For Children

Sarah Yeoh-Wang


2009 7th-8th Grade Prose Winner

It took me all summer to save up for that cello. My parents made me get Ava a new one, which was pretty unfair, considering that her old cello had been from the thrift shop. As I saved up, I also had to rent one for her. I was surprised that they let me off that easily, though. Maybe it was Ava's reaction, which made me feel stupider than ever, as she was irritatingly calm and strangely enough, understanding--something that you don't see in ten-year-old girls. Then again, being "gifted" probably tampers with your brain.

I got to name her because my father, wanting to "increase brother-sister relationships," gave me this "important, exciting responsibility." Being three, I decided on something nice: Ava, which incidentally has no meaning. I was named after my father's favorite character in "Star Wars," Cade Skywalker. Unfortunately, Cade means "round and lumpy one," a fitting description of me. It took a while to convince my mother, who wanted to name my sister Melody. However, my father, a smooth-talking businessman, managed to persuade my mother that she had selected the name Ava, a "charming, sweet, and absolutely adorable name." (I quote my father.)

Ava taught herself to read at age two and is incredible at math. On top of her brilliance, she's nice. Everyone likes her. I like her, and she's my sister. When she reached fifth grade, my parents decided that Ava should learn how to play an instrument. I started when I was five and unable to read. My parents took me to a little concert in the park-a "Huge Investment"-and told me to choose an instrument. I sat there, entranced. When my father told me to "pick one already," I pointed to the cellos, which was not the right choice. My father gave my mother a significant look; she turned away. That night, my parents fought. I used my mother's stethoscope to listen.

"If you're willing to pay a thousand dollars for a kid who probably won't even like it, go ahead."

"Just give him a chance. You gave him the choice."

There was a grunt. Then-"He can't even play sports. Can't catch a ball. No hand-eye coordination. You need that to play an instrument."

It was true. I wasn't in Little League and couldn't catch or throw a ball for my life. My gym teacher, who was very fond of me, said that I showed consistent batting and fielding skills, a kind way of saying that I never hit or caught a ball. My father said that maybe his sports gene skipped me so I didn't have to try out for Little League. I appreciated his delicacy on this subject. My mother, lacking his discretion, kept pestering me to try out.

The bed creaked. "Well, fine. See if he wants your old violin."

I pictured the cello and violin-they looked pretty similar. My dad told me he had been an amazing violinist. He would have gone to Julliard if he hadn't decided to become a businessman instead. If his strings had been in order, he would have played his half-size for me, but we agreed that his violin needed repair.

When my parents came to tuck me in, my father had the violin under his arm. It had been polished and looked very fancy. He put it down on my desk, beaming. "So what do you think, Cade? Pretty good, huh? Restrung and everything. It's Daddy's special violin from when he was a big boy. What do you say-every Keigwin boy can have his dad's violin? We'll start a tradition-you and me!" His voice cracked on the last word, and he cleared his throat. I looked at him. Cheer oozed out of his pores, and his forehead glistened with sweat.

"Can I play the cello too?"

"Cade, the violin's practically the same thing. You'll play the melodies in orchestra when you're good enough! The other instruments show off the violins." He winked at me. I considered it. It wouldn't be bad. The violins and cellos we'd seen looked pretty much the same.

"Okay." My dad clapped my shoulder and left. My mother bent over me. I could make out the faintest fragrance, a certain smell I associated her with, although she didn't use perfume. Her blonde hair draped around me like a curtain. She opened her mouth. I caught a whiff of the coffee she drank to stay up at all hours.

"Night, mom."

"Night. Love you."

The next day, my father told me he had arranged lessons with an "old acquaintance." From now on, I'd have lessons every Saturday. Today, I would go for an assessment. My dad said not to worry-it didn't matter that I didn't know anything.

"Okay." My sister sat there, sticking her fingers inside the f-holes of my new violin.

My father had an important meeting, so my mom took me. As I stepped into the room, my mother disappeared. Mr. Levitt was tuning his violin. He had gray hair and wrinkles, like my father. He raised his eyebrows when I opened my battered case. I reached into the crushed plush and pulled out my violin and bow, which suddenly looked shabby. I gulped. He picked them up, testing the strings.

"I don't know if this'll fit you. Hold it like this."

I did so, and he hemmed and hawed. The wood was cold. He lifted his violin and began to play a glorious melody. I watched his fingers vibrating on the strings. When he ended, he put down his violin, waiting for my reaction. Realizing that I was supposed to say something, I told him I didn't think I could ever be as good. He looked appraisingly at me and then smiled.

I got better at violin. My dad was proud, and that made me happy. Whenever I had a recital or a competition, he would say that I reminded him of himself when he was little. Ava would applaud when I practiced, cheering when I bowed to my imaginary audience.


My parents told Ava not to choose a violin. She chose cello. I didn't mind as I would play the melody in our duets. My dad was right.

A while later, we went to Ava's cello teacher's house to practice our newest duet: Pachelbel's Canon in D, a piece Ava had chosen. It's beautiful-the notes rise to heaven. Ava played two bars, and then I came in. My violin soared; Ava stopped suddenly, inexplicably. Her teacher looked at me in a funny way.

"Cade, let the melody shine through." She had a Russian accent; she talked with a lilt, as though she were humming. The second time, I played more beautifully than I've ever played. Ava's teacher still looked at me strangely. I felt something in me shrivel. I could feel their eyes on me.

"Cade, what is the melody?" I heard music and shook my head, clearing it. I picked up my violin and played her my part, trying to meet her expectations. Ava picked up a pencil and circling notes on my music, said, "Look, Cade." I swallowed, recognizing the two bar pattern she had been playing for the past forty-five minutes.

"Let's just leave it here." Ava's teacher stood, smiling at us. "It sounds like you just need some practicing. Next week, same time, okay?"

When we got home, Ava said that she had to go to the supermarket and would be back in an hour or so. Alone, I took out the music and studied the circled notes. They stood out, big and ugly. I flipped through the rest of the music. There were six pages of the same melody over and over again, made different by one thing, the violin, which supported it and made it more beautiful. I felt sick. I turned on the CD player and listened, hearing the same thing again and again. I saw Ava's head bent over my music-her blonde hair so like my mother's hanging like a curtain around the sheets of paper.

Ava's cello case was in the hall. I opened it. The instrument felt delicate, despite its size. I slipped my fingers into the f-holes and let the cello drop. It landed with a hollow sound, perfectly intact. I picked it up and threw it. For the first time, my aim was effective as the cello splintered. As I stepped on the cello, its body caved under my weight, my "round and lumpy" weight. All but the neck and fingerboard broke. I stepped back, took a deep breath and left the house, leaving the splinters behind. I walked around the street aimlessly until nightfall. Passing under a streetlamp, I felt the summer heat rising around me. A mailman stooped to pick up a penny on the sidewalk, dropping his letters. People scrambled to help collect the envelopes as they scattered and soared on the wind as the heavens swallowed notes to countless people.