Sample text for Tenderwire / Claire Kilroy.
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In an Upper East Side neighborhood marked by a preponderance of specialist dry-cleaners, after a full nineteen years of preparation with one outcome in mind, I made my concert debut as violin soloist. When we took our places on the waxed golden stage, the members of the month-old New Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra, we could have been in a cornfield in July. It did not matter that it was the first week of January, that ice had paralyzed the city like snakebite. It was summer under the hot lights. We had effected a better season. Outside, there could have been murders in the snow. There could’ve been lung-choking fogs. There could have been wild dogs on the loose. We were immune to it. The New York winter couldn’t touch us. It couldn’t get past the cloakroom door, though it lurked in the folds of our coats for our return.
The dress rehearsal finished at five o’clock. I had been aware of the pinch in my guts since that morning but had ignored it, there being no time to do anything but ignore it. I went along to the pre-concert dinner and smiled through the thank-you speeches delivered to mark the orchestra’s inaugural night.
The pain intensified sometime around seven. At first I had dismissed it as nerves—my debut was looming after all. But at five minutes to eight, just before we were due onstage, it stabbed me so hard that I buckled. I slithered down the wall and placed my violin on the dressing room floor. “Valentina?”
She looked around and then down. “Oh my god, Eva,” she exclaimed in her lovely precise English, and reached for my inhaler.
“V, it’s not asthma.”
“I’ll get Zach.”
“No, lock the door.”
She locked the door and hunkered down beside me. “Oh Jesus, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Someone knocked politely. “Eva?” It was Zach.
“Don’t answer,” I warned her. Another knife of pain and I clenched my teeth, the halogen lights suddenly blindingly sharp. Zach knocked again, loudly this time, his tension seeping under the door and infecting the room. I grabbed Valentina’s wrist. “Something’s happening.”
“Can you stand up?”
I shook my head.
“Eva? You in there?” Zach cursed when the handle wouldn’t yield to him. “Why is this door locked?” His voice was now addressed to someone behind him. “Where’s Valentina? Jesus Christ, it’s almost time.” He took off down the corridor.
“Valentina, I can’t go out there.”
She blanched. “Show me where it hurts.”
I showed her where the pain was. “I think my appendix is about to burst or something.”
“That’s not your appendix.”
Thump thump thump on the door. Zach was back. “Open the fucking door, Eva, it’s practically eight.”
The pain eased. I released Valentina’s wrist and told her to let him in. She rearranged my skirts for modesty and unlocked the door.
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“I can’t go onstage,” I said when Zach blustered in, unwelcome as a wasp.
“What? Why not?”
“You’re not sick. It’s stage fright. Get up.”
“She is sick,” Valentina insisted.
Konrad stuck his head into the room. “Eight o’clock,” he reminded us, then spotted me in a heap on the floor. “Superb.”
Zach shut the door on him and turned the key in the lock. “I’m not canceling the concert, so I don’t care if you can’t play, Eva, you fucking have to.”
Alarm was rising in the corridor like the water level in a sinking ship. I waited for another wave of pain, but none came. Strange. As if it had been listening. As if it cared about me and said, Okay, I can wait, but not for too long, mind. I lifted my face. “It seems to have stopped,” I said cautiously.
Zach helped me to my feet before I could change my mind. “Valentina, go organize the others.” She grabbed her violin and left. The ache was still there, but now the fear was more immediate. Fear conquered pain. Applause down the corridor as the others filed onstage. Zach put his hands on my shoulders and chanted words of encouragement. The usual stuff about my gift, his faith in me. He armed me with my violin and bow.
Panic surged as I stood in the darkness behind the stage door—a few seconds of my heart pumping so hard and so fast that I thought I might collapse. I watched the group onstage through the glass panel. Valentina sounded the clarion call, concert pitch A. The note swelled as each instrument joined it, then it died away. The audience coughed and settled. Zach pointed his baton at me.
“Don’t leave me standing out there like a fuck, Eva.”
“I mean it. Don’t do that to me.”
“I won’t.” He didn’t look reassured. “I won’t,” I said again.
The door guy pulled the door back and Zach strode out. He gestured at the orchestra it had taken him three years of begging letters to found, and this newborn orchestra of his rose to its feet for a maiden bow. There was something marvelous about it.
Zach stepped onto the podium, took his bow, then turned my way.
“Go for it,” the door guy said.
The first drink after a performance goes straight to your head. I raised my glass to my lips, but my glass was empty. I didn’t recall emptying it; not a problem. I held it out and Zach refilled it. We toasted ourselves. Though—apart from my dear friend Valentina—I barely knew the names of the members of this new orchestra, I loved them all. This was no overstatement. I felt a very real love for each and every one of them right then, and I believed that they loved me back. It was not a love characterized by its longevity—we’d be sick of one another again in an hour or so—but it was love nonetheless.
I knew, somewhere in the back of my head, that I was wheezing, but it didn’t matter. Our reception mattered. The board of directors and their words of appreciation mattered. The crystal chandelier and ornate plasterwork mattered. It was important to make note of them and shore them up for later. During the long hours of solitary practice ahead, such memories would sustain me. We toasted ourselves once more.
I felt warm. In fact, I was a little hot, and then I was as quickly cold. I looked up at the domed glass ceiling and saw that it had begun snowing again. The snow collected at the apex and slid down the curved glass in segments. I shivered.
“Yes?” I turned around, smiling. It was the theater operations manager. The sight of him was disheartening; he had the manner of a funeral director. Although he’d known me on and off for several years now in various incarnations, all of them more humble than that of soloist, he always used a title when addressing me, and he always used it mournfully, as if it grieved him. Ms. Tyne. It was an apology, a signal that something unpleasant was about to occur. How quickly the anticlimax had set in.
The room flickered. I glanced up at the chandelier in time to see a bulb fizzle and expire. The jaundiced light drained the color out of things. The floor lurched and began to descend, as if we were in a huge elevator. I steadied myself against a chair.
“Ms. Tyne?” the manager repeated, this time touching my arm. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” I shook my head. No, I wasn’t at all sure. The pain in my gut was back.
“Could you please take this?” I handed him my glass. “I’ll be fine in a moment. I just need some air.”
I pushed through the room, excusing myself and apologizing. “Ms. Tyne, Ms. Tyne,” the guests muttered in my wake, and some of them were saying “Eva Tyne,” which was worse. I plunged through the double doors and hurried downstairs to the restroom, shutting myself into a cubicle. Over and over I vomited into the toilet, getting it on my hands, my hair, my dress.
The door to the restroom opened. Two women came in, no, three, discussing the performance. I retched again and the voices fell silent. “Please,” I implored the partition, “whoever is out there, can you find me Valentina, the concertmaster?”
“Someone’s had a bit too much to drink,” commented one of the voices.
“I’m not drunk. Go back upstairs and get Valentina. Blond hair, very pretty.” Not a sound out of them. “Hurry,” I begged, and threw up again. The last of the champagne. Fizzy vomit.
There was a stupefied silence, then the doors clattered shut. I sat back against the cubicle wall in unbelievable pain. Blood. I moaned at the ceiling. I couldn’t look at the blood, couldn’t climb off the ground to escape it. The restroom doors opened again.
“Get me an ambulance.”
There was another blast of pain, and as I cried she ran out of the place. God bless my fleet handmaiden, my Mone;gasque angel—she did exactly as asked. Within minutes we were out on the side lane with the rats. The icy air against my bare skin was a shock, like being hurled overboard. I was bundled into the back of the ambulance that would take me the few blocks to the hospital.
The medics didn’t shout at each other as I’d imagined they might. They were efficient, kind. Valentina stood by, the blue light of the ambulance flashing across her stricken features. She looked Edwardian in her black satin, she looked spectral. I didn’t want to let go of her hand. “Tell them I had a headache,” I said, and she nodded vigorously. Tears were streaming down her cheeks too. The worst of it was almost over, though I didn’t know it then.
The stretcher was locked into place and we raced off. I was still wearing my red silk evening dress. I kept my eyes on the dress. It was important to concentrate on it, on how well it suited me, how pretty I felt in it. The stains on the silk, had the people upstairs glimpsed them, could easily have passed for splashes of champagne.
Copyright © 2006 by Claire Kilroy
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Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Women musicians -- Fiction.
Violin -- Fiction.