The Cello Player
by B. Russell

Upstairs, he was playing again. She, lithe and beautiful in her terrycloth bathrobe and wet brown hair wrapped in terrycloth towel, leaned against the guardrail of the fire escape listening to the sweet, resonant sound of cello music coming from the window above hers. She had always loved the sound of that instrument more than any other and as the music resonated she closed her eyes, slipped a hand down under her robe, imagined him there, playing for her.

A few hours ago she had been out at a restaurant with a rich client, laughing at his intended jokes, having drinks with him in the upscale bar at the lobby. Afterwards, tipsy, they went upstairs to his suite where she let him do what he wanted with her. Then he paid the fees, by credit card to the escort service, to her all in cash, crisp hundred dollar bills. He threw an extra twenty in for the ride home. That was dinner, this soot-coated fire escape in the heat of a New York City summer night was dessert.

The music stopped playing abruptly, she opened her eyes again. A few moments later the light went off in his apartment, soon she would hear the sound of snoring and quiet mumblings as he tossed and turned the rest of the night. Silently she cursed him for not letting her finish, crawled back through the window, lay on her silk-sheeted bed, wondering how many nights she could take of one hour of heaven for every twenty-three of hell. It was such a poor ratio.

He laid on his old broken-spring mattress, wide awake, listening to his own breathing. It was such a lonely room when the music stopped. Maybe he was not meant to be a musician. Maybe the cello would stay in its case.

She knocked on the door and no answer. She worked a card into the edge of the door and pushed, it popped open, flicked on the light, no cellist, no cello. She tore through his apartment, furious, turning over furniture, breaking the mirrors. Then she turned to leave and he was standing there, soaking wet, the money fisted tightly in his hand. "I had to. They were going to evict me if I didn't pay." She pushed by him with daggers in her eyes, he collapsed on the floor, crying like a child. "What else could I do? They were going to kick me out..."

He stared at the empty space where his cello had rested, then at the wide open door. He closed it softly.


A knock, later. He opened the door, found her standing, wet from that same rain, holding close a cello case looking remarkably like his.

"What is this?... is that my... how on earth?" he stumbled over his own thoughts, backed away slightly. "You didn't steal it, did you?"

She grimaced. "Of course not. I just found the pawn shop you had visited and bought it back. I hated that place," she said to herself, "It smelled like death."

"But how could you have possibly afforded..."

She gave him a sly smirk though her eyes were resigned. "You are good at what you do. I am good at what I do. Here." She handed the case over to him and there were no more questions for the moment, so focused was he on his child come home. He kneeled, opened the case, found his instrument inside, intact, the way it was before. She had a halo over her head, glowing softly to him in amazing kindness. She was still mad at him.

"I... I... what can I do to repay you?" he said, his frame bent over the cello and he looked up to her. Her face adopted a tone of seriousness, she closed the door behind her, folded her arms over her chest, levelling her gaze on him only.