The violinist

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, a little town was getting ready to celebrate Christmas. Big wrought-iron streetlamps lit the town, with red bows and gold stars tied to every branch of every tree.
When the first shadows of night fell, an old man with a snow-white beard would walk along every street with a long lamplighter. He lit every streetlamp until the small town glowed with warm, flickering light.
It all seemed so perfect. The shops were decorated, elegant people rode in carriages, and smart houses overlooked long, tree-lined avenues.
But in that faraway town, a long time before, everyone had stopped dreaming.
One night it began to snow. A thick snow, soft as a pillow, and slowly it muffled every sound, cloaking the small town in an eerie silence.
That same night, a child asleep in her bed was woken by the distant notes of a violin. She got up and tiptoed to open the window. Ice-cold air thrust into her room, which was heated by a simple stove, but the violin played a melody so lovely that the little girl didn’t move. She rested her arms on the windowsill, closed her eyes, and began to dream for the very first time in her short life.
The second night it snowed again. Once again, around midnight, the faraway sound of the violin woke her. The girl opened the window, wrapped herself in an old shawl, and soon fell asleep dreaming of a shower of shooting stars tumbling behind the tall, white mountain peaks.
The third night the snow fell even more heavily. Long icicles hung from the eaves and the wind was so cold it burned her cheeks, but the girl didn’t feel it.
That night, the sad, solitary sound of the violin made her weep. As she stood still by the window, she heard something she couldn’t give a name to, but it had become part of her world forever and when she finally fell asleep, her slumbering eyes saw a giant fireball snuffed out as it fell into dark ocean waters.
The next day, while she ate breakfast in the big dining room in the centre of the house, she asked her mother: “Do you hear it too?”
Her mother looked at her blankly.
“What’s that, darling?”
“Something wonderful,” said the little girl, not knowing how to describe the music. “Sounds as warm as a summer breeze and gentle as the echo of water. I hear them at night, when it’s snowing, and if I close my eyes I see things I’ve never seen before, as if the sounds take me into another world.”
The little girl’s mother turned pale.
“It’s called music, my child, but it’s a very dangerous thing, and no one in this town has played it for years.”
“But I hear it,” protested the girl. “It sounds like the voice of an angel. Oh mummy, how can something so beautiful be dangerous?”
“Because it makes you dream of things that can never come true. And this, my child, makes people weak. Now, promise me you won’t ever open your window at night again.”
“I promise,” said the little girl.
But when the distant sound of the violin returned that night and danced with the wind, the girl broke her promise. Taking no notice of the cold, she went to the window and with eyes full of hope, she scanned everywhere, through the snow and the fog, seeking what she hadn’t found so far. At last, behind the small skylight of an old, empty building at the very end of the street, she saw the flickering light of a candle.
She had found her angel.
Then she saw a group of men carrying lanterns and she knew, without the shadow of a doubt, that they were also trying to find the violin.
The girl dropped to her knees, folded her hands over her heart and prayed that they would not find it. She prayed softly, as she had been taught, but gradually, without realizing it, her voice changed, grew louder and the prayers coming from her lips became the most beautiful and melodious words ever heard.
Only at dawn, the cold, disappointed men returned to their homes, and only then did the girl stop singing.
She put on her little red coat, her boots and black mittens, and left the house to look for that old, empty building down the street. She walked and walked, and when she finally found it, she opened the heavy wooden door and sat on the stairs, softly singing an Ave Maria.
The violin was silent for a while, then began to play.
Then the little girl got up and, still singing, she began to climb the stairs. She climbed to the top floor, and there, hidden behind some stairs, she found a half-open door. Her heart pounded in her chest and she fell silent, then she entered. The room was so cold and poor that she couldn’t believe anyone could really live there. The glass of the skylight was broken, the bed was buried in strange pieces of paper covered in lines and dots, and in one corner was a table, missing a leg, and on it stood an oil lamp.
A boy stood in front of her in the middle of the room and he held the most beautiful object she’d ever seen in his arms. It was made of dark wood, shaped like a wave and over it there were four strings, which the boy stroked with a long, strange wand.
“Hello,” said the girl, almost in a whisper.
The boy smiled.
“What’s your name?” asked the little girl.
The boy raised his bow and pointed to two round spots on the sheet in front of him. The little girl looked at the letters written above the two dots.
“Re Mi”.
The boy shook his head and with the bow drew first a dash between the two words, then an accent on the “Mi”.
The boy smiled and nodded.
“Can’t you speak?”
The boy shook his head.
“Oh,” said the girl, sadly.
The boy rested the bow on his heart and cocked his head to one side. He was asking her name.
“Marta,” the girl said with a smile.
The boy opened his arms wide and bowed.
“I’m pleased to meet you too,” the girl replied, bowing back.
It was the beginning of something that no one would ever be able to change. Every afternoon, after school, Marta went up into the dark attic down the street and listened to the young violinist to whom fate had denied a voice but had, instead, given him an infinitely greater talent: music.
In the old attic the little girl learned to weep for the mysterious beauty of those sounds, she learned to dance for happiness, to sing with the voice of an angel. She also learned to dream.
Day after day, Remì’s violin brought back to life a world of sounds and emotions that the small town had buried so long ago. A world the little girl could no longer do without.
When the winter grew colder, little Marta gave the young violinist her father’s gloves to protect his hands. The boy found a pair of scissors and cut off the fingers, then put them on, smiled and started playing again. She could hear him at night, when the cold became more intense and the roads iced over. Remì played on, hidden away in the little attic that no adult had ever found, and he gave the girl the dreams and delights that adults had denied her.
One afternoon, as the winter drew to an end, the girl found the attic empty. She returned the next day and the next.
The violin, wherever it was, played no more.
Day after day, for weeks, the child returned to the old house to look for Remì. Then cobwebs began to thicken in the corners and a heavy layer of dust coated the scores left on the lectern.
The girl now understood that Remì would never come back. His secret world no longer existed.
She stopped praying and stopped singing. Soon she even stopped dreaming and became so ill that her parents believed that she would not survive. Marta lived, but she stopped talking. Doctors came from all over the town, but no one could ever explain what had happened.
One day her father found her near the window, her head slightly bowed to one side and her arms curved in a way he hadn’t seen for years. His beloved child was playing a make-believe violin.
“She’s lost her mind,” he told his wife that evening.
“Don’t be silly,” she replied, “you don’t lose your mind for so little.”
Her husband looked at her with tired eyes. “Maybe we were wrong. All of us. That violin stirred a passion in Marta and we’re killing it. If she has learned to love music and to dream, she’ll no longer be able to do without it.“
“It’s made her weak,” replied his wife.
“Maybe it’s just made her different,” said her husband.
The child grew and became more and more beautiful with each passing year, but she never left the house again. She spent her days in front of the window, in complete silence, playing her imaginary violin for hours on end.
Springs and summers passed; autumns and winters passed, but Marta never said a word. The rain fell, then it snowed, and every night the window of her room was left open in the hope that somewhere, a violin would reply to her desperate prayer.
Then came the winter of her eighteenth birthday.
Big red bows and gold stars decorated the trees, candles were lit, and as the first shadows of night fell, the old man with the snow-white beard lit old, wrought-iron streetlamps, one by one, with his long lamplighters.
The girl with corn-gold hair waited until nightfall, then opened her window and for the first time in many years she knelt in front of the stove, folded her hands over her heart and prayed.
Her lips uttered the most beautiful song the world had ever heard.
Gradually, all the windows of the small town lit up. Children of all ages slipped out of bed and ran to hear that sweet voice. Men and women, young and old, threw open the doors of their homes, unable to resist the lovely music, and in the dense forest beyond the town boundaries, behind the bars of a jail, a man began to weep.
He had recognized that voice.
He looked up to the skies, asking the heavens what he should do. Then he wiped away his tears, took up the violin that had earned him ten years of solitary prison, and began to play.
It was the night when the tears of the adults turned into crystals, hurting their eyes so blind to love, and it was the night when the children learned how to dream, lulled by the music they would never forget.
Marta also wept. She cried for the years of emotions lost to reason, her tears falling for a town that lived without dreams.
Those who were enthralled that night still remember a slender figure with long blond hair, running barefoot along the road toward the woods, following the notes of a violin that seemed to play for her only. They remember her voice, fading into the distance. Then nothing more.
The next morning, the small town awoke in total silence.
Marta’s room was empty. Not so far away, in the prison near the lake, the tiny cell of the man who had lived in silence for ten years was also empty.
No one ever heard of them again, but even today some say that on each night when a baby is born, the distant sound of a violin echoes in the valley, and gives the child its first dream, so no adult can ever steal it away.

Written by Claudia Mancino
Translated by Angela Arnone

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