“Hurry, Jeremy,” Denise, his mother, yelled from the kitchen. “You’re breakfast is getting cold.”
Jeremy’s awareness swung from building to building on Spiderman’s web as his eyes jumped from one panel to the next in his comic book. He sat atop his loft bed. He heard his mother’s call. “Just one more page,” he whispered to himself as the aroma of bacon and eggs wafted up to his bed.
Jeremy climbed down from his bed, carefully placing one foot at a time on the one inch diameter wooden dowels that his father inserted for foot pegs. He pulled his blue Levis off the chair and put them on. He tightened his belt with its silver winged eagle buckle and admired it. His violin case fell sideways when he pulled his light blue button down shirt from the chair. He picked it up and placed it on the chair’s seat. His hands stayed glued to the violin case. He opened it and then frowned. The glue line from the violin’s neck repair reminded him of last month’s clumsiness. As he wondered why he let his dad talk him into learning to play the violin, he heard his mother call him again.
He opened his bedroom door and walked barefoot through the front room on his way to the kitchen. His five year old brother, Orlando, sat on the living room carpet tying his shoes in front of the corner fireplace. The aroma of burning pinion pine teased Jeremy’s nose.
Two eggs and two strips of bacon arranged to look like a face stared back at him from his plate. He smiled. His mother brought him a glass of cold milk. He remembered that his orchestra class was working on a new opus. He hadn’t practiced and his teacher would know as soon as he would pull his bow across the strings. A warm piece of toast that his mother placed on top of his eggs pulled him away from his worries. He finished his breakfast and a thought emerged from his brain’s anxiety room. What if I forgot to take my violin to school today? He dismissed that thought because the teacher would call his parents and his dad would bring him the violin, just like the last time he’d forgotten his violin.
While turning to get out of his chair and take the dishes to the sink he knocked over his half full glass of milk. The glass broke into pieces all across the kitchen floor. Orlando came running, with his mother close behind.
“Keep Orlando out of here!” he yelled apologetically. “I spilt my milk. I’ll clean it up.” His mother escorted Orlando back to his bedroom. She returned and helped Jeremy pick up the broken glass. “You need to hurry or you’ll be late for school,” she said. “Just sweep up what you can, I will mop up the rest.”
Jeremy dumped the glass into the trash and left the broom leaning against the table. He ran to his bedroom to put on his shoes. He slung his backpack onto his back and glared at his violin case. He picked it up and shook his head. He turned toward the kitchen and considered asking his mom to call the school to tell them he’d be late and he would miss orchestra class. She won’t go for it, he thought. He walked out the door, and trotted to school.
He crossed the music room door threshold as the bell rang. He looked at the clock and sighed. He ran passed the orchestra teacher, Mr. Giles, who was busy spreading out sheet music on the music stand. Jeremy looked at the teacher’s bow tie, with its piano keys and music notes. That is so dorky, he thought, as he took a seat in the back of the room, next his stand partner.
“Did you practice last night?” Josh, his stand partner, asked.
Jeremy put his finger to his lip indicating that they needed to be quiet. He shook his head and whispered, “No.”
“I did,” Josh said as he clipped the sheet music onto the stand. “Mr. Giles is going to know and give you a bad grade. Do you know why? ‘Cause you’re stupid.”
Jeremy wanted to take his violin and smack his partner over the head with it. Before Jeremy could respond, Mr. Giles started the orchestra playing the song that Jeremy hadn’t practiced. He struggled to keep up, looking at the notes, and trying to make his fingers move quickly to the right positions. The class ran through the song a couple of times with many stops and restarts. During one of those stops, Mr. Giles admonished Jeremy for lagging behind. Jeremy’s ears burned as he prayed to the clock begging it to hurry and end the class.
After the orchestra rehearsed the song for the second time, Mr. Giles gave the students a ten minute break. He told the students that he had to go to his office to get the music for a new piece that they were going to learn.
Josh took the opportunity to remind Jeremy how bad he made them sound. Jeremy stood up, turned around, ignoring him. He put his violin down on his chair. Josh asked him if he was going to the dance on Friday night. Jeremy shrugged his shoulders without turning around. Josh laughed. “You’re probably too ugly to have a girl dance with you anyway.”
Jeremy laughed, turned back and punched Josh in the arm. “I’m a lot better looking than you are!”
“That don’t matter to me,” Josh said. “At least, I ain’t afraid to talk to the girls.” Josh pushed Jeremy back while they both laughed.
Jeremy lost his balance and fell onto the seat of his chair, right on top of his violin. He jumped up. “Aw shit! The neck is broken again. My dad’s gonna kill me! He just paid to fix that neck two weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry,” Josh said as he hung his head down.
Mr. Giles walked into the music room unnoticed because the students were all looking at Jeremy who was holding up his broken violin. Mr. Giles tapped his own music stand. “See me at after school, Jeremy. I know you can’t play with that broken violin. If that’s a rental, maybe they will give you a replacement. In the meantime, take the sheet music and try to follow along, pretending you are playing your violin.”
All of the other students’ eyes burned music notes into Jeremy’s face. After listening to a recording of the new song by the London Symphony and going over the music a couple of times, the class finally ended. Jeremy picked up the violin case and lugged it out of the music room.
All day long, worry took a ride on his violin case. It sat on the narrow end of the violin case writing questions and comments and tossing them to Jeremy: Where are you going to hide? How can you fix this mess? You’re dad’s going to kill you. How many chores is he going to give you so you can work it off? I bet he won’t let you watch TV for a year. On and on, the notes kept coming.
After his last class, Jeremy walked to Mr. Giles office. He stood in the doorway; his backpack weighed his shoulders down. The violin case drooped from his left hand. He crossed his legs. Mr. Giles sat behind an old metal desk. He motioned with his hand for Jeremy to come in. “Sit down, Jeremy.”
Jeremy hung his head down low. He sat on the edge of his chair; his backpack preventing him from sitting back. His worry tiptoed across his violin case, across his lap and began squeezing his stomach muscles. Jeremy watched as Mr. Giles finished writing something on a pad.
Mr. Giles looked up and brushed his thin fingers through his thick black hair. “Didn’t you break that violin three weeks ago?”
Jeremy looked up and then put his head down again. “Yes. Josh and I…”
“I don’t care what you two were doing,” Mr. Giles said. “The burden of unbridled youth is too great for a teacher to bear sometimes. Let me see your violin.”
Jeremy opened the case and brought out the two pieces. He struggled to stand against the weight of his backpack. Jeremy used both of his hands to hold the two violin pieces together. He walked to Mr. Giles desk and laid the violin on top of the papers. Mr. Giles picked up the violin and smiled.
“This is a good break. The violin shop can fix it again; I’m sure. In the meantime they can loan you another violin.”
Jeremy stood by the side of the desk. He crossed his legs. Mr. Giles gave him back his injured violin. Jeremy had been hoping that his violin was unfixable, untunable and only good for firewood. “Thank you,” Jeremy said as he put the violin back in its case.
He had intended to go straight home, but thoughts of an angry father made him walk very slowly down the hall toward the exit next to the administration office. When he reached the administration office he peered inside and saw his school counselor. He walked in and told her that he wanted to drop orchestra class. When she asked him why, his fear of punishment whispered in his ear. He opened his violin case and said, “My parents can’t afford to fix my violin and they told me to drop the class.”
The counselor studied Jeremy’s face. He imagined that she could see the word, false, written across his face. She looked at the clock, pulled out a Change of Class Schedule form and had him sign it. He thanked her and walked home with a big smile on his face. The smile ran away as soon as he saw his dad’s motorcycle in the driveway.
His dad greeted him as soon as he walked into the front room. He gave Jeremy a hug and asking him what he did in school that day. Jeremy smiled back and said his usual, “Nothing.”
He went into his room and looked back to make sure that his dad didn’t follow him. He sighed. He looked around his room and put his violin case next to his desk. He stared at it. It stared back at him and tossed worry into his lap. How am I going to tell them I broke the violin again?
He removed his school shirt and pants and put on a tee-shirt and shorts. His dad was in the greenhouse feeding the fish in the pond. He’s in a good mood, he thought. Maybe I should tell him now.
“Jeremy!” his dad yelled from the greenhouse. “Your mother told me that you broke …. this morning.” He didn’t hear what word came after broke, but his worry convinced him that the word was violin.
“What?” Jeremy asked. He clenched his teeth. He crept from his bedroom, through the hallway, across the den to the greenhouse. Mr. Giles must’ve called her, he thought. “When did she tell you?”
“She called me when she got to her office. She told me to tell you to mop the kitchen floor and to look for anymore glass.”
“I’ll get the mop,” Jeremy said smiling with relief. His dad didn’t know about the violin afterall. He turned around to walk back into the house.
Jeremy’s stomach did a summersault. His hands began to sweat. Worry climbed up his stomach and whispered, “He does know.” Jeremy turned back to face his dad.
“Get the flashlight from the garage and get down real low. Scan the floor with the light. The glass will sparkle. Use the masking tape to pick up the tiny pieces of glass.”
Jeremy walked through the greenhouse and into the garage. His lips spread into a relieved smile. His dad really didn’t know. And that was good.
That evening, his dad asked him what piece of music he was working on. Jeremy told him that he didn’t remember the name. He ran to his bedroom and returned with the sheet music. We got this today, it’s a new piece.
“Make sure that you practice. I didn’t hear you play last night.”
Jeremy went back into his room. The handle of his violin case looked like a big mouth that taunted him with a grotesque smile. He walked over to it and flipped it over making it resemble a big frown. His father wanted to hear him play. Jeremy looked out the window and saw his neighbor walking with a trumpet. Jeremy remembered that his neighbor was working on a duet in band.
He picked up all of the glass, vacuumed and mopped the kitchen floor. When he finished he told his dad that he was working on a duet with his stand partner, Josh and that he needed to go over to his house to practice.
“Be back home in an hour. We are going to Little Anita’s for dinner tonight.”
Jeremy ran out of the house, violin case in hand. By the time he arrived at Josh’s house he had contrived a plan. He pulled a blank cassette out of his violin case and put it into Josh’s cassette player. He told Josh to play the new piece and to mess up a few times to make it sound real.
Jeremy returned home feeling like he had stolen something and gotten away with it. Whenever one of Jeremy’s parents told him to practice, he would go into his room and insert the cassette. He returned one time to Josh’s house to update the tape. His dad had mentioned that he was still playing that same piece of music. All went well for six weeks.
“When is your next concert?” Jeremy’s father asked one evening at dinner. “Our next door neighbors want to come.”
Jeremy’s facial color took on a lighter shade. He looked at his plate. “I don’t remember the day.”
“Tell me tomorrow when I get home from work.”
“OK.” Jeremy hadn’t thought much about this. He really didn’t know when the next concert would be. A friend had told him that when he needed to get out of something that he made himself vomit. Jeremy considered that option.
Even though Jeremy brought in the mail every day and placed it on the kitchen table, he hadn’t noticed the letter from his school inviting his parents to the parent/teacher conference. His parents had read the invitation last week and were going to attend that evening. Jeremy’s job consisted of babysitting his little brother and doing his homework. When Jeremy’s parents left the house Jeremy walked into his room. The violin case sat next to his desk. Orlando walked in and asked Jeremy to play his violin. Jeremy smiled and told him that he would play cards with him instead. When he went to get the deck of cards a realization jumped from his violin case and onto his chest. He hoped that they wouldn’t talk to Mr. Giles.
When his parents returned from the Parent/Teacher conference they found Jeremy in the living room, sitting on the floor, playing fish with his little brother.
“We saw all of your teachers,” his mother said. “They all had good things to say about you.”
Jeremy kept his head down. He waited.
“We found out when your orchestra will have its next concert,” his father said. His parents didn’t move.
“Look at all the cards I have,” Orlando said, holding them up to show his parents.
“That’s good, Orlando,” his mother said. “Are you winning?”
Jeremy’s eyes filled to the brim. His throat tightened. They know, he thought.
His dad spoke first. “How did you practice with a broken violin? We heard you?”
“I asked Josh if I could record his practice,” Jeremy said. “And that is what I played when you told me to go practice.”
His father turned around, bit his lower lip and looked toward the kitchen. A laugh struggled to get loose.
His mother spoke second. “Why did you drop orchestra without talking to us first? And why on earth did you carry that broken violin to school every day?”
Jeremy’s tears flowed. “I didn’t want you to get mad at me.”
“Didn’t you realize that you would get caught, eventually?” his father said.
“I always knew I’d get caught,” Jeremy said. “But once I started taking the violin to school every day, I didn’t know how to get out of it.”
“What do we do with him?” his mother asked.
His father winked at his mother and said, “Well, carrying a broken violin to school for six weeks and worrying himself sick is probably punishment enough, don’t you think?”