Strings of Solace

Vintage Mandolin

By Kim Davis © 2011

Late, late, late! It seemed like no matter how early she started getting ready she just could not get out of the apartment on time. Now she was going to blow her interview with Dr. Bonham before she ever got there. Crap! Of course she had neglected to plan enough time to park, and totally ignored the fact that she didn’t know her way around the Northwestern campus. You could see the Bienen School of Music when you drove by… Who knew it would be so hard to get to it!

Finally she squeezed her little car into a metered space on a side street about ten blocks away. It could have been worse, she reminded herself. Downtown Evanston was a lot easier to navigate around than downtown Chicago. The slick leather sole of her boot slid on the pavement as she got out of the car, and she cursed as she struggled to avoid a fall. It didn’t seem natural that there should be ice on the ground in October!

She wrestled her guitar case out of the back seat, slung her music bag and her purse over her shoulder and started jogging toward the music department of one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. Within two blocks she was wheezing and her nose was running. By the forth block, her ears felt like they’d shatter and fall off it was so cold. she pushed the niggling little voice in her head back into her subconscious but not before she heard it ask, “why are we doing this again?”

“I’m a brilliant guitar player. I’m the new Segovia. I love myself and I deserve to succeed,” she chanted over and over in her head as she made her way onto the campus and started looking for someone to point the way to her meeting. There was not a soul in sight. A quick glance at her watch showed her she was already almost ten minutes late. Whirling around in desperation she tried to find the names of the buildings around her, and there it was – the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.

A blast of hot air hit her as she charged through the second set of doors, and she was breathing hard as she searched the directory for Dr. Bonham’s office number. Second floor. The elevator ride wasn’t long enough to get her coat unbuttoned, hat off, scarf unwound, and hair straitened. Ack! The static electricity… She was sure she looked like she’d stuck her finger in a light socket. When the door opened onto the second floor she scrambled out scooting her case and bags out, thankful there was no one watching.

By the time she reached room 203 she had a light sheen of sweat on her face. Dr. Bonham stood up from his big desk by the wall sized window.

“Dr. Bonham? I’m Carly Sims… I had a ten o’clock appointment? I’m sorry I’m running late. I had trouble parking,” she blurted all in one breath before he could say a word.

“I’d nearly given up on you.” He wasn’t smiling when he took her guitar case and sat it to one side of the room.

“Come sit down and tell me about yourself,” he said and indicated a chair in front of his desk.

She hurriedly slipped out of her coat and laid it on a bench by the door and tried to smooth her unruly hair on the way to the chair the professor had indicated. She took a deep breath looked at the tall, dark haired man who sat across from her. He was wearing a black suit and tie, and had horn rimmed glasses perched on his narrow face. She looked around his office. It reminded her of a church, but that was probably just because of the dark carpet and wood and the intricate window frames. It was a very different atmosphere from the music college back in New Mexico. She was wearing a simple sweater and jeans, and she realized that she probably should have worn a dress. They took themselves pretty seriously around here…

“Now, Miss Sims, why have you come to see me?”

“I’d like to transfer into the music school here. I’ve been studying at the Taos School of Music for 2 and a half years, and I had to quit when I moved to Chicago. I just got married, and it’s Mrs. Sims,” she added a little sheepishly.

“And you play the guitar, I see? That is not usually a specialty for us here, but we do have a guitar teacher, and I am that teacher, though I teach music theory and conducting as well. Tell me what sort of music you play.”

“I’ve played mostly Sor, Carcassi, and Bach. My teacher was educated at the Paris Conservatory and studied with Francisco LaGoya…,” and she waffled on for much too long about her former teacher and the technique she’d been working to master. She knew she should probably shut up, but she had a hard time stopping herself.

“O.K. Why don’t you play something for me,” said the professor, looking bored.

This was the moment she’d been dreading, and she could feel the trembling start right in her very core. She tried to take a deep breath as she got up and went to her guitar case. She’d practiced and practiced, but she couldn’t even remember what she’d been practicing. She got out her little folding footstool and sat down to tune her guitar. It didn’t take long enough, and she was still shaking when it was time to start the piece.

“This is an A minor etude by Fernando Sor,” she croaked, and she began to play. She made it through the first 8 bars reasonably well, but she could tell her dynamics were way off. Then she stumbled. She gasped and replayed that same measure, compounding the mistake. She made it safely through the next passage with no recollection of doing it and finished by flubbing the one hard chord right at the end. She felt like crying.

Dr. Bonham looked at his watch and said, “Thank you Mrs. Sims. I’ll be in touch. I have a class to teach now.” And he left.

Once he was out of the room she did cry… quietly so no one would hear. The tears were hot on her face. She felt very small as she put her guitar back in its case. She’d blown it. She slowly bundled up again and gathered her things. The slog back to the car wasn’t nearly as long as it had seemed on the way to the Music building.

She looked longingly into the windows of the shops and cafes as she passed them thinking to herself, “Oh well, guess I’ll never get to know you. Would have been nice.” Just beside where she’d parked was a tiny little music store with funky folk instruments in the window. “What the heck,” she thought, and went inside to look around. She had no where else to be. She wiped the tears that were still spilling down her cheeks, and stepped inside.

It was warm, and the old floorboards creaked as the door blew shut behind her and a bell rang above her. The shop was crowded with old merchandise, and a man with a grey ponytail and a bushy beard greeted her from a counter to her left. She told him she was just looking around and he excused himself saying he’d be right back. After he left the room, she heard a mandolin playing. It was soft and sweet, and she hummed along with it as she looked at the sheet music and the instruments hanging on the walls. She found a book of Irish jigs and reels and went up to the counter to pay for it. As she looked down through the glass counter top, she spotted a small antique mandolin. It was one of the ones with a round back, like a lute. When the shopkeeper came back, she asked to see the mandolin, and he got it out for her.

“It’s about a hundred years old. I doubt it plays. We just keep it here because it looks pretty,” he said.

“Would you sell it?,” she asked.

“I suppose… I have no idea what it’s worth but I guess I’d take $95 for it.”

“Done. By the way, I was enjoying that tune you were playing in the back.” she said.

“I didn’t hear it. I was back in the store room looking for some strings that came in the other day. Must have been someone passing by outside.”

She completed her purchase and went out to the car. As she was driving home, the tune she had heard in the music store started up again. She looked at the radio, which hadn’t worked in ages, and then over at the little mandolin. She couldn’t see the ghostly hands plucking the strings, but she knew they were playing to comfort her.