Marina had been practicing her violin whenever she pleased. Of course, she never got up before 10, but she did sometimes stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning, and she would play then, in a lost sort of way, practicing, trying to get the notes exactly right, then just feeling the music, giving it all the emotion she could. Hours would pass in this pleasant way. She would forget to eat, drink, go to the bathroom.

One evening there was a knock on her door. A man stood there, apologizing. He said he was the downstairs neighbor. She didn’t invite him in. His pants were a little too short and he hung his head, his face lost in the gloom of the poorly lit hallway.

Violin et verre, 1913
(Oil on canvas, 46 x 73 cm)
BY Juan Gris
Musée national d’art moderne, Paris

He pointed to his watch. “It’s nearly 10 o’clock.”

“Am I bothering you?” Marina asked.

“It’s late,” the man replied.

For the next several weeks Marina was aware of him, living beneath her. She stopped practicing late at night. She listened to the sound of her vacuuming, how she clicked down the hall in her heels. She winced when a book fell off her bedside table, when the cat pounced on his ping pong ball. It seemed that every movement was associated with a loud noise that traveled through the walls and floors.

The worst was how she began to play. Her fingers slipped tentatively over the strings, her bow slowed and popped. The music came out like a spoiled, whining child.

Gradually, however, over time, she began to forget about the man. She convinced herself that she was much quieter now. Her efforts had satisfied him. She relaxed. Her playing improved and when she practiced, she began to enjoy herself, as she had before, losing track of time until one night, again, there was a knock on the door.

He stood there, a little bolder this time. He looked her straight in the eye and pointed to his watch.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realize.”

She held her violin by the neck, the bow in her other hand. After she closed the door, she walked to the bedroom and threw herself on the bed, bursting into tears. She stroked the violin next to her, the curves, the knobs and bridges. “Poor thing,” she said. “Poor sweet dear.”

Then she stopped. Could he hear her talking? Did he know that he had made her cry? She sat up in bed. It wasn’t even 9 o’clock. Why had she apologized? Now she was angry with him, this nameless neighbor, separated from her by mere inches. But even the anger didn’t loosen his hold on her.

She lived in dread of another knock on the door. She wondered what his habits were, when he was away from his apartment. Only then, she felt, would she be free. Did he go to work from nine to five? Or did he have an odd schedule, as she did? Mostly she worked from home.

She told the super about her troubles. He shook his head. He was sympathetic to a pretty young violinist. He loved music, especially the violin. Nothing like the soar of the heart strings.

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