Et Sequitur Magazine, Issue 8

Issue 8 (Winter 2024)


By Kiersten Gonzalez

“How’s your drink, Vivian?” he asks—The Date whose name I can’t remember—as he adjusts his faded gray sweater for the sixth time. His question blends seamlessly with the ones before it. What’s your favorite season? Are you a morning person or a night person? Any siblings? Are you always this quiet? How did your last relationship end?

“He’s such a bore,” Ludwig says, sitting beside The Date at the bar. If it weren’t for their vastly different outfits, they would both look nearly thirty. Ludwig’s wearing the same outfit he has on every day: a dark jacket with long tails at the back, a red silk vest, and matching neck scarf with gold thread accents. Fortunately, he’s removed his top hat since we’re inside, otherwise he’d look especially ridiculous. He’s a relic from another time.

But only I can see him.

I stir my drink. “It’s fine.” It’s a modern take on a piña colada that just tastes like coconut water. Flavorless. Fitting.

“Tell him it’s awful,” Ludwig says, his lips curled in an impish grin. “Tell him to buy you some fucking dinner.”

I don’t know if Ludwig acquired his profanity from me or someone he haunted before. I start to say, “No,” but stop myself. The choked word results in a sort of humming noise.

“Did you say something?” The Date asks. I think he works in marketing, something about dental implants.

“What’s that? No.” I decide to make the most of my slip. “Want to order an appetizer? Something to pick on?”

“Hm… I had a snack at three.”

It’s 8:30 at night. I suppose he isn’t hungry. I tip my head back and finish the coconut water cocktail.

“You drink like a depraved whore,” Ludwig says. I’d shoot daggers at him if I could, but then The Date might notice and think I’m insane. I ask the bartender for Jack on the rocks.

A stronger drink might liven the discussion. It’s my own fault—I’ve added nothing to the conversation. I’m too stressed about the deadline for my master’s program to focus on anything else. I’d almost rather talk to Ludwig.

Abruptly stopping a story about his latest golf outing, The Date asks, “What?”

“What’s that?”

“Why do you have that face?”

I realize, then, that I still look disgusted by Ludwig’s comment. “Oh—no, it’s not you.”

“Well, what is it then? This clearly isn’t going well.” He sets his glass on the table. “I’m trying to get to know you, and you’re giving me nothing. Why do I seem so repulsive to you?”

Ludwig rolls his eyes. “Can you believe him? No decorum. Not that you’re any better. It’s your face, Vivian. You suck on lemons during these social affairs.”

I ignore Ludwig, but my lower eyelid twitches.

“Please, let’s stay. I’m sorry I’m so quiet.”

The Date eases and re-settles in his chair. “I’m sorry I had such an outburst.”

“It’s alright. I love when everyone stares. Then I don’t have to wonder if they’re looking at me.”

“Ha! My attitude is finally rubbing off on you,” Ludwig says.

The Date doesn’t find this comment humorous. Maybe it’s too passive aggressive. Maybe Ludwig is rubbing off on me.

“You’re studying music to become a conductor,” The Date says. I only have one day left to decide if that’s true. “What do you like about music?”

I assess the man. His stylish glasses, his side swept, slightly-thinning hair. He has kind eyes, and nice hands: not short and stubby, nor long and thin. He’d make a fine piano player. Maybe I’m not giving him enough of a chance.

“Tell him, Vivian,” Ludwig challenges.

“Music. It’s hard to say. It’s ephemeral, right? Sounds, brought into an order that makes us feel differently, depending on the arrangement. It’s a mystery. We think we control music. But we haven’t invented any of it. It’s fascinating.”

“Oh, shut up,” Ludwig says. He rolls his eyes in a big sweeping gesture that ruffles his neck scarf. “You’re a pitiful shell of a musician. You talk of music as if it has nothing to do with you. No passion. It’s no wonder you’re a failure. Plus you work in that wretched restaurant.”

Heat rises to my ears. In the distance, I hear The Date say, That’s very thought provoking…

I narrow my eyes at Ludwig and mutter, “Asshole.”

“What?” The Date has puppy eyes.

“Oh—not you. Not really.” I don’t think he hears me.

“Wow. You’re horrible, Vivian. Just horrible. Have a nice life.”

He gets up and leaves the bar. The waitress silently takes his drink away. I order a hamburger and watch ice melt into my whiskey.

Ludwig sits back, taking in the restaurant. The glowing chandeliers spin in his eyes. Electricity still fascinates him. He finds it romantic. Funny, how people usually associate candles with love instead.

“You ruin everything.” If others noticed, they’d think I’m muttering to myself, or singing a song. “Go back to 1840.”

“I’d be more tolerable if I could have a drink,” he says. “Unfortunately for you, that’s not possible.”

“Whatever. When can you stop ruining my life?”

“Ruining? I made this whole event much more entertaining. You know it, Vivian.” Ludwig taps his fingers on the table. “Have you ever stopped to think that I’m not the one ruining your life? Maybe—consider for a moment—that it’s you?”

I hate him, but arguing with Ludwig is better than being alone. I’m scared to admit it, but I’ve gotten used to him being around. I sometimes forget there’s a time he wasn’t here.


It started when I wanted to buy a piano.

A keyboard would have been sufficient, but would a serious musician settle for a plastic keyboard, even an expensive one? The answer is sure, a serious musician could, but I hadn’t been feeling like a serious musician. I had to buy a real piano.

Money was the main problem, both buying the instrument and paying to have it moved into my apartment. I’d started teaching private lessons on the weekends, in addition to working at the restaurant, but it hardly lightened the strain. I asked friends and acquaintances if they knew of a used piano for sale, and got a tip in Greenwich Village.

An elderly woman greeted me. She showed me an upright piano in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The gloss had long worn away to a flat finish but the wood filigree of vines and flowers didn’t have a single chip in it.

“It’s beautiful. How old is it?”

“I’m not entirely sure. Very old. And odd.” She sighed. “Beautiful, but odd.”

Odd sounded harmless. I tried the instrument—some scales, the beginning of Moonlight Sonata. It needed a bit of tuning, nothing a professional couldn’t fix. Truthfully, it sounded newer than it seemed.

“You play very precisely,” the woman said, which felt a few steps short of a compliment. Did “precise” mean “good”? Or did it mean my playing lacked feeling?

“How much?” I feared the answer—if the piano was old, like Victorian-era, it’d be at least twenty grand.

“I’m asking ten thousand.”

I took out an envelope. “Best I can do is five.”

“Sixty-five hundred?”

“It’s all my savings.” I was embarrassed that my worth amounted to so little. “Plus I have to get the movers. It’s five thousand or nothing.”

She sighed. “I just want him out of here.”

I thought I misheard her. I gave her the envelope and scheduled the movers the next day.

The piano looked twice as large in my apartment, but it imparted a warmth to the otherwise vapid space. Beyond the instrument, there were a couple half-dead plants, a picture or two, and an odd collection of bowls and plates. An instrument changes a place, and makes it a haven for sound, like a giant music box. Who wouldn’t want to live inside a music box?

One night, it sounded like something was stuck in the piano—a persistent pluck, more like a buzz, resounded each time I struck middle C. It was strange—I’d only had the piano tuned days before. The tuner remarked it was in astounding condition. It must have been restored, he said, or maybe it was magic. The last idea gave him a long, cough-inducing laugh.

I opened the skinny half-top of the instrument and peered inside its dark ribcage. A couple strings gleamed but I needed a flashlight to see anything else.

As I dug through a kitchen drawer, piano music started playing from the living room. I rushed out to find a man playing, a top hat neatly placed on his head, and his coat tails hanging over the bench.

Naturally, I screamed. A psycho—he must have slipped in the front door.

He glanced over his shoulder, unmoved from my panic, and continued. I recognized the piece: Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. A song with a hurried beginning that requires quick fingers. If the song were a color, it’d be purple, borne from red anger and blue sadness.

“Excuse me? Hello? Get out of here!” I yelled.

He ignored me and eased into the next part of the song, a variety of long, graceful arpeggios. For a vagabond, he was damn good.

A knock sounded at the door and I rushed toward it. On the other side, my neighbor, Rob, stood in a stained wife beater and jeans, holding a pudding cup in one hand and a small plastic spoon in the other. Old enough to be my father, he often took a watchful role in the building.

“Sweetheart, are you okay?” he asked. “I heard the screaming. Sounded like you cut your finger off.”

Before I could reply, he added, “You have a record on or something? That’s some stereo. My god—beautiful. Sounds like someone is playing piano, right here.”

I glanced at the piano, then back at Rob. There was no reason he shouldn’t have been able to see the man finishing out the tranquil section of the song.

“You don’t see?” I feared Rob’s reply, those two words that would mean I’m crazy.

“See what?”

The color drained from my face while the piano man sped up to his final finish.

“Ah, it’s nothing.” My voice came out hoarse. “Thought I saw a cockroach. I’ll knock on your door if I see it again.”

Rob stared at me doubtfully for five, ten seconds. Then he shrugged. “Alright. Have a good night.”

I shut the door and turned back to the piano. The player’s fingers moved rapidly up and down the keys. Only a practiced musician could play this song without missing a note.

As he finished in a bright major chord, he let out a satisfied huff and turned to me, his slim face beaming, his eyes dark and mischievous.

“What are you? This is from stress, isn’t it? Am I losing my mind?”

“Considering you insisted on having this exquisite instrument put in this closet—you call this a home?—I’d say maybe you are losing your mind. But if you are referring to why that gentleman could not see me, it’s because only the piano’s owner can. So no, you haven’t imagined me. I’m far too interesting for your plain dreams anyway.”

“How would you know about my dreams?”

“I wouldn’t. You just seem lackluster. My name is Ludwig.” He held out his hand. I reached forward, expecting vapor, but instead I grasped his cold extremity and shook it.


“That’s an old name. Been around since before my time.”

“Seriously? Your name is Ludwig. Are you even German?”

He straightened and scoffed. “No. My parents named me after Beethoven, so I’d be a composer, and a great piano player like him.”

“And were you?”

He furrowed his brow and looked at the piano. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re arrogant.”

“I think you’re jealous.”

Such began my relationship with Ludwig.


We return home to the apartment once I’ve finished my hamburger.

There are still many hours to go in the night, since the date did not end with extended conversation, romantic walks in the park, or a hanky-panky (though I’m not sure how Ludwig would fit into that scenario—I try not to think about it).

I sit at the piano to continue the composition I’ve been working on for months—my thesis, the finale before I graduate. It’s a piano concerto, requiring many parts. Besides the piano solo, which has to be remarkable, each symphony part has to accompany and enhance it. I obsess over the piece—French horns echo in my brain and pizzicato violins dance constantly in my thoughts. The bones of the composition are good, but the third movement—the finale—isn't written.

Now it's been a year and there’s one day left before my deadline, then I lose my scholarship. Without a scholarship, I can’t afford to keep going. And without a conducting degree, I’ll never be considered for a symphony position. It’s been my dream since childhood, since I played my first notes on a tiny toy piano. I’ve had a taste of conducting in my classes and nothing compares to the sensation of directing a hundred musicians into one singular sound, like tugging the individual threads of a colorful tapestry. But how can I lead an orchestra, demanding passion and excellence from the musicians, when I haven’t proved my own?

When I met with the orchestral program director to discuss the upcoming deadline, she had a perfect, proud posture, holding her pen in the air like a baton. I’d like to say her attitude toward me was unwarranted but that isn’t exactly true. I’d joked with another musician, Tom (a talented percussionist) that she probably only landed this position from sleeping with the maestro of the Philharmonic. I hadn’t realized she was standing right behind me as I said it. Insulting her integrity was bad, but worse, I’d insulted the integrity of the institution, and music itself.

To say that the conversation about my own seeming lack of talent was ironic, and awkward, would be an understatement.

“You realize we must invest in students who show promise?” she asked.

“I understand.”

“We’re just not sure you have it.”

“Have what?”

“The ability to finish.”

That was before I bought the piano. If Ludwig had been there, he’d have made an unseemly remark about her word choice, and I might have laughed. Instead, I signed the papers, granting my sabbatical, and cried the whole way home.

Tonight my mind is cluttered. I press the middle C key over and over, the buzz vibrating somewhere deep in the piano.

“Stop doing that. It’s annoying,” Ludwig says, lounging on the couch.

I erase a note from my sheet music. “Why do you care? You have nothing better to do.”


I worry I’ve offended him. As harsh as Ludwig can be, it might be too cruel to joke about his perpetual purgatory on earth.

“Other people in this building might like to sleep, and not listen to your drivel.”

I press the key harder. 

In a moment shorter than a blink, Ludwig is standing next to me.

“I hate when you do that,” I tell him.

He points to my hands, raw from my last work shift. “No wonder you play terribly. Your hands are completely ruined. You have to abandon that bloody restaurant. You have a music degree. The best you’re doing with it is instructing children.”

“Those jobs pay my bills. Maybe a hundred years ago someone could make a living as a performer. It’s not like that anymore.”

He studies my papers and cocks his head. “Move over.” He sits on my left and begins to play the first movement. Clicking his tongue, he shakes his head.


“You need to put support under this, Vivian.”

“There is support.” I point to the bass clef.

He slaps my hand. “Stop it—no. Modern music has tainted your ear. A bass part doesn’t just repeat itself. You have to make it interesting. This—” he points to the treble clef, where the notes reach high, “is all bright and fairy-like. Is it pretty? Yes. But it can be swept away at any moment. It’s directionless, Vivian. Where is the grounding factor? Where is it going? You have to care.”

“I do care,” I mutter.

“Then fucking show it.”

Ludwig plays a left-hand part, trying a phrase and then tweaking it. He turns his ear down to the piano, as if it would whisper to him. I don’t want to admit it, but the part he’s composing is complex and appealing. In the overlap of his low part and my high part, there’s a middle ground—a tug of war.

“That sounds alright.” I can’t admit how good it is. Ludwig doesn’t need to be told. He knows. “Are you helping me?”

“No. Why would I do that?” He stands up. “And have you take all the credit? No. Though you might consider taking my cues,” he chides.

“I didn’t ask you to be my instructor.”

I play what Ludwig composed, by ear, not missing a note. His mouth almost turns up in a smile. Then I compose a variation of his part and write it into the music staff.

“I shouldn’t have had that second drink. I can hardly focus.” I leave the piano and put on a record—a jazz album—that’s vastly different from my work.

“This music used to confuse me,” Ludwig says. “It lacks order and steady time.” His fingers move sporadically across the piano, picking up notes in the song. “But I’m starting to get it. The rhythm… it swings. It has a special feeling. It has life.”

In the kitchen, I start the coffeemaker. “Classical musicians spend so many hours memorizing pieces, practicing their exact feeling until they can be played naturally. It’s as if jazz musicians have the whole catalog memorized. And they’re doing new things with those patterns, spontaneously.”

I settle on the couch to watch Ludwig play along to the wailing saxophone. I wish I had half the talent he does.

The record reaches the end of Side A but I don’t get up to flip it. It’s late, and Ludwig’s company feels inadequate. I lay on the couch and send a few text messages to friends, casting out the line to see if anyone will pick up. Tom replies quickly.

I was just thinking of you.

Somehow, I doubt that. But then Tom asks if I want to come with him to the New York Philharmonic tomorrow night. My doubts fade away at the promise of a new date.

You like Debussy, don’t you? He asks.

I love him.

“I thought you were trying to focus.”

I jolt at Ludwig standing over my shoulder.

“Stop doing that. It’s not fair that you can read over my shoulder without me realizing.”

“You’re distracting yourself,” he says.

“It’s the orchestra. It might inspire me.”

“You’re seeking company you don’t need.”

“I won’t be young forever. There must be more to life than piano.” 

He flinches, as if the words had flown, like spit, onto his face. “You’re running out of time.” He spins, his vest a flash of color, and starts playing the piano again.

“You of all people have the nerve to talk about time. You’re so fortunate—you can practice as much as you want. If only we could all be so lucky.” I get up from the couch to pour a cup of coffee.

“No.” Hands that were playing a bright, plucky tune come to a halt. “Piano killed me, Vivian.”

Ludwig has never spoken of his past. And nothing has ever stopped him midway playing a song. I return to the living room.

“That’s quite a statement.” I don’t know how else to address it.

“Don’t you understand? This is my repayment,” he says. He disappears from the piano and reappears next to the window overlooking the street.

“Repayment for what?”

He sneers, “My sins.”

I spit out a stream of coffee that’s too hot. “What kind of sins?”

“Passion,” he whispers. “What would you know about that? You don’t have passion for your compositions, your dating life… You’re not even passionate about your insipid jobs. But passion,” he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Passion is everything.”


In the morning, I drag myself to the restaurant for my shift. Ludwig joins.

“Why do you come everywhere with me?” I ask.

“Never mind what I do.”

The restaurant, a French bistro, is always especially busy for breakfast and lunch. Sometimes I can talk to Ludwig amid the mayhem. If I’m too busy, he sulks in the corner, waiting for an interesting conversation to eavesdrop on.

Usually I’m the hostess, but the bistro has been short-staffed, so I have to help the kitchen prepare a few simple plates. Crêpes and boeuf bourguignon are out of the question, but I can handle warming a pastry or arranging charcuteries. Today I’m assigned salad.

I catch Ludwig’s red and gold jacket as he walks into the kitchen. He leans over a tall pot of soup to smell it and almost knocks it over. I gasp, and a sting blooms across my hand, the cutting board dotted with blood. The gash that runs across each digit swells and splits. My thumb is cut especially deep.

“Vivian? The salad?” the cook asks.

“You’ll have to remake it,” I tell him, turning around like the leading lady in a horror film. “I’m so sorry.”

He hurries for a bandage and wraps each finger, while Ludwig looks on with disapproval.

“The bleeding isn’t stopping. I think you should go home,” the cook says.

On the subway, Ludwig sits next to me, refusing to look at the wound. It’s not because he’s squeamish—

“I fucking told you.”

—it’s because he’s mad.

“I told you to stop this job. Now look what you’ve done. You’re ruining your musical potential constantly.”

I put in my earphones, so I can talk to Ludwig and look like I’m on the phone. Some people may wonder how I get reception down in these tunnels. Maybe I’m just a crazy woman. There have been stranger sights on the subway than a woman talking to herself.

“Leave me alone. I’m in a lot of pain.”

“Which pain do you prefer? The pain of not being able to play from injury, or the pain of not being able to play from inadequacy?”

I don’t have an answer.

A trumpet player shares our car. Even with a mute, his playing seems like it will shatter the windows for breathing space. But he plays well; he’s even chosen a Chuck Mangione tune. Did young, aspiring Chuck ever believe his compositions would be played fifty years after he wrote his blithe liner notes and called the album finished?

Ludwig jabs his elbow into my side. The gold thread shines in his scarf, even under the yellow subway lights. “Now that—that is passion.”

“I thought passion was your sin. Why should anyone pursue it?”

“It’s passion mixed with pride—that’s the problem. When your passions are only about yourself, you fall into trouble.”

“What happened? You said piano killed you. Were you serious?”

“It happened so long ago. It’s not worth anything now.”

The rattle and whoosh of the subway fills the space between us.

Ludwig asks, “Have you ever been so in love that you were lost? You were slipping away, moment by moment?”

“I don’t think so. Not like that.”

“Of course you haven’t. It would show when you play piano.” He rolls his eyes. “If you ever do fall in love, you’ll be the luckiest person alive and cursed at the same time.”


He sighs. “Because you’ll never have an easy choice again.”

The trumpet player finishes his song. At the next stop, he leaves our car and moves to the next one.

“Why won’t you tell me what happened to you?”

Ludwig claps for the musician, who can’t hear his applause. “Tend to your wound, and I’ll tend to mine.”


At home, I lie on the couch, my hands heavy on my stomach. In the corner, Ludwig analyzes the six-disc CD player.  “Aren’t CDs a bit archaic, Vivian?” He stares at his image in the reflective, rainbow beams of plastic.

“That’s rich coming from you. It was a gift from Rob next door. I couldn’t say no. When did you even learn music could be recorded—last week?”

He sneers at me. “I know plenty about modern music, thank you. I’ve even held a music pod.”

“It’s called an iPod.”

He ignores me and plays the CD. Debussy—everything lately is about Debussy. Impressionism would have come after Ludwig’s time. The room fills with the airy piano music that I Iove, but even I’m growing weary of Clair de Lune and Deux Arabesque.

Ludwig shakes his head at the speaker, the way he always does. “He’d be nothing without Chopin.”

“No one would disagree with you.”

“Have you heard Chopin’s Nocturne 20 in C-sharp minor?

“Yes. Many times.”


Clair de Lune moves into the second section, which I find has a darkness to it. “You’re just jealous you didn’t write this song.”

He swivels around, and then he’s next to me. “Stop it. I’m not jealous of anyone. Not anymore.”

When I look up, he’s back in the corner, his eyes shut, fingers in the air trying to find the sweeping notes that swell and fall, like a tiny ship at sea.

“Why are you being so sensitive?” I ask. “All musicians are jealous at some point.”

“Not like me. And still, I like to call it ‘passion.’ As if that makes it better.” He looks at his reflection in another CD. “As if that made it worthwhile.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not something you can comprehend.”

“Fine. I guess I’m not sophisticated enough for your tortured artistry.” I leave him, retreating to my bedroom to get ready for tonight.

In the mirror, my face looks thinner than I expect it to be. I’m fading away. I remove the bandages and replace them; the wounds sting in the open air. I could cancel with Tom, but then I’d be stuck at home with Ludwig and the piano concerto. It’s only a little bleeding. It’s only a small piece of flesh missing from my thumb.

I tie my hair up and slap on some makeup to give me life. A long shimmery gown distracts from the weariness in my eyes. I almost seem like I have it together.

When I emerge, Ludwig turns from the window and gives me a long look.

“Just say whatever remark you have in mind so I can move on and forget it.”

He says, “I think the Philharmonic will be graced by your company.”


The concert hall is full of warmth, with smooth, wood beams that curve around each seating tier. It’s as if we are all inside a violin, with sunlight streaming through its swirling holes.

Ludwig sits on the floor, looking up at us. We’re at the front of this tier, right against the balcony. Fortunately, this affords Ludwig a bit of space.

“It’s been a while,” Tom says. He wears a well-fitting suit and a light, fresh cologne. His long, wavy hair is tied in a ponytail. “Haven’t seen you around.”

“I’ve been very focused on my thesis project.”

“You’re almost there though?”

I’d like to lie and give a resounding ‘Yes,’ but something about the orchestra tuning in a cluttered clamor makes it feel wrong—as if their raw sound shouldn’t be muddied by my deceit.

“I’m not sure. I’m having a tough time with this concerto...” I can’t admit to him how dire the deadline is.

“I feel you,” he says. His leg loosens, and eases toward me, pressing lightly against my thigh. It’s not an intrusion of my space, but a comfort. I avoid looking at Ludwig, but fail. His eyes are trained on the gap that seconds ago had significantly lessened.

“What happened to your hand?” Tom asks.

“Just a little accident. Nothing serious.”

As the lights dim and the concert begins, Tom says, “You know, with finishing—people think it’s an issue of talent. I don’t think that’s true. It’s confidence—you need confidence to finish.” He pauses as an announcer welcomes the crowd, then whispers, “It’s really good to see you again, Vivian.”

“You too,” I whisper. I should have had something better prepared, some comment like, You’re sweet to say that. That means a lot. But it’s too late now, the show’s begun.

When the first piece starts, Ludwig exhales, shuts his eyes and moves his head gently to the sound. It’s hard not to watch him become part of the music.

At intermission, I excuse myself to use the bathroom. Ludwig follows.

In the lobby, I spot my program director talking amongst her peers. She wears a dress with shoulder pads that stick out like spider webs, and her hair is arranged in a tall beehive. I attempt to skirt around her, but she whips in my direction.

“Vivian. I’m surprised to see you. Should I assume your piece is not outstanding?

“I think my piece is good.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean its quality, but its status. Is it outstanding, as in, unresolved?” She looks at her watch. “I believe time is almost up.”

“I’m in the last stages.” It’s a lie, crawling desperately to something like the truth.

Her hair makes it look like she’s gazing down on me from high above, with an air of satisfied disappointment. “My feelings about a student have never been disproven. It seems that record won’t be broken.” She turns back to her peers, who are dressed alike in outlandish clothing.

Ludwig gapes. “What an absolute cu—”

“Stop it. It’s not worth it.” I step into the bathroom and wipe the makeup that’s begun to run in the corners of my eyes.

Ludwig stands beside me, looking into the mirror. “Don’t cry. She’s nobody.”

“I wish that were true. She’s the director.” The cuts on my fingers have started to bleed again. I unwrap the bandages and take fresh ones out of my bag.

“You can’t let them convince you that you’re not capable of being heard. Your piece is good.”

“I don’t have a piece. I have two-thirds of a piece. That’s what you hate about me.”

I leave the bathroom and halt. To my left, my program director stands in front of the door to the theater. On my right, the grand stairs lead to the exit, back to Lincoln Center.

“Where are you going?” Ludwig asks as I rush down the stairs.

“I’m leaving.”

“The concert isn’t over!”

Relief spreads through my hands as they press against the cold glass doors that open to the fresh air and relieve the hall’s stuffy interior.

“We can’t just leave,” Ludwig pleads, following me toward the subway stairs. “It’s wrong. What about your other companion?”

Other companion. Because in Ludwig’s estimation, he is my primary companion. But I do feel a pang of guilt for Tom. “I’ll call him tomorrow, when everything’s settled. I can’t stay, okay?”

On the subway, Ludwig and I sit in silence. There isn’t a street performer to distract us this time.

After a while, he asks, “What does that mean? ‘I feel you.’”

I try to recall when he would have heard the phrase, and then realize Tom had said it. “It means you understand what someone feels.”

“In a close way? An intimate way?”

“No, not necessarily. It’s casual. It’s just a way of saying you agree.”


At home, I sit at the piano. On the subway, I’d imagined sinking into bed in a wet, sobbing heap, but it feels right to be here. Maybe the piano doesn’t care if I’m a conductor or an amateur. Maybe it just likes the feeling of being played.

I begin messing around, for fun. A few phrases stick, they almost meld into a new song, a jazz tune. It has nothing to do with the concerto, but it has a spark. I write it down. The middle C still buzzes, but it blends seamlessly into the loose rhythm.

 “What are you doing?” Ludwig asks.

“I’m quitting, Ludwig. It’s over.”

“No. You have to keep going.”

“Why do you care if I finish?”

“Don’t you understand? You have every opportunity. You’ll create meaningful pieces that others will treasure for years to come. Hundreds of years. The next Leonard Bernstein. If you’d only finish this damn movement.”

“How can you be so sure?”

He hesitates. “I can see it…feel it. Like a premonition.”

It sounds like he’s lying, like he’s grasping at any idea he can think of. I can’t deny the hope it awakens in me anyway, for a moment.

“You confuse me, Ludwig. You put support under me, but it’s a dark kind. You say I’m never trying and that I’m a terrible musician. I know that’s not true.”

“Of course you do. We both do. So why should I have to say it? You’re lovely, Vivian. There— happy? You remind me of someone I used to know.”

His last statement takes on a new, melancholy tone. Still, I can’t tell what’s true and what isn’t. “Fuck you, Ludwig. I wish you’d leave me alone.”

I get up from the piano and go to my bedroom, slamming the door as if it makes a difference.

He leaves me alone for a few minutes and then appears, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“What do you want,” I grumble, my face in a pillow.

“Do you know how tragic it is, when potential is cut short? It’s not one opportunity that’s lost—not one person, or one song—but a million moments, evaporated.”

I mumble, “You didn’t want to tell me about your problems, and now I’m not interested. Go away.”

“I’m sorry I’m so guarded. It’s embarrassing, that’s all. But you need to listen.”


“Because I’m afraid.”

I sit up to face Ludwig. “Afraid of what?”

“Afraid you’ll suffer the way I do.”

I sigh, and motion for him to go on with his story.

“When I was young, at the height of my career, I had a rival. As soon as I published a new piece, he’d put out a better one. The competition fueled our work. It brought us renown, even while we hated each other.

“Then the creative well dried up for him. He was on the brink of losing everything: his career, his house, his family. He asked me to finish his composition for him, just so he could get on his feet. I told him no. Why would I share a piece of my genius for him to steal?”

“You couldn’t publish it as a collaboration?” I ask.

“Associate my name with his? I couldn’t conceive it. He visited my home in a rage, maybe he’d been drinking. I refused to change my mind, even though he was close to ruin. I turned my back at the top of the stair landing, not expecting him to assail me. I wasn’t expecting to fall. That was it.”

“He killed you?”

“I don’t know if he intended it. The outcome was the same.”

Of course Ludwig would guard his secret from me. “You said I remind you of someone. I guess it’s him. Thanks, Ludwig, for the inspiring story,” I chide.

“No. No!” He balls his fists. “You remind me of someone I loved—I’ve been believing I did what I had to do all these years, to comfort myself while I watched her grow old and die. I was wrong. I threw away everything, for pride.” 

“Well, I’m sorry, but what do you expect me to do about it?”

“Finish, dammit, finish, Vivian! How many times can I say it?”

I rest my head in my hands, the bandages rubbing against my eyebrows. “This is too much. It’s late, Ludwig. Let’s talk about it in the morning.”

He relents and evaporates from the bed. Then he starts playing the piano, playing my piece. He’s never played without stopping to criticize or offer a snarky remark. When the end nears, the place where I left off, he starts again. He plays over and over, until I fall asleep.


In the morning, I call out sick from the restaurant. I rub my eyes and go to the piano. There’s a set of pages spread across the keys, filled in when they had been blank last night. I play the piece, stumbling through the new section.

The last movement is loud, with strong power chords in the left hand. It competes with the right hand, and they take turns mimicking each other. One side almost seems to change the other. At the very end, the right hand shines, alone, at the highest end of the piano, where you can almost hear fairy dust. In the last measure, each hand utters an octave, which fades into silence.

It’s fantastic. To Ludwig, it’s finished. He’s given his genius to me so I can move forward in life. I should take it and run. But what does that make me—an imposter? A thief?

In the corner of the page, a thin cursive note reads, I feel you, too. In a close way. -L

It’s mutual. I feel Ludwig in his notes. More than that, I feel what he wants from me. Maybe his movement isn’t intended to take the place of mine, but show me the way. Like a treasure map. 

I set aside his sheet music and pull out the jazz composition from last night. In the early morning, it sounds different. Last night it’d seemed wildly opposed to my initial work, but today it’s similar. Same key, same patterns, just transposed into a time signature Dave Brubeck would have approved of.

I continue writing, incorporating the classical bits in new ways. Bringing this strange movement to life awakens a new feeling in me: a yearning and a joy. I think it might be “passion.” The rhythm floats from my chest, into my ears, and down into the shaky, bandaged hand holding the pencil.

An hour, two hours pass. By noon, I have a finished movement. It’s a fresh sound, almost Third Stream, without abandoning any of the classical foundation of the first two movements. It has rhythm, and life. There are hints of Ludwig in some measures. But more importantly, there are hints of us, together—two people writing across time, two passionate hearts longing to hear themselves in the rattle of string against wood.

Looking at the clock and the sun hanging in the middle of the sky, I realize how especially quiet the apartment is. It’s the first morning that Ludwig hasn’t appeared for a practice session. I shut the piano, and get up to look for him.

It’s only later, after I’ve delivered my composition to the director, after I’ve accepted what must be true, that I realize the middle C key doesn’t buzz anymore.

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Kiersten is a medical copywriter and fiction-lover. She holds a Master’s in Writing from Seton Hall University. Born (though not raised) in New Jersey, she’s found her way back to the best state in America and calls it home.


Instagram: @kiersten.writes

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