The News Of Victory

The News Of Victory

I texted Ena first thing in the morning: [Call came. I’m in.] 

She worked at a cafeteria. Ena couldn’t answer her phone during the day. At that time we had known each other for four years. She was from Italy and had the distinct Italian look — olive skin, long black hair and a big, warm smile. I used to tease her that,  “You have the mouth of an Opera singer.” I would say that because Ena had no ears for music. As a result, she had no evident interest in music either, except that she still tried to express her interest in music because she knew music was important to me.

I’m a musician by profession and Ena had always appreciated my love for music. She was a generous person. That is why people fell in love with her so easily — I sure did.

I had really wanted to tell someone how happy I was. The opportunity to play in the symphony hall had been my dream. Soon this dream was going to come true. Our orchestra group had been invited to sing. 

I had tried to call Steff. Steff was the woman my father loved and had been engaged to, just one year before he died. She lived in Austria. Steff and I stayed in touch with each other by email or phone, and talked about once a week. I had always preferred phone calls so I could hear her voice. Her voice brought memories of my father back to me.

“Steff, it’s Niel. I got the call, and I’m in. I rehearsed this evening. Listen to it and give me your feedback.” And I sang the song.

“I cry, I moan, I sigh, and suffer.
The plague locked in my heart.
I only ask, for peace in my breast,
That fierce pain would kill me.”

“It’s so beautiful, Neil,” Steff’s voice reverberated in my ears. 

International calls have their limits, but Steff said something, I needed some live person to say, “This song would have pleased your father—his all time favorite song.”

The person I really wanted to tell was my father, but he was no more. If he was alive, I would have waited. We would have practiced this song together at least once a week. My father and I had started playing this song when I was age five, and kept singing until the time when he died when I was eighteen. This is what it would have been like: we would meet like we always did, get out our violins, rosin up the bows. He’d say, “What are we going to do today?” I would say, “I don’t know, you tell me. Oh, by the way, first let’s sing the song.” Then I would catch him looking at me, and we would both nod with just a bit of a smile and sing the song.

“I cry, I moan, I sigh and suffer.
The plague locked in my heart.
I only ask, for peace in my breast,
That fierce pain would kill me.”

I had a rehearsal with my string quartet that night with my orchestra group. We had all tapped out bows and strings. The rehearsal was very energetic and smooth. All the group members played in the orchestra either as substitutes or regulars. When we were done tuning, I said, “I cry, I moan, I sigh and suffer.” Sean said, “That fierce pain would kill me?” I nodded yes. And we all had tapped out bows on our stands. I was very close to all the members of our orchestra. I was happy that Sean was the one who asked the question. My father’s name was Sean too.

I still missed my father. Sometimes I thought, maybe this was one of the reasons I liked staying in touch with Steff, because she had loved my father as much as I had loved him. And I did-do-love him. My father was a very simple man, very straightforward and pure. The love between my father and me had also been very undemanding. He was old school. 

My grandfather also used to play violin in our orchestra. In his entire career, my father stayed the member of our orchestra, beginning in the second violins, working up to the firsts, and then to concertmaster. For us music was not a matter of choice or self-expression as much as it was a responsibility. It was like this: we felt the responsibility to keep the tradition of our music alive. As if our existence was stringed to the music we played. That was how it was for us. This was the emotion which made my father such an excellent music teacher. He had believed in his heart that he owned a treasure that must be carefully handed down to the next generation. He was always so gentle with me, introducing aspects of music making sense to me bit by bit.

My father’s ways and thoughts were traditional, and he had expressed that in so many ways. He was devoted to his mom and dad. He was faithful in practicing the rituals of the Church. At an appropriate age he chose a very appropriate woman to be his wife. Then I came to their life. He had never cheated on my mother. Of course, he enjoyed looking at lovely ladies, but for him being a father, and husband were sacred responsibilities.

I could still recall the moment when I knew I was going to continue the tradition. My father and I were walking at the beach. I was thirteen. The sun was shining brightly behind our backs, so that the shadows were right in front of us. I was shorter than my father but we had a similar gate. Both of us were carrying our violins. I saw the man I was supposed to become one day, and I felt proud of myself. After that everything I did, my every action had to be inline with that future, that destiny.

***

Ena and I were pretty involved. Ena’s family was a devout Christian family. So much that they would never eat their meals without saying prayers. When we started seeing each other, one of the first things she had said was that she was still a virgin, and intended to stay that way until she was married. “I have a beautiful garden in me,” she had said with a beautiful smile. “And I am waiting for the guest who will walk through it with respect.” 

How could I have not adored such a woman. We loved and cared for each other in our own pleasant ways. We used to text each other a lot—a lot! We had dinner together every Monday, and we went to Church every Sunday. Ena would come to my concerts every time, even though she was not a big fan of music.

“It’s your world,” Ena had said one day, “I want to know your world and be an integral part of it.” 

The Saturday afternoon after we had talked, she met me at the theatre backstage entrance. We had planned to go out for dinner at a lovely place. It was Ena’s favorite. 

Once we were there and served, I had brought something in front of her that had been on my mind since I talked to her the last time.

“I think we should get married.”

“I had an inkling you were going to say that today.”

“Why? When did you start thinking that?”

“The moment I saw you stepped up on that stage. You had a new swagger, like most of the other, older men have.”

I knew what she was saying. There we were with our little musical instruments, which a child could give a mighty stomp and break it into pieces, but the same instrument in our hand felt like kings of the world. And when we played the music we felt like we were serving the noblest of truth.

“Ena, will you marry me?”

“Yes, I will marry you. I have known you for a long time and you are the man of my dreams. We will call my father to ask for his permission tomorrow.”

Ena’s father’s permission had been breezy and a bliss.

“We should tell my mother tomorrow,” I had said.

***

“Mumpsy,” I had always said, giving her a hug. Ena would also hug my mother and we would sit on the patio, have coffee and talk about mundane things. Sometimes Mom would just talk—non stop. We never stopped her. She liked talking.

“Mumpsy, I have to tell you something,” she didn’t reply or react, so I continued. “Ena and I are going to be married. Her father had already given his blessings.”

“You ask her now, Neil, that you are in the orchestra?”

“Mumpsy, I wanted to wait until I knew I could support Ena, and our family.”

“Support a family? What kind of support are you talking about? Does she know that you are already married to music and the orchestra, and you will care more about those orchestra men than her?” 

All through my youngest years of life, my mother had always been unhappy about my father’s commitment to music. She had left my father on this but the bitterness had lingered inside her heart. My father had become sick because of prostate cancer. It was so unfortunate that I could hear the argument as they were clearly audible to me every time. My mother said he had not been a husband, and now he was not a man. Mom wanted to be free to find another man. The whole thing was so unintelligible to my father. I had always believed that my mother would certainly bear the burden of the tradition of music as it was so important to my father, but I was wrong.

“The Church teaches that in a marriage respect is the most valuable element.” My father had said once, and so, he let my mother go, just out of respect for her wish.

Ena and I had made mid-November wedding plans. It was a good time for Ena’s family to travel. Between our wedding announcement, engagement and wedding, we had a busy time–planning for the wedding, and finding a place to live after the wedding. 

I was doing everything ‘single minded’ as I had always been known for that. Our wedding announcement didn’t make my mother elated and that had put me on a much slipperier surface than I had ever been on before. I was confident of my decision otherwise, but after my mother’s reaction I had become doubtful. The doubt completely intruded my mind and it wouldn’t stop to go farther in. No one knew about this, not even Ena. I didn’t even try to tell her for two reasons: one, I didn’t want to make Ena sad and two, I couldn’t put my feelings into words. It was untranslatable. My thoughts had become totally messed up. It was as if I had been walking on ice wearing the slippery skates, but I didn’t know how to skate at all. I knew how to walk; where I was walking and why, but the ice underneath my feet had challenged my confidence. My legs were wobbly, I felt I would fall anytime. It had been exhausting and frustrating at the same time.

I would wake up in the middle of the night fearful that I was going to ruin Ena’s life. I would wonder if I could be a good father, a good husband. I had started to wonder what it even meant to be a man. Maybe all the perceptions that I took for granted – loving, caring and providing for a woman, setting an ideal example for children, passing on to them our tradition of art, culture and music – maybe they were useless, futile ideals.

***

It was good to see Steff again. The moment we saw each other, we hugged and sang my favorite song. Steff had hummed with me.

“I cry, I moan, I sigh and suffer.
The plague locked in my heart.
I only ask, for peace in my breast,
That fierce pain would kill me.”

Steff  had been a link to my father. She had always appreciated my feelings for my father and had respected that. She was also an older woman, an experienced shoulder I could lean on.

She had been happy about my engagement with Ena and approved of our wedding. Based on Ena’s pictures and description, Steff thought Ena was the right woman for me. Steff’s approval had implied that I could be a good husband.

“Congratulations!” Steff had squealed with joy. “You are getting married.”

“Yes, I’m getting married.”

“You don’t seem that excited. Is there a ‘reason’?”

“No!” I knew I sounded defensive. This openness among Austrians did loosen me up.

Steff was speechless, but this time the look on her face had changed completely. 

As we parted, Steff had said, “Coffee tomorrow at 2:00PM? There’s a place on 5th street and Chandler, just west of the symphony hall. We can go there after your rehearsal.”

I had said yes, wondering why I would want to discuss my upcoming wedding with Steff.

***

We reached the coffee place right at 2:00 PM. Hot coffee was served in large paper cups. Steff also bought an apple that she began eating without cutting with the knife. She had asked me about the orchestra, Ena and details about the wedding. I wondered why she was so interested.

“I’m interested in everything,” She said, “Your father and I were best friends. I had always been attached to you. You seem a little lonely. I had some time off today anyway, and it is nice to get to know what’s going in your head about your wedding.”

My mind had been blank, I couldn’t think about anything, neither did I have anything to say, so I had poured more coffee in my cup to keep myself occupied .

“So, why don’t you sound enthusiastic about your upcoming wedding?”

I had looked her in the eye and had decided to give her an honest answer.

“You very well know that Mom left my father because of his devotion to the orchestra. She remained very bitter about it and held the grudge.” I had explained to Steff.

“I know.”

“When we announced our engagement, Mom once again brought this up, even though she has been living without my father and their marriage for over a decade. Much as I don’t like to admit it, her bitterness has infected my mind.”

“Your Mom’s point is valid from her perspective.”

“I’m terrified that I’m doing the wrong thing,” My voice has been shaky, “that being a musician and a husband are incompatible. I go around like this in my mind all the time.”

Steff stayed awfully quiet for very long. It made me think if I was doing something wrong. I felt regretful for bringing up this issue to Steff.

“No,” she began, “It makes sense to me that you would have this anxiety.”

“What do you think I should do?” I couldn’t believe I had asked Steff this question.

“What do I think? I think you should do what is true to your core.” She had finished this sentence and looked me directly in the eye. “You need to be the man you are.”

***

It was the performance day. The audience had been attentive, and I really like performing with Steff. Steff was a very grown up, mature and thoughtful person, and I don’t just mean her age. She was at ease in herself, and this was apparent in her playing. Steff made me very comfortable during the performance. She didn’t steal the show, and the best part was that she didn’t apologize. Her solo pieces had been very enjoyable, and the orchestra went well.

​​Our orchestra group had decided to take the risk of putting our favorite song  for solitary violin at the end of the concert. It was an awfully quiet, somber way to end, but Steff had said that people would like leaving with something to think about.

As I stood in the middle of the stage with my violin, checking the tuning, I remembered that this was the same piece I had played for Ena’s family when I first met them after Ena and I had decided to get married. I chose this song for them, because it was a solo song, it was solitary. I also chose it, because it is the song that my father and I had played for several years – a song that was inspired by the Church prayers, and I knew this would be very telling and consequential to Ena’s parents. 

I began.
“I cry, I moan, I sigh and suffer.
The plague locked in my heart.
I only ask, for peace in my breast,
That fierce pain would kill me.”

The auditorium had enough reverberation for the sound of the song to grab onto the air and had enough clarity that each note enunciated itself. I felt myself seizing onto the air, and my ear, mind and head shaping each note in the clarity of the hall. The image of my father and I walking, when I was thirteen had come to mind, but had immediately changed. My shadow grew taller and had matched his height. There had been a very strong and vibrant emotion that had jolted me deep inside my core, which had soon turned into a pulsating pound in my heart. 

Instantly, I understood the real meaning of the song and I had an epiphany. I set myself free from the plague locked in my heart.

Suddenly my father’s shadow was gone, and mine had continued—violin in hand, walking forward. My head was clear about the choice I had made for Ena and me. 

I got down from the stage, and hugged Ena like never before. I could not ever lose her, Ena had been a part of my existence. I needed to keep her in my life or that fierce pain would kill me.
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4 thoughts on “The News Of Victory

  1. This is a very emotional story of loss and longing. It is very clear that the son misses his father’s guidance and seeks him through music and their song. I felt the last scene was especially poignant when he understands the meaning of the song.
    One minor pointer- try to avoid tautology like really wanted, Live person etc since they are redundant.
    Kudos on this emotional and heart wrenching story 👏👏👏

    1. Thank you so much Lalitha for the pointer. I will keep in mind and refrain from tautology. I actually learnt a new term ‘tautology”. Thank you so much.

  2. This is such a heart-warming, poignant story about a father and son relationship, with music as its backbone. The highlight of the story for me was the description of the father-son walking down the beach with violins in their hands and their shadows on the sand. Show Don’t Tell is used extremely well with visual imagery.

    Below are some of my observations on the writing aspects:

    1. Please describe the physical attributes of the main characters. It helps the reader connect to them at a deeper level and root for them.

    2. Narrative: You have attempted the first-person past-passive tense. This is a good narrative style for this story. We get a clear peek into the protag’s inner feelings and turmoil. However, the tenses seem to switch in some places. For e.g: “My voice has been shaky.” – should be – My voice was shaky. Or My voice shook.

    3. Another pointer related to the tense: Instead of framing sentences like – Steff had hummed with me; My mind had been blank; The audience had been attentive – frame them like this – Steff hummed with me; My mind was blank; The audience was attentive.

    Use ‘had been’ only when the protag is recalling something that has already happened or is in flashback. Otherwise, for moments that are happening use ‘was’ or ‘the past tense form of the verb’ you are using.

    Try reframing some sentences with the above pointers in mind and see if the story reads more smoothly.

    This was a good attempt at the prompt. The story requires a couple more rounds of editing. However, the concept idea is heart-touching and the prompt is woven very well into the story!

    1. Thank you so much Monica for your wonderful pointers and correction. It makes sense. I will try to incorporate your suggestions in my next attempt.

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