The Cello
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Freckled"
Originally featured on 10-04-2009
As part of our series "Falling Into the Abyss of Wordiness"

Margaret always liked Christmas and its entitled presents. Home from college for Christmas, she wanted to take it all in. She presented her mother, Anne, with a list every year and her mother liked gathering the things. She also liked watching Margaret as they shopped together, watching for things that Margaret liked but wouldn’t buy for herself, things she could add to the presents that were on the list. There were elves made of waxy chocolate every year, placed carefully in embroidered stockings from the Dollar Tree. Her mother felt better when there were plenty of presents under the tree for her children and she wrapped them carefully in what she had chosen as age appropriate wrapping paper. This year had a neon pink and black theme.

Margaret’s mother and father announced that they were getting a divorce three Tuesdays before Christmas. The next week Margaret announced that what she wanted for Christmas, more than anything, even if she got nothing else, was a cello. She liked the idea of its low tones. Like a violin, but without the female, high pitched grating tones. Something to make her feel less present in the house with its urine smells and old carpet.

Anne, being not particularly good with musical instruments, struggled to find the money in her part time paycheck. Margaret’s father relied upon her to do the shopping and usually stated on Christmas morning, “these are from me too.” with a big smile, and arms out for a hug. Anne resorted to Ebay, having visited several local music stores, urging her old van to make it to one more metro destination after another. Unsympathetic salespeople had given her different price points, and looked at her judgingly in her snowman sweatshirt. Anne walked out, unable to get what she wanted.

Ebay was better though and there were several options, the ones from Asia didn’t have much of a description, but she did the best she could, and one soon arrived, four days before Christmas.

When the gift was opened, Margaret ran her hands over the body of the piece, feeling the particleboard instead of real wood and it made her ache a little. Anne watched and her smile was a mask, but with a backdrop too, of a crying girl.

Margaret’s boyfriend tried to string the thing on Christmas morning as they all sat in their pajamas and he broke a string, and this hurt Anne and her effort, but she made coffee instead of watching. The pegs wouldn’t stay in place and the wood seemed to be made of cardboard, and the disappointment was obvious and unspoken. Anne said they could take it to the music store, and have it tuned, and that it would be better.

And they did, and 120 dollars later, which Anne quietly paid through a check sent with Margaret, it still wouldn’t hold a tune, the strings obviously slack, but Margaret pretended it did and rubbed resin on it, at the music store’s suggestion. She took it back to college with her and let it sit in her closet for one and a half years.

One day she looked at it and it burned. The way it was a weapon and the way it hurt Anne both in its origin and in its place in the closet, never played, the pretty thing. She sold it the next day, for fifty dollars to a man who worked in the library. Used the money to buy groceries, expired things from the outlet store.


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