His fingers tremolo on the bare indentations of the dull matt fingerboard. A fingerboard that once must have been shimmering black ice. The sallow weathered veneer of the cello mimics the marbled leather that has grown over his face over time. The notes though, crisp and true – sustaining a haunting, painful moan that resonates in the heart of all who pass.
Two gold and three silver coins in the case. The underpass connecting platforms is busy all day. Thousands pass and hear the elegiac melody hum a mighty and gentle reverberation through the hard tiled burrow. None has time to stop and hear the song’s end. Few have time to reach into their small, tight pockets to part with coins they will later throw in a jar and never spend.
The phosphorescent light of the fluoro icicles about the cavern begins to steal ground from the fading sun, as the last few hurried, high-heeled steps provide the final metronome to his encore performance.
‘Four lousy bucks?’ his wife.
‘It’s not about the money.’
‘Not about the money? It’s less than the train fare to get you there!’
‘I said – it’s not about the money.’
‘Tell it to the landlord. Next week it’s going on eBay.’
‘You wouldn’t dare. You wouldn’t… couldn’t’
The paint peels further from the crack in the wall against the corner of the door that has slammed again. His fingers squeeze the pain aside his eyes, then pinch the bridge atop his nose. It’s just through dumb balance that his head should rest in his hands, elbow nests on his knee, else there be nothing to hold his limp form from the floor. His eyes are ill fitted swim goggles. Too much chlorine turns eyes red. Absentmindedly he flicks at the calluses on his fingers with the nail of his thumb. A slow tap drips onto the floor through his eyes. He will return tomorrow.
A foreign exchange was not a compulsory requirement of the scholarship, but they would have been fools to say no. She, so young and effervescent. Her aperture full. To say no would mean less of denying the world to her and more of denying her of the world. The calls may have slipped from daily to weekly, from weekly to monthly, and then to whenever she had the chance, but the melody still seemed to waft down the hall from her room. But like the calls the melody fades. He would take to picking up her old practice cello and picking out the few notes he remembered. His amateur guitar hands did not make its voice soar and cry the way she had, but his fingers were strong and his fumbling technique enough to make it wail at least.
Over the weeks it became ritual. Over time his fingers knew where to land, how to dance, to slide and to mute. The sheet music, that once strange hieroglyphic now a second language. It becomes their language. Every note speaks to him in her voice. She appears. She puts her arms around him, places her hands on his.
He returns tomorrow. He returns to play her melody, to share her gift with the world. Today the underpass hears him. Hears every note.
‘Emily you’re not coming home. You’re not ever coming home.’