up from his arms browned and with scraggly, thin hair; he’d left the top buttons left undone, revealing an equally bronzed chest. The tanned wrinkles of his smiling face were bristly with hairs of light-colored gray; his eyes sparkled with the calm, amused surety Anne thought rather odd for a man coming upon strangers in his house. It was then that she noticed Renata, brown eyes wide beside him. Her brows moved compulsively.

“That is my daughter, thank you.” She spoke quickly and stiffly, veins pulsing to reach out and snatch the girl. She thought afterwards it might have been too harsh; the man raised his eyebrows in mild surprise, barely distracted from the old friend he immediately turned back to with a sure grin.

“Good to see you back, Elliot.” He clapped the smiling violinist on the back in a sort of welcoming hug, and he returned the greeting. “And…” he turned from Elliot, a hand still on his boney shoulder, to Anne, who lacked the smile of the conversation. “…new family?” He put a hand on her shoulder in the beginnings of his welcoming embrace—sparkling, inquisitive eyes still on Elliot. 

“Uh, yes,” the blond replied, collecting himself quickly by shoving his hands into his pockets. Even when surprised, Elliot had a way of making it theatrical, just in the stalling words—they were louder and more drawn out, as if to make sure you heard him. It is funny how that is just some people’s nature. Anne could have never affected such ways. “wife, actually.” She could tell, even in all his stage-presence, the surprising feeling of the word in his mouth. His friend raised his brows.

“My my! Why was I not invited to the wedding? Welcome, you’ve married into a lovely little secret society, my dear.” He exclaimed good-naturedly, giving Anne a paternal kiss on the cheek that seemed as much a part of his stock greeting as the clap on the shoulder. He drew back, looking between the two of them. “And you’ve inherited a child too, my boy, a marvelous little creature it seems, an apparent sea-lover—well, I don’t want to interrupt, but it is nice to meet you, uh—“

“Anne,” she offered in a voice less cold than what she’d used for Elliot; a little dressed up for a stranger, but still entirely lackluster. She couldn’t muster anything more. She had stopped trying, and stopped caring—it had gotten her through the calls and the visitation and the funeral and the visit back home and the airports in between. He smiled, gave Elliot an extra clap on the shoulder, telling them to enjoy themselves heartily; Renata got a sort of uncle-like tap as he left them with the soft steps that had surprised them before. 

The room was silent; a room that small can be silent in an instant, it is its custom—but only an instant. Elliot jumped to fill it.

“That’s Greg, he’s the caretaker.” Anne received his words without a nod. Her eyes on him should be enough. Elliot, after an unsure pause at her non-responsiveness, went on. “He’s a great chap; it must get rather lonely out here, although I don’t think I would mind, it’s too lovely.”

Anne could feel Renata’s body behind hers, hiding. She was beginning to harbor the thought—or perhaps it was a realization, a truth—that life was happening to her and yet at once passing her by. As if she were seeing but not feeling. Something inside her tried to be anxious at the inner perception, but she was too tired and dull, it failed. 

“Well, uh,” Elliot hurriedly filled the pause again. His slick blue eyes, light as glass and oddly round in a face neither full nor angular, hopped restlessly about the room. “make yourself at home.” He walked out busily. Anne’s gaze followed the man, at once unconcerned and yet pinning him. She knew why they were here, she knew and understand clearly and without any considering, that this was another weak move at avoidance. It wouldn’t help anything. She was sure Elliot knew that—how could he not? 

Anne stood for a moment in the soft silence of the room, before turning at the rustling behind her. Renata was picking at the edges of the near-perfectly cut flowers of wallpaper, ends up from their glue on the bedstead. She made sound come out of her lips with enormous effort. 

“Did you have fun in the sand outside, Renata?” She asked lowly, it was her at-home tone. The same alto range, the same Hungarian accent, but without any of the tenseness or sharpness. Still without light in it, but that was how her voice was, it was not on purpose. Renata swiveled her head quickly toward her mother, smooth light-brown skin, the tousled, sleek hair. She whipped it swiftly and like an animal, Anne thought. She herself would have turned slowly and calmly, a human. Renata nodded her response. She went back to the wallpaper. 


The downstairs was not carpeted; rather, it was of light-colored floorboards, smooth. Anne gazed at it slowly. Her mind was still half in the bed, in the soft bed, in the bed of white and flowers of the sun. She hadn’t been under the covers, she hadn’t been cozy. Her mind was still half on the mattress, lying on her side, awake, completely awake. She had only been able to get up when she couldn’t bear it anymore, when she’d begun to feel something restless and vaguely carsick within her, only then had she been able to yank herself free from its tentacles. 

Her eyes skirted the living room slowly. It was cozy but did not seem cramped, and populated by large leather chairs. It struck Anne of something of a gentleman’s club—and all the gentlemen were there, quiet and old and dignified and intimate, some were light brown and others dark, some had wide curves, others were less alarming. Some had tarnished metal studs running along their edges, some had backs that went over them like alcoves, a few’s patch-less leather was crumbling. 

They were crowded heavily and solidly around a low rectangle fireplace, empty and dark. Along the edges of the room was a ring of low brick, running from the edges of the fireplace along the wall. A limber, orange cat glanced up at the woman’s dark eyes in guarded surprise from his investigative, thoughtful pose now-frozen on the row of brick. Anne was drawn away by the voices hovering at the edge of her vision; she realized fuzzily that they had been there the whole time, and as it dawned upon her slowly she turned, taking hurried steps towards the kitchen. Saved. 

The smooth floorboards ran into and met white tile, the bottom of Anne’s shoes balanced sturdily on the wooden seam, slightly raised, in the doorway to that room. She stood still, poised, for a moment, taking the scene disinterestedly in, before it noticed her. She had glanced over the cabinetry painted white; she had taken in the large frigidaire (it was of a different generation and could only be called that), the stove and the counters, she had gazed over the man at the telephone, cradling it anxiously, and the people with their wet shoes from their fingers at the loose screen-door. 

Elliot, bent restlessly over the counter with the faded green phone in one hand and its box in the other, corkscrew cords all about him, looked up at her sideways and hunched as he was, eyes wide as if he were suddenly thinking about multiple things at once. The people by the door noticed her silent presence at the same moment.

“Oh, hi honey! You must be Anne!” Anne pulled her eyes away from Elliot, whose transformation to a loose linen button-up and swim trunks she’d been scanning in confusion, turning to the large voice booming suddenly at her side.

Her eyes were met by a pair of people; they looked like a couple, tanned together beneath the same sun. It was the woman who was talking in a voice bombastically and maternally Scotch, her thin, brittle-looking hair, light-colored but not bright, looked odd beside her sun-bronzed skin. Her squarish face was carved and shaped aggressively by smile-lines that seemed to be everywhere around brown eyes a-sparkle, squinted. Her long, sagging arms bare from a revealing coverup were around Anne in an instant, surprisingly. The one small woman en-clenched by the other felt little droplets pressed into her clothes and onto her skin, the salt-licks and kisses thrown by sea-air. The man, face of a proud boy over a huge frame, tanned, hairless only upon his head, came merrily behind her.

“We’re honeymooning—“ the woman explained voluptuously, teeth large in her eye-thinning expressions. “not the first time, though, of course.” At this she laughed somewhat raucously but in the height of friendship, “Thought we’d pop by in the off-season, y’know, a little privacy—more romantic that way.” Anne nodded in something of a daze, staring at this pair of loudness and noise suddenly descended upon the seemingly deserted place.

“We met up with your hubby on our walk—he is a find—“ the woman continued on, unending, her breath came rattlingly as she gulped it between ideas and Anne thought she smoked or was ill; yet her energetic air suggested not a year of age or infirmity at all. 

“It’s a shame you couldn’t find someone to watch your kid—she could sleep in our room if you two wanted a little privacy,” the man broke in with a surprising Southern drawl, throwing the woman in his wife’s grasp into further discombobulation. He was not quite so loud and exaggerated, a sort of quieter breed of his companion’s attitudes, but he still struck Anne as being of the same uninhibited nature. She was being rocked from one surprising sentence to another, enough that she didn’t even have the moment or the bandwidth to feel shocked or offended by these two personas. All she could feel, in a gasping second, was the certain unbelief at the idea of handing her daughter over to this pair—

“Hey, um—“ Elliot called hurriedly from his place on the counter, adding quieter into the phone “—one minute, Dr. Fishback—“, laying it down beside him. “Anne,” he breathed as he said it long, large eyes wandering quickly over the scene before him, trying to catch on something to collect his preoccupied voice, “this is Kimberly and Fred, they’re the ones in the Lemon Lodge, they were on a walk when we came.”

“I’m an old Bambridge knight,” Kimberly broke in proudly, putting a hand on Fred. “he was just lucky enough to be my catch.” 

“Lucky? Oh I’d say.” Fred supplied lustily, putting an arm around her short, thick waist.

Anne couldn’t help looking at Elliot; hedrew his eyes away from the scene to meet hers. Blue, light like the sky; dark. There were no words hidden between their gaze, nothing meaningful or communicating or remembered—it was, rather, a glance of confused camaraderie. She almost felt comforted. She almost felt good to know him, to be able to have the solace, for a moment, of someone who, for a moment, felt exactly the same. 

Then Elliot smiled, quirking his lips and cocking his head apologetically. Amused. Anne did not. That was in the next moment. It seemed to her, in that new expression, so quickly alchemized and obtained, that he was rather fond of the couple—strange—or at least didn’t mind them. She blinked quickly and hard and when her eyes opened, in the next moment, she was glancing distractedly at something else. 

Anne did escape. It was under the auspices of her daughter, under the auguries of telling the little crowd that the girl didn’t know how to swim and thus she must find her. And she did. Renata was a perfect protection, glancing up unsuspectingly from a puddle floating a clump of seaweed. She looked a little speck of color with her small, pink shorts, upon the grays and beneath the grays and between them too. 

It was evident that the Bambridge knight and catch terrified the little girl, who had, since she had come upon the old couple in their walk, been careful to keep out of sight. It was a struggle, it was a wrestle for Anne to keep her daughter between her legs, she could be slippery and tricky as a weasel—out of sight without a word, without a challenge. Anne opened the frigidaire; it was full of lemonade and iced tea, iced coffee. Pitchers and jars and canteens, floating calmly upon the shelves. Plain and reachable her hands hit round, warm-colored glass bottles of amber bourbon. What kind of a place is this—but no, below two shelves of distracting liquids bobbing cold, there were plates of chilled sandwiches with salads in pasta and olives and cheese and potatoes. She shifted them aside to find a covered platter full of the kinds of pinwheels you make from tortillas and ham and cheese. 

The house was quiet and empty, mother and daughter sitting silent and alone at the round kitchen table, eating swirls of hard breaking tortilla with fillings too cold for that weather. Then it would be raucously loud with laughter in the overwhelmed gentleman’s club, the knight and the catch and the caretaker and Elliot and them all. They did not open the windows, as it occurred to Anne they might have. Instead the cottage was like the inside of an underwater cave, the kind where it comes up and is dry and quiet and oxygen, but all around outside is the ocean, biding its time. Or like the inside of a shell, when it cups your ear completely. 

Somewhere in all that Anne was struck quietly by the feeling, quietly by the wondering, if she would ever be happy again. It was simple and more of a statement, it was more something calm, but perhaps that was because she couldn’t plummet much further. She was not in the depths of despair. She had found a plateau, upon which she could stand, upon which she could walk forward but still upon flat.

Sitting on one of the chairs with the little girl missing, the cat curled in her lap. The fire crackling its own songs, could they be songs of love? Or was it a threat? 

Elliot slept somewhere downstairs and that night the second story was her own ghost town, it was her own phantom highway. Renata asleep in the soft little Yellow Room that was once a closet, the mother walked by silently. It can be better to move than to lie still if you cannot sleep. It would be quiet on the inside (only the inside) and then she could hear the sounds down below, in a house that should be sleeping.

Elliot took walks with the old man, the caretaker. As for Anne, she lived another day. She thought vaguely that she should be feeling something alive and happy, she, at the beach; that that was what people felt on the sands. Something. But the knight’s toothy grins were to her something utterly foreign, and when she was walking, aimless, at night, she did cry. The tears broke out silent and like cannonball knives, and she did cry. Soundless. 


The water cupped his chafed ankles softly, it allowed him to stay. It would allow him to stay forever, he thought, and that was the disarming thing about the sea, he thought. But he didn’t try to get up, or to leave. He didn’t make the slightest attempt.

It rolled beneath him. Slowly and softly. Completely fully and real, and yet he could have fallen in and been enveloped, he knew; this flotation was a farce, he knew. 

His head hung back from a long neck off the edge, the faded pink seam of the plastic, unsoft, bit into his skin. He squinted his left eye beneath the glare of a golden sun, a golden sun white-hot and streaming, not like rain but streaming, over the waters.

He could hear the subtle sounds, playing, playing through his mind, he could feel them, chimerical, he could feel the slithering, trickling, never-stopping waterfall of a violin. He could hear the seaweed and the sands and the deeps beneath, he could hear them in all their C-stringed glory. It was overwhelming, chilling and beautiful, in its near-sinister quality. 

He hummed his own part, listlessly and with dreamy unskill, over the rest. His voice broke at parts with his head tilted back, it was not objectively beautiful. There they all swooped in a tidal wave, the man prone upon the air-filled plastic bed felt himself rocked up and then down by the gentle current. He thought he might fall off, and he didn’t much care. He waved his hand as a conductor, lazily, but it fell back into the water. 

He began to be overcome with the fancy of a shark, as he thought about the music behind his brain. It was positively sinister, that music, that second violin slithering. His part—he had never thought of this before—he was the unsuspecting swimmer, or floater. Dax was the shark. Anne and Hop the watching sea that held the two of them up. Elliot sat up hastily, jerkily. He was overcome with a sudden feeling of dizziness, he grabbed clumsily at the edges of the floaty. 

He gazed around him, eyes large, and the horizons came in their wideness out from the blur. He felt—he felt—much better. Nearly euphoric. Like that moment, after the concert when you catch your breath, and you all hug and laugh. He had forgotten entirely about the shark.

He beamed. He was, he understood, a wonderful musician. It was true. He was—nobody on earth could be a better violinist—he loved his violin, he adored it—his music, it was perfect—and not only that, he had definitely been wrong before. About not being a hero.

Sitting up heavily had made the floaty sink in the middle, his hands and wrists and waist were submerged, he gazed happily around him. At the sparkling waters, at the open sky, the clouds. At the green sea-cliffs, at the house, barely visible. His earlier feelings seemed so odd to him, so far away. The despair, the sinking. What had he been thinking? He didn’t need his entire Bambridge class here and a bonfire to feel great. He already did feel great! And Anne? Who cared about Anne! He loved Anne! And Renata too—everything was perfect—Elliot reached for the bottle, the supple, round glass—he glanced down in surprise. He had touched the jagged edge of the floaty with a clumsily thrown hand. This was strange. He looked around him, then turned in surprised irritation to scan the waters. Nothing. 

Elliot Roberts wondered, brows creased sharply in confusion, where it had gone off to. His previous exploits flashed through his mind, strange and convoluted. He had to crease his brows farther to catch at them—yes, like Beowulf he had entered the waters. Yes, that had been grand. He had gotten here—he hadn’t lost it then—this was all too confusing, and besides, it was beginning to sap his feelings of glory flashing just moments before. This sad loss. But not too sad. He wouldn’t let it ruin things for him. Besides, he was starting to forget what it was. 

Elliot Roberts lowered himself back down. The floaty jerked inconveniently, he was sloshed with water, it got in his mouth and mingled with the hot, dry tastes coating it of caramel and gasoline. The glory was subsiding fast, he was beginning to feel more tired, tired and content, and, as he lay still and stared at the sunny sky, entirely happy. 

His mouth felt dry now from the salt, although still powerfully consumed by that odd and perfect aftertaste; he half disliked it and yet never wanted it to leave. 

He thought of food. He thought of the cold sandwiches in the frigidaire, he thought of white bread without crusts and light as clouds, of cool creamy pieces of provolone, of rosemary sourdough, he thought of pasta salad with olives and feta.

The sun continued on, the water washed over his bottom half, the upper was washed by the sun. Too tired to move, his limbs felt so heavy. The thought idly occurred to him that he could never get up again and be alright.

“Elliot Frey!” An almost shrill voice, harsh in its accent, broke unexpectedly into his reverie. One of Dracula’s women? She did sound utterly Transylvanian. Elliot cracked open his eyes with untold effort, lifting his head up just the slightest by a strained neck. He beheld, over his body flat before him, foggily a woman, standing in the water. He beheld dark eyes, he beheld dark brown brows, perfectly shaped in their thickness and hardened upon him. 

All around her face there was hair, in curls. Brown, almost cinnamon brown, he thought. Curls and curls, tight curls, thick and frizzy around the edges and the sea-wind had made it messy, crowning her. She was wearing a black one-piece, pleated or something—was it ruched? Elliot didn’t know—it clung to her curves of motherhood. Her thighs were beautifully colored, he thought, the black fabric turning to soft, olive brown skin at the widest point of her waist, where her legs went down from the swimsuit. Her glare could be so gorgeous, he thought. He thought of her viola, her sexy dark brown viola. The finish on it was matte and thick. 

His previous thoughts of unimpress at her figure had vanished. 

This all flashed fuzzily before him in a second, as Anne seemed to be taking the situation in, brusque, black eyes unamused.

“Elliot Frey, what do you think you’re doing?” She exclaimed, one her arms was pulled behind her, he noticed, and Elliot could see, if he craned his head up even more (which still wasn’t much), Renata’s large animals eyes watching the scene in interest. 

Elliot smiled largely at them. This was even better than enjoying such a wonderful day alone.

“I love you, Anne,” he sighed, smiling, “isn’t it such a beautiful day? Everything’s just so—so beautiful—“ he frowned. His words were coming out strangely. “Does my voice sound—“ he began, but he could never get farther, for Anne’s face had been betraying the rapid movement of her thoughts this while, and she bore down upon him, brisk, grumpy, accusing. In a moment she had taken him up a few centimeters with her painful grip on his loose linen shirt. He was acted upon, confused, and it was only after she drew away, face dark from the results of the sniff-test, and uttered the words, “You’re drunk,” that he realized what it had all been about. 

“Anne—“ he started slowly, and his speech did sound strange, it was thick—she cut him off by her rough pinching hands on him, clenching his shirt but getting some skin too, and Elliot was lifted up, roughly and clumsily, head spinning. 

“Oh my God, I can’t believe you—“ her words sounded so hard, so completely foreign to him. “are you trying to drown? Oh my God, I can’t believe this—“ 

Elliot spat in surprise as he was splashed by water, harsh and salty and eye-burning, their legs sloshed in the sea. He practically fell upon it as she heaved him off the edge of the floaty, his arms hit the water but it did not catch him.

Elliot, spluttering, tried to stand, thinking in irritation of Anne’s hands, how they unbalanced him— He was shook and shunted and jerked through the tide back to land, as it gave way to bare sand, wet and hard. It hit the bottoms of his feet in surprise, but she did not stop to let him catch his balance. His clothes felt at once heavy on him, but they were wet enough to cling like skin. He could hardly believe every step—he felt so tired, this was all happening too fast—he caught a glimpse of Anne’s face, it was pinched so angry, too angry for words. Well, there were some words. Mostly “Oh my God, I can’t believe you!”

Elliot was not unaccustomed to feeling as if he would faint. He was also not unaccustomed to feeling as if he would hurl. It suddenly dawned upon him, the sole coherent thought in the dizzy drag across clumps of sand that tripped him up, that he was very likely to promptly do both, perhaps at the same time.

It was something of a miracle that Anne got Elliot through the backdoor, that she got him through the kitchen. He did manage to get in the second of the two expected results, outside. The ceiling painted gray above him spun oddly for the moment his eyes were open when he hit the bed. 

He woke up sick. He woke up so sick. He woke up with a head that weighed 200 pounds and that was in serious danger of falling off if the necessary precautions weren’t taken. He woke up and it could have been a minute later, or a year. He woke up in the midst of the realization that the bottle of bourbon must have sunk, not disappeared. He woke up and groaned when he thought of Anne. He couldn’t do much more than that.

Standing thin in the doorway, behind it. The woman in a knit dress—knee-length, of course—with flowers on it sitting on the couch. Face hard and unreadable, lips pursed. 

Where has your hubby gotten off to, my dear? He is good company, when you can snag ‘im. 

Elliot is ill. She said it so coldly, he watched from behind the edge of the entry. He thought vaguely that he was ill, he thought vaguely that he was doomed.


At the age of seven Elliot Roberts was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It was a strange name, he’d always thought, not because it wasn’t accurate, but because it was a long-winded medical term that a layperson such as himself could actually understand. 

It was so much a part of his person and his life, and had been for as long as he could remember, that he had never thought to spend any time feeling sorry for himself. 

Besides, it had gotten him exactly what he wanted. 


On March the 5th, 2012, Elliot Roberts had removed a bottle of bourbon from the frigidaire and had a glass. It did not occur to him that bourbon was for social drinking and for food. It touched his lips and brought to him memories from the King’s College dormitory, Kerri’s where the walls were draped in blankets and throws and towels. He could remember the plaid fleece throw, large stripes of red and black. He could remember that wall-drape particularly as the smell assaulted his nose of liquor, as he took a cautious sip. 

It also brought to mind, nearly simultaneously, the hours in bed afterward, and with the toilet. Those were more blurry but poignant. Dimitri’s conjured pitcher of beer, a pitcher like iced-tea, had taught him to stay well away from drink. 

It was a lucky thing for him. He would have made a first-rate social drinker, he would have performed perhaps too well. He did make a first-rate social drinker.

He could remember, vividly, being set off kilter for weeks afterward by Alessandra’s stolen scotch, the one that appeared when she was really happy. He’d only found out afterwards about all the dramas in her nearby home, what all the phone-calls with her sisters, with her widowed mother, were about. He had not quite known how to take this, this farce. Although he acknowledged himself as the master, it still struck him as odd to find others. 

His life was full of people like that, people who he knew and remembered, many names and faces and smiles and laughter, yes, his life was a string of such hordes that he had not seen for years and the number of whose telephones he did not now know, where they lived or with whom. 

He could remember his delicate food balance entirely shattered, shifting in his seat in class, hurrying away to the toilets his first opportunity, and sometimes before.

Elliot Roberts had remembered all these things. He had remembered them dully. Sitting, alone, at the kitchen table, a leg propped up long on another chair. Leaning back in his own. He had remembered these things in color and noise and emotion, coming to him in an empty room, a silent room, a calm-colored room. He had been alone and looked around him, and he had not much cared.

He had drank a glass and felt irresistibly warm. He had started by thinking of all the failed heroes. He had never considered them before, never considered the throngs of fallen angels, the pools of nearlys and almosts, the ones who had not been buried overlooking the sea; he imagined all the princes lost in the thorns around the castle and all the young men who’d thought themselves something lying in their own blood, unsung beside the dragon.

He thought of these things calmly in his aspect, and yet incredibly heavy, heavily pulled beneath the warmth. 

He had dreamed of the glory of the military, but today was the first that he had considered, somberly, the always greater majority in history dead from illness and not wounds. Or those killed in accidents. They were real. They had numbers attached to them. Why should Elliot be immune? Why should Elliot be some sort of immune protagonist of glory, while it was unimportant others who were the nearlys? Why shouldn’t it be him?

He wished it, he wished for that immunity of destiny, but who was he kidding? Who gave him any sort of power, of willing things into being? 

It hadn’t taken too long before he’d felt Beowulf in the flesh, before he’d needed to find a cold Scandinavian lake to dive deep within.


“You’re so pasty, I will not let you drive Renata and I home.” Anne decided, glaring at Elliot’s offensive cheeks before turning in frustration. “Ah! Where did she get off to now—Renata—“

Elliot had been watching tiredly from the door to the Seaman’s Room, his. The room of the circular window, like a boat. It was his secret favorite (it was a nice fantasy, too—boats made him sick), which of course when anyone was at the cottage he could never get. 

By now it had left him disappointed and empty, despite his earlier zeal at seizing the unusual opportunity. 

Her remark blew up a quick flame within him, and his near-invisible brows hardened sharply. He had intended to angrily protest her insult to his coloring, but the loss of Renata suddenly provided him with even better material. It flashed before him at once and irresistibly, as his head pounded, egging him on. He understood somewhere inside that he couldn’t hold himself back, he could feel the currents rushing hot upon the dam, he rode them strongly.  

“What, lost her again, have you?” He chirped irascibly, and at this Anne turned around, eyes dangerous. Elliot did not back down. He felt something fluttering marvelously and excitedly, and his brows moved rather cruelly up, ears flushed red. “You’re all over me like you know everything, but here’s your kid completely out of control—“ Anne’s face worked at this, lips and brows, she was trying to look fierce but he could tell the words were striking home. Elliot cocked his head like a fighting bird. This was all making him feel rather fine. “—she’s like a wild animal! That’s an issue you should be flipping out about—“ he continued snappily, but Elliot’s snaps were always filled with more power than he knew, they were cathartic, they were unfettered, and combined with the showiness of his person they could come out lethal.

“Don’t you dare” Anne cut him off, voice at once heavy and shrill, coming out in forced spurts of rage. Elliot closed his lips to narrow his eyes, staring back at her appraisingly, challengingly. “tell me how to parent my kid.” She caught her breath, she swallowed. She seemed to be collecting herself, and when she opened her lips against a moment later, breaking the noise of two sets of eyes locked impenetrably in combat, it was lower and quieter, hoarse, solid and very dangerous. “Don’t pretend you know anything about her, or about me.” 

Elliot watched her turn with that narrowed-eyes, challenging gaze he could conjure up, it felt the least vulnerable way to receive something, to receive the hurled words of a combatant. He watched her go out. The adrenaline, the emotional jump was quickly leaving him. It made him remember his weighty head. 

“Hey, Elliot,” he turned to see Greg, the caretaker, standing with a large plastic bucket suspended heavily from his tanned, taut forearms, sleeves rolled up. His eyes were squinted in the curved grasp of overabundant crows’ feet. Elliot could tell that he had seen, that he had heard, but the young man turned with polite and innocent apprehension, facing up his head and raising his eyebrows. Greg glanced unhurriedly at the door, then back at the man before him. “it, uh, it was nice seeing you. Haven’t had a good conversation for ages out here.” He shrugged somewhat apologetically, putting a hand behind his head to scratch the back of his neck. His light-colored hair was turned up in the beginnings of curls around his face, wild from the outside. 

“It was nice for me too, Greg.” Elliot replied sunnily, with a smile to match, taking the caretaker friendlily by the elbow. It was one of those theatrical grins, the overdone friendliness, it was the kind of air that left shy people, or pessimistic people, at a loss. They’d be sure they had him figured out as a faker, before he did it enough to convince them otherwise. The older man clapped a stout hand on Elliot’s upper arm in response. 

“Keep up the music, and bring your violin next time so I can hear you, alright?”

“Yes,” Elliot sighed, remembering. “I will. Anne plays too, you know? And Dax—have you heard him?” 

Greg’s face changed somewhat—it approached a frown before hurrying back up to his grin. It was a neutral grin. “That kid moved on from the fireworks?” He asked, quieter, in an effort still of friendliness. Slight confidentiality. 

Elliot was surprised—at first—but his mind went quickly back, it scooped up earlier feelings and memories of the large man, the second-violinist. Recalling beyond the today. They were mostly second-hand, side-thoughts of curiosity, unsureness, of steering clear without hardly thinking of it. He thought of the large teenager, sports-shorts, tee-shirt. It made him think of kissing Roxanne—what a kiss!—his hands in her silky brown hair, how she’d gasped look, they’d turned away from the shadows they were standing in beside the backend of the shed, they’d looked at the bangs over the water, at the reds and brilliant blues and greens, at the shimmers in the low pattern of the waves. Elliot nodded.

“He always seemed a little, well, you know—I mean, like, what kid just sets off fireworks like that—” Greg spoke timidly, Elliot thought, almost as if he were embarrassed to talk ill of someone behind their back. “a little off to me, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.” Elliot agreed, thinking half of Dax, Dax alone with his headphones on all the time and half of the glorious surprise of the first kiss, the first kiss he’d pretended was just another of many. Half on the betrayal, half fixated on the unforgettable moment, the unforgettable feeling when afterward he found out it hadn’t been for him at all. Yes. It was a secret shame that Elliot Roberts’s first and, until he was twenty years old, only kiss was given on a dare and a bargain between three giggling sixteen-year-old girls who’d been thinking more of purple-beaded anklets than a fragile heart. It had confirmed all his long-nursed suspicions. 

Greg sighed long, taking another glance at the front entrance. They could hear the car doors shutting loudly outside. Elliot knew exactly what he was thinking about. 

“Well, safe drive back.” The caretaker offered, and Elliot nodded. Neither one, of course, said the true words in the air, as the engine outside rumbled into life. 

“Thanks, man.”

Greg clasped his hand, drawing him tight to give him a clap on the shoulder.

“Sorry nobody else was here.”

“It’s fine. It’s the off-season.”

“Nice to catch up.”


Elliot left. Greg was left; to be a caretaker in that house meant to shake the sand out of sheets when you remembered; he carted them in the large Bambridge van once every couple months to a laundromat. It meant taking long walks on the sand, making friends with all the neighbors, being lonely—but at that age, Elliot thought, a person probably didn’t mind so much. It meant overseeing the repairmen when the heater broke, and when the plumbing went. It meant cleaning up fireworks. And bonfires. 

Soles meeting the sand, Elliot left. Even in the car and on the road their things were full, all, with moisture. Salty. The whole thing smelled of petrichor and Elliot opened a window. 


NOTE The Snottor’s Press is very disappointed in its current patronee. She had loads of excuses that The Snottor was loathe to hear, about schoolwork and insomnia and doctor’s appointments (never fear, The Snottor adds, the author is alright) to account for the shocking lateness of this update. The Snottor casts doubt and suspicion over all the unfortunate author’s excuses, and wants the reader to know that he will not allow such wayward behavior in the future.

First Violin : Chapter 2

New around here? Find Chapter 1 here. (or just check out the whole BOOK tab in the main menu)


Grace boarded the pistachio-colored bike. She had chosen it expressly for the color; that was something she had a great appreciation for. Her stripes were maroon, not red; her blanket was not gray-blue, but rather livid; her bike was not green, as others mistakenly called it—rather, pistachio. 

Grace boarded the pistachio-colored bike. This was not because she was particularly conscious of the environment; she was sympathetic, but lacked the fiery impulse on the subject many seem to have. She much preferred biking, that was all. It was relaxing, and you were in the wind, which she enjoyed. Grace tended to take her life exactly at her pace, which did not require cars. 

She trundled unconcernedly over sidewalks, she crossed intersections, she took bike-lanes. She lived, by choice, very close to her work. It took only ten minutes to reach it. 

Her bike slowed to a stop, and she placed her foot on the curb of a sidewalk bordering a row of storefronts. 

“Morning, Grace.” 

“Good morning.” 

She walked her bike in through the door of Round Wheel Pottery Works, leaning it against the wall. A, older woman with a hefty upper half and long, coarse gray hair was holding the door open for her. 

“Everything good?”


“Ready to get to work?”


Grace was exactly twenty-three years old. She had not gone to college because she hadn’t much wanted to. After high-school she’d lived with her parents to work for a year, one half as her father’s field assistant and the other as a waitress. After that she had used the money to start an apprenticeship with Falatrack Handmade Pottery, not far from their house. 

Grace wrote her name and the time on the clock down on the log. The walls, floor and ceiling in that room were all painted blue, but it was a calm shade, one that didn’t distract you. A mix of steel blue and sapphire. 

She put on an apron from the coat-rack on the wall—raw and unfinished. The hardy fabric was gray, dappled with dusty-white clay-stains. She rolled up her sleeves.

The work-room was small but not cramped. Along the walls were shelves of the same unfinished wood as the coat-hooks, loaded with pottery of all variations. There were tables, shelves with red plastic baskets full of tools, all messy and stained. There were plastic bags of soft clay too heavy to lift under work tables, there was the plain clock on the wall. There was a door to another room, full of large buckets for glazes and hundreds of hooks sporting clay samples coated in all the colors. There was another room for the kiln.

Grace was only a worker. The older woman, Kimberly, sat in the front room and did things on the computer. She oversaw her employees, she paid the taxes, she managed the website, she worked with costumers in the shop and online. She drove the truck to different retailers, and did a whole other slew of things Grace did not know about and did not want to. Grace did not have ambitions to get any higher of a station in that shop than she already had, because it suited her perfectly.

She had discovered pottery in high-school, an elective. She had liked it. She had liked it as much as knitting. She had liked it as much as coloring. 

Grace had known for a long time that she could be perfectly happy sitting on the clay-stained stool, hands clasped around a lump of soft clay, pressing her foot on the pedal and feeling its uneven, bumpy smoothness spin against her skin, feeling the sediment scratch her, so softly. Grace had worked at it, serenely she had worked at it, she had skill. She went to work and she made plates and she made bowls, she made vases and she enjoyed it.

She enjoyed sitting on a stool in the work room all day, spinning and shaping. She enjoyed dipping, she enjoyed priming, she enjoyed scoring and slipping. Sometimes, if she was waiting on something in the kiln, she would flip through the dirty (everything in that room was dirty, it was part of the business) magazines of glossy books of inspiration. A book of great archaeological artifacts in museums, a magazine of trendy home decor. She surveyed it all, she took it all in, she created, she created without artistic angst because she was not an artist. No, Grace was not an artist. She was only a calm creator. She worked the clay and it grew in her grasp. 

Grace signed out when Kimberly rapped on the door. 

“Time’s up.”

“Oh, thank you.”

She washed her hands in the large, messy sink. Grace did not mind messes. She had carefully worked at not minding most things. 

She still had a little clay around her nails. This did not bother her.

“Nice work today,” Kimberly was surveying the row of bowls on the rack. “I should get in here and join you. Darn administrative work.” 

Grace smiled in acknowledgement, hanging up the apron.

“But aren’t you supposed to be wearing a mask?”

The girl barely paused, unconcerned, dipping the soles of her shoes in the black cleaning tray.  A coworker looked up, listening. 

“I didn’t today.” 

“As your employer,” Kimberly said, watching Grace as she put away her tools, “I need to ensure that your occupation doesn’t cause you any harm. Seriously.”

Grace shrugged, that same unconcerned little smile. “They’re all ok.” She motioned to her coworkers, a young man with a flannel shirt and bird, a large girl with bright lipstick and hair dyed black. Kimberly narrowed her eyes. She remained unconvinced.

“Just wear it tomorrow.”

Grace did not reply. Neither did she refuse. 

“Bye, guys.” She wheeled out her bike to the sidewalk. 

She was not going home. Well, not to the home she paid more than her half of the rent for—she was instead heading up the ways so familiar they were practically on autopilot, to the house she’d grown up in. Grace had this habit, this inner calendar of filial obedience; she popped in for dinner every 8th and every 22nd of each month. 

She was surprised from this pleasant autopilot by the phone ringing—she looked around—was it hers?—yes—she pedaled to the curb and pulled her bike up over it onto the sidewalk. Grace did not wear a helmet. Her brother had fast cured her of that by his very insistence upon it.

“Hello?” She picked it up, surveying the road of passing cars, houses and buildings with idle interest.

“Hi, Grace.” It was her brother. His voice sounded fast and tense. This was not out of the ordinary. Grace remained unconcerned.

“Hullo.” She sighed, following a runner with her gaze as he moved across the scene. She waited for a second. “Is something the matter?” This was apparently what the tense silence on the other end was wanting her to ask. Growing up with someone, you can become more versed in their cues than you ever wanted to be.

“Well, it’s just—you know Anne Locklear, don’t you?”

Grace did know Anne, by sight. Grace, like the dutiful sister she was, had attended some of her brother’s concerts. Anne, with her intense gaze and skillful playing, had seemed to Grace to hold the whole group together.


“Well, I told you about how her husband got in a wreck—“

“Mum mentioned it.” Grace interrupted placidly, running her thumb over the white grip on her bike handle.

“Oh.” This seemed to give her brother pause. He managed to recover quickly, however. “You know she’s from Hungary? She came over here for college.” His voice sounded at once imminently focused and anxiously distracted. Grace responded.

“I think you told me that a while ago.”

“So it turns out she was only in the country fine because she was married to an English citizen, and that kept her good after she couldn’t have a student visa. But her parents had her go back to Hungary, and now she’s trying to come back, and I think she was on some visitor’s visa for a while, but it expired and now she’s been asked to leave, and she has a kid that she’s all worried about—she’s completely settled here, I mean, she’s lived in England her entire adult life—and, I mean, the quartet—”

Grace tilted the bike back and forth as she listened, wondering why her brother was telling her all this, wondering where it was going. 

“That really sucks.” She provided helpfully, as a silent pause threatened to swallow their conversation up. The anxious voice on the other end didn’t reply. Grace waited. It seemed to be on the edge of something it wasn’t entirely sure of.

“I—I think I’m going to marry her, Gracie.” breathless. Breathless from the thought and the journey, the numb decision, Grace could hear it all, betrayed in his voice. How he would rise, unexpectedly, to the occasion. 

Grace did not quip, she did not bicker, she did not fight. People who did annoyed her. But she did not acquiesce. There was a sort of quiet rebellion in her, to wearing the irritating masks, to disinfectants, to not lying on the beach in a teeshirt next to the bonfire next to Elliot’s friend. Her rebellions did not require audiences. Their validity lay in the actions themselves. Face expressionless and yet not drifted away, nearly sullen, eyes on the slithering flames. That is how she had looked in the photograph. Above all within her was a circle full of routines and things that she vaguely expected to happen, one time or another. Above that was something critics called passivity. 

She had gotten so good, on the couch with her coloring book, at pretending she didn’t mind Elliot and their mother sparring with each other, that she had nearly come to believe it herself. 

Grace, who had been on the receiving end of many a complaint about Anne, wanted to say, do you even like her? She wanted to say, are you drunk? She wanted to say, are you crazy?

She knew her brother. She knew him in all his drama, all his self-absorbed adventure. 

All she said was, “Hmm.”


It had come upon him suddenly.

Heart pounding, breathing strange like adrenaline, gazing straight, straight ahead. Staring. Occurring—how something reworks itself or presents itself, maybe; your ideas about things change but that is really life, isn’t it? That isn’t out of the ordinary, much. Elliot swallowed. 

Half of him had wanted to leave, half had needed to do something and’d realized it had to stay. He’d read her forms, he’d made some calls, Anne had not moved or breathed. So someone had to, or else it wouldn’t be right. Or else instead of life it would have been death. He’d found her laptop but that hadn’t helped either.

He had realized it—that moment, of understanding—one could call it a eureka but that would be an exaggeration—on the phone, actually. He’d been talking to some person in the government, God knew who—“And there’s no way—“ “I’m sorry sir, the individual is no longer married to a British citizen, and her visa situation was questionable from the beginning, never mind the salary issue—she has simply been out of the country too long—“

Elliot sighed. This time it was the kind that went through the phone-line. Running his hands through his hair, tight, filling the gaps between his fingers, thick and twisted and tangled.  

He turned from the bench and walked back up the steps, into his apartment. 


Elliot dialed the number of Bambridge School. He did not need to look at the caller-ID. He knew it by heart.

The phone rung idly, forgetfully, and dully. It did not seem to think about its ringing. That was perhaps, Elliot mused, what it did to keep itself sane. It could not worry or even think about what people were like or talking or worrying about on either end of the line, every minute of every day. Elliot understood. 

“Hello, Rolegade Vance, Bambridge School office.”

This was an interesting aspect of the old school. They did not have a regular receptionist. Last time Elliot had gotten Emilia Carnet, the time before that Frea Sala; he had gotten Ronny Rice two times, non-consecutively, to date. 

This gave the entertaining variety that, in an institution where many are overly familiar with you, one still receives a seemingly random stranger on the phone. This made life interesting.

“Elliot Roberts,”

“Aha, hello Mr. Roberts…that would be…class of 2007?”

Elliot could hear thick sheets of paper being ruffled through and turned over on the other end. He sat down and put his hand in his pocket.

“That would be me.”

“Would you like to be forwarded to anyone?”

“I don’t know—I received a phone-call the other day that I missed.”

“Alright, just give me a second here—what day?”

“I believe it was Tuesday.”

“Aha…hmm…well I didn’t make that call…not in my log…I think I’ll forward you to Mr. Blankenship.”


In many facilities, the phone would have, at this point, gone silent, as Elliot was forwarded to another line. However, he was very familiar with what proceeded. 

First, the phone did not go quiet, although the haphazard receptionist stopped talking. Instead, Elliot’s ears were filled with the muffled sounds of walking—shoe-soles on a thin carpet, ill-regarded work-slacks rubbing loudly together between a pair of legs. Also quite a bit of sound from the phone’s movement through the air, swinging from the receptionists hand, back and forth.

Elliot could hear, albeit somewhat fuzzily, a knock on the wall (the Blankenship office had no door). 

He could hear, again somewhat confusedly, the unknown voice of Rolegade Vance speaking to the unforgettable tones of Mr. Blankenship. Elliot shifted somewhat uncomfortably. Distance and years could never quench the flame of fright in an errant schoolboy of his principal.

The muffled noises became louder and more aggressive, and Elliot fancied perhaps that Mr. Blankenship was situating the phone on his own shoulder.

“Elliot Roberts?” The voice was old, the voice of an advanced thinking man with a salt-and-pepper beard that became round at the ends. It was not sharp, nor accusing. Ever. This is one of the things Elliot found the most imposing.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good to hear from you; I daresay we don’t too often.”

“Yes, sir.” Elliot replied meekly, rising to pet a highly distractible, bug-eyed Rosco. 

“How is your music going?” The calm interrogation, measured interest. 

“Well, sir.”

“I see. Have you gotten a position at a University?”

“I haven’t tried, sir.” 

There was a moment without words on the other, measured end, but not of silence. The principal was making a low, thoughtful, considering sound. It was rather growly, in the most thinking-man sort of way. It was something like a “Hmm,”.

“Hmm,” he mused, in the sort of fashion that meant Elliot was in some sort of trouble. “you know of course that here at Bambridge we represent an intense commitment to giving back education to our community.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Of course we respect whatever direction you want to take your life; however, considering your talent and the time that has been put in, I would advise at least looking at a University position.”

“Sir,” Elliot began, trying not to sound meek. He managed to infuse his voice with what he thought was a respectful firmness. “I do not think they would take me, I’m only 25, sir. I’ve also thought I was giving back by making music. With all due respect, I do not stay in my room practicing all day, sir.”

“Hmm,” it sounded as if he was leaning back in his chair. This was a peculiar habit of Mr. Blankenship’s. “Where do you play?”

“I’m in a chamber group, with Dax Herrman.”

“Interesting. He’s doing well?”


“Do in an orchestra?”


“Anything else?”

Elliot was silent. He did not. Blankenship seemed to understand this.

“Private lessons? Do you do that?”

Elliot was again silent.

“I play gigs, and I busk.” He offered, after a moment that was slightly dreadful. 


Elliot, feeling defensive, picked up Rosco hurriedly under one arm. The dog’s curly, skinny legs dangled deadweight, and his wild face looked curiously up, attacking the man with a floppy tongue. “But, sir, I was calling to follow up on a missed phone-call. The receptionist said he wasn’t the one who called me.”

Blankenship seemed not to hear him—his grumbly musing had remained uninterrupted, and now he broke back in, as if taking a sip of a delicately foamed cappuccino. 

“While I of course respect however a former student chooses to make a living, I must inquire, how do you have enough with only gigs, street-performing, and a chamber group?”

“And orchestra.”

“And orchestra. Hmm?” 

Elliot was silent for a moment. Blankenship had always made him uncomfortable. He seemed to see right through his skin, like a sheaf of onion under a microscope. The boy had never been able to understand some students’ admiration and even love for the imposing man.

Elliot adjusted Rosco under his arm as the dog began to slip. 

“I—I don’t only do that. Besides, I don’t need a lot of money. I’m a concertmaster—they pay me alright.”

“What else do you do?”

At this, Elliot was again silent. A string of elaborate and exciting lies jumped immediately before him. 

“I—a non-music, part-time job. I’m hoping to get out of it soon.” There. He hadn’t lied. 

Again, silence. Elliot felt his heat fuming around his ears. He narrowed his eyes and placed Rosco back on the floor.

“Our new under-principal Mrs. Venetta was just calling you in for work.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Whenever you want, in whatever form, you know the drill, I trust.” He sighed through his words in an attitude of dismissal, and Elliot nodded as if the man could see him. “We shall depend upon your Bambridge honor and good form. We’d love to see you around the school more, and we wouldn’t object to an inspiring-alum concert.”

“Thank you sir, goodbye.”

Elliot laid the phone down. He put his head in his hands. Rosco hurried over obligingly, inspecting his owner’s lips with his tongue. 

“Rosco—stop it, come on—“ Elliot yanked his face away, pushing the dog down with a hand. He grabbed the phone again with a listless grasp, stared at it and thought who he could contact.

Who would go out for a drink at three in the afternoon? Elliot felt a wave wash over him, a wave of dark thought. And tiredness. And nausea—fatigue. Maybe it was the adrenaline of calling Blankenship. Adrenaline usually felt good. 

The daybed provided itself more than willingly for these moments.

Elliot did not have many friends (he had many acquaintances). He had no close friends. This had been done carefully and on purpose, it had also been thoughtless, in all his actions. However, there were people who knew him well enough to be surprised and concerned when they heard. 

Dax had come over and Elliot had told him off. Hop had called in supportive astonishment. The suddenly-engaged did not doubt that many others he knew were worried, surprised, anything—behind his back. 

Elliot did not dress up for his wedding. At least, he did not at first. Then he reconsidered, and put on his black performance attire, in deference to Anne, who seemed to take life in a fancier, more well-put-together fashion than he. 

He rose at six-thirty a.m. He blinked the cloudiness out of his eyes. It was cloudy outside. He did not think much, when it came down to it. He didn’t think about going through with it, he didn’t think about pulling out. Afterwards he knew that he’d taken a shower, he knew he’d looked at himself in the sink mirror. Pale chest, the branching bones in a wingspan, small shoulders. He had been so proud of how broad they’d gotten (by his standards) at the end of high-school, but now, looking at them, he was only mildly disgusted, mildly disappointed. 

On the white, bony breast of Elliot was a work of art. He often did not think of it, but sometimes he stopped to look, in moments like that, in quiet awe, inspection, or remembrance. 

Drawn in careful, indomitably flat and smooth and sharp ink on his practically smooth ribs, skin of a child, was a moth. It was a beautiful moth, it had beautifully round and perfectly-shaped wings, it had beautiful shadows and texture, it had the most delicate black legs. On the shades of its wings were beautiful spots, beautiful lines. It wore beautifully short antennae. 

Elliot could remember gazing at it, hazily, for a long time. He’d had time to kill, after all. He could recall the beautiful smell of henna, when he looked at that tattoo long enough. He hadn’t smelled it in years, henna, but of course he could remember. Of course he could remember that delicious perfection of the scent of it when you mix it with fragrant oil and sugar, when you place it with messy love into cones. He could remember how it stained your hand. 

He could remember how it looked like brownie batter, but it smelled better than any brownie because it hadn’t smelt like food at all, which sickened him, because instead it smelt like something infinitely delicious yet not edible at all. Instead of melting in your mouth it caressed it, invisible. 

But that was for a life of beauty. 

His life had not been beautiful then, when he had smelled it, although it had sometimes felt like it was. Beautiful memories, yes, but he was glad to be gone. 

This was entirely different; it was kind and yet mercenary; it was real and yet not; he thought you could write poetry about it to seem beautiful, but really that would be a lie to the reality. And that always made him bitter. But he was too distracted, by nothing, really, staring at the mere, fuzzily, to be bitter. 

As has been said, he first, that entirely ordinary and dull morning, put on a plain t-shirt. He put on plain light-brown pants, the kind that clung around his skinny legs, he buttoned them below his stomach, lean but bloated. He then, as has also been said, changed, in deference to Anne.

He combed his hair, his hair that was so, so very light-colored; he took care of it and so it was soft but he wished it wasn’t. It curled delicately at his shoulders. There seemed to be nothing to it, and yet everything with that light gold color that reflected any beam of radiance in glossy white. His skin was pale and smooth, his eyes were light blue like a little girl’s. He wondered how anyone could bear him.

Yes, Elliot could remember his morning, as he walked into the Register Office. Anne had thought they should do it first thing because she was that kind of person. His morning, however, felt as if it could have been years ago and at the same time have gone on forever.

He signed the papers numbly and had the glimpsing thought that away he was signing himself, and any hope. He mostly felt, foggily, that it was a tremendously heroic moment. He was sacrificing his freedom, he was sacrificing his hope, his possibility. Yes, that was very romantic. For Anne, for his friend. It felt, numbly, like that. 

Anne was very businesslike. She signed everything. They did not exchange rings. Grace, in the yellow dress she’d had since high-school, was the first witness. One of her strange friends (was she rooming with her now? Elliot couldn’t keep track.), with an elfish nose and slews of byronic, brown curls, was the other. 

There were some sort of vows said, Elliot answered however it seemed from context he was supposed to. It all felt a little odd to him. Something so monumental should have fireworks, he thought, explosions. Something. Life could feel odd, like that. To Elliot. 

It ended, Anne left without ceremony in her own car. Elliot, at a loss, had gone to work.

He sorted and pricked and arrayed insects. He copied field notes. He felt funny and strange and utterly nothing. When Dr. Fishback came in, Elliot had looked at him, at his busy lab-coated back, he had opened his soft lips. He had wanted, very much, he thought afterward, to say something. What does one say? Dr. Fishback, I have just been married? Dr. Fishback, something large has happened and I do not believe it? Do you?

Elliot remained silent. He sliced off a sliver of a grasshopper’s leg, and placed it strangely on a slide. He remained silent. 


It was cold and the air full of invisible water as Elliot pulled up to Anne’s house. There was perfect visibility right before his eyes, but a strangely unreachable, unchasable fog on the edges and horizon-lines of everything. 

Elliot got out of the car, the driver’s door clicked supply shut behind him. He walked up the moist concrete to the door, rubber in his shoes squeaking. 

One can be suddenly unsure of themselves in such situations. The eureka was not a wordy one and hard to fathom. It was more a feeling. More a realization—more processing. The man fumbled. 

Luckily for Elliot, the front door opened, and a rather small woman turned out of it, locking it behind her. 

Her heels—spool and olive-colored—clacked on the steps as she came down, skirt stretching over wide hips and back to come down around her knees. She clacked, in a rather quiet, business-like fashion, down past him. 

She turned back to look at him. Her curls were frizzy around her eyes from the weather.

“Hello, Elliot.”

Elliot nodded awkwardly. 

He followed after her down to his car—it was rather an ugly car. Elliot always found it offensive to his aesthetic sensibilities from this angle—the small roundness of the headlights, the flat shark-like-ness of the smoothly curved hood, the general flatness of the whole vehicle, and, for that matter, the horrible beige color—

He stopped in surprise as Anne opened the driver’s door from a handle once again offensive for its cramped roundness. He blinked. 

“Uh, Anne—“

She turned to him rather dully. Dull, but unyielding.

“I’m not riding in a car that you drive.”


Elliot slid into the passenger side, onto the flat, gray cushions. Anne was busy, eyes cold, pumping up the seat to her height. 

Elliot turned his gaze to the wet, deserted road before them. He was becoming more and more disillusioned with what had at first seemed such a heroic turn for his life to take. It really had, for a moment, been a eureka. 

“Put on you seat-belt.” The order was quiet and firm. Anne barely even looked at him.

Elliot obeyed. This was not because he was passive like Grace. It was because the nonnegotiable tone in Anne’s voice made a person’s fingers jump to the buckle before their mind could even process the command. When his did, Elliot flushed up to his ears with annoyance, but Anne was too engaged in her defensive driving to notice.

The man wanted to be irritated, but he felt mostly disappointed. And he was irritated, at least a little bit. Anne was so selfish—yes, of course he felt bad for her—but could she not even say thank-you? Could she not even appreciate the sacrifice he was making her? Elliot not only might have been the most rapidly disillusioned person in the course of human history, but possibly also the most spurned and unappreciated of its heroes. This was, at least, what he thought, as she took a turn like she was handling an army vehicle.

“Where’s Renata?” He asked strainedly, focusing his energy on trying to keep himself together. His insides had other thoughts. 

“I have friends, you know.” Anne replied sharply and dismissively, apparently offended by his ignorance, eyes trained at the road before her.. “It’s not good they’re making us move in together.”

“It might be,” Elliot offered, following her in.

“No, it’s not. It means they know it’s a fake.” Anne, voice quiet and business-like, was brimming with pessimistic surety. It was amazing, Elliot thought, how he had been with her a full twenty minutes, and she hadn’t looked him in the eyes once. She narrowed her gaze upon the parking spot she was trying to squeeze into. “I told you, no idiot would think I actually want to marry you.” 

This left a surprised Elliot behind a moment, an Elliot whose ears soon flushed again, this time with hurt resentment. He wondered what Beowulf would do if so spurned. Who said he wanted to marry her?, an angry voice inside him exclaimed. He wasn’t doing it for himself, it wasn’t some pleasure-ride—no, in fact, he was the one who’d been frying his brain on calls and research over her problems, he was the one— 

She had already disappeared behind the glass coffeeshop door before the heat in his ears could come to fruition from his mouth. He followed her in a rejected huff.

“What do you think of this one?” Elliot asked, looking over Anne’s shoulder. She was wearing a magenta cardigan. The laptop was on the table in front of them, and her fingers were scrolling thoughtfully through the display.


“Why?” Elliot asked tiredly, taking a bite of an apple. She hadn’t even really seemed to consider it.

“Too small.”

“It’s a two-bedroom, Anne. Perfect.”

Anne turned her head back coldly toward him. 

“Has it occurred to you that Renata and I might want a bit of space from you? We’re not college roommates.” She delivered these words curtly and with finality, whipping her head back around before Elliot could respond. She continued to scroll, too slow for anyone’s liking, but too fast to really look at any specific listing.

Elliot blinked at this, feeling rather miffed. Anne had a way of unexpectedly coming on top like this that left him sheepish and rather irritated. He opened his mouth to reply, but she, back still towards him, cut him off.

“What do you think about this? 112, Lakeshore Drive. Pretty.”

“Let me look—“ Elliot leant forward beside her, resting a hand on a table, putting his other one of the mouse pad as he clicked on the listing. The house was a virulent red, the door of a soft white. It was two stories, three bedroom, three bath. Elliot raised his eyebrows. “Anne, you don’t really think we’d live here—“

The Hungarian expatriate turned upon him sharply. 

“Why not? It’s in town like you wanted, isn’t it? And we could probably lay out things so as you could have your house, and I could have mine—look at the floor-plan—“ Anne conquested the mousepad instantly, and Elliot drew his hand back in surprise as she clicked on the picture of the layout. “See? Me and Renata could have the front-door, you the back, and the corresponding sides of the house—“

Elliot’s nostrils flared at this; an affronted heat surged in reaction.

“What, is that the servant’s door or something?” He exclaimed, eyes accusing. 

“No,” Anne replied sharply, and Elliot was nearly taken aback, surprised by her tone. By the thick wetness in the sharpness. She seemed almost a little hurt. He opened his lips and closed them. “I was just meaning that we could divide it into two sides, and leave each other alone.” The words were not quiet but had not an inch of militancy, not an inch of anything that demanded anything in return. She wasn’t looking at him. 

“Oh. Oh, ok.” Elliot tried to back down, awkwardly, in his tone. Anne’s sudden switch from sparring to—well, whatever this was—had taken him off guard. They were silent for a moment, staring at the screen. Anne was sitting, for a moment forgetting posture, on a chair of swirling iron design. Elliot was leaning beside her, tendons stretched and prone on the wrist he had propped against the table. Neither of them were quite thinking anything intelligent about the listings they were numbly staring at. A thought suddenly occurred to him. “Anne,” he straightened up, and she turned to look at him in surprise, as if he’d woken her from a daydream. “how do you expect me to be able to afford this?” 

His tone was matter-of-fact. This was one of Elliot’s ways, the Elliot between performance drama and private brooding. This was, incidentally, the most natural part, the reaction he thought least about. 

Anne scrolled up to the price-tag. She took a moment, seeming to be doing the math quickly in her head, behind the focused eyes. She looked back up at him in an instant, dark eyebrows challenging. It made Elliot more comfortable, instantly, as if he no longer needed to tread lightly; she seemed to have completely recovered herself. 

“You would have to put down 113,378 pounds total.” 

“Exactly.” Elliot hit the table for emphasis. The violist narrowed her eyes. 

“You wouldn’t have to all at once.” Anne could be so obstinate. Elliot sighed, long and testily. He did not spend much time with his personal finances, but he knew them to leave little room for margin.

Anne, I’m a musician, you can’t expect me to be rolling in dough.” Elliot leaned back on the table again (a bad idea, the small glass circle was rickety in its frame). Light eyes piercing. He knew it. 

Anne turned her head up to meet him. Obstinate. 

“I’m a musician too. I could afford it. Some of us spread our nets wide, Elliot. You could be considerably more pragmatic about it. It’s running a business.”

Elliot couldn’t help being testy. Anne made him testy. 

“There are those of us,” he delivered back, face unlined but very intent, “who believe in art for the sake of art.”

“Oh give me a break.” Anne rose in a huff, not meeting his eyes but everything else. She snapped the laptop shut beside his hand, she turned to look at him. “I need to go.” 

Elliot watched, silent, as she put the laptop back into her bag. He watched, face unmoving, as she slung it over her shoulder, as she turned and marched away. She did not look back. He did not look away. It was not because he missed her. It was more that his eyes trained on his leaving opponent. 

Elliot had watched a lot of those movies. He’d been a cowboy one year for Halloween, the year after he’d been Superman, the year before he’d been Robin Hood. His mother had sewn him felt fox-ears for that, he remembered. He could remember standing at the cheap fold-out craft table, glue everywhere as he was struggling to attach the ears to a skinny black headband. He’d been enraged with frustration. Nobody had paid him any attention. He couldn’t remember how he finally got them to stick, in the end.

He had not asked her the question that’d sprung to his lips. You still on for practice? No. That would have been too conciliatory. Of course Anne was on for practice. And if she didn’t show up, they would practice without her. Who needed a viola, anyway, he thought bitterly. Besides, she would come back in. 

He opened the dark door tucked back near the counter, went up the poorly-lit stairs, and into the room above. The Minndish—the rather cryptic name that café had taken to itself— prided itself on being a pillar of the artistic community. It was a revolving door of art exhibits, but also a live music venue (there was outside seating). What mattered to Elliot, however, was their free multi-purpose room upstairs. 

He gazed at the empty space rather tiredly. He did not like empty spaces. They smacked too much of loneliness, when he was the only one standing in them. It might have looked romantic in a photograph, with the right lighting, but at the moment it felt like nothing he wanted at all. He set up the chairs, he set up the stands. The others arrived soon, they were surprised that he’d beat them there. Elliot smiled wryly in acknowledgement, but it was really only for their benefit.

There was something nearly awkward about the group of them today. What could Elliot have expected, anyway, from the moment Anne barreled in, darkly, behind Hop. The second violinist, Dax, glanced strangely between the violist and the first violin on either side of him, both silently adjusting their position in the seats.

“Well,” he ventured, unfolding his music on the stand. “it’s nice to be back, all together again.”

“Yes, it seems like it’s been even longer than it has.” Hop added sanguinely, his skin folding severely around his eyes as he smiled. Elliot nodded. He coughed. Anne was silent. 

They went farther in the Schubert piece. They passed the quagmire of an introduction, they shocked any listening ghosts with surprising group chords, they continued on and on. Elliot played his part rather mindlessly. The tidal wave occurred to him as they reached it, but not to his fingers. He remembered to look at the cello, at the second violin, to meet their eyes. Out of habit. He avoided the viola. He did not think about the viola. He did not look at the viola. It was hardly on purpose.

They went on and on, then they would stop and talk, then play again. Elliot still felt tired, but he tried, he tried every time. The unfulfillment felt maddening. The climax not reached, the depth and the height and the span. Elliot could feel it. Like it was vaguely in his power but out of reach. He played. He ate minutes. 

They would be silent, and then they would breathe together and make more noise. It was nearly surreal to him how it happened.

And so they made sound again, and the viola’s blended with the rest, and it wasn’t too hard to not look at her, it wasn’t too hard to be studiedly apart. She made him crazy. It made him crazy that he had to play with her. He ate minutes. 

“Good practice,” Hop said, zipping up his cello lustily. Like moving his fingers for the notes was all he needed to make art. Elliot stared at him, tired. 

Dax took a moment to respond. His face, large and the lightest sort of brown—the shape of it sometimes reminded Elliot of a monkey—seemed troubled.

“I don’t know—I think we haven’t gotten back into our groove yet. I mean—“ he added hastily, standing back up from where he was bent over his case, “completely understandable!”

Anne silently packed up as if she hadn’t heard. Elliot nodded. He knew it. You have to always rise to the occasion, and Elliot was good at that. He could always rise if it was for someone else. He nodded. You can know something and not anything more.

His numb mind was at once on something else, even while he heard the words. He packed up and left. He felt like he was walking in a fog. 


Downstairs the Minndish was dim. Bustling with the quiet noises of talk and the clanking machines behind the counter. The floor was like a cobblestone road except it was glazed flat. Also dim.

Elliot passed the intimate human surroundings of the coffeehouse in something of despair. He came up to the counter and stood waiting behind an old man of a disinterestedly fashionable appearance. He gazed blankly at the intentionally ratty briefcase slung over his shoulder. 

In a moment it was Elliot’s turn at the counter. He took a glance at the wall-clock. Minutes were still there. Elliot turned back to the barista as she greeted him.

“Hullo! Nice day, isn’t it?” Her skin was very white and her lips very pink. Elliot was having a hard time looking her straight in the face, caught between the distracting qualities of her impressive array of piercings and the incredible lowness of her shirt-neck. How could she not understand, know, it was suffocating. She had probably never played music in her life. She probably didn’t have an artistic bone in her body. It made him mental. 

He hurriedly snapped his eyes to the menu.

“Uh—one café au lait, please.” The prospect of asking advice reviled him and so he was not entirely sure what he was ordering. It was much better to pretend one knew things, and suffer the consequences proudly. Elliot was excellent at appearing as if he knew exactly what was going on. He was a good actor. 

Elliot paid, he sat down at a table. He looked as melancholy as he felt—gazing about himself tiredly, at the mint-colored shelves hammered into the wall, at the specialty bags of coffee beans and grinds they sported. He gazed morosely at the interpretive, colorful nudes hanging without frames, he turned his eyes disinterestedly to the vases packed messily with local flowers. At the large glass windows above a long tank system full of giant fish topped with vibrant plant growth. At the seats outside, which nobody wanted today. Elliot followed the fish with his gaze, their pale puckering lips, their eyes at once lazy and intent. 

He noticed the grey condensation of the windows. It was raining. Strange. The woman had asked him what a nice day it was. 

He and Anne would never find a house, he could feel it surely within him. And even if they did, he would never be able to pay for it. And Anne still probably wouldn’t like something about it. And—this was a new thought—the prospect of living with her, it would probably be for the rest of his life. This had not occurred to Elliot. To be in the same house as Anne, forever. He could feel it already, she would critique is every move.

Elliot turned in quiet misery, looking around him. He had somehow landed himself next to the group of teenage girls and the woman presiding just as engagedly in their midst. They all had notebooks and pens. Perhaps they were artists. 

That made him feel a little better, but still in a melancholy way. Elliot had been comforted by the artistic quality of this place, which is why it was a haunt of his, in mind if not often in body. He watched the barista, watched her as she cleaned the machines, as she dripped the coffee or foam or syrup with an intent gaze. It held little allure for him. His mother had wanted him to be a barista, when he’d been looking for work. 

It’s a good, safe, honest job, Elliot! Why not? 

It’s just—mom, you don’t understand

What don’t I understand?

You’re just working and working and working, and people can treat you like dirt, and they just expect you to do things for them, you have no dignity—

Well welcome to the service sector, Elliot!

Exactly! Ugh—

Elliot laid his head back against the brick wall. His thin hair was no protection, the rugged blocks scratched and pained his skin, but he did not move. Elliot could take pain.

Time could have gone on forever. One of the girls started reading something from her notebook, beside him. He turned his head, barely. It seemed like a poem.

Elliot closed his eyes. He thought of the prospect of his life and was filled with wretchedness. He turned his head lazily again where it was propped back against the wall, he watched the barista erasing parts of the blackboard over the coffee machines, standing on a stool, she was drawing in new pasty words in swirls with colored chalk. The word “Waffles” formed with light magic beneath her dusty fingers. Another girl was reading now, and the poetry came into his ears but he didn’t comprehend it.

It was at moments like this, the farther he descended, that he suddenly could not bear to be alone. It would seize him, attack him. 

No. He had to get up. He had to go be among people, he had to be laughing and ruling and performing. Pretending was better than this, he felt with a desperate anxiety, if this is what was real. 

He opened his phone hurriedly—it clicked open to the missed calls. Bambridge. They were old—he deleted the notifications, vexed. Like creepy-crawlies were scuttling up his arm. 

Elliot was annoyed—by the state of the world around him. Restless. The poet group provided no help. Neither did the waffles; nothing, not the koi, not any of it. Bambridge was an annoying institution—it was like selling yourself into slavery—Elliot sneered in frustration, tearing the music sheets from his case, running over them with fiery eyes as if that was something to do.

Down the lines. Of Schubert. Of nothing. Elliot lay back in his seat, gaze floating. 


But then it made him think of something else, as he stared above the eager heads of the girls to the rain reflected cloudily outside. Bambridge? It made him think of closets full of linen clothes, it made him think of bonfires, it made him think of laughing all together, sitting on the bed. Johnny and Roxanne—they’d been dating then, he remembered. She was in a swimsuit, sandy ankles. And Clara and Yesun, and he could see them all in his mind laughing, he could remember himself gesticulating, eyes wide as he retold the story, he could feel the solid back of Delfino pressed against him, he could see all their bare feet beneath pulled-up knees. They’d been in the West bedroom, windows open and darkness outside with the biggest moon, he’d been sitting on the edge of the striped bedsheets. That’s what it made him think of. 

He had not felt lonely at all. He had, in fact, been in his element. That’s what the Bambridge house was like. He longed for it, suddenly. Longed and longed, beyond the rain dripping down the Minndish window. Beyond the cold coffee. 

The girls left. They put their notebooks and pens or laptops in different bags, slung them over their shoulders and pushed their chairs in and were gone. The empty table next to him made his corner feel too large, too vacant.

He got up. 

Elliot did not want to be suffocated where he stood. 

He didn’t know how, but that would be his solution. Elliot could feel it irresistibly, and he grasped at it, desperately. 

Elliot took his violin case home but that was where he left it. 


Tune in next Friday to read more!

[questions from the author:

Should the Anne/Elliot fighting in the car scene should be cut/condensed? I know we have that sort of thing in the whole house-hunting part right after, but I don’t want the transition/storyline to be too abrupt, and I fear it may be if I take out the whole car scene. Thoughts from fresh eyes? 

Also, please take the Grace intro in the context that in the next draft this will be the first time we meet her—she’ll probably only be mentioned in the scene at his parent’s house.

One final question. What the moth is trying to say about Elliot? As in his tattoo? Should the moth be dropped, or changed? This I think is just a question to think about through the whole story, as you get to know him and his arc better, any themes and motifs, etc. Just throwing that out there.] 

First Violin : Chapter 1

[note: this work is intellectual property. The author has worked hours, weeks, and months to have what they are allowing The Snottor to post. Please fully respect the rights of the author, who, although this is posted for anyone to have access to online, has full ownership over all this material]

First Violin 

After the noise there was always, always a quiet. Elliot had noticed this when he was very young and it had made him want to scream.

The violinist, still in his every-day clothes, stood in the back of the concert-hall. Wasn’t there a poem he’d read once, about how every man is an island? He couldn’t remember; the thought occurred to him suddenly and without illumination. With only the stage lights on—a fine wooden stage, smooth and new—the seats were dark. Elliot stood behind the very last row, hands on the fabric backs of the chairs.

He breathed out.

In the group they all breathed together. On the stage, but they could have been anywhere because they no longer saw or smelled or tasted, it was only hearing, vague commands followed. All they could see were each other’s bows and sometimes eyes and the eyes were the only parts that mattered.

Elliot’s violin was golden-painted and at the baton it woke up. His eyes were blue and he stared at the conductor’s deep-seated ones, dark and hollowed. Intense. Burning.

For Elliot it was always pretending to obey.

His back was so straight and his body so taut, everything, tensed and pulling and pushing and he drew his bow hard and digging and it played with the strings but never flightily it always belonged and deep too. Playing the melody which is the point and the message over the plucked beats, he touched eyes—gray—eyes—green—eyes—brown—with his own, cello looking up and nodding, viola, second violin.


He did not need to look at his stand-partner because he felt him and together they were like one but everything was inside Elliot, everything was him and he was beyond the ground his feet sunk into, beyond the flat concert-hall ground. He was beyond the faces below that received.

Elliot talked to the stars and all around him they sang back. He said things and proclaimed and danced and did not know what any of it meant. Rather, he knew it meant something. 

The only thing he knew for sure was that it proved time a lie. It always did. It made the numbers and units he lived by meaningless and made-up. Always. 

They played. 

Elliot talked to the stars.


It was 9 pm. 

Dax breathed out. “That was long,” he murmured, working his sweaty hands. Elliot beamed—he pulsed, he radiated—he jumped onto Dax’s back with a loud whoop. 

“Great performance, everybody!” He cried, waving his arm and a cello laughed and nodded, a viola shrugged. “That rocked,” he repeated decidedly, dismounting the large violinist, swaying with surprise as his feet reached the ground—he balanced himself against the wall.

“Elliot,” Dax sighed, bending down to pick up his instrument case. “do you want a granola bar or something?”


“Are you sure? You really look—“ 

“I’m fine, Dax, I’m not hungry.” 

They were milling towards the green-room’s door—musicians tired, excited, energized, relieved, thick around them. The conductor, tall and raptor-like, was proceeding hastily through the ranks, loudly congratulating and encouraging his thralls. He took Elliot and shook him heartily by the hand.

“Good job, concertmaster. Aha!” He laughed, beaming at the thin violinist. “Very good. As always—you lead well, Mr. Frey.”

“Thank you, Ariel.” 

“Oh, Elliot,” Dax murmured in his ear, and the man turned from the beautiful flutists he was hailing, surprised. “Anne and Hop are here, we should probably find them.”

“Oh, yeah. Probably—bye guys, catcha later.”

Elliot saw the woman first—she was standing against the wall, polished in nice clothes over stiff heels. Standing straight, arms sagging around the large viola case at her front. Hop, beside her, jumped forward at the sight of them. 

“You guys! That was so good! It made me want to jump out of my seat—such energy!” He exclaimed, skin pulled tight in his large smile, all teeth showing, eyes crinkled, crow’s feet. 

“Thank you—thank you so much for coming—“

“Ah of course!”

The woman, arms crossed as she watched, stepped forward, dark eyes on Elliot. 

“Did you know you stick your tongue out?” She inquired dryly, Hungarian accent, and Elliot raised his eyebrows, surprised.

“What? What are you—“

Her deadpan face folded into a pleased smirk as they turned, milling slowly towards the door. 

“Yes, you were.”

“What! What are you talking about! That’s absurd—“

“You do.”

“I can’t—“

“Ask Hop, he was sitting next to me.”

“Hop, did I?”


“That’s ridiculous, Anne.”

“No, you looked ridiculous.” 

Elliot was silent a moment, following her contemplatively. The performance high was already beginning to wear off. He was beginning to remember his stomachache. He came back quickly. 

“So, what, are you going to discount the whole performance because of—“

“I never said I was discounting anything.” She stopped at the door, pushing it open with a look. “Although I dislike coming to such late concerts. I do have a life, you know.”

They walked out into the rainy darkness, lit far-up by small streetlights. They’d gone out the backdoor, and the desolate parking lot moved here and there with other men and women in black performance attire, hoisting a double bass into their car, talking or laughing or silent. 

Dax yawned. He was an absurdly tall man with a sturdy, large frame, huge fingers that always looked strange to Elliot around the tiny fingerboard of his violin. But he didn’t play clumsily, not at all. He quirked a smile, unlocking his car.

“Have a good night, Elliot.” squinting, he added, with a look at the sky, “Better get out of here quick, though.”

“Yeah—geez—“ the rain was getting worse every second, and the other musicians abandoned their talking to hurry into their cars. 

Elliot’s was ugly and tan-colored, a low-to-the-ground sedan. He rushed in, drenched, throwing his violin case into the back seat and himself into the front—slamming the doors shut, he stopped, panting. Dripping.

The water poured onto his windshield and he lay back in the seat. Breathing out.

He was tired, now. He pulled his knees up to his chest as his stomach growled, he sighed nauseously, searching for a bottle of water. There was none.

In the darkness Elliot Frey thought he didn’t much want to drive in the weather. There was nobody at home anyway, that needed him. The dog would be alright—there was food in his bowl. 

In the darkness Elliot Frey lay back into his seat, closing his eyes. Breathing. The rain pounded.


Emil was a structural engineer. He was a pyrographer. 

He’d studied and worked and gotten his license; he’d married her young and had a kid young too. Because the Hungarian girl was always welcome in his apartment; the young student at the Royal Academy of Music with her heels and her bag and her freckles.

She would clean things for him.

He’d have his pencils, all sharpened and organized. His rulers and compass and equations and everything, moving slowly, definitely. Hours on hours he would burn, a little every night, into the wood. Serene perfection. It always brought him calm.

They moved to the suburbs and he would come home late because he would motorcycle around the block on his Suzuki Marauder until he felt alright enough to go inside. And there they would be. 

And finally, after the hours and the hours and the hours, slow without caring, he would sit back and exhale and it would be done. Locklear, A + E, 2004. A wooden heart-plaque, he’d hang it on their door.

On the 16th of February, 2012, the Suzuki Marauder was hit on the side by a pickup. The wheel was ripped off; the rider was dead before the paramedics arrived. 


Upon the gravel, lining and skirting and flanking and coming up to the building, was a veritable garrison of parked motorcycles. Being late as he was, Elliot was able to walk about these beasts in relative privacy. More like a fog, really, than privacy—people were walking by on the street, cars trundling past, it was an altogether dry day and Elliot, black clothes draped or clinging about his thin frame, was surveying the scene with light eyes at once piercing, focused, and completely and utterly not so. 

There was no one to say anything to, no one to perform anything for, and so he went in. He went in by the single, front door, painted a darker blue-green, to find himself in a cream-colored hallway. You would have only needed to look at it in a picture to feel its stifling quality, although large. There was no door on the other end of the short entrance-way, only a large, square opening with promises in the noises behind it. 

He followed it like a cat, long sneakers padding heel-to-toe, head cast slightly down but eyes straight ahead on the entrance, inspecting. 

Arriving late at anything can work a strange change on anyone. It often does not come on until one is before the entrance, beholding or about to behold the hordes of people that somehow, miraculously, arrived on time, and that somehow, miraculously, have become a sea of sinister eyes to be escaped. 

Elliot’s cheeks, however, were not a-blotch with nervousness, shyness, or embarrassment. Elliot was not in the habit of escaping people. If he did, it was because he willed it, not the other way around. Elliot entered the doorway with a suddenness and then paused. Facing him were rows of backs. He made a sudden move from his stillness, attacked an empty chair in the back with fast strides, countenance stonily focused but cheeks patched with red. 

His exhale was barely audible and less visible, nostrils wide, he let his face rest for a moment on the throng before him. He hadn’t realized he’d been dreading it, sitting here. Even in the back.

Where was Anne—where was she—Elliot’s heart flipped in apprehension as he twisted and craned like a discreet marionette until he caught a glimpse of her curls. They were brown as always, curly as always, frizzy as always beneath a black hat. Anne had the silliest taste in clothes, he had always thought. She worried too much about them. All he could see was that edge of hair and hat and a stiff dark shoulder, no face. She was sitting completely still and beside her, lower, was a head of different brown hair, straight and sleek, a black flower clipped upon it. He could bet she wasn’t crying. 

He kept his gaze trained on her for a long moment before sitting back again, strangely disappointed. What had he expected, Elliot asked himself? There, the fatal glance, he had seen them, he had seen the two of them and there they were. Apparently alive, apparently breathing. It was at that point that Elliot began to hear the words of the man standing up, beside the coffin in a black suit. It was also at that point that he realized he didn’t have a program, only tissues. He sat on his hands.

Elliot loved to be sad and he hated it. It sucked to be sad about someone, he thought. It sounded divine and yet here they were and it really wasn’t. What was Anne’s problem? What was Anne’s stupid, silly problem to get married so young, and to have a kid with a man who rode a motorcycle? What was Elliot’s problem? How had he ended up here? He, who didn’t love Emil, how had he ended up here? 

He had studied heroes and he knew that no good hero loves anyone to the point where they give up themselves and yet they love everyone, they would die for anyone, and so what was this? 

It sucked to be sitting in the back of the room and thinking and sad with nobody to see it because no one else cared, they were all too busy sobbing. 

He was thinking, he was thinking in that undercurrent how is it possible to leave the everyday, and real-life, for this vortex? How is this real? He felt like his chest was burning. It felt like a long time but it ended too, just like everything else.  

Elliot was following the coffin with blank eyes and wondering what it felt like to be in it. 


“So was he in a gang, or something?” Nettie asked, eyes raised from the crumbs she was sweeping on their glazed kitchen floor. Elliot, who had not considered the possibility, shrugged.

“I dunno. I don’t think so—I mean, somehow I can’t see Anne tolerating anyone anything less than entirely legal.” At that he laughed, rolling a stray marble between his fingers. The table was too low for his long, thin legs and he adjusted them uncomfortably, yawning. “They were probably all his friends.”

“That’s just terrible. Hmm. That’s so terrible—your poor friend—have you talked to her? How is she?” Nettie shook her head, eyes sad, as she rose from her squat, emptying the dustpan into the trash. Elliot stretched his arms above him and shook his head.

“Nope. I don’t know about her,” he stopped, considering. He shrugged. “She’s…pretty stoic. I don’t know if she could ever cry about anything.”

“Poor girl.” Nettie shook her head again, stacking the dirty dishes from lunch. Elliot looked up from the giant list of side-effects and warnings he’d unfolded from Grace’s newest medicine bottle. His sister watched him, silently. 

“What? Oh, Anne?”

“Yes—that’s her name. Poor thing.” 

Nettie put a hand on her husband’s forearm as she spoke; she was just as big as him, she was blonde but it was coarser and wavier and more golden than either of her children—dyed that way, now. Her eyes were darker, her skin tanned in the sun; it was spotted too, in places. Her upper arms were larger now, her waist. She had the earnest, piercing look in her darker blue eyes blonde women can have, and, to her son, it was always unpleasantly inescapable. Her joints crackled and popped whenever she bent down and Elliot knew why.

“Elliot,” Grace sighed, raising her eyebrows at him. He looked up. “please, give it back. It’s alright, it’s working great—“

The Rodgers’s moved into number 26 when Elliot was four. They had moved from a worse place. Elliot could not much remember it—he’d been at the age where you look at the world and remember how things look but not any feelings about them—the outside world causes no fear, no loathing. 

Only his parents lived there now, second floor (the highest floor). The building was all wood and painted brown. You got down to the bottom with outside stairs. It was slippery when it rained.

“Oh, and Gracie,” Nettie looked up, smiling. “I’ve got that patch you needed for your bike.” Grace, snatching the medicine box and papers from her brother, stepped quickly to the door. 

“Thanks, mum—here, it’s down by the street.”

“Did you lock it?” Elliot asked suddenly, standing up as if to follow them, and Grace smiled tiredly, rolling her eyes.

“No, Elliot, I’ve never had my bike stolen and of course you know it’s because I just trust to the stranger and leave it free and open—“

“Elliot, talk to your father. We’ll be back.”

Grace’s bike was pistachio. Not green. Just like her shirt was ecru and her blanket lavender—her bathrobe deep berry and her rug mauve. Pistachio. Elliot sighed and sunk into the couch, putting a hand to his temples.

“How’re things, dad?” 

The man opposite him shrugged benignly. 

“Same old, Elli.” His voice was soft and getting wispy. Elliot watched, afar-off as he was, eyes trained guardedly as his father lit up—in a moment, at a thought, straightening up to reach for the camera on the table beside him. “I’d forgotten—I got a nightingale.” He whispered, smiling faintly as he clicked the camera on, and Elliot leaned his face into his hand. 

“Did you?”

“Oh yes—here, you’ll love it, it’s a gorgeous bird—see?”

Gerald, Elliot’s father, was blond too. His was very light, like Elliot’s; cut short and feathery. He had drifty, blue eyes, pale like his skin. He was a quiet man and one not prone to hysteria, excitements, or ever yelling. Elliot took the camera to look.

Gerald folded his hands and they were a little small; he smiled sweetly, a little apologetically at his son; Elliot thought he always looked a little sleepy.

“Nice, dad—nice. Dawn or dusk?”

“Dawn. Dawn is always the best time. Here—there are some swallows, you know how beautiful they are—oh, and I forgot.”

“Hmm?” Elliot’s eyes felt sleepy, too. The house was too quiet and soft and dim for anything else, not after a morning of nothing but practicing, of staring at music right in front of your eyes and losing yourself and forgetting about anything else, anything like this. Elliot yawned.

“Birders United Kingdom’s asked for another article.”

“Really? Hey, dad—“ Elliot leaned back into the couch, surveying his father. Silent. “wanna have a drink?”

“Sure—if you want to.” They drank red wine because that was all Gerald Rodgers ever had. And not the cheap kind either—he thought about his drink, it was not something to be consumed mindlessly. Elliot would say he was the same way but that would be a lie.

They sat across from each other and drank. Elliot watched his father. They did not speak.


Elliot was, technically, a professional musician. He was first violinist of a chamber group made up of other professional musicians. He had graduated King’s College with a degree in violin performance. However, he was also 25 years old and did not have enough reliable gig work (much of which he turned down, for various reasons). He was rather too proud to work in the service sector and so had found himself as the sole unskilled assistant in a Biologist’s insect-lab. 

The Biologist, Dr. Fishback, was enthusiastic enough that he had an assistant (he had not been able to find any young scientists willing to take the job; his lab was generally thought of as something of a sinking ship) that he did not require Elliot to come in at specific times. Instead, he had to work a certain amount of hours in a day or a week, which suited the musician very well. 

The lab was small, it was a perfect rectangle, the walls and the floor were flat and uninteresting as the benches of smooth black. Elliot recopied a stack of jumbled field-notes with his mind firmly in one place: to be outside. Yes, to again walk on grass or something interesting, to again breathe unpredictable air that tasted like something, to feel it on his skin. 

The lab had no windows. To Elliot’s romantic sensibilities, it was one of the worser places he could have been in the entire country of England. He dreamed of freedom. 

However, this was better than making coffee. It was better than catering other peoples’ events, it was better than cleaning toilets. Elliot could bear none of those things. To serve? No, not like that. Not in the petty things. He served them in his music. 

He had plans to escape this less-than-ideal side-hustle as soon as possible. 

Anne stayed in Hungary all the rest of February and March too. 

It is funny how, no matter how sure we are that things will never be the same way again, they can somehow all keep going. Elliot received his check, he bought Rosco his medications, he went home and practiced the rest of the day. The days past and sometimes flirted with the idea of getting a little warmer but mostly they changed their minds. The Leda Quartet did not meet. Anne was gone as easily as she had been there.

He sat in a small, polite chamber music concert and was the only person there under the age of 70. He took the bus and if someone had asked it would have been to save on gas but really it was so that he could read. 

Elliot was not a big reader; he preferred music. However, he was a man entranced by heroes—more properly, a boy entranced by heroes, for that is how it had started. It had started back as long as he could remember. When he read about them he was them. 

He lay on the green daybed—soft velvety minky, luxurious and against the largest window of his messy apartment—and considered such champions. He had a running list. 

His favorite was Beowulf. Beowulf was perfect. Nearly as good as the Norse Gods. Elliot was thinking about how great it would feel to have a whole court be in awe of you, of how you had strangled Grendel with nothing but your own strength. About how you would have no children and no queen but many, many followers, and how you would be buried overlooking the sea.

It was a sweet fantasy, and decidedly his favorite. 

Elliot picked up the phone.

“Hey,” he drew the word out, lingering long on the middle sound, “Dax, you around?”

“Is that you, Elliot?” Dax sounded distracted and fairly tired. Elliot was rather disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm. 

“Yours truly. You around?” 

“Yeah, do you need something?”

Elliot rose and began to click shut the clamps along his violin case.

“Can Hop get away from his kids yet?”

“Gee, I don’t know,” Dax sighed, “they’re still sick—“

“He’s probably fine enough for a rehearsal.” Elliot spoke louder and faster, overriding whatever it was Dax had been about to say. “I bet he can get away—I mean, can’t his wife take care of them—“ He stopped. The other end was mute. This was a common problem with Dax. “Hel-lo? Is the line down?”

Another moment of hesitating silence. 

“What about Anne?” 

Elliot paused for a moment.

“What about her?” He flicked with affected unconcern at the edge of his shirt hem. 

“I still don’t think we should practice without her.”

Elliot sighed—long, long-suffering. 

“Oh come on, Dax! She’s still in Hungary—who knows when she’ll be back—we can’t just sit here forever with nothing to do— Just once won’t mess us up.”

“She’s back.”


“She got back. She and her kid.”

“What! How long—I mean—“

“A week. She’s—I mean, I know you want to rehearse, Elliot, but—maybe we should do something for her instead.”

Elliot paused. He moved his weight from one foot to the other, squinting out the sunny window. The truth was he did feel for Anne. But meals felt clumsy, flowers felt clumsy—I mean, what were you even supposed to do

“Don’t worry about Anne. There are lots of people looking out for her—did you see all Emil’s family at the funeral? She’ll be fine, and when she’s ready, she’ll come back and practice with us again, but before that—“

“I just think it’s got to be hard.” pausing, his voice rung with sympathy. “She really loved Emil. She kind of put everything into him, I mean, other than Renata he’s the only family in the country she’s got.” Dax spoke quietly. Unchallenging.

“Well why don’t you go bring her flowers or something.” Elliot snapped back testily, quickly seeing the practice he’d been looking forward to dissipating, quickly seeing the rest of the afternoon on the daybed. The second violin didn’t understand. He didn’t understand having to fill days, having to organize your life, hours, minutes. He didn’t understand going up and down. 

Again, silence. This feature of Dax irked Elliot especially.

“Well, come on! What do you want to say, then?” He exclaimed, laying back down heavily and hitting his head on the bed-frame. “Ouch—damn this—“

“I’ve already sent her some stuff.”

Elliot lowered himself carefully down, forearm braced on the windowsill. 

“Oh. Ok.” The little admission had subdued him, mostly because it had surprised him. He could hear it in the words coming out of his mouth. 

“I tried to call on her a couple days ago but she wouldn’t have me. She told me she was too jet-lagged.”

Elliot sucked in a quick breath of air. He felt rather miffed that she had gotten back and he hadn’t even known it. 

“Typical.” The first violinist was tapping his finger on the windowsill. He could hear the retreat in Dax’s voice, and it was making him feel guilty—and now he looked (and felt) pretty selfish—here was Dax, quietly doing all these things for Anne, and they hadn’t even crossed Elliot’s mind—I mean, he couldn’t really be blamed—

“Anyway, I think Hop is probably sick.” The voice on the phone continued quickly, quiet and low and dull. It sounded like an escape effort. “I haven’t heard from him in a couple days.”

“Yeah. Probably.” 

Elliot hung up. He looked around; nothing in the room lent any help, he gazed back down at the phone. There was a missed call. 

Bambridge School (yesterday)


He looked around the room and breathed out, distractedly. He got up.


Elliot chose the left turn, driving for a few minutes with a scowl on his face before pulling into a new town. He slammed his hands on the sides of the steering wheel in frustration. 

Of course he wasn’t about to call Dax, tell him he was going to Anne’s house, and ask for directions—the idea was insufferable. Elliot could feel, just envisioning it, everything Dax would be thinking on the other line. 

However, as he had only ever been to Anne’s house once before, and then being guided by her own militantly delivered directions on the phone—he himself paying more attention to replying in an equally militant fashion than to the turns he was taking—it really didn’t help Elliot much at all.

He turned the steering wheel and backed out, u-turning onto the road he had come down on. This was far from the first time this sort of thing had happened to him on that drive. 

Elliot turned on the radio, which made things even worse. He knew it even before he pressed the button; he found himself too frustrated to turn the thing off, and so the pair of them proceeded in a very unfortunate state back up the road.

He cursed himself for his incredible lack of memory concerning his earlier drive. It really was quite amazing, what arguing on the phone with someone could do to your recall of anything else. 

It seemed to Elliot like ages before he finally found the town. It was, in reality, the one right next to his own, but he had not quite put two-and-two together. Once there it took him at least another three-quarters of an hour to finally land on the edge of the little cookie-cutter suburbia of Anne, and if he hadn’t had to keep his hands on the steering wheel he thought he’d pull his fingernails out. 

Elliot Roberts drove into “Oaks Residence”, past the large stone wall bearing that name in tarnished metal letters. He took the right fork, passed sterilely executed landscaping that left the whole scene feeling rather sparse. He went past identical concrete steps, identical and well-spaced trees, eerily similar mulching jobs, and the like. He took the moment to liberally dislike all of it, which, for Elliot, was not hard at all.

Eventually, a blur of identical houses later, he found himself back at the fork. He sighed. 

Elliot Roberts took the left fork. He took the left fork, sneered at the vertex of sameness around him, and wondered what sort of people would allow themselves to be inside a dull house with twins all around it, a house over which they had no apparent decisions of even thought. 

He found he had a little respect for the ones with garden decorations, whirligigs, and wind-chimes. They redeemed themselves slightly in his mind. 

Elliot Roberts drove back and forth on the road, gazing at all the houses with narrowed eyes. One of them was Anne’s. However, there was not a one with a motorcycle in the driveway. This made things for Elliot rather inconvenient.

He drove along the street in one direction. 2520, 2521, 2522, 2523, 2524….

He narrowed it down to four options. This was a careful elimination process. The first step was to knock out all houses with no distinguishing features. That was easy. His four options were: a house with a birdbath, one with a pair of children’s boots outside, one surrounded with low-to-the-ground, carefully tended flowers, and one with a very attractive sculptural array. 

Elliot drove back down the street. He had never seen Anne have any sympathy at all for small animals. She also disapproved of nudity. 

He drove the other way, past the houses again. The children’s boots were very convincing. Anne did, after all, have a child in her house. But there were also messy, homemade window-clings peppering the windows. This made Elliot unsure. Try as he might, he couldn’t imagine Anne engaging in such an haphazard craft with her daughter.

He finally decided on number 2534. He pulled up into the small concrete driveway, he got out of the car, marched up to the step, and knocked.

The reason for this discriminating choice was the row of modest flowers around the step. While Elliot could not quite envision Anne gardening, he did rather expect that her house would be one of the spruced-up ones. Surely she would want her home to be, even just slightly, her own. 

“Hello?” A small, old woman peered around the door. Elliot blinked. It had taken him ten minutes of back and forth driving and staring to decide this house was the one, and he was by now rather sure of himself. “Is there something I can do for you, young lady?”

Elliot pursed his lips and smiled politely. There were few things that bothered him as much as his looks. He took a quick breath.

“This isn’t the residence of Anne Locklear?”

The old woman narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.

“I don’t know any of those. Sure she lives here, dearie?”

Elliot laid his hands very forcefully in his pockets, adopting a still tighter grin.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Do you know what she looks like? I do see people going back and forth, I might recognize her.”

“Ah, younger, she has dark brown curly hair, she has a kid who’s maybe five—actually, probably six—“ Elliot searched his mind quickly, the woman’s eyes lit up.

“Oh yes! Never had a word with her, but I have seen them coming and going. Not a very sociable woman, I will say—the house to the right of the one with the ‘no dog poop’ sign, you see—“ she leaned half out around her door, drawing Elliot’s gaze with a thin spotty finger down the block. “That one.”

Elliot gazed at it a moment. It was completely and utterly a blank.

“Number 4206?” 

“Yes, dear. Now have a nice day.”

“Thank you.” He replied quickly as he turned away, eyes trained on his newly defined target. He walked at a fast pace down the flat, white sidewalk, sneakers bending. He turned behind him once and the old woman was still watching, peeping out around the door. He made an about-face and arrived at Anne’s step. 

He walked past the stock window-box (empty), a stock side-window. Somewhere down below he was nursing a disappointment in her. He would never have chosen this house for the world. 

Elliot was surprised by the realization, as he approached the un-ornamented door, that it had been nearly a month since he had seen Anne. It didn’t feel that long. He shook his head. 

All in all Elliot couldn’t help feeling just a little heroic, after all his struggles to arrive. Here he was, the only one, there was no car aside from hers in the driveway. He had intended on bringing her some sort of large dish of substantial food, but gazing at the options in the prepared foods case at the grocery store rather disgusted him. He never quite could separate the stomachs of others from his own.  

But the lack of pasta dish could not keep down that feeling of heroism. It perhaps even heightened it—he had saved the mourners from a disgusting, heavy meal. Elliot nearly felt a little smug. He knocked and put his hands behind his back.

One second.

Two seconds.


Elliot tapped his foot, turned about awkwardly and surveyed the neighborhood around him. He could never understand places like this, inhabited and yet ghost-towns. He turned back and rung the bell.

He heard it echo, muffled, within. One second.

“Anne?” He knocked again. “Hullo in there? Anybody at home?” 

He turned again—yes, it was her car in the driveway, he recognized the small navy-blue station-wagon, a Volvo, four-door. 

She mightn’t be home, he thought. It felt strangely futile to have gotten all the way here for nothing.

Elliot picked up his phone and called her. He pressed his ear to the door.

There it was, he caught the muffled sound—Anne’s cell-phone was in the house.

It rung and rung and rung. It eventually stopped.

Elliot grabbed the knob (gold-painted metal, the paint was coming off) and shook it.

“Anne! Anne, are you in there? Can you hear me?” He was prickling, now, around his temples. Perhaps it was this strangely uninhabited place (not in fact very strange, but Elliot did not, as a rule, spend much time in any sort of suburbia), he didn’t know, but things suddenly felt irrationally urgent to him. 


He stopped shaking the door. He took a step, turned back out to look at the silent street, the silent houses on either side. There was a carefully placed ten feet of textureless, flat grass between each. Perhaps someone had picked Anne up and she’d forgotten her cell-phone. Easy enough. 

Suddenly a movement above him caught his attention—Elliot’s head whipped towards it. At the top of the window beside the door, at the upper corner of the blinds—yes, it had moved—yes, there had been two little brown eyes, there had been a lock of messy hair—

“Renata! Hello!” Elliot knocked on the window. The blinds shook hurriedly again. Elliot waited. Nothing. Nothing, you could have thought you’d imagined it, the house was again dead.

“Renata! Let me in!” Elliot went back at the knob again, jerking it in a turn, and everything suddenly gave way, he fell forward—

Elliot Roberts caught himself on the doorframe in surprise. He looked back at the knob. The door had never been locked in the first place.

Elliot Roberts closed it slowly and carefully behind him, turning his head to look around. He had never been inside Anne’s house before.

His eyes took in a little front hall, bare aside from the small rain-boots, women’s spool heels, girl’s sneakers, and a pair of men’s loafers for work. Every pair was standing with a precision not attained by accident. Elliot gazed down at them numbly. He looked up—there was thin table of dark wood above the shoes. Upon it was a box of keys and a pair of woven zebra statues. He shook his head and kept on.

He turned into a kitchen. The pantry door was open, there was an open box of crackers on the counter, but beyond that everything was organized impeccably and in baskets or jars or jars in baskets. All the dishes were clean. That surprised him. 

“Renata?” Elliot’s call was considerably quieter, he surveyed the room. “Hello?”

It is rather odd to roam free in someone else’s home. It was on the one hand incredibly interesting, but it mostly made Elliot feel uncomfortable. 

Beyond the kitchen was a living room. Elliot entered with steps of catlike caution. 

“Hello? I know there’s somebody at home.” He was prickling again. Talking helped.

Entering, there was a couch of a soft gray tweed, and silence—he suddenly noticed something askew in this impeccable abode and it caught his eye, he bent down at the corner of the sofa. Peeking out was an edge of red paper, folded into a point. Elliot got down on his hands and knees, peering underneath.

Reds, blues, greens, yellows—hoards of folded paper greeted him and a pair of animal brown eyes in a snap, he withdrew as the hidden creature squawked in surprised alarm, he heard the thing hit its head on the bottom of the couch before a small girl appeared like a flash on the other end, gone even faster into the kitchen.

Elliot blinked. Again, silent. Again, uninhabited. From there the floor went down a few inches to a sort of lower level long step, to a lower room that led to the bedrooms.

This held a piano, large windows with blinds, music, stands, instrument cases, a basket of toys, there was a wedding picture up on the piano and a painting on the wall—and there was a woman, laying on the ground on her side with her back to Elliot. 

It gave him a visceral shock.

Her feet were bare (this was odd for Anne), she was wearing a mint cardigan and a flower-print skirt. She was not moving. She was laying, in an impeccably kept room, in the midst of a whirlpool of official-looking forms and every phone in the house. 

Elliot, who knew little of jet-lag, still had a feeling that it did not entail this. 

He did not know what to say. He did not know what to do. He felt, however, that he needed to say or do something. 

Seeing Anne, registering Anne—it shouldn’t be so surprising to come upon someone in their own house. But it was. 

“Uh, Anne.” His voice came out quieter than he had expected. Elliot was not in the habit of talking quietly unless there was a dreamy or romantic reason. This was neither. He walked cautiously around to her front.

Her eyes were open, completely open, staring at nothing. 

Elliot swallowed quickly. 

“Anne, are you alright—“

“I can’t do this anymore.” She did not turn her gaze to look at Elliot. Her voice sounded dull and low, sticky, not a single tear. Elliot looked nervously at all the papers; it gave him something to do. 

“Is it paperwork about Emil?” Elliot asked, picking one up. Anne did not answer. He looked down at her and then skimmed the document.

It was not about life insurance, it did not have anything to do with death. It was from Her Majesty’s Home Department. He looked down at Anne again. 

“I have to leave the country. They’re not going to renew my visitor’s visa. I was gone too long. I have to take Renata back to Hungary.” She spoke drearily, not looking back. 


“Could you please go away.”

“Anne,” he stuttered, “what—what are you talking about—“

Anne didn’t answer. 

“Can I make you guys some food or something?” Elliot offered, trying to find something to say. Again, nothing. 

Elliot began to suspect that she had not been washing any dishes. 

He laid down the piece of paper. He turned and walked into the kitchen.

“Renata,” he called loudly, not looking up as he opened the fridge. “I’m making you lunch.” It was not the hour for lunch. Elliot did not think this was terribly important. 

The fridge turned out to be very unhelpful. 

“Renata,” he called again, opening the pantry, “please come out.” 

Elliot hated making lunch. In fact, he disliked food preparation of any kind. He surveyed the pantry rather despairingly. He pulled out a can of tuna, and, after ravaging every cabinet in the kitchen, a plate.

There was a window over the sink through which he could see part of the unmoving form of Anne. He looked back down at his work.

“Renata!” He found some orange juice in the fridge. 

Elliot sat the plate of tuna and crackers and the cup of juice on the floor beside Anne. He tried not to look at her. He got back up and went out of the room.

“Renata!” He bellowed, grabbing a long curtain and shaking it, rattling the metal rungs against each other. He threw open a closet. A Tuperware container stuffed with mittens fell onto him from where it was stashed above the coats. He did not find what he sought. 

Elliot looked under rugs, he lifted up furniture. He peeked behind the tv, he searched behind the shower-curtain. He returned to the kitchen.

He looked in the fridge, he looked in the freezer. He looked under the sink.

He cast a frustrated glance through the open window, above the stainless steel basin. Anne remained, exactly as he had left her. He looked up sharply at a movement in the corner of his eye, only to see the tip of a rumpled sock whipping itself out of the way, out of sight atop a cabinet. Elliot jumped upon the counter, grabbing the top edges of the cupboard. 

Renata, small limbs of smooth brown, messy pink play-dress, drew back. The animal eyes were fixed on him. The looked frightened, frightened as a rabbit’s would with foxes dancing in the reflections. Elliot drew in a breath. He tried to calm his heartbeat, lower the volume of his voice.

“Uh, Renata,” he spoke quietly, fumbling. Making up whatever it was he needed to say. “I made you some food. Can you please come out?” 

The girl withdrew further, mutely shaking her head. 


Tune in next Friday to read more!

[questions from the author: do you think the second scene, of Elliot and his friends after the orchestra performance, is necessary? Do you think it would be better cut out, or do you think it is a good way to introduce our characters?

Secondly—Any ideas for Elliot’s last name? It was originally Smith, except there is already a famous musician that was named Elliot Smith. What I liked about Smith was that is was basically the most boring last name I could possibly find, which is what I want for Elliot—it has to leave him underwhelmed and irk him, prompting him to pick a stage name. Currently it’s Rodgers but any better ideas are very welcome.] 



EXCITING NEWS : The Snottor’s Press

The Snottor, as the reader has likely perceived, is a lover of literature. Tending many flowers, he hears quite a bit of back-talking from them, and, recently, a bright gardenia suggested he sponsor some of the fledgling literary attempts he sees around him. 

Enter: The Snottor’s Press. 

The Snottor will now add a THIRD (things are getting slightly out of hand, he knows) prong to this blog, titled BOOK (the capitals are necessary for the exciting nature of this new adventure in the Snottor’s sage existence), wherein The Snottor will upload the novel of the poor little seedling he has condescended to patronize, bit by bit, every Friday. 

Being, as the reader has seen, a loyal follower of the Victorian tradition, The Snottor, with much love towards the esteemed Charles Dickens and George Eliot, has decided to upload this work serially. That is, every week the reader will get more. This lights a particular kind of fire under the author’s editing pants that The Snottor finds highly beneficial. 

NOTE: The uploaded work is a second draft. The esteemed Sunflower, Hibiscus, and Common Blue Violet, three of The Snottor’s favorite flowers, have already read and criticized, and the novelist has attempted to edit accordingly. However, as this novelist is still a very small flower, The Snottor advises the reader to pile on all constructive criticism thick, to aid in their artistic misadventures. 

So, prepare yourselves. This Friday is the first. With love, The Snottor.