14 The smashed violin

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14   The smashed violin

Just as she mirrored my exuberance at the start of our drive, Evelyn now echoes our reflective mood as she hurtles us through the tunnel, unspeaking. Once back up in the afternoon sun, we bomb down the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, across Staten Island and onto unfamiliar southward highways.

As she stares out at the industrial spaces flashing by, Alaia's fingers still clutch her call-sheet. Pretending to doze, I tune in to her thoughts (I'm aware I promised not to, but just one more time) ... and I find you're churning with excitement, Alaia, and a touch of self-admonishment: "I'm tense again—don't be tense. Calm down. Put the call-sheet down. There—it's on the seat now. But of course I'm going to be tense. I'm allowed to be: this broadcast's the biggest break I've ever had. Look at Evelyn, so comfortable up there. She drives the van as if she were wearing it. And look at Jaymi, curled up pale there, asleep. I've never seen him with his eyes closed for any length of time—not even on the sound booth monitor, I think. I like it; it reminds me he's human, like before his sight. I should have known he'd be looking glamorous already, early in the day—it's exhausting. Flawless natural make-up for the camera, of course. Well, I'm quite happy to be un-glamorous for the journey, thank you... Is this broadcast of ours lunacy? I know what my voice can do, and I've seen what that gaze of his does, up on screen: but what will we actually be doing? Just wailing and staring. That's all it is. Now that is just lunacy! Then again..." Your eyes narrow. "Then again—just you wait, you motherfuckers!"

That's more like it! Your head rests back, your eyes close gently, and I see that you're starting to drift away and lose focus.

I slip my vision out of her and open my eyes. That was dangerously addictive, but I'm not going to spy on her again, because I promised her I wouldn't. That was the last time.

Up in the driver's seat with her back to us, Evelyn barely moves. How sunny and curved she is, in her bright orange T-shirt. Her shape makes me think of a big viola, or the violin I used to own. I haven't thought about that in a while. I used to play it under a favourite tree in the woods near where I lived in Nebraska. I'd go to that tree many evenings, alone, to play my violin at dusk; a secret place. One evening when I was fifteen I started to play, then a band of other kids appeared around the corner, who had seen me and followed me. Expecting violence and abuse, I carried on playing, thinking that I may as well do so, since it would make no difference to what would happen. To my amazement, however, it did make a difference, because they just came up and listened, not even interrupting me with very much talk. I should never have expected it, but eventually some were even dancing in the clearing, to my music! After that, there was no more violence or abuse from them, but every few days they would follow me again, and hear, and dance in the clearing at dusk ... until one day a band of parents followed them and found us at our ritual. To my shock and grief, a couple of the parents grabbed my violin and bow, smashed them against my tree, told me I was perverting the other children to make them like me, and if I didn't leave town they would hurt me badly. They grabbed their children and left. I was shattered. Only one woman turned back towards me with a hint of compassion, to say she had heard there were many violins in New York City, so maybe I should try living there instead. Then she hurried after the others. I decided that at last I was leaving there forever. I ran to the home I lived in, put all absolute essentials into a bag, ran away to the highway and stood there with a sign saying "New York". Soon a truck stopped, bound for Boston, and I climbed aboard. Escape at last! Never should I go back. No more need to hide! My mood soared above the truck. The driver was taciturn, which suited me perfectly. Physically immobile but inside aflame, I let the hours and the miles and the land slide by, through the afternoon and onward, as the truck thundered east across the heartland of America, the sun swung low through the giant sky behind us and the shadow of the truck ran away upon the road ahead...

And now this tour van streaks along, some years later in a very different chapter, its engine pounding smoothly as its shadow runs beside us. I seem to feel the turning of the earth and the planets, and enormous hidden powers all converging on the coast here—ghost trucks thundering up the highways of America from every state, intent on some explosive goal I cannot now escape.

Alaia's still asleep. I check the time: in another twenty minutes we'll be there. I rest my head back. Evelyn must have turned on the radio, but hasn't tuned it well. Unadjusted, it sputters through a spree of signals, snatching fragments up or ripping through a no-man's-land between stations: heated talk, bland voices, earnest weather, urgent traffic; surges of classical or twangy country music, cut with advertising jingles; and wastes of crackle, wheezing, cryptic blips or dirty foundry roars. Voice, noise or music, all is random and detached, but makes its own sense somehow. "All the way down the east coast!" shouts a distant, raucous voice. "All the way down the east coast... Come back fat as a rat!... Why be a loser when you can be a winner?..." Another shimmers in, chilled-out, from many miles away: "For the next thirty minutes, I'm going to give you a special phone number, where you can call me, so I can send you a special gift, this week. Get your paper and pen ready, because I have a special phone number..." Montage: truck-stops and isolated diners on the highway, a cellophane wrapper blown across a lonely intersection, stabs of preaching through the babble, unreal city... What exhilarating multitudes of detail in the world, and how prodigious their minuteness of unfolding. A low electric growl like a worm out of mud comes, rises to a hum, to a whine and a squeak, before vanishing to dogs' or even bats' realms of hearing.

A sign—"Asbury Park 5 miles"—streaks by.

Then through the crackle comes a strain of faint piano, transporting me to something so long-lost and forgotten, from my childhood or another's, that it fills me with wordless vivid sadness and magic: hiding in the shade of a square monastic cloister, where a sunlit fountain softly plays and chuckles at the centre, I flit down one long side of the square, on my tiptoes silent past twenty cracked columns, till I near the open door of a chamber in a corner. I creep to the door and peep within. An old man plays on an ancient yellow piano, never looking at the keyboard but up towards the ceiling, with the sweet tender smile of past hopes, past loves and faded glories long vanished, now revisited a thousandth time but never quite recaptured—a swelling, yearning, faded music once acclaimed but now forgotten, played with a lyric grace and fond regret that slows the blood and saps the will. He's the composer, I realise. Around him, collapsing stacks of books and papers, scores and jottings, broken metronomes, bric-a-brac and knick-knacks rise from the floor and up the walls on every side, as if they hold up the ceiling. The old man has lived here a lifetime, clearly. Here he plays, all day and every day; and here he'll die, in one year or twenty, unchanged. Here, in this place of tranquillity, I start to feel my energy and hope draining out, sucked away by a heavy past that isn't even mine: if I don't watch out, I'll enter, settle in an armchair and take root, and then surely petrify and very soon be cobwebbed...

Stirring, I shake my head, bump it on the window and come to life.

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For some nice reviews and interviews about The Imagination Thief, in The Guardian and elsewhere, see http://www.rohanquine.com/press-media/the-imagination-thief-reviews-media/

For a quick synopsis of it, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/synopsis-and-characters-list-the-imagination-thief/

For the 12 Films in The Imagination Thief, see http://www.rohanquine.com/video-books-films/12-films/

For the Audio-book version and the Video-book version of each of its 120 mini-chapters, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/audiobook-tumblr-wattpad/

For links to the retailers, see http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-ebook/ and http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-paperback/

And for its Amazon pages, see http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909

The Imagination Thief is about a web of secrets, triggered by the stealing and copying of people's imaginations and memories. It's about the magic that can be conjured up by images of people, in imagination or on film; the split between beauty and happiness in the world; and the allure of various kinds of power. It celebrates some of the most extreme possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, exploring the darkest and brightest flavours of beauty living in our minds.

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