The Glass Orchestra by Valentina Cano

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When I was seven years old, I swallowed a glass violin. It was part of a collection my aunt had in her living room, on a side table. It was covered in crystal instruments. A see-through orchestra that could only produce one watery sound.

It wasn’t like I planned on doing it. My thoughts never landed on the instruments unless they were right in front of me, which they were each time we went to my aunt’s house. She loved perching me on the couch right next to the collection. The thought of stealing one or putting one in my mouth hadn’t ever crossed my mind until that day. I wasn’t an idiot, I knew they were glass and not edible.

On the day it happened, my parents had dropped me off at my aunt’s early, before lunch, because they were going to one of their auctions. They would swaddle me in sweaters, mittens, and coats and stuff me into the backseat of our car to drive me to this downtown apartment, up inside an elevator that smelled of burnt rubber, and into a home on the sixth floor with a sharp-cornered glass dining room table and no television. I had coloring books and pencils, but my hands grew tired after hours and hours, so I would sit in the living room and wait. Sometimes I fell asleep and would wake up to see my mother’s face smiling down at me in the gloom of the approaching night. When we got home, she would show me the listings of the pieces they’d bought at auction and a few days later they would start arriving, crates of paintings or figurines wrapped in bubble wrap that I popped and popped until my father gave me one of his looks.

They’d taken me with them to an auction once, notebook and pencils in hand. The room had filled with people, the smell of battling perfumes making it difficult to breathe, and the noise had increased until it pressed against me like a shifting layer of scratchy fabric. I’d started crying. Compressed tears first, the taste of them on my lips, the feel of them down the back of my throat, like a nosebleed, but then, when they pressed too hard against me, in whooping sobs. They seemed to rip the skin from the back of my throat. My mother had tried to calm me, but once I’d started, the tears filled every cranny in my mind. We’d had to leave. No packages arrived that week and from then on, my parents went to auction alone.

I thought of that day a lot, especially when my fingers cramped up and I had to put the pencils down. I would have liked to go to the auctions again. I was little, that first time, four or five, but I could handle it now. I knew I could.

My aunt, for her part, did what she could during those days. She didn’t have kids, didn’t like kids, which was why I made myself as quiet and still as possible in her apartment. I never asked for anything in her house. Whether I was thirsty or hungry as noon grew closer, I would wait for her to come out of wherever she went when I was at the apartment and offer me something. She had told me over and over I could grab whatever I wanted from the kitchen, but the idea of crossing her silent living room, shoes tapping on the beige tiles, and opening the fridge was enough to press my legs deeper into the sofa.

It was almost noon that day when my hand reached out to the side table. The glass figurines had been a gift from my parents. Something they’d seen at auction on the second day my aunt had watched over me and had bought as a thank you. As with everything in the house, the glass figures didn’t have a speck of dust on them. I’d never seen a maid in the apartment or my aunt wielding cleaning supplies, but someone was taking the time to scrub and polish everything. In the summer, when I could be at her home two or three days, I never saw a stain, a streak of dust, or an unfluffed pillow, and as far as I can remember, I never caused any of them, either.

My hand closed around one of the figures. From its shape against my palm, I knew it was the violin. I looked at it, taking in the delicate grooves that had been carved into the body, the sleek neck with the turned knobs at the end. I’d seen how glass was blown into shape and I could picture the molten, viscous material being pulled and probed by air, one moment the consistency of ice cream and the next a hardened, colorless shell.

The glass violin was already in my mouth. I stuffed it in, the slight weight of it resting in the center of my tongue. It tasted like the watery iced tea my mom made on hot afternoons. The slight, bitter edge of artificial sweetener was there in the grooves of the violin. Without another thought, I swallowed. Like a curved piece of ice, the glass slid down my throat. I felt its cold passage, the years since it’d been created coating my throat. I felt it land in my stomach, though I know now that it was impossible to feel that. Like a clenched fist, it sat on my cushioned interior, resting as calmly as it had on the side table.

The thought that swallowing glass was dangerous enough to send me to the hospital didn’t cross my mind. There was no fear or guilt at what I’d done. All I felt was a relief that seemed to take the top layer of thoughts from my mind, disintegrating it like foam. My arms and legs, which until now had been sinking farther and farther into the sofa, embedding themselves in the cushions, now weighed no more than smoke. No more than the air trapped inside the violin I had swallowed.

Things would be fine, I knew, because I had a piece of time inside me. I was only seven, but the violin was at least two hundred years old. It would seep into me, the glass melting down into a ribbon of liquid that would entwine with my blood. No one but me would know. I would turn into a work of delicate art and no one would be able to say how.

My parents came to pick me up a couple of hours later. Neither my aunt nor they noticed the violin missing from the side table. I moved with care as we walked to the car, afraid to hear the crack that would mean I was back to being only me.

My mother asked me if everything was fine, the lines on her forehead turning it into a landscape I didn’t recognize. I smiled and nodded.

Everything was fine. Everything would be fine.

Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. Her works have appeared in numerous publications and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. Her debut novel, The Rose Master, was published in 2014 and was called a “strong and satisfying effort” by Publishers Weekly.

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