I’ve already posted two drafts of this short story here and here, both of which my readers were kind enough to critique for me. I think I’ve made progress since the first draft as far as writing style, though I made the mistake of going overboard with weird descriptions in the second draft. I hope I’ve fixed most of the problems in this, the third draft of The Music Went On.
As soon as I entered the plaza, I noticed it.
It wasn’t the usual bombardment of colors: the green of trees and the white of buildings. It wasn’t the glints of sunlight reflecting from cars driving past. It wasn’t the smell of food from any one of the many restaurants beside the plaza that cut so deeply into me at lunch hour. Those sensations were familiar, and my mind passed over them without a second thought. My attention had been caught by the sweet and soaring music emanating from the far corner of the square.
I was already late for my appointment, so I wasn’t planning to stop. Even taking the long way through the plaza would be a mistake, but the music seemed to pull me like a magnet. I changed directions slightly to get closer to the musician.
Almost hidden in the shadows beneath the enormous oak the town council told me would fall on them out of spite, sitting on the same bench I had allowed to take two hundred dollars’ worth of renovations before just posting a sign that said “Sit at your own risk”, sat a cellist. Near the asphalt path before him stood a music stand holding several loose sheets of paper, which his eyes never left. The instrument’s endpin kept sinking into the earth and he kept pulling it out again, never breaking the flow of the music. Perched as lightly as he was on the edge of the old bench, it still sagged beneath his weight.
Almost against my will, I stopped. The music completely mesmerized me. The bow sliding across the strings fascinated me as it continued to weave its beautiful melody. The musician’s fingers, crawling up and down the instrument like a spider, nailed me to the spot. I remained transfixed as the musician’s eyes closed and he forgot his music, improvising within the bounds of the music in ways that I never could have imagined. His bow stroke became wider and his fingers wilder as the sounds became more raw and yet more beautiful.
I shook myself and mentally berated myself for wasting time on this important day. Perhaps it had been a mistake to walk to my appointment after all.
Just as I was about to move on, the cellist made a vicious stroke with his bow and knocked the music stand to the ground. A gust of wind tore at my hair and scattered the papers across the plaza. The music stand shattered when it touched the ground, silver shards sparkling in the dappled sunlight as they bounced, tinkling softly against the path.
The cellist continued to play, rocking his instrument in time with the music.
Again, I was going to move on, leaving the musician to pick up the fragments later, when his bow exploded. It was a soundless splintering of wood and horsehair, and even though the musician couldn’t have possibly played on, the music continued.
Suddenly the strings snapped, that too soundless, as if nothing wanted to disrupt the flow of the music as it grew into an emotional, beautiful crescendo. The cello itself swelled and exploded in the musician’s arms and pieces of wood and metal flew everywhere, glinting as they travelled through shafts of sunlight, disappearing as they reached the shadows again. I shielded my face with my sleeve, too distracted by my own safety to wonder why the music still went on.
When I lowered my arm, the musician and the remains of his instrument were gone. All that was left, lying open beside that battered old bench, was his silver case.
I bent and dropped a small wad of money into the case, wondering if the new mayor, my successor, would have any more idea than I did of what to do when a cellist exploded and his music lingered on.