Greetings fellow poets and writers! Today I’ve written a short piece inspired by an instrumental track for my Creative Writing class (technically it’s a club, but I’m definitely learning a lot). We were supposed to select one instrumental piece and write a story from that. The music? Wallflower by Agnes Obel.
I’ve been listening to a lot of music by Agnes Obel lately, having discovered her from Spotify’s Peaceful Piano playlist. You should all know by now my random music tastes, but I won’t bore you today with how much I love her music! This piece is absolutely beautiful, and was definitely the driving force I chose for the club assignment. It’s also a little bit inspired by the book I’m currently reading (okay, there are several ideas I took from the book) The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. It’s a fantastic book, and I’m quite fascinated with the different elements that exemplify the time period: 1911.
Anyway, here is the story! I apologize if you catch any errors of any sort–it’s not fully embellished, and I didn’t want the story to go on and on forever. Please let me know what you think of it if you can!
Margaret tiptoed softly down the hall, the wooden panels gentle against her padded feet. It was half past four, and she had just finished her arithmetic for the afternoon. She let one hand trail against the wall beside her, the wallpaper smooth, but not the silky smooth or the soft smooth. It was rather the kind you might feel when you place your hand against wrapping paper or plastic, for of course that was what it was. She didn’t generally like that feel of smooth. It made her want to clench her hands and bite her lip and scratch her nails against a harder surface. The feeling of plastic was one she disdained. It was a strange dislike, but Margaret didn’t care much for worrying about it at that moment. What she felt in her ears was far more significant. The muffled noises of elegance were streaming from the room down the hall, as if a curtain was gracefully being dragged out, but in cut up sheets, for the notes were not one constant string, but short notes that rang out in intervals. Margaret’s heart began to beat a little faster—perhaps the longing songbird within her had heard its calling and was restless to break free, so it flapped its wings a few times. She knew it could not break free, however.
The cello with its majestic, deep hum, enthralled her. But it was the marrying piano that lowered her joy. She knew who would be playing piano: her sister, Emily. Emily was magnificent at piano, always practicing diligently every day from dinner to evening. Margaret would watch with such extreme fascination, her eyes trying to follow Emily’s fingers as they danced along the keys. But it wasn’t such a dance as one you’d might think—it was graceful, always graceful. Her fingers weren’t bopping up and down, slamming against the keys like the men would do in the club down the street. Margaret didn’t like that kind of dance; it was too fast. When Emily practiced or performed recitals on Sunday evenings, Margaret would imagine a ballet moving from her fingers to the keys, but Margaret didn’t know music save for what she heard, so she always struggled to define it in words. She neared the edge of the door to the room. The deep cello that intertwined with the keys, or rather led those higher notes into a coupled number, was what made the songbird within her beat its wings harder.
That would be Mark.
Mark was the boy a few doors down, but perhaps boy wasn’t the proper term. He was anything but a boy. Rather, he was a gentleman, and a real man at that. At twenty-one, he had strong arms and a set jaw. His laugh was as deep as the cello from which his music flowed! Margaret knew from the day they met, many years ago under the apple tree outside her house, that he was the one she would marry. Naturally, that thought probably never even crossed Mark’s mind. It’s not as if he ever showed any feelings for Margaret; she was just the younger sister with whom he shared fragmented conversations. She admired him for his pursuance of his passion. His father didn’t exactly appreciate Mark’s constant focus on music. Margaret recalled hearing from her mother, who had been talking quietly with her sister one day, that Mr. Kotcher was not pleased with the route his only son was taking. He was needed to run the family business of course. Oh, it’s like anything a man must do! Run a business. Margaret couldn’t stop hearing such nonsense. What if a man was not a business man? Was this to be the immediate cause of disownment? The girl knew Mark was on uneven ground with his father already, but if he were to turn to a career of music, that would be just about enough for Mr. Kotcher to blow his top.
She couldn’t understand why his older sister Lily couldn’t run the business. She was the smartest woman Margaret had ever met, and a true mathematician at that. She had spent a lot of time at the shop overseeing small things, like unloading items from the shipment trucks, or marking down prices—once she even ran the cash register in one aisle. The Kotchers owned a department store on Main Street, and Margaret had been several times herself, but only to see if she could catch a look at Mark when he was working. It was a wonderful store, and Margaret knew from the way Lily carried herself in that store that she was destined to be the head of it. Oh, it shouldn’t matter if a man or a woman ran it. And it didn’t matter, anyway. Margaret was being deprived of things herself.
The music did not cease, but rather increased its speed. The soft and short violin notes, paired with the light piano notes, began to intertwine rapidly into a climatic number, stretching itself with sharps and flats hindering the even flow. It was as if one went rock climbing, and the jagged rocks that made it difficult to climb were getting in your way. But it was beautiful and tragic, as intended.
Suddenly the music stopped—the climber had failed to keep going and had been dropped from existence. Margaret, who was crouched by the door frame, stood up quickly, straightening her shoulders and evening her breathing. Mark’s voice, his other cello, began.
“Wonderful, Emily! I’ve had a grand time, haven’t you?” Margaret wanted to roll her eyes and say something sarcastic, but she bit her tongue and shook her head. Emily loved Mark, probably the same way Margaret loved him. It just wasn’t fair, them being the same age. She was sure Mark adored Emily the same, but neither had the pride to tell the other. The way he played his notes fast and giddy only proved he liked her and liked being there, playing music with her.
Margaret wished she could play with him, but she couldn’t play at all. Margaret had a knack for writing. Day in and day out, she would devour books and imitate their voices as she wrote prose after prose. She drew from everything and everyone to construct stories, some of which she was brave enough to share with her family on Friday evenings during social hour. Her parents knew she would become a brilliant writer one day if she continued to develop, but it just wasn’t the same. She loved to write, but couldn’t she play piano too? Or maybe the violin? No, they would say, you must focus on your studies. Why does Emily get to play, and still focus on her studies? Because she is talented, they would say, a true, fine musician. It’s only because you let her, she would say, and they’d begin to grow pique with her, and tell her to stop. Somedays Margaret would question her yearning to play. Was it only because it would let her speak with Mark more, see Mark more?
Well, maybe not all the way yes. Of course, Mark was the reason she loved music, but she could love music without Mark being there, too.
“Oh yes, Mark!” Emily had exclaimed, her voice soft and sweet, gentle as the sheets hanging to dry outside the window. Margaret wished she had Emily’s voice. “I do believe it is time to go,” Emily continued, her voice breaking a little. “Won’t you come tomorrow, then? We could practice this piece one more time.” Margaret really did roll her eyes when she said that.
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Mark replied, and Margaret wished she could see his expression, for she couldn’t read his voice to determine the emotions behind the words. “Tomorrow I am having…lunch with a friend. From Boston. I’m dreadfully sorry I can’t come tomorrow, but do let me know when we can again.” His voice was still unreadable. It irked Margaret—how she wanted to know!
Just then a flash came beside her, a blur of blue and brown and black, and she jumped a little. She had not heard any movement from the room, but before her was the back of Mark, with brown curly hair, his strong hands gripping the black cello case. The blue (was it Robin egg, she wondered?) was the shirt he was wearing, a simple collared button down. Margaret held her breath. What would Mark say if he saw her? He was reaching for the front door (the room they had been playing in was the living room just next to the entrance), but stopped suddenly, and Margaret wondered how fast she could run to the staircase. No, it was too risky.
He turned around, as if he meant to call back to Emily, but his eyes rested upon Margaret first. Her own eyes widened, mortified, and she opened her mouth to speak. He only put a finger to his lips, his expression scarcely changing, and then called, “Goodbye Emily!” Emily had still not responded to Mark’s previous statement, so she must have only nodded her head then.
“Goodbye, Mark,” came her voice. It was much smaller then, but perhaps that was because Margaret’s heart was beating like drums in her ears.
He then turned to Margaret and beckoned her outside with his finger. Margaret quickly followed, excitement electrifying through her veins, without stealing a glance into the living room. What was he to tell her? Maybe that he loved her all along? She was only seventeen, it wouldn’t be strange for someone of his age to love someone of hers.
“Margaret,” he said quickly, pulling her to the apple tree that sat out front, facing the left side of the house. “Margaret,” he repeated, something lighting up his eyes with pure joy. He set down his cello and raked a hand through his curls. “I wanted to let you know that tomorrow I will be coming.”
Margaret, who had been excited moments before, was now confused. “You are?” she answered back. Of course it didn’t matter, she would love to see him all hours of every day.
“Yes, to ask your sister for her hand in marriage.” The words sharply stung Margaret, but she knew not to flinch. “I’ve already discussed it with both my father and yours, and I’ve agreed to take over the store. Isn’t it wonderful? Don’t tell her, I want to surprise her tomorrow.” His smile pulled back into a larger grin, but Margaret couldn’t even try to reciprocate.
Remembering her manners, she quickly masked her jumbled feelings with a small smile and choked out the words, “That’s wonderful, Mark. Emily loves you, you two will be happy together.” Was that a hot tear she felt? She quickly muttered, “I must go,” and quickly pounded away without looking back.
“So long!” were the words that followed her, but she didn’t turn to wave.
Opening the door with a hard tug, Margaret made a dash for the stairs and into her room. Even though it was silly, she threw herself onto her bed and began to cry. She was seventeen and crying as if she were seven. It was ludicrous, but her scorning mixed with her disappointment and disbelief only heightened the pain to a new level, and she soaked her pillowcase indefinitely.
She clenched her pillow and screamed into it, biting hard on the fabric. All of these emotions she had bottled up for years, a whole decade at that, were pouring out, running out, and she felt no need to write them (as she was often told to do by her mother). What was the use? She wouldn’t be able to see the paper through her mountainous tears. All she would write anyway was how angry she was, how confused she was that Mark was suddenly going to ask Emily to marry him, how she learned none of this until now, how she had fooled herself. What a fool she had been! None of it would be poetic or worth reading later. Though, thinking about writing began to calm her down, and her heart reduced itself to its normal beat. Her face was on fire from the harsh crying, but she was able to sit up and breathe. Her door was shut, Father and Mother were out, with Emily all the way downstairs, hopefully, so nobody heard her. Nobody probably would have cared to listen, anyway.
Was that all that Margaret was? A shadow…a wallflower. Maybe her writing meant something, but it was only something you could read, not hear. It probably didn’t give anyone much of an impact, not the way music does. She wanted sounds, hundreds of violins surrounding her. A trombone, a flute, large noises—the drums, the crashing of cymbals! Anything to get this idea out of her head, this truth out of her head: Margaret was a wallflower, an afterthought.
Oh that was all she ever was.
So there you have it! Thank you for taking time to read it, and I hope you enjoyed the music as well!