It began in a forest, divided in maple and pine, working on stillness before the ax could cut free its song.
And while it waited, it listened. Absorbing the beatings of hooves and wings and keeping them tight inside the knots and rings. Distinguishing the answers of robins from the asking of the owl with all the eager pencils of its limbs. It learned to amplify the sound of rain with leaves and tent it beneath bark and moss and fungiform. It saw how the moon spelled the sun’s baton, how the insects were deflowered by darkness, how the hours recycled themselves in an infinite variation of the same basic themes. And it began to understand, as the years stretched tall its canopy, that music is made in the silences, too. In the sunlight speared deep inside a wood, in the spider’s light and fatal loom, in the rotted logs of yesteryears.
It waited centuries, listening.
And when, at last, the ax struck, it found some relief in the whelping of a wolf, some hills and hoofbeats away. Because it knew, though its vessels were clipped, its heart would pump again.
The man’s name was Stradivari. The master, they called him. A close man, a concentrated man, with hands more patient than a monk’s. He knew the secret of making wood liquid. Of how to destroy one thing to make something more of its essentials. Where to frame the masculine tension of surviving around the female folds of creation. In his workshop, the hands were many, but his eyes had final approval over all he sired. And in May of 1712, he placed his palm on the apprentice’s shoulder and told him to step aside and watch.
When Stradivari finished applying the last coat of varnish to the bleeding wood, he set it aside and took his first meal of the day. The meat tasted of oil and resin. Covered in its childbirth, the instrument drank from the falling light of day.
Many owners laid claim to its pedigree in the years that followed, as if they could be lifted up by association. None were deserving of the gift. The cello sat, forgotten, in the great, empty houses of privilege. On occasion, it was violated by small children, its neck cracked by an Italian duke given to wild social displays. During one harsh winter, it provided needed warmth for a family of mice and remembered—like a memory scratching around in its attic—old roots in a forest floor. Approaching its two hundredth year, it was thrown out, rescued, at the last moment, from an estate sale’s wheelbarrow, its case warped by the rain, neck twisted like a strangled chicken’s. The woman wanted it for a decoration. Christmas lasted all twelve days that year.
Thunderstorms were its only solace. At times the thunder was cracking enough to induce small vibrations—an echo of an echo—inside the ribs.
Salvation arrived in the compact form of a Spaniard with sharp eyes and a physician’s hands. A man so deserving of the gift that the instrument sang for him with as much humility as its long confinement had earned. The Spaniard listened and nodded, placing his ear against the snapped neck, hearing the pure flame of its throat before its song could splinter. His name was Casals, he whispered, touching the wood with Stradivari’s tenderness. And it knew that home had come.
Two hundred years after its birth, it would come to be christened “El Colom.” The Dove. When the ax swung again, silencing Casals, a white rose laid across its strings, in silent tribute to this second father.
So it waited. Until it could be born again.
So it waited. Perhaps, this time, a mother would come.
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