They called me incandescent.
Queens and counts, dukes and earls alike sat enthralled when I performed, swept up in a sea of notes that would swell and recede like tides. I know how to caress each key of my instrument gently enough to evoke the lull of a ballad or forcefully enough to conjure images of a storm. If you took a chisel and carved an instrument from my very bones, I would still not know it so well as I know the pianoforte.
Today, however, I am not performing for a queen, but for my father and brother.
“Beautiful,” comments my brother after I finish playing. I have cajoled the sounds that float from the under the piano lid into a spinning, dreamy melody, more like a free-form watercolor painting than a precise pencil drawing. “But melancholy,” he adds.
“Melancholy?” I startle.
“Not quite your usual style.”
He would know. The two of us are alike that way—novelties, people whose souls reside not within their bodies, but somewhere in the instruments they play. We have traveled from English parlors to Austrian concert halls since we were children, hypnotizing crowds with our compositions, small bits of our souls we have wrangled into melodies.
“Father?” I swallow, lifting my gaze expectantly.
His smile is indulgent. “As your brother said. That was quite beautiful.”
I exhale, a faint, painful ray of hope crawling through my chest. “I could play it on the road, you know—”
He frowns, thick eyebrows nearly meeting in the center. “We have spoken of this.”
I wrap my arms around myself, conscious of the onslaught of changes the years have inflicted on my body since I began performing, of the swell of my chest underneath several layers of linens and petticoats.
“One more year.” I hate the desperation in my voice. “Please.”
Now my brother is looking at me with an insufferably pitying expression, and my father’s lips tighten with a mix of disappointment and grief.
He doesn’t need to respond. My body, far stranger and less familiar to me than my instrument, has nonetheless exacted its own dues.
I look at my brother. For a moment, I envy the straight planes of his body, the flatness of his chest. Love him though I might, I imagine wrenching the coat from his back, draping myself in the sharp lines of his clothing. I would rule Europe, touring in his clothes, dazzling the gentry with my music.
He would stay behind, learn to run a household, and solve the problem of giving his soul to his family and children when it didn’t even reside in his own body.
And they would call me incandescent.
Mina Rozario is an Indian-American writer and technical product manager. Her non-work hours consist of dreaming up storylines, learning new dance styles, and trying not to kill her plants.