The Violin Maker
I sat in the back room of the shop, drinking lemonade whilst he
polished and pulled at the strings of his violins. I did this every Saturday.
We talked about a lot of things but we often sat without speaking as I listened
to him working.
‘There,’ he said, ‘it’s beautiful.’
‘It’s the same as the others,’ I said.
‘It’s not,’ he said, holding up the
new violin, looking at it carefully as he turned it around in his hands. ‘Each
one has a unique sound, its own voice.’ He turned to me. ‘So, it’s not the same
as the others, no.’ He cradled it in his arms and offered it to me, like it was
I put the lemonade down, took the
violin and plucked a string. ‘Sounds like the others,’ I said.
He held a finger to his lips and asked
me to pluck again. After I did, he held still, looking at the ceiling, before reaching
down to turn a tuning peg. He nodded at me, so I plucked again. He smiled.
‘Perfect. Each one is like a child and even twins are not quite the same.’
‘I watched a film with my dad and step-mum,’
I told him. ‘This woman goes to Japan to see a man who can make, like, magical
swords that you can only make for that person, and they’re, like, really
‘A woman with a sword? Does she rescue
a prince?’ he said, chuckling.
‘No, she doesn’t rescue anyone, she
goes around killing people with it. It was revenge for when Bill shot her in
the face. She fights this other woman, who used to be in her gang, and she
pulls her eye out! It’s sick!’
He frowned at me. ‘Was this a cartoon?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘it’s a film called Kill
Bill. It’s famous. I stayed up late and watched it with my dad and step-mum.’
‘And it made you feel sick?’
‘No, course not.’ I picked up a
lollipop. He always had lemon lollies ready for me. He knew they were my
favourites. I dipped it in the lemonade. ‘There’s blood everywhere. She kills a
big room full of assassins!’
‘It’s just you said it was sick.’
I laughed. ‘Sick means good! How old
are you, Robert?’ My dad said Robert was at least a hundred years old.
He nodded and smiled. ‘I’m very old,’
he told me. ‘Old enough to think sick means sick and that is never good.’ He playfully
pulled on my cheek.
I looked at his bushy eyebrows and his
mostly grey-coloured hair. It was too long and curled up at the bottom, near
his shoulders. ‘Why don’t you cut your hair?’
‘My hair,’ he said, touching it. ‘You
don’t like my hair?’
‘It’s so old!’ I said. ‘My dad said
you haven’t cut it for fifty years!’
He laughed. ‘Did he?’ he said.
‘Yeah! And my step-mum said that’s why
you don’t have a wife or that maybe you want to marry a man. Do you want to
marry a man?’
‘No, Rosie, I don’t want to marry a
‘And that men who like marrying men
like things like violins and stuff like that, and don’t like normal stuff.’
‘What’s normal stuff?’
‘You know, stuff like football and Wrestlemania and going to the pub.’
‘Well, Rosie, my dear,’ he said, taking
the instrument and hanging it carefully in the big cupboard full of violins,
‘we’re not all the same and you should do things that you want to do, things
that you enjoy. Doing things that you enjoy doesn’t mean you want to marry men.
That’s also a little bit hurtful, to say things like that.’
I looked at him as he turned to switch
on the kettle. He drank so much tea that he had told me he would drown in it
one day. When I was smaller, that worried me but now I know he’s joking. I
never want him to drown because I like Saturdays. I like watching him make
violins. I want to play one properly, one day.
‘Are you upset?’ I asked him.
‘No,’ he said, turning and smiling. I
didn’t believe him.
When he closed the shop, he walked me
home, just like he did every week. He took me through the park, so I could play
on the swings, through the estate and up to my floor. He always said goodbye by
the lift and never came to speak to my dad or my step-mum. It wasn’t the same today.
I’d definitely upset him.
I was glad when it was Saturday again as I wanted to make sure he
wasn’t annoyed with me. He always knelt down and gave me a cuddle when he saw
me, so I was happy when he did it.
‘How are you, Rosie, my girl?’ he
‘I’m okay,’ I told him. ‘Glad it’s
‘Me too, me too. Would you like a cup
of tea?’ he said. He always asked, although he knew I just liked lemonade. ‘The
‘Yes, please,’ I told him.
He stopped and raised his eyebrows.
‘Okay, okay. Do you have milk and
‘No sugar,’ I told him. ‘I’m sweet
He laughed. ‘You certainly are sweet,’
I’d never had tea before and only said
that because that’s what my step-mum said when she had tea at someone’s house.
The tea was horrible and when Robert was in the front part of the shop, I ran
to the corner of the room and tipped it down the sink. I turned on the tap to
hide it and quickly sat back down.
‘You drank that quickly,’ he said,
when he came back. ‘Did you stop for breath?’
‘You can’t breathe when you drink,’ I
said. ‘I learnt that at school.’
‘How is school, Rosie?’
I shrugged. ‘All right. Boring.’
‘Have people stopped being cruel to
‘Did anyone call you names this week?’
‘What did they say?’
I shrugged. ‘They just said, you know,
it’s weird that my mum is white and I’m black – but I told them – I told them,
that it’s just my step-mum and my real mum is dead. They don’t understand.’
‘Well, it doesn’t matter what colour
you are, or what colour your step-mum is.’
‘They said my mum’s a slag, you know,
‘That’s very unkind of them,’ he said,
‘I’m sure your step-mum is very kind.’
‘She’s not,’ I whispered.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘from what you’ve
told me, she hasn’t been a mum before and maybe it takes time to learn how to
do it. What does your dad say?’
‘My dad works a lot.’
‘So, you spend a lot of time with your
‘Yeah, her friends come around and
they drink and stuff.’
He smiled, sat next to me and gave me
‘Could I live with you?’ I asked. I had
wanted to ask him for ages. He paused before he looked down at me, nestled
against his chest. ‘I could sleep in the back room, here,’ I suggested.
‘You’re a lovely, lovely girl,’ he
said, ‘but your family would miss you.’
‘I could still see them, you know, see
my dad when he’s not working. He could take me out and stuff, it’d be sick.’
‘I’m sure, even if he’s busy, that
he’d prefer you to be at home. The more time you spend with your stepmother …
maybe she’ll change. I’m sure things will get better.’
‘So, can I?’
‘No, Rosie, you can’t, it wouldn’t be
‘I wouldn’t be any trouble, Robert. I
could sleep right here. I’d just need a duvet, that’s all.’
He smiled and kissed my forehead. ‘I’m
sorry, Rosie, your family would miss you.’
I finished the lollipops and drank the
lemonade in a hurry before I told Robert that I had to go early. I told him my
stepmother wanted to take me shopping to buy me some clothes. She didn’t but that
was all I could think of. He asked if I could wait a while as he was expecting
a customer and couldn’t close the shop just then, but I told him that I
couldn’t, so I left by myself and went home. My step-mum was annoyed when I
rang the bell and my uncle had a shower and left without speaking to me. She
was angry with me all evening and only made me beans on toast for my dinner.
When I saw my dad after school one evening, I asked him if I
could live with Robert and he went mad. I thought he wouldn’t mind. He swore a
lot and Sharron swore a lot as well.
‘Does he ever kiss you?’
‘Does he … cuddle you?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘I could sleep in the back room of his
shop. I’d just need a duvet, that’s all.’
‘Did you talk to him about this?’ he
My dad stormed out and when he came
back, he told me I wasn’t allowed to go to the shop or to speak to Robert ever
again. He told me he would kill Robert if he ever found out I had spoken to
him. Sharron knelt down beside me and told me she would stab him in the throat
if he came near me. It made me think of the Kill Bill film again.
Sharron and the woman from the film both had blond hair. Sharron didn’t look
like an assassin but I’d never seen a real assassin anyway.
I walked into the street and sucked in the cool air of the
December night. It was a welcome difference to the air cycling around Primark
and the intensity of the Christmas shoppers inside. Sharron was still in there,
so I had my chance.
I scanned the line of shops until my
eyes rested on the battered violin shop on the corner. I saw the shop every day
on my way to work but I hadn’t spoken to Robert since that day I’d left early.
When I’d seen him in the street, he’d look the other way. If I saw him standing
by the shop, he’d quickly go inside.
Every year, I had put a gift through
the letterbox for Christmas and for his birthday. I never put my name on
anything, in case my dad or Sharron found out and went for him. This year, I
had bought him an orange silk scarf with a violin motif sewn onto it. I knew
he’d like it. I checked that Sharron was not nearby and hurried across the
road. I pulled the gift-wrapped present from my bag and walked up to the door.
The shop was closed and a notice said
that it would not be opening until further notice because Robert had passed
away. The notice was from a solicitors and thanked Robert’s loyal customers for
their support over the years. It was very brief and to the point, giving no
detail of what had happened to him. It offered a number to ring if someone was
waiting for their violin.
I peered through the window and it looked
as if I’d never been away. There was a violin on the counter with a bow next to
it. Robert must have left in a hurry because he would never leave one of his children
out. There was a mug by the till. I imagined the steam rising up from it, as it
always did, but there was nothing there, all was still. I expected Robert to
walk into view from the back room with a glass of lemonade in his hand and beckon
me inside, but he didn’t, he couldn’t, he never would. It was like a painting
with something missing.
I wondered if he’d thought about me
much, since our last words, some ten years before. The last time I saw him, he
looked straight through me as if I wasn’t there. Perhaps my newly straightened
hair had fooled him or my nice clothes had deceived him. Maybe he’d just
forgotten all about me. I caught sight of my short skirt and white stilettos in
the reflection of the window and wondered if he would have approved now I was
just like all the other girls. I didn’t feel different any more. I was no
longer one of his violins.
‘What are you doing by that pervert’s
shop?’ said Sharron.
‘Robert’s dead,’ I told her.
‘Good,’ she said. ‘One less nonce in
the world makes it a better place.’
©2011 Steve Smith
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