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Vera was born into a family of musical prodigies. Her mother did wonders with the piano, and her father played the cello first chair in the biggest orchestra in Russia. It was only natural genetics that made her so exceptionally talented at the violin. She started when she was six and she now was twenty-two and a graduate of the top music school in Russia. So she decided it was time to go to America.
Vera may have been gifted on the violin, but she was not of sound mind. She was diagnosed with depression at age twelve and had anger management issues. The only thing that really held her together was music. If she wasn’t the best at what she did, first chair, the top of the class, her mind went to dark places. She had tantrums and held grudges against those whom she did not perceive as on her side. Suicide crossed her mind many times, but once again, the sound of the violin always brought her back to a better place.
She thought that now that she was out of college, she should move to America, get into the Boston Philharmonic, and land first chair. That’s how easy she thought it would be. Vera unfortunately had something very different coming.
It had been six months, and after many auditions Vera made it into the Boston Orchestra. But Vera was falling apart under all the pressure. Coming to America as a Russian who knows very little English was going to be hard, and she knew that. But she had not expected this much abuse. Everyone disrespected her. People didn’t take her seriously. They called her “the Russian roulette.” She was initially awarded second chair, but couldn’t keep up with the material and was soon defiantly demoted to fourth chair.
Vera came to the U.S. expecting the same treatment she got back home. She was always the best, and now that was not the case. Here, practice did not make perfect. Not even perfect practice made perfect. She wasn’t used to being average, or even slightly below perfect. Sure she was average in the top orchestra in the country, but to her none of that mattered. There was someone better than her. In fact, there were quite a few people ahead of her. Vera decided to wait it out, thinking that she just needed to get used to the American style of music. But as time went on this did not happen. Over a year passed and Vera had not moved up one single chair. She lived in a small studio apartment, she was broke, she had no friends, and she had turned into an irate person. Moreover, her family knew she was struggling. They shamed her for not being like them, and they were embarrassed to have such a failure for a daughter. Seeing as they had no other children, she was their only hope to carry on their legacy.
At this point, Vera had nothing in her life but her music. Her once glistening blue eyes, now a dull gray with specks of faded blue floating in her iris, almost like flecks of hope that she would get a scrap of her old life back. But from a distance, her eyes, ones that used to shine with accomplishment, were now dead. It made her crazy. She mentally, physically, and emotionally was falling apart. No matter how hard she tried, how many times a day she practiced, how many gift baskets she sent to the director, nothing worked. Vera was at her breaking point, and she was slowly becoming insane, with no one there to help her or care what she would do.
To Vera, her plan was perfect. Bullet-proof. Completely sane in her mind. She thought what she planned to do was completely called for. Necessary. If she couldn’t be the best, no one in the orchestra could be. If the director couldn’t see her talent, he deserved nothing. If the audience didn’t appreciate the sounds of her music, they didn’t deserve to listen to anything. And if Vera wasn’t good enough, Vera needed to go too.
Saying that she was too hard on herself would be an understatement. She was beyond the point of therapy, or mental help. Her mind was in another world and no one could bring her back. But no one really cared to.
Through smugglers in Russia, she got her hands on the solution. Powerful, yet small enough to fit into a purse. To fit into a shoe. To fit into a…violin and it would fit precisely into the violin so that it wouldn’t throw off the sound of the instrument. She had planned everything to the smallest detail. she had blue prints of the orchestra stadium, the people who would die, how the bomb would be set off. As she was implanting the device, the violin whispered to her, things like “Don’t do it. Don’t destroy me,” then when she would shake her head and tilt her ear down to the violin she heard nothing. But even in her sleep, she could ear the whispers of the violin, the slow and faint breathing of its melodious voice. “It’s happening. Explosions! Now, now!” she would wake up suddenly and violently. “Was it a dream?” she thought. But she could now not even tell the difference between her dreams and reality. Vera, after these episodes went on for several days, did not sleep.
She decided it was time she got savvy with her plan. At the Boston Orchestra Winter Recital, they would play Vivaldi’s “Winter.” At one point in the song, a specific high note is hit. Only one time in the entire song is this note struck by the bow. This would be at the end of the song, almost when it’s over. At the one point when she struck this not, the extreme vibration of the violin would set off the bomb, killing the audience, the composer, her fellow musicians and herself. Also gone would be the sacred violin she was given at birth. All destroyed. Gone forever. No one would survive.
She wasn’t worried about getting caught, because no one knew. No one knew about her plan, no one really knew who she was. Unlike her youth in Russia, she was no longer the focus. Like the face you see in a dream, but can never remember. Just a person. Just “there.” Maybe her parents would miss her. Who knows how they would even find out?
The days leading up to the recital were a blur. She evaluated her life every day. “If I had just stayed in Russia,” she thought, “this would not have happened. If I were a good violinist, this would not happen. I went from the best to the worst. “ Vera had most likely grown up all her life with high stakes, exaggerations. She grew up with, “You MUST be perfect Vera or you will SUFFER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.”
The night before the concert, Vera lie awake. Not moving, not thinking. Just staring up at her water-damaged ceiling in her dank little apartment. The only thing running through her mind was the thought of her body after the bomb. Blown to pieces. An arm here, a leg there, her head incapable of being put back together. The image did not scare her. It did not make her sad, or upset, or hurt. She felt nothing at this point. She was at peace with her decision.
The next morning she did her regular routine, as if nothing was wrong. If anything, she was more upbeat than normal.
The plan was set, and the bomb was specifically placed in the violin. She had the song memorized, and it constantly played through her head. It would start out slow, and the pace and energy would go up and down throughout the song. The end of the song would be like the climax in a movie. Fast, intense, loud. It was at that point in the composition that the bomb would blow. She found this to be a good thing. She would die doing what she once loved. She had no doubts about it. So she did her makeup, put up her hair, put on her favorite black skirt and shirt, carefully packed her violin in her case, and went to catch the bus to the concert hall.
The ride was unusually bumpy. Most of the time this did not faze Vera, but today she was slightly on edge on the bus. If she dropped the violin, if she accidentally bumped it on the seat, the bus and everyone in it could be blown to pieces and she would not have fulfilled her self-proclaimed mission. The bus ride was painfully long, and she made sure to get off last to avoid being shoved by the crowd. Slowly she walked into the venue. Just then, the director came quickly at her, moving fast. She figured he had to get somewhere, or do something important. She tried to move out of the way to let him pass, but she wasn’t quick enough. His shoulder was shoved into her midsection, sending her back into the wall. He briskly apologized, then went on his way. Almost as if in slow motion, her body was forced into the wall, her violin case sent to the ground. She saw her whole life flash before her eyes. This was it. She closed her eyes tight and hunched to the ground waiting for the BOOM that would follow. When she opened them, she saw a white light but heard no explosion. She opened her eyes to the light of a bright flashlight held by a large man standing above her.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” he asked, shining it in her face. She slowly stood up, realizing that the bomb was not activated. She grabbed her violin, held it to her chest, and nervously nodded at the man. She then rushed backstage hoping to not see the man again, in fear that he was suspicious.
Before the event started, they rehearsed the song many times. Vera, having planned even this part out so strategically, played the song fine every time. Just at the note that was the bomb’s trigger, she held her bow above the string so as not to make contact but not to be obvious that she was not playing that note.
The whole orchestra now sat in silence, instruments on their laps, sitting up as straight as possible ready for the conductor’s cue to start. The audience slowly poured in, and a small bead of sweat was forming on Vera’s forehead. “Its nothing,” she thought, “everything will be fine. It’ll all be over soon.” She flashed back to her childhood. All the images in her mind included a violin in the picture. “Such a waste of my time.” She would say, regretfully reprimanding herself. She found herself to be quite woozy and had to keep reminding herself to keep her cool. She watched the last person enter the auditorium, and find their seat. She studied the person. A tall woman, very pretty, with a bright blazer on that buttoned all the way to her pale, skinny neck.. She mentally thought to herself with respect to the woman, “If only you knew. You are about to die.” She found random faces in the audience and did the same to them. She found a small boy. A large black man. A man with glasses. A girl with pigtails. A very large woman with a bit of a snaggle tooth. A very handsome man. A little baby. None of these faces had any impact on her, except for the baby’s. For a split second she thought about how that baby could be no more than a few months old with a caring mother and father, wanting to expose fine music to the infant at a young age. She thought to herself that later her family members will say, “She was so young. Never even got to live.” And in that split second, Vera felt a brief strong pang of guilt. She could run off the stage. Run off and confess it all. But as she was thinking this, the composer had already introduced himself, the piece, and the orchestra. By this point, she had instinctively raised her instrument and bow in sync with everyone else, and started to play.
She played without even thinking about it. She tried to tell her hands to stop, to stop playing. But they did not. They played on, not even needing to read the sheet music. For once, a million thoughts were running through Vera’s head, and she felt calmer than ever. For once, she cared about something. But now she could do nothing about it. Her fate was decided. She cherished the moments leading up to the song’s climax. And the seconds that went by were too short. She wanted longer. She wanted to start over. By now half the song was nearly over. In precisely seventeen seconds she would strike the note. Sixteen. Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen. The tears started to roll down her cheeks, and another fell with each passing second, each note. She wondered if anyone even noticed. Twelve. Eleven. Ten. She thought of her family. Nine. Eight. She thought of the baby. Seven. Six. She wondered if she would feel any pain. Five. Four. She felt the stinging sensation of the combination of her tears and her sweat. Three. The pain is almost over. Two. Almost there. One.
For the second time that day, she shut her eyes tight, and she thought the next time she would open her eyes it would be in heaven, if heaven was even her destination. But she opened them to the site of the conductor, to the musicians, to the crowd, to the little baby. The song was over. She was still alive.
Her eyes burned from crying and her vision was blurry but she found the young child again. She was relieved the child was still alive, that everyone there was still alive. Her tears were now of joy, relief. This is my new beginning, she thought. For some unknown reason the bomb did not detonate. She didn’t wonder why. She was only relieved that her plot had failed. The conductor raised his arms, requesting that the orchestra stand and take their bow. Vera stood with the other violinists in her row, and looked at the musician to her left. As she shifted her violin to her left hand and prepared to bow, the light that flashed in her face was the last image her eyes ever saw.