The first time I heard her play it was a wavering yowl, a screeching violin in a side alley that offended everything civilized in me. There was no rhythm or pace, no discernible key or phrasing – just a wordless keening that didn’t so much filter in through my ears as knife through my temples and nest there, feeding on everything I’d been taught about music. I ran; sprinted down the street and on with the day, hoping the sound would fade from memory.
It was there again the next morning with a low-pitched reel that staggered drunkenly through the streets – a bleary-eyed relic of the drinking hours watching, confused, as the world hurried off to work. This time I stopped and turned, found the source of the noise: a rose-lipped thing in lace and a blowing, high-belted skirt. She was dancing, I suppose, each movement small in itself – a turn of the hip, a dipping shoulder – but the cumulative effect an intoxicating, flowing human pattern. She was wind in the wheat, and I was gray brick and exhaust fumes.
It’s hard to say how long I stood there, the city leaching out of me as the fiddle filled me up and bore me out to dirt roads and trees and running water. There was sun on my face and grass in my hair and for the first time since childhood I smiled for me – not because I was meeting someone or had been told a joke or because social decorum dictated it – I smiled unintentionally, unreservedly, the muscles pulling on their own, without my instruction. A true, unaffected smile.
I was yanked back to the city when another pedestrian bumped my elbow, coffee spilling on my shoes. I cursed and hurried off, hopelessly late.