Being the inquisitive six-year-old boy that he is, Erik is fascinated when he hears his mother playing the violin but also frustrated when his mother won’t let him see it—much less play it. She plays it and keeps it hidden in her locked bedroom, which only fuels Erik’s desire to find it and outsmart his mother. Therefore, he vows to find it just as soon as his mother leaves the house. The following is the f what happens when he finally gets his hands on it.
Celeste’s words were completely unexpected, and I didn’t know what to think. As I watched her move around in the kitchen, my first reaction was one of panic at the thought of being out in public without Papa. But, then, composure and excitement came over me. If I stayed home alone, I would have the opportunity I’d been waiting for. I could finally play Mama’s violin.
I took a deep breath and appreciatively explained to Celeste why I preferred staying home. Needless to say, I didn’t tell her about my intensions to find Mama’s violin. She seemed disappointed and yet understanding.
The hours passed by oh-so-slowly. I tried to stay busy by reading a book, but visions of myself with Mama’s violin in my hands kept replacing the words on the page. I couldn’t believe the luck of that day, and once more Papa’s words came through to me; You never know what tomorrow will bring.
When I woke that morning, I thought the day would be filled with only sorrow because Papa was gone. But, by the time I climbed into bed that night I would have had the chance to do what I’d wanted to do for over a year! The situation exceeded anything I could have planned. They would be gone for hours, so I could play without the anxiety of my mother coming back and catching me in the act.
Finally, it was warm enough for them to leave, and I had to resist the temptation to jump for joy. I’m sure such actions on my part would raise a serious question in Mama’s mind; she knew me only too well. I remained curled up on the divan with my head concealed in my book, while my stomach played leapfrog with my heart. I waited and waited. At last, with a final goodbye and a cautious look from Mama, the door closed, and I bounced up and ran to the window.
Cautiously peeking around the curtain, I watched them as they walked through the gate and to the waiting carriage. As soon as I could no longer see them, I ran upstairs to my room to get my make-shift key. Considering I’d already taken similar items apart, it only took me a few moments to become familiar with the lock’s internal mechanism. Once I could feel the hidden lever and applied the correct pressure, it opened easily for me.
So, at long last, I stood alone in Mama’s room with at least a few hours and nothing to stop me from my personal quest. I put her footstool by her armoire, but I still wasn’t tall enough to reach its top; therefore, I got my stool from my room and placed it on top of hers. I climbed up carefully, then my fingers gingerly reached over the top and behind the façade, groping until I could feel the box. My heart was jumping as I wrapped my eager fingers around the handle and slowly pulled it down. Finally, it was in my hungry grasp, and I squealed with glee.
I took one last look down the street to make sure they weren’t coming back, and then I moved my stool to the center of her room. With a deep breath, I sat down and opened the case with the care of a glassblower. Carefully lifting her violin out, I savored the touch of the smooth wood. It was just as soft as I’d expected, and I sat there for a few moments enjoying the sensation of its amber curves. I ran my fingers over the strings, examining their varying thickness and the coarse, yet silky, horse-hairs of the bow.
I experimented with the pressure of the bow on the strings to get the proper feel and the position of my fingers to get the proper notes. Before long, the sound was exquisite. I wished I could share my new adventure with someone, but what I was experiencing had to be my well-guarded secret—mine alone.
The longer I played the harder it was for me to understanding why Mama would keep her violin from me. I would never hurt such a treasure; a treasure that was capable of producing such melodious sounds. I remember sitting still for a few moments, wondering why my relationship with my mother had to be so bad. In many ways, we had so much in common; so much more than Papa and I. Such as the way we appreciated each stoke of the brush in Grandma’s painting, and I knew we felt the same each time we listened to “Moonlight Sonata.”
I could see such a need in her eyes every time she tried to speak to me, and I felt that same need in my heart every time I tried to speak to her. I feared those words that we never found the courage to speak would forever remain elusive. There was a definite link between us where music was concerned, and I longed for a repeat of the few times when we were able to share our unspoken thoughts with music surrounding us. I shook my head and sighed, knowing we could have such an amazing time sharing our music—if only she didn’t hate me.
“Why do you have to hate me so much, Mama?” I said softly.
I suddenly felt badly for the way I’d been treating her. Perhaps if I tried harder we could share our music instead of our anger. The more I thought the more determined I became, and I vowed to be pleasant to her from then on; even if it meant I might get hurt again. At least it was worth a try.
As one melody and then another formed in my mind and heart, I sat there and experimented with them. I removed my mask to get the full power of the vibrations on my cheek, then, at long last, I began to play in earnest. My eyes closed, and, with long, slow breaths, I allowed that instrument to move me into another realm.
The mystifying feeling music gave me never ceased to amaze me. It was like a tremendous energy flowing rapidly through my body, and it gave me a nameless strength and power. I felt as if everything within me began floating in the air around me. It was extraordinary, and I stayed there playing and savoring every moment of my solitary journey with that violin.
But, sadly, my experience of calming, melodious music burst like a fragile bubble in the sun with the sound of Mama’s unwelcome and unmelodious voice.
I didn’t have time to focus or get to my feet before the violin was ripped from my hands. I opened my mouth to explain, but I was unable to utter a word before the back of her hand landed squarely across the side of my face, knocking me to the floor. I tried to get to my feet and regain my balance, but her hand on my shoulder shoving me from her room made me stumble again. I fell against the wall next to the stairs, hitting my head hard against the banister.
She was screaming at me; I believe every abusive Spanish word she knew. She picked me up by the shoulder once more and shoved me down the stairs. I stumbled again and fell, hitting every part of my body on the steps until I landed at the bottom against the adjoining wall. I only had a moment to register the pain before I heard her voice coming down the stairs toward me.
“You monster! Get out of here!”
The room was spinning as I tried getting up, only to fall back against the wall again. Once she reached me, she gave me another shove, sending me into the dining room where I fell against the table leg. Stabbing sensations traveled through my shoulder and ribs, and, with a cry, I collapsed in a painful ball on the floor.
“Get out!” I heard her shriek repeatedly.
I felt her fingers grip tightly around my wrist as she yet again brought me to my feet and jerked me through the dining room. With one more shove to the middle of my back, I was out of the back door and down the steps where I landed on a small patch of snow. The slamming of the door echoed through the yard, gradually fading into stillness.
There I lay motionless, with the sound of her screeching voice still pulsing in my ears, and, beyond her voice, I heard my own labored breathing. The warmth of the sun on my back was in stark contrast to the icy snow on my chest and face. My head was still spinning; therefore, I stayed there allowing the coolness beneath me to soothe the growing pain rushing through my entire body.
I tried to think, but my mind was spinning as fast as my head, and I couldn’t grab hold of anything that made any sense. The last thing I remembered were calm thoughts about Mama surrounded by the music we loved, and then everything took place so fast it was impossible to gain control of my thoughts, my body, or the situation. Where did she find the strength to overpower me so completely? How could I have been entirely caught off guard? I fully expected to wake up in my bed the same as I always did after one of my many nightmares.
When I caught my breath enough, I rose up on my elbows and saw blood on the white snow beneath my head. Cautiously running my fingers through my hair, I found a large gash and more blood. I was still incredibly dizzy, and once on my feet I became nauseous, but I managed to climb the steps to the back door, believing I simply needed to get to my bed and sleep. Naturally, the door was locked. She always locked the door when she sent me outside, and I knew there was no need to try the front door, since it would also be locked. Besides, I didn’t think I could make it all that way even if it was unlocked.
I thought about picking the lock since I still had my makeshift key in my pocket, but I could barely hold the key between my fingers, and I couldn’t focus on the keyhole. So I sat on the top step with my head in my hands, thinking I had a few more hours before Papa got home. I had to make sure I was back in the house before then, because I knew it would sadden him terribly if he had any idea what took place.
Since I could barely keep my eyes open, I started for the barn, preparing to sleep first before trying to pick the lock. I collapsed on a pile of straw in the extra stall and slipped into sleep, but my shivering prevented me from continuing in that state. I pulled on Jake’s blanket hanging on the rail above me and allowed it to fall over me. Shortly, I felt warmer and fell asleep, or at least I think I did.
I sensed being asleep, and yet, I remember trying to move away from the pain and the cold. I was aware of things going on around me; Jake wandering in and out of the barn, him munching on hay, or the chickens and ducks scratching in the straw next to me. By the time I peeked out from under Jake’s blanket, the sun was nearly down, and the evening fog had begun to move into the barn. I knew I had to pick that lock before Papa got home, so, with great difficulty, I got up. To keep from falling, I hung onto the railings as I made my way out of the barn and staggered across the yard to the back door.
My hands were shaky and I was still dizzy, but I managed to unlock the door within a few seconds, only to have my gratification turn to frustration when the door still wouldn’t open. I closed my eyes and laid my head against the doorframe, realizing Mama must have latched the inside bolt. I knew there was no way to get past it without breaking the window in the door. I sunk to the steps and laid my pounding head on my knees, shaking and wondering if I should bother making my way to the front door. I was sure she bolted it also, so why spend the energy I didn’t have? But, then again, I had to get inside before Papa got home.
Holding onto the house, I made my way to the front, but, when I looked down the street, the vision of Papa leaving and his words came back to me; he wouldn’t be home until tomorrow. With his words echoing in my painful head, I slid down the wall and sat on a patch of snow, watching the fog move slowly in front of me.
I’d completely forgotten he’d be gone for two days. I felt so sick and began vomiting, which increased my desire to be in my warm bed. I looked up at the windows and wondered if Mama missed locking just one of them, but, since Papa wouldn’t be back until the next day, I concluded the need to get back inside right then wasn’t that important. I looked at the barn and told myself I could try again the next day when I felt better.
By the time I reached the barn, I was freezing, my teeth were chattering, I was still nauseated, and I had to hang onto the railings to keep from falling. When I saw Jake’s blurry figure lying down in his stall, I curled up against his chest and neck, rubbing him and silently thanking him for his warmth.
The next thing I knew, I woke in complete darkness, shivering again, and with my head still pounding, but that time my chest felt like Jake was lying on it. I ran my hand across my chest, expecting to find his head or neck, but nothing was there. I tried sitting up, gasping for breath and looking for Jake. I managed to get to my feet and started looking for him or his blanket, but I didn’t make it far before I collapsed in another pile of straw in the empty stall.
Sleep slipped passed me from time to time, while I shivered and gasped for breath. At some point, I must have covered myself with straw because I woke under it. The barn got lighter with the rising sun, but the fog was still penetrating the straw and my clothing. I thought about Papa and getting back into the house before he got home, but, by then, I couldn’t even sit up. When I realized I couldn’t break into the house, I closed my eyes and continued to drift in and out of consciousness.
The fog burnt off, and I measured the passing of time by the direction of the sun’s rays coming through the slates in the wall. My breathing became increasingly more difficult. By the time the sun was on its way down again, I was aching all over, coughing, and each breath was painful, causing me to hold my breath for as long as I could to avoid the agony. I was so cold, and I wanted to be in my warm and comfortable bed, safe and sound with Papa by my side, but I was powerless to do anything about my situation.
“Papa,” I whispered often, wishing he would come home soon.
I was hardly aware of the fog rolling in again, or the sound of the breeze moving the trees, or the sound of the animals. At one point, I remembered I hadn’t fed them, which made me feel horrible. I knew they were hungry, but I couldn’t do anything to help them.
I was drifting in and out of sleep when Molly first nickered, and I was struggling to open my eyes when Jake nickered in reply. Papa’s home, I thought, now I’ll be warm and safe. Soon I heard the cart enter the barn and then Papa’s footsteps as he got down and started unhitching Molly. I opened my eyes and saw the shadows from his lantern’s light moving on the wall, and I listened to him talking to Molly. I wanted to call out to him, but my teeth were chattering too much, and I was so weak. I think I fell back asleep, because when I opened my eyes again Molly was snorting on my face, and the lantern light was gone.
“Papa,” I whispered, but there was no answer.
Things went black again before I heard the back door slam and Papa’s voice frantically calling my name.
“Erik! Erik!” he shouted repeatedly, but I couldn’t answer him.
Soon I could see the light from his lantern as he came back into the barn.
“Erik!—Erik, are you in here?”
I managed to get out one whispered word. “Papa.”
I remember being picked up in his arms, being carried into the house, and hearing a loud slam as the back door shut behind us.
Papa began shouting orders at Mama. “Anna, get me some blankets. He’s freezing!”
He laid me on the divan by the fireplace and gently swept his hand across my forehead.
“He’s burning up, Anna!—What have you done?”
There was no answer, but I heard the rustle of her skirts move across the room and the sensation of blankets being laid over me, followed by Papa’s hand on my cheek. Although I was still shivering, the warm blankets felt good, and I felt safe with Papa. I could finally rest, knowing he would make everything better.
I was asleep again when Papa’s voice split the silence like an erupting volcano and in a way that made my insides quiver. I cracked open my eyes enough to see him towering over Mama, with one fist raised, as if he was going to strike her. I held my breath and closed my eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of him hitting her or watching him do it, but I heard nothing. Opening my eyes once more, I saw him with his hands on her trembling shoulders.
“Anna, I can’t believe you could do such a wicked thing. How could you do this to our son?” For a few brief moments, his words turned to a loving plea. “He’s our son, Anna, regardless of what you’ve been told. He’s just our son.” He looked across the room at me and took a deep breath before speaking in a commanding voice. “I won’t put up with your unfounded fears any longer, Anna!”
He dropped his hands from her shoulders and paced halfway across the room before he turned back to look at her again. He raised his hand, pointing one long finger at her tear streaked face.
“This is the last time you’ll be able to hurt him, I promise you that. If you don’t comply with my wishes and show him some compassion, I’ll find someone who will. I would advise you not to test me any further, Anna! I will not let you hurt him again! Do I make myself clear?”
She nodded and tried to answer. “But, Maurice, I …”
“No!” he interrupted with his voice raised. “I’m finished with all your excuses and unfounded fears. These conversations are over! I’ve had it with you! Do you hear me? Do you understand what I’m saying, Anna?” She lowered her head in tears and nodded, but he didn’t give her a chance to give a verbal answer. “I’ll replace you, Anna! I mean what I say! Remember, I’m not bound by the dictates of your religion.”
He turned his back on her and walked to the fireplace, putting one hand on the mantel and rubbing his forehead with the other.
Next, in a somewhat softer tone, he continued, “Now go; get the doctor. He’s extremely ill because of you and your vile temper.”
She started to answer him again, “But, Maurice, it’s …”
“Anna, go!” He bellowed as he turned on her again.
Grabbing her by one shoulder, he pushed her across the room toward the front door. He then shoved a cloak in her hands and sent her outside, slamming the door behind her so hard the painting on the wall almost fell off its hook. Then he came back to me, again feeling my head.
“Oh, Erik, my poor boy.”
I tried to answer, but the only sound to escape was a wheeze and a cough. I wanted to tell him not to be mad at Mama, and to let him know everything was my fault. It hurt so much to see him so angry with her and speak to her that way. I didn’t think it would hurt so much to have him defend me. I thought about the way they were the night they told me Gigi was on the way, and I wanted them to be like that again. Everything was entirely my fault.
I listened as Papa brought in more wood for the fire. Then I heard it crackling and nothing more until I heard his voice followed by an unfamiliar man’s voice. I opened my heavy eyes to see Papa coming across the sitting room with a much shorter, portly man, carrying a large black bag. I caught a quick glimpse of Mama leaning against the front door, with her red fingers placed across her mouth and under her red nose.
The doctor sat on the edge of the divan and spoke in a husky, yet kind voice. “So, this is Erik? You’ve grown a bit since I last saw you. Let’s see what’s wrong with you.” He felt my head and instantly pulled the blankets off me, tossing them on the floor. “Maurice, keep these blankets off this child, you’re cooking him.”
The doctor’s eyes showed honest concern as he felt my neck and under my jaw with strong, trained fingers.
“Can you open your mouth for me, Erik?” he asked in a soft voice.
I opened my mouth and gagged, then coughed as he looked inside. He held my wrist in his hand and muttered a few sounds to himself. Then he started unbuttoning my shirt.
“I’m going to listen to your chest now, Erik.”
He pulled my shirt open, causing me to shiver more when the cool air hit me. Then my teeth began to chatter, and, at the same time, I heard simultaneous gasps from around the room. I managed to open my weary eyes somewhat to see Papa with the same look on his face as the people in the street. He looked horrified, and his hand went to cover his open mouth. The doctor turned his head to look up at him and spoke in a harsh and accusing tone.
“Maurice, what have you done to this child? He’s skin and bones, and how did he get all these bruises?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned back toward me and his tone turned soft and caring. “I’m going to listen now, Erik.”
I felt the instrument against my chest at the same time I heard Papa kneel beside me and lift my hand to his lips.
“My poor, Erik. My poor boy. I’m so sorry, Erik. I’m so sorry.” He moved the hair from my forehead, and kissed my fingers lying limp in his strong and gentle hand. “I’ve failed him.” I heard him whisper on my fingers.
No, Papa, I wanted to scream. You’re not the one who failed; I did. I felt his tears drop on my fingers and trail down my arm, then I heard sniffling coming from the direction of the front door. The doctor rolled me over to listen to my back, thoroughly poking and prodding me before laying my shirt across my chest. Then, instantly, he started barking orders.
“We need this room to be warmer. Can you make that fire bigger, Maurice?”
Papa immediately obeyed.
“Anna,” he dictated as he turned to look at her still standing at the door. “I need a glass of cool water, a basin of warm water, and clean rags and clean clothes.”
Papa was still working with the fire when he started to question the doctor. “What do you think is wrong?”
His words back to Papa were so harsh and cruel they made my heart hurt. “First of all, Maurice, he’s dehydrated and his temperature is far too high. He’s malnourished and looks like he’s been badly beaten. His lungs are full of fluid, probably from an infection; I’m not sure just yet.”
Papa’s voice was a mixture of alarm and despair. “Oh, my dear God, how could this happen? What can I do?”
The doctor’s words came back somewhat softer. “We’ll have to work fast if we’re to save his life.”
“If?” Papa exclaimed! “What do you mean, if?”
“He’s a very sick boy, Maurice, and I won’t sugarcoat his condition for you. We first must lower his temperature before he goes into convulsions—if he hasn’t already.”
Papa knelt beside me and lifted my hand once more. I cracked open my eyes enough to see him press the back of my hand against his cheek. He then closed his eyes, and one whispered word escaped his lips.