David drove to a forest outside of town, because it was about to rain on a Wednesday. Tires licking and spitting gravel down the highway. It was gray and white and black and moist. Autumn trees. About a year ago, outside of Bert’s music shop, Charlie had asked him come.
“Hello,” Charlie had said, standing right in front of him, blocking the store door. The old man just stared at David’s chest—bent wrists and making hamster hands.
“Hi,” David replied looking at his hair, which stuck out from either side of his head like small wings.
Glazed eyes and a sniffle.
Uhh ... David turned to walk around, but the old man fully bumped into his side, probably’s blind. “Oh, excuse me,” David said, and he tried walking around, but the man was trying to steal his keys clipped to his belt loop.
“Hey, what the.” I can’t believe this old man is trying to steal my—“Please. Sir, please let go.”
The man stopped fidgeting at David’s waist and looked up at David. Craters on the moon. “Do you play your violin on Wednesdays? Of course you do.”
“What?” David said.
“I think you’ve got enough gusto to do it. Would you play the violin for me? Not right now, but if I paid you five-thousand dollars?” he just stared at David’s chest again. Hamster hands.
David wasn’t sure if he could take this guy seriously. Seriously? “Did you just try to steal my keys?” he said. Rorschach test.
“I think that is besides the point, and how about the rain?” He said looking at the clear blue sky.
“What?” Alright. David tried to walk around, but the old man grabbed his hand. Catching fireflies. And he hobbled David to his old Fiat. He opened the back trunk.
“If you’ll just pay attention,” the old man said, “If you’ll just look here, please.” The man said shaking a wad of cash at David, like a handful of summer leaves. David swallowed and his ears crackled like paper. Rotation.
The old man emptied his hand and closed the money-stuffed briefcase. He snapped it locked and then looked at David’s chest. Goat’s eyes. In the trunk David saw two violin cases. The old man handed him a book.
“There. Now, if you’ll read this,” he said, lifting a violin case out of the trunk, “and take these two violins, then I will see you in the forest outside of town the first time it rains on a Wednesday in the Fall.” By now he was setting the second violin down at David’s feet.
David flipped through the book. Aspen green. It had no hard cover and looked handmade. The spine of the book was a white placket—pages sewn to it with waxed yellow string. Tea-stained. The pages had hand-written paragraphs and diagrams in black ink, with an occasional watercolored picture of clouds or trees. The pages crinkled as he fanned through them.
“Now if you don’t mind,” the old man said as he sat in the driver’s seat looking at David through the rearview mirror, “I’ve got another project to attend to.” And he started the car.
“Wait.” David quickly jumped out of the way. This guy’s serious. “You can’t just promise me five-thousand dollars and leave.”
“Alright,” the old man said, “then come take a seat,” pointing to the seat next to him. Tweed fabric.
David shut the trunk for the old man, grabbed the other violins and went to the passenger side. He opened the door but didn’t sit down. “Okay... so, how do I know you’re going to pay me?”
“Page seventy-nine. Any other questions?”
David looked at the book. He looked at page seventy-nine, which had a signature down at the bottom and an embossed seal. David looked up at the old man. Fiddler on the Roof.
“Page seventy-eight explains how to fill out the contract.”
“But you haven’t even told me what to do?”
“I told you to read the book.”
“David,” the old man said with small tight lips, “I want you to play the violin for me on a rainy Wednesday in a forest in the fall. That’s it—page three. The book explains what I mean by rainy—see page ten—Wednesday—on page seventeen—fall—refer to page twenty-five—and forest—which starts on page fifty-nine and includes the illustrations of the trees. One violin is for practice—on page sixty-six—and the other is for the performance—on page ninety-four. If you sign the contract and keep it, then I can promise you five-thousand dollars. If you don’t then I would like my book and the violins back—just give them to Bert in the store. Now, if you don’t mind, I do have an appointment to get to.” He stared at David’s chest with a gaping mouth. He put the car in gear and started to slowly creep backward. “Thanks, David. I knew you could do it. Do what you like with the practice violin once you’ve practiced, and you don’t need to worry. Rain isn’t as unpredictable as people say it is. So, try to be there right when the rain starts. So long.”
And by this time David had moved out of the way, and the old man drove off with his passenger door still ajar. A winged nut.
David wondered, as he drove down the highway to the forest, if he would see Charlie behind him on the road with his door still ajar. He looked up at the clouds and they looked heavy. About to give birth—the water about to break—and contractions of lightning in the sky. Thunder is probably what blood sounds like. A baby ejected from the womb. A mother breastfeeding. Atmospheric pressure. It was October, a whole year after they had met, and his car window was open—cold air being shaved off the cold atmosphere, mixing and swirling with the car’s hot air on full blast. David was continously on the cusp of a cold and warm front. Charlie hadn’t specified what to wear, but David had three layers over his chest. And he looked at the second violin in the seat next to him, still unplayed—an hollow womb. It was exactly like the first one that he had used to practice with, only it wasn’t sun-warped or frost bitten.
When Charlie’s car was completely out of sight David called a friend who was studying for law school. He said the document seemed legit, from how David had described it, but what did he know? And Bert at the music store knew the guy—Charlie. He said that he had never met a more honest man. “I never did regret doing what he asked me to do. Took me two years, but... Well, I wouldn’t pass it up, David,” he said and then refused to say what he had done. Bert just laughed as he grabbed some new violin strings behind the counter for David, listening to his story.
“Wait, how did he know my name?” David asked. And Bert told him that Charlie goes to nearly all the music events at the college, and that he probably saw David performing or something. Nocturnal eyes.
David got home and carried all three of the violin cases into his room. Saturday meant the apartment was deserted. Ice cream. He immediately checked the weather. Slight chance of rain on Wednesday. A ticking clock. No time to waste. He started reading the book. The man was thorough! Diagrams, pictures, charts, graphs—he had approached this in a seemingly scientific manner. Fall started at seven:thirty-five on September twenty-third and wasn’t over as long as there were “at least two distinct colors on two different trees, and as long as the temperature was not below freezing, which for the sake of this project we will define as zero degrees celsius.” He based the date of the first day of the fall season on a unique average–the day and time that he had discovered the first fully changed leaf on a tree. The equations of the averages were figured with words instead of numbers. There was a chart that had all the Fall precipitation numbers from the past five years. One year the chart ended on November seventeenth, one on November twenty-eighth, two in December and there was even one that was labeled “November thirty-first [sic].” David looked at the watercolored pictures that illustrated what Charlie meant by “at least two distinct colors on two different trees,” and looked at other illustrated definitions of things concerning trees and clouds. Toward the back was the violin music that he was meant to play, which was also handwritten. But beside all this, the thing that David found most interesting were the instructions for the first violin—the instructions on how to practice.
“He wants me to practice in the shower?” he said out loud and then laughed. In the shower. David’s eyes glazed over as he thought about it and then tossed the book on his bed and grabbed the violin labeled “practice.” He set up the music and put the instrument to his chest and chin and then let his arm move and his heart beat.
The music started slow, like a summer drone. The sun that slipped through his window created heat convection currents and swirled the winged dust. David kept playing, sight-reading and walking through the piece. Trees. Then the dynamics changed. The clouds outside in the sky shifted, and wind blew samaras across the parking lot, and a leaf got stuck in the rims of an old chevy camaro with chipping yellow paint. It looked like it had dried up and fallen out of a tree. And David finished the song and liked the sound of it. He went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, and his eyes glazed over as he thought about it.
When he finished his sandwich, and after he had practiced the piece a few more times, he took the violin in the bathroom and took all his clothes off. He stood in the mirror holding the violin and looking at the small tuft of hair on his chest. White invisible pores. He shivered. Can’t believe I’m... David set the violin down, threw on a towel and then went and grabbed the book. It didn’t say anything about playing in the shower naked. In fact he was going to play for Charlie—definitely—with clothes on. Might as well practice that way. He laughed and tossed the book down on the bed, put his clothes on, and then stood in front of the mirror again with the violin–clothes and all. Cotton pores.
David turned the shower on. Colder than normal, kind of like rain, and then he stepped in with his back to the spray, holding the violin aloft—arm like a branch, and the water changed the color of his cotton-gray shirt. Beach waves. And he stood there a moment and then turned and played the song, letting the water fill his pockets, and letting the water weigh him down, with it all stressing the skin above his pelvis and hip bones as the heavy denim tried to fall off. A peach tree bent over with organic juice in fuzzy vacuoles. An orange leaf. Fire. And he played the violin, and all the blood in his body drew inward, the cold weather too much—hypodermal and hypothermal at odds—and the hair follicles shivering at the roots, and his pacinian corpuscles counted the vibration of each spray—violin, fingers, chest, shoulders and throat—and he turned the water off, shook the violin, and he took his wet clothes off and laughed. He stood in the mirror—shivering—again looking at his tuft of chest hair, which wasn’t much different than the hair in his bow, and he dried himself & got dressed in dry clothes and set the violin outside somewhere in the sunlight to dry.
And now, as David drove to the forest, he worried if Charlie was going to be there. David couldn’t remember how old he was, how bent over he was. He had trouble envisioning him and the cane he was holding. He couldn’t remember how leathery his skin was, if his eyes looked like he had a bad liver or something. Yellow. It wasn’t the man’s car, the man’s integrity, the man’s desire, but it was the man himself that he worried about. Christ had said that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Interesting that he said this right before he had died. That description seemed to fit Charlie to a T.
When November passed without rain on a Wednesday, and there was no more color on the trees, David lost hope. Cloudless skies.
“I told you,” Bert said, “I told you that it took me two years to follow up with Charlie. He doesn’t forget, and you’ve gotta keep your end of the deal.”
“And you gave him the contract I signed?”
“Yeah, and you’ve still got your copy. So, you’re set.”
But David wasn’t so settled. He took Charlie’s book home with him, during winter break, and read it through a second time. David returned to school and found himself looking at the warped practice violin. And after the excitement of a new semester wore off David found himself early one Saturday in the forest, which Charlie had mapped out in the book, practicing his own recitals. The frigid air treated David’s finger-blood like a dandelion tuft—blowing it back into the more open spaces of his body. On Sunday, as he silently sat in church waiting to take the bread and water, he hid his chapped and bleeding knuckles and stared at his palms instead. Crucified. When he was offered the bread David didn’t look high enough, but instead just glanced at his neighbor’s chest and took the tray.
By the end of January David asked Bert if he would fix the warped practice violin.
“You’d probably be able to get a whole new violin for the same price it would cost to fix this one,” he said.
“Sure, I’ve got a couple here in the store, or you could probably find some online.”
“Oh, well... I was just wondering,” David said, and then he went home and read the book Charlie gave him.
By February David was wondering how to get a hold of Charlie.
“I’m not even sure if Charlie is his first name,” Bert said. “Honestly, the guy doesn’t chit-chat much. It’s all business.”
“But hasn’t he been in the store recently?”
“Nope. Last I saw him was when he bought the violins for this project he’s having you do. Even when he had a project for me—like I said, he keeps to himself.”
“What was your project again?”
“I swore I’d never tell a soul. It’s a little too personal, honestly. I wrote the whole experience down—it’s the only thing I’ve ever wrote. But like I said, David, I never did regret it, and Charlie kept every last bargain he made. I wouldn’t worry so much if I were you. You said it was in the Fall right?”
“Then just wait till the Fall. Look, there’s no use getting all caught up with yourself. Move on.”
But David didn’t move on. He started to write his own songs for nature. It consumed his studies. He spent hours searching for any violin song that had to do anything with rain, or with snow, or with Fall or Winter. Every Saturday he found himself hiking and playing his own violin on a mountain trail, or when the moon was rising, or next to a campfire he built himself. Locust & honey.
He even paid Bert to fix that practice violin so he could play in the snow one morning. Snow is softer than a shower. And David slid his bow back and forth in the dark and white pre-morning sky. And the snow fell in flakes, settling like a man or a woman who has been cooped up in a cloud—come down to open up, to lie down with his or her arms stretched out—prostrate—as angels are laying down the white purity, laying it out on every branch and rock as if in preparation for God to visit. And David felt that if he waited long enough in the snow, playing like that, undisturbing it, not even brushing off his shoulders or head, then maybe—just maybe—God would visit him with fire, and the snow would melt, and it would baptize him, immerse him in the frequencies of sound and water.
And when the music had stopped, and when David closed the door and sat in his car, and when the windows fogged up, and when a drop of water dripped off his nose, and when he finally started the car, and when he left the forest, and when he drove down the highway, he realized there was more to this than five-thousand dollars, there was more to this than rain on a Wednesday, there was more to this than the face of an old man that he couldn’t remember, there was more to this than violins and music and a handmade & handwritten book, there was more to Charlie’s staring than just his chest, there was more to the chest than just his heart and his lungs, than blood and oxygen, than pulses and breaths, than water and blood, than in & out and around & around again.
And David went back again in the Spring. He went back there the first day that it rained—dropped everything when it was above freezing and raining. And he wrote the day down in a seemingly scientific way.
And David wrote every rainy Spring day down in his own book. He wrote down the second time it happened and the third. He checked the temperature. He wrote down the time. He wrote down how it felt, and how it smelt, and how it pelted the roof and his car and the sidewalk.
And David smiled in the car while he wind-surfed his hand out the window as he drove down the highway. He took the exit and eventually turned onto a bumpier road. He reminisced on all those summer days that he had practiced and prepared for this day in the Fall and for the rain. Charlie was right. The rain isn’t as unpredictable as people say. Broken barometers. He had recorded and reviewed his own notes and experience. Everything lined up for a rainy day. He was driving down this old familiar bumpy road one last time.
As the car bumped along David saw one rain drop on his windshield followed by a second, and the rain picked up into a steady droll. By the time David had parked his car in the familiar spot it was downpouring. Parked just opposite him was Charlie’s Fiat, headlights glowing and fogged windows.
As David got out of his car a man with a nice hat popped out the driver’s side of the car and yelled over the rain, “Just start playing,”and shut the door before David could say a thing.
David opened his passenger door and unzipped the performance violin case. It was a normal violin with no form or comeliness, and David grabbed the bow and went andstood in front of the Fiat and played Charlie’s song.
When he finished and held the bow and violin at his sides, the man in the nice hat stepped out of the car with a breifcase in his hand.
“Here’s your payment,” he said handing the breifcase to David. “Charlie wanted me to also thank you.” The man walked back to the car.
“Sir.” David yelled above the rain. “Could I speak with Charlie?”
He stopped and said, “I’m afraid not.”
“But I wanted to thank him as well.”
“He’s not here.”
David stared at the man’s chest.
“Before he died,” the man said, “he asked me to wrap up his projects. I’m sorry he wasn’t here to see it through himself. Have a good day.” The man tipped his hat and walked back to the car. He opened the driver’s door and wiped the inside of the windows a bit. He put the car into drive. He drove off. He took his hat off and put it in the passenger seat. He listened to classical music as he drove. He stopped at a red light. He pulled out a notebook and pen and checked an item on a list. He looked at the next item on his list. The light turned green. He drove from a forest outside of town, because it had rained on a Wednesday. Tires licking and spitting gravel down the highway. It was gray & white and black & moist. Autumn trees. About a year ago, outside of Bert’s music shop, Charlie had asked him come.
David woke up and looked at the rain. He wouldn’t be washing windows today. His whole life was centered around the weather. When it was nice and sunny he would drive to a bank or a business complex and pull the ladder off his truck and fill his buckets with cleaner and start washing windows. When it rained he would do his laundry and organize his house. When it rained in the spring his baseboards were spotless, and when it rained in the fall he would do his budgeting for the whole year. His calendar had everday planned for the next three years. Both a rainy plan and a sunny plan. Besides the weather, perhaps the thing that troubled David most was how to organize the salt and pepper shaker in his cupboard, whether alphabetically or by color coordination.
He never was a person for talking. He had graduated from College with a degree in music, probably because it involved little to do with words. It was either that or math. When he couldn’t get hired anywhere after graduation, he turned to window washing, and he threw his violin away.
One day he was washing windows at an office park that had buildings that were three stories tall with almost completely glass facades. He had been washing the windows at this office park for about three years now. A man with an umbrella came outside and began watching David wash windows up on his ladder.
David looked down at him and the man looked back up at him. David went back to his work. The man just stood there at the base of the window with his umbrella out and open in the sunshine bouncing on the toes and heels of his feet.
After about thirty minutes David looked at the man again.
“I’ve never seen anyone wash windows like that.”
David stared at his reflection in the window. He just kept washing.
“You wash windows quite well,” the man said.
“You’ve got the elbow of a violinist.”
David didn’t say anything. He just kept washing.
“Would you mind playing your violin for me?”
Holding his breath, David continued to wipe the windows.
The man had closed his umbrella and was walking back inside. David was left to wash the windows. Back and forth, back and forth, breathing with more wind than before.
The man came back outside with his umbrella, two black cases and a book. “I’ll leave these here for you,” he said, leaving it all except the umbrella at the base of the ladder. “The book should tell you everything you need to know. If you have any further questions my secretary, Sarah, will be able to help. Thanks, David,” he said as he walked back inside again, “I knew you could do it. Do what you like with the practice violin once you’ve practiced, and you don’t need to worry.” He chuckled. “Rain isn’t as unpredictable as people say it is. So, try to be there right when the rain starts. So long.” With that he disappeared inside the office again.
David just stared at the stuff at the bottom of his ladder. He started to hold his breath again. He finished washing the windows and then climbed down. He moved the ladder without moving the stuff. The two black cases looked like violin cases. He just left it there. Except the book. He picked it up and flipped through the book. Aspen green. It had no hard cover and looked handmade. The spine of the book was a white shirt placket—pages sewn to it with waxed yellow string. Tea-stained. The pages had hand-written paragraphs and diagrams in black ink, with an occasional watercolored picture of clouds or trees. The pages crinkled as he fanned through them. The Spring wind blew and it made David shiver.
“I always did love your performances at the college,” the business man said as he peeked out the front door. I’ll see you there when it rains,” and then he disappeared again.
David had closed the book when he heard the man’s voice, and, after looking around in embarrasment, he dropped his eyes to the ground. When the man disappeared, David set the book down and picked up his ladder to get back to window washing.
David always paid attention to his breath while he washed the windows. He never wore a mask, but he was always careful of the window cleaner chemicals, not to get too close, and to hold his breath when he went in closer to clean those tough bits. Bug stains and bird plops.
But now as David was cleaning he was having trouble timing and measuring his breath. He would always breath in motion with his movements. He would breath out when he leaned in to get the edges of the windows, and he would breath in when his hand would glide to the center parts of the window and his body would move back from the window. He had perfected this over years of washing the windows. But now he would get a whiff of the chemicals here and there. Hekept washing windows. He kept climbing up and down his ladder. He kept getting whiffs of the chemicals. He kept thinking about that book, and that man and what he meant by seeing David there when it rained. And he thought about how he would take those violins and put them in his car and go home and read that book, and he would find out what that man was talking about. And he was surprised when it was all over and he was sitting in his driver’s seat gripping the wheel with those two violin cases in the passenger seat.
The car sat as idle as David did. He stared at the black violin cases and started the car. He drove home with the book on his lap.
When David got home he didn’t know what to do with the violin cases. His house was so organized and clean that he could have put them almost anywhere. But he hesitated. He ended up carrying them with him throughout his evening routine. He placed them in the seat with him when he ate dinner. He took them in the bathroom with him when he brushed his teeth, and he tucked them under his bed before he tucked himself between his sheets. He got in bed at eight, like he always did and turned out the lights. But as he couldn’t slow down his breath. Normally he would close his eyes and focus on his breathing, but he was having trouble unwinding. He almost never got wound up. The last time he remembers being wound up like this was when he some random girl asked him what he was doing over the weekend. This was over a year ago, and she said she was going to like have a huge New Year’s party and like he needed to be there. He thought about it while he was in bed, but eventually realized that he didn’t have the girl’s address.
But those violins were actually underneath his bed.
He flipped the lamp on and began reading the book. Diagrams, pictures, charts, graphs—the businessman had approached this in a seemingly scientific manner. The introduction of the book explained that he was assigned to play the violin on a rainy in the forest. The only thing was that rainy day had to be on a Wednesday and that Wednesday had to be in the Fall. The man then began to explain what he meant by rainy, Wednesday, Fall, and forest.
Fall started at seven:thirty-five on September twenty-third and wasn’t over as long as there were “at least two distinct colors on two different trees, and as long as the temperature was not below freezing, which for the sake of this project we will define as all birds having flown south.” He based the date of the first day of the fall season on a unique average—the day and time that he had discovered the first fully changed leaf on a tree. The equations of the averages were figured with words instead of numbers. There was a chart that had all the Fall precipitation numbers from the past five years. One year the chart ended on November seventeenth, one on November twenty-eighth, two in December and there was even one that was labeled “November thirty-first [sic].” David looked at the watercolored pictures that illustrated what Charlie meant by “at least two distinct colors on two different trees,” and looked at other illustrated definitions of things concerning trees and clouds. Toward the back was the violin music that he was meant to play, which was also handwritten and there were directions to the exact forest that David was meant to play at.
But beside all this, the thing that David found most interesting were the instructions for the first violin—the instructions on how to practice. It explained why the man had given him two violins. One for the performance in the rain, and the other for practice in the shower.
David closed the book and placed in next to himself on the bed. He turned out the light and lay in bed. He fell asleep sometime after midnight that night.
David woke up the next morning, which was a Wednesday, and it was raining. He didn’t go to work. He stayed at home, and since it was spring he had on his rain calendar to clean the baseboards. He woke up extra tired and made breakfast an hour late. His schedule was already ruined. He slowly chewed his breakfast.
The last time his schedule was ruined like this was the time that he accidently bought the wrong coffee at the supermarket instead of his normal decaf. He normally takes his coffee at night, just before bed, and he had trouble getting to sleep. He was later to his window washing job the next morning and had to work late, which threw off the next evening schedule, and he wasn’t really sure how to adjust and compensate.
And now he was at the breakfast table, eating his eggs over-easy and toast, and he was wondering how to make up the lost time. That is if he had to make up the time at all. He didn’t have to wash the baseboards. He did that last week, and he had the violins sitting at the table with him. David looked at his pajamas and then looked across the table at one of the violin cases. He took in a deep breath, finished his eggs and toast and then took the violin and grabbed the book with the music in the back.
He practiced the song in his kitchen in his pajamas in solitude. By lunchtime he had resurrected all the faculties of his violin playing past and had memorized the song completely. He still hadn’t washed his dishes, and he was in the bathroom taking his clothes of to get in the shower.
David had put a mark on the shower handle to mark the exact temperature in which he showered everday. He turned the shower on, a little to the right of that mark, a little colder than usual, a little more like rain. And he got in the shower holding the violin aloft, and he shivered as the water ran down his back. The cold water turned his flesh white and the blood stopped flowing evenly and centrifugally, but it began to flow centripetally at the nucleus of his body, and his heart and his gut and his lungs felt more heat and blood than it had in a while. There was no last time that David subconciously had felt his blood working like this, and he shivered again before he pulled the violin in. And he played the violin. He turned face and chest and body toward the spray and played the violin. His hands became frigid from the cold. His lungs had spasms from the cold. His eyes were closed. His spine was straight and by the time he was finished and dried off he decided to have his hot cup of decaf early today. And as he looked at the window at the rainy day, he wondered why the book had him practice in the shower, and then he laughed about it.
David ate lunch and read more of the book that the business man had given him. He wondered why he had an umbrella on a sunny day, why he had watched David, and if he had been watching David all these years on the inside of the window, and how he knew that he played music at college and he kept wondering these things as he picked up an umbrella and went for a walk in the rain.
Someone said hello to David, and a dog barked at him. He picked a yellow chrysanthemum and rolled it in his fingers for two blocks until he tossed it in the gutter. And then David shook his umbrella out, went inside and made himself some dinner.
Summer rolled around and David was washing windows practically everyday. He had changed his evening schedule a bit to allot time to play the violin.