Shrinking Viola

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In high school orchestral hierarchy, First Cello doesn't turn to look back at Sixth Viola.

She only ever spots First Cello briefly from across the sea of heads. She doesn't know his real name, just his rank in the symphony. She can thank her conductor for that. He likes compartmentalising them all as their instrument ranks, so she only knows First Cello as First Cello.

Thursday afternoon rehearsal is an unassuming time of day, and it's hard to kick-start romance from the back of the music hall. The order in strings goes soloists, cellos, violins, violas, double basses and basses flanking their left and right sides, and backwards, a weird by tidy arrangement. She needs to work her way up to first viola to even be at his standard, and that would never, ever, ever happen.

She's 'Sixth Viola', but that's on seniority alone. Talent-wise, she's really 'Sixteenth Viola'.

"Look alive, Sixth Viola, and you'll ascend ranks soon enough." The conductor always assures at her, "Play with more vigour and your performances will improve, trust me. Maybe you'll get Fifth Viola by the end of the year."

The conductor's advice is cyclical and bullshit and he knows it. She's been rooted to Sixth Viola seat since the ninth grade. She didn't have enough money to keep funding her lessons, so she slides between easy key changes, stringent plucking, pulling the notes out until they drag along the ground behind her and out the door.

But she makes the most of it, because Sixth Viola gets a perfect diagonal view of First Cello's quivering fingers in vibrato, when he slides the digits down the string into crescendos and back up again, ebbing and flowing like strips of a sea. When he's singled out for solos, he watches the bobbing of his head, tousled hair, as he lingers after the notes he plays. Technicalities. Dynamics. Masterful at eighteen without even trying.

Or maybe he's seventeen or sixteen or an age between the two, she wouldn't know.

"Just ask him how old he is." Eighth Violin nudges her one day before rehearsal. "It's a fucking two digit number, not a trip to Vegas."

Her only friend in orchestra is Eighth Violin. They exchanged names once but it always felt right to call her by her rank, too, like everybody else. Eighth Violin doesn't really fit in with the rest of the composure, maybe that's why she's Eighth instead of Third. She has a beautiful face, and shovels her eye sockets with charcoal liner, destroys the classic grace with her blackened fingernails and dark lips. Maybe that's why they're friends. The wallflower is the farthest thing from the avant-garde and she kind of likes how different they are.

"I'd rather not."

"Because making heart-eyes at him from the back of the room is a much better way to express your adoration." Eighth Violin adjusts her bow nonchalantly. "You know he's graduating in a month, right?"

"Oh." She stares pointedly, "He's a senior?"

Her friend muses. "I think so. Well, he's first cello, of course he's older than us."

"By a year."

"Semantics. Grab the fish before it swims away."

"That was a shit analogy."

"Whatever, you know what I mean."




Sixth Viola's never spoken to First Cello. As far as she can remember, she's never even seen his face clearly. He never has to turn back to look at his sub-ordinates, anyway, they're background substance to his solos, like her. It's like he's high frequency and she's white noise.

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