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OCTOBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 10



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VASILIS AFXENTIOU, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Online. Vasilis lives in Athens, Greece.


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THE ÉTUDE
[ 1, 2 ]

The guitar stood waiting. Elegant, skillfully crafted, painful, it ignored her musings and the fever in her hands. Two years had passed four months ago, and still the appendages moved slowly, sluggishly, producing a cacophony. There were days when she played adeptly, but few. She could not account for it; if she could only do that.

Dino's deep, black eyes were upon her from where he sat, this minute. She could feel their moot, fixed look. It had been a bad night, last night. A bad night for love. There had been depression in the dark of the room, a tiredness she felt more often than not. He had finally left her and gone to the other end of the bed, and she had lain alone and silent, and sirocco-warm tears ebbed out of her scouring the hours by.

The night faded once more whence it came. She massaged the thumb muscle to lessen the stiffness. Veins stood out like winding blue worms on her forearm and the back of her hand. Dipping the fingers into the dish of alcohol temporarily numbed them.

The index finger puffed out at the bottom, tapering like an obelisk of flesh to a firm phalanx. A straight dark line of clotted blood scarred the once soft tissue behind the finger nail. Friction from the repeated barre exercises maintained the wound, fresh and visible. All were the credits of the craft. All the visible signs of hard, diligent work were there. Texture was not.

Dino brushed by her on his way out. She smelled the tobacco on his clothes. He stood by the door not speaking, then closed it behind him.

"The classical guitar is like a man," had been Anastasi's first words that decisive March noon. Ilianna's first lesson had begun. "He will want and want some more. You will hate and love him. Give yourself to him and he will give everything to you; as someone once said, 'Love is, above all, the gift of oneself'."

Anastasi had then embraced the guitar and began to play the étude. Ilianna's last minute doubts dissolved with certainty. Each undulating stroke charged a longing that had so long been left yearning for its mate. The cords mingled and blended, entwined and braided, melded and plexed and fused weaving a dulcet onomatopoeia of counterpoint plenishing her every pore, progressing so ever softly turning, spinning sheer summer air into a gossamer completion that longingly never came. The tinkling of the strings echoed, ignoring, conquering time.

"The moan of doves in immemorial elms/And murmuring of innumerable bees - do you hear him, do you hear Maestro Tennyson's sigh in the pluckings? You are in love, no?" Anastasi had remarked, putting the guitar down.

Yes.

But the instrument before her seemed unconcerned, aloof, like Dino. Both promised ecstasy, both wanted her soul. But she had not the strength to serve two masters.

When she had awaken it was a comfort to know that the entire day would belong to her to be alone. But by the time she got through the Segovia scales, even the light burden of the instrument was too much for her to hold. She had not slept much during the night, she realized, for her eyelids drooped more often than not. She had a drifty feeling that made her dreamlike and lose herself.

"Rest if you must,/but don't you quit." came Cushing's words from the poem Anastasi had drilled into her memory two years before.

Finally, she put the guitar down. The noon sun rays dabbed the wall next to her with a craggy segment of column from the Parthenon beyond. She found herself glide into oblivion on the chair. She dozed. She was overwhelmed by her dreaming of her mother and felt happiness.

She was seldom like this, not ever since they had met. But now, like a torrent, the cumulated snags in their relationship suddenly all deluged upon her, and she was surprised that she did nothing to stop the onset. She recollected afresh the quarrel the night before, recalled the options remaining - put to her; about the music, she could not remember what had been said to be wrong with it; possibly it was not the music; she did not know. She retained only the oppressive, mostly mute, suffocation of Dino's demands.

At the recollection she began to tremble for an instant, uncontrollably, and gasp for more air to enter her lungs. It had been a turbulent episode, the worse; like an Aegean August gale, with only a hint of warning, that drowns one unsuspectingly. She was sinking, she told herself. She was feeble against his wants - whatever these were. And perhaps the giving on her part would never quench the needing on his...

The fingers felt better. She dipped them once more and waited for them to dry. The melody came again, this time urging and stronger than before. She picked up the guitar and gave, yielding herself to it. There was a knock on the door that she did not hear.

She was solely aware that the mellifluous pluckings did not come from the instrument but from her. Like heartbeats, they were as much hers as her heart's. A presence was there, completing a metamorphosis. Unlike before, she knew, the threshold now was scaled, the union of her and her dream realized. She played, all of her, and did not stop her care because now she could not. Like the pulsing in her chest, her will no longer participated in its existence. A being had been freed, and free it reigned over a kingdom of two. The knocking stopped, the footsteps died softly away behind the closed door, and the room glowed in the summer afternoon with Ilianna and a sublime étude.

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