Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Manhattan High School For Girls, New York, NY
Educator: Shaina Trapedo
Category: Short Story
To Be Perfect
I walk slowly down to the basement of the house I grew up in, each step creaking with my footfalls. I reach the door with chipped white paint and a worn out door knob. The top of my head brushes the door frame as I walk through.
I haven’t been home in for an entire year, but I had to come today. I look around at the room I spent most afternoons and weekends throughout my childhood. There’s a small wooden desk I used to do school work against the wall, but the rest of the room is marked by my musical past. Above my desk is a shelf filled with trophies and medals from competitions. One wall of the room is entirely covered with music from my favorite composers. Paganini, Mozart, Kreutzer, Chopin, Bach. In the corner is a bin with my old bows and used rosin. A tall pile of sheet music sitting next to it.
I walk two steps to the $300 recording device that I used since I began violin. I laugh mirthlessly. My mother sacrificed so much for my dream. When I sit cross legged on the floor and play the most recent recording, I hear myself practicing for my last teen competition. Paganini’s 24th caprice. Not a single mistake.
I’m transported back in time, seeing myself practicing eight hours a day, till my wrist ached, and my fingers bled. Seeing myself on stage, playing impeccably. Seeing myself winning first place. Hearing the jealous whispers of the other contestants who weren’t as good as me, who complained that I played too mechanically, without soul.
I stop the recording.
In a daze, I find my old violin and take it out of its royal blue case. Its beautiful mapel wood has not a single scratch or dent.
I want to hold it to my chest.
I want to smash it on the floor.
Instead, I stand up, take a deep breath and place it under my chin. I adjust the position of my hands, because it’s smaller than what I’m used to. I pick up one of the bows with a few missing hairs from the bin. My back straight. My feet apart.
And suddenly, I’m playing, my hands moving furiously back and forth. I attempt to play less perfectly, but I can’t. My fingers refuse to hold down the wrong chord. My bow refuses to be positioned at the wrong angle. The music is flawless.
The song of my life.
I stop playing, collapsing, and resting against the wall. the violin and bow fall to the floor beside me.
I take a deep breath and pull out the candle and small lighter from my pocket. My callused fingers easily flicking on the lighter. I light the wick of the striped pink and white candle and watch the flame flicker. “Happy birthday” I whisper to myself, and I let the wax drip, taking pleasure in the pain of each drop falling on my fingers. I watch as the candle burns down to a stump, the flame almost reaching my fingers, but I hold it in my hand, not ready to let it go just yet.
I touch the flame to the violin. The fire spreads to the floor around me.
Gone are the sheet music. Gone are the bows. Gone is the recorder.
I watch every piece of my childhood disappear. Smoke fills the room, traveling upstairs with the fire. I let it consume me, entering my throat and stopping my breath. I’m hit with a coughing fit, and I’m doubled over and gagging.
When I look up again, I’m back in my small room. Everything intact.
My violin is beside me. The candle is in my hand, the flame extinguished, only a thin trail of smoke left. I stand and find the small wooden jewelry box in one of my desk drawers. I open the lid and add this candle to the dozen or so same pink and white candle sitting there. The many times I’ve wanted to burn my past, but couldn’t. I close the lid and place it back in the drawer.