This is a fictional story written by Danielle Komo, a graduating junior at Hickman High School and a student in Nancy White's creative writing class. Komo is 17 years old and is considering a career as a linguist in the U.S. military.
Raising the Phoenix
Golden lakes dotted the Virginian countryside and flowed with the early autumn breeze. From her swing on her secluded hill she could see Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello in the distance. With no one near her, Bethany absorbed the late afternoon fragrance and the scenic view. The soft neutral hues soothed her before her big performance tonight. Bethany was comforted by the natural silence. Every nerve in her body was on edge. She’d prepared and practiced for the past nine years, since she was six, only for tonight. She looked down at her fair-skinned hands. They were clasped firmly yet they were shaking.
“You’re as beautiful as your playing is. You know that?”
The familiar voice startled her. She looked over her shoulder and met with the kind eyes of her suitor. Bethany knew she was lucky that her and her suitor actually liked each other, which was only because Andrew, being 11 at the time, decided to make the most of their will-be marriage when she was not even 1 and their relationship was guaranteed. Over the years, his eyes of a stranger became friendly and familiar to her. Now Bethany couldn't get enough of his brilliant emerald eyes. Forming a friendship unfamiliar to their society, they both absorbed every moment together. This, she knew that most of her friends didn’t have the luxury of and for that she made the most out of their companionship as Andrew had 14 years ago.
Andrew walked up to Bethany, glanced behind his shoulder to make sure no one was looking, and stole a kiss from her cheek. “You’ll do great tonight.” He comforted her and she gazed into his eyes. He took her hands and told her to hold onto the swing’s ropes. “You’re going to do as amazing tonight as President Washington was at leading the national militia.”
Bethany squealed when she flew through the air. As she got closer to the ground, she let go of the swing and landed in Andrew’s arms. She couldn’t say no to his promises and brilliant eyes. He set her down and asked her to look at Monticello. “You see Monticello in the distance?” he asked. “Mr. Jefferson’s a grown man. He’s your typical Virginian farmer. I hear he writes exquisitely, but he has a terrible time speaking in front of a crowd. Yet he owns that ginormous estate and sleeps in the hands of luxury every night. Mr. Jefferson helped create our independence from Britain and has friends in very high standing. How do you think he got there?”
Bethany gave him a playfully dumb look for she had heard this speech a billion times before from her father. She monotonously recited from her mind: “He got there because he used his talent to become a well-represented man.”
Andrew busted out laughing.
“What?” Bethany questioned.
“Nothing, I just adore it when you make things sound like a fool wrote it.”
Bethany gave him a cold glare and came back with: “Well I’ve known the answer for as long as I can remember. When something is continually said to one, that thing stays in one's mind ... yes?”
“Yes. ... So you can fathom why I know you’ll be astonishing in your performance later?”
She uncontrollably blushed at his flattery even though she hated how he was right. Bethany gave him another hard look before she stood up, put her hands on her hips, looked out to Monticello, breathed deep, and declared in a convincing voice: “I am Bethany Thompson and I shall be the victor tonight and shall play so well that even Beethoven would envy.”
Andrew laughed at her child’s play and stood with her as they soaked up the last of the Virginian sun until an authoritative presence startled them both.
They met the wise eyes of Lea, Bethany's mother. “The to-be-wedded are not to be alone before marriage. You both know this,” Lea stated.
The two companions looked down at their feet knowing how right she was about their own transgression. “Ha, ha, ha,” Lea started to laugh at their conviction. “Hurry on in with me before your father finds you two. He won't be as merciful. Then you two will truly behold a problem.” They joined her in walking back to the family manor.
Bethany felt the air thicken. From the side of the stage she could peer out from behind the curtain. She saw the entire theater filled and from what she could tell, in the front row sat the most valued men in the state with their old wives. They all came for the same reason: They want to see the best in the nation, to show the Crown who it was holding back under the oppression it presumably forced on the Colonies.
Bethany breathed heavily. On the far left of the center front row Governor Lee sat with his wife, Statesman Monroe and his wife were on the right of them, and near the end sat Mr. Jefferson. This caught her off guard; she had not suspected someone as wealthy and important as Mr. Jefferson to be present. What is he doing here? This will not go well, I know it, she thought to herself, Who had invited him? Why did he choose to come? Goodness, I'm going to make a fool of myself under the judgment of Mr. Lee and Mr. Jefferson. They're all here to see me and I can't... I don't know how... I'm not well enough... I'm going to die on that stage out of embarrassment. Behind them sat other important political figures, she assumed they were other Revolutionaries who are said to have instigated the Great War. This only made Bethany all the more fretful.
She turned around and saw nothing but the curtain that separated the back stage from the outside world. It looked very promising to her. She shut her eyes and balled her hands into a fists only to feel the sweat gathering in her palms. I could run. No one will notice I've disappeared; I'm only one girl in a large world. What hindrance will come from me not playing? No, no. For Andrew. I told him earlier today I'd play and for him I refuse to break a promise. “A woman is not to step back on her word,” as Father says.
Bethany turned her back on the exit and paced back and forth quickly with her palms moistening, going over and over again on her piece she was to perform. She glanced up at the other performers. They all appeared calmer than she. Why can't I be the same? She questioned herself — they are all probably like me and yet, they are calmer. She found a nearby chair and her violin and started to practice.
Straightening her back too far and bringing her violin too far from her chin, she hardly found the correct position. She pulled her arm back and scratched the surface of the strings creating the high-pitched screech of a cat being thrown across a room. Immediately everyone back stage brought their attention to Bethany almost in synchronization. This only made her more embarrassed and frustrated with herself. Bethany tried again, this time fixing her stance. This starting note was a bit more merciful; still too high but close enough to tolerable that not everyone stared at her this time. She practiced a bit more, gradually getting better. After hitting a few right notes she set the violin down and cautiously walked back toward the side of the stage, where she could peer back into the theater. No one seemed to have noticed her gazing out at them; everyone carried on in conversation, almost like she was invisible.
She jumped at the gentle touch on her back. “You’ll do great,” whispered Andrew’s tender voice. “I’ll be right up there, you see?” he pointed to the upper level of the theater.
He turned her around and saw her quivering lips and uneasy eyes, “You know why I love you so much?” She stared at him aghast to have heard those words finally come from him. He took her hands and explained; “I love you immensely for you have a way of doing everything with a bliss and grace that I and society have yet to find. I’ve known you for 14 years and have always envied your ability to do such things. You’re beautiful and graceful in all you do. Just like you’re going to amaze everyone tonight, I know you’ll be the best in this.” Andrew gave her a quick embrace and made his way back to his seat just before the announcer came onto the stage.
Andrew anxiously waited for Bethany’s turn; she was act 8 of 10. The first seven acts went quickly; a young girl gave poetry, a rugged looking boy offered up some paintings about the heartache caused by the war, a tired looking man sang a song about his fighting along side General Washington. Each act got on stage, performed, and quickly disappeared behind the curtains. The performers were only allowed to stay on stage if any of the men and women in the front row stood up and applauded, this was because the residents of the front row were the judges. Not one had lifted a finger from where Andrew could see. Act seven ended. It was Bethany’s turn.
“Bethany Thompson, age 15. Presenting the violin,” the announcer squeamishly declared.
Bethany made her way to the intimidating chair in the middle of the stage as she nervously sat down and looked up at the mass of people. She swallowed deep trying to hold back tears. After a short pause she stopped staring at the crowd and remembered what she was here to do. With violin in hand, she brought it under her chin to rest over her shoulder, drew her bow back a bit too far, almost creating the most perfect posture.
She nervously closed her eyes for just a moment, opened them to find Andrew smiling at her and with his approving gaze and so she started with a gentle pull from his approval. Bethany brought forth a soft note and with it her anxiety fled, followed by a gentle melody that made everyone lean in closer. The soft breaking on the violin’s stringed surface silenced the room. At that moment, everyone's eyes were glued to Bethany. Every quiet note loudly reverberated through every being in the theater.
Her violin cried the suffering of the nation. Bethany made the violin embody every Colonist’s heartache from losing relatives and fortunes over the war.
Within a moment’s notice, Bethany’s weeping violin soon became the loud outcry of freedom. Its voice became strong. Bethany made the violin talk. It passionately sang with its own independence. Her violin transformed from a sorrowful widow in utter poverty to a phoenix soaring out of its ashes and into the Heavens.
Bethany’s violin echoed in the crowded theater. Coming down from flight, the phoenix she created gracefully landed on a high chord. Cracking through the hearts of everyone in the theater, she slowly called the phoenix to her arm by a slow and flowing bidding. She did not abruptly command it nor did she leave it roaming free; she tenderly guided the beauty and the beast in one to rest on a single note. Every mouth was agape as her flight came to a stop.
Before she had a chance to set down her bow and violin, the entire audience was on their feet. Mr. Jefferson slowly stumbled to the stage with his heart in two, and he asked her to mend it by giving an encore. And so she did.
Bethany stood this time. Looking to Andrew for more inspiration, he willfully gave it to her from his honest eyes. Not even giving the crowd a rest, Bethany found her newly confidant position and let the violin mend the crowd’s heart. They were all at the mercy of her fearless playing. She felt an overwhelming joy rage through her veins and it beamed through her playing. Bethany struck the strings with a powerful blow, causing her audience to come to a new vision; one of victors and triumphs.
Andrew waited for Bethany by the door separating the hall leading to backstage from the rest of the theater. He had anxiously been anticipating her appearance in the lobby ever since she exited the stage. As people started to fill the lobby his anxiety grew even more; he couldn't get over how well she had played tonight.
She did it. He thought, my Bethany's the one they're going to appoint to go to London. She's unquestionably beautiful and undoubtedly intelligent and she's going to be mine next March. Bethany, o Bethany how I adore thee! I'm one lucky man, and she is one amazing woman. The way she played, my Lord, how have you enabled me to be so blessed to know her? She's the most superb violinist alive and I am incredibly prideful of my love.
Andrew's thoughts froze once he was ensnared under the blissful hazel eyes of Bethany. He felt so little compared to her skill. But she was beaming with so much happiness with her victory that he wrapped her in his arms, holding her as close as they were allowed to.
“You were right in every way, Andrew,” Bethany breathed out deeply, looking up at him.
“Only about you having the talent,” he reassured her.
They unwillingly separated due to the boundaries they had to comply to. Andrew glanced to his right and saw Mr. Jefferson and the other men easily passing through the condensed room from the opposite side of them. Before they reached the couple, Andrew looked at Bethany and promised her: “If you go or if you stay, I'll always be with you, so that you're not alone on stage wherever you are.”
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor is Joy Mayer.