It had been over a month that I had been frantically practicing Bach’s first cello suite, and I had made a lot of progress but at the same time I felt that the mountain in front of me had only risen higher and higher.
Aunt Christina had calmed down when she realized I wasn’t really making any attempts to go to Brussels and visit Aleksei. So, she never went to visit Frank. I guess she really dreaded the prospect.
In the meantime, I had listened to so many versions and they were all completely different. It was like they were played from a different sheet of music and copying what I heard never felt right. I mean, I could play something similar, but I did not like what I was doing. It lacked something. I did my best to poor my hurt for Lise’s loss in them, but that just did not feel right either.
Many cellists say that Bach’s cello suites are a life’s journey, and I was slowly starting to learn what they meant. Those three recorded versions of Yo-Yo Ma*, spread over 30 years, even though all brilliant in their own way, showed an immensely different approach and a lot of personal growth of the musician. Where the first version he recorded projected an innocence. On the other hand, you could sense that he was struggling with something difficult in the second one and that he had overcome it in the last version. It was like witnessing the philosophical metamorphosis of a person during his lifetime. If you listened to these versions separately, you would hardly believe it was the same person that had played them.
Somewhere I had really hoped that just practicing this piece would magically give me the answers I was looking for, but clearly, that wasn’t going to be the case. I hated to admit it, but for the first time in two years, I got really stuck, and if I really wanted to play this piece right, I would have no choice but to go and visit Aleksei.
So later that evening, during our dinner, where like usual, Aunt Christina was talking to me like I was responding enthusiastically, even though I was just giving her an occasional dry yes or no, while my anxiousness was building up. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I suddenly said “I am stuck so I am skipping school and visiting Aleksei tomorrow.”
She looked into my eyes, to only be met by my determination to go there. Aunt Christina sighed. “Be sure to take your phone, and I want you to message me when arriving there and when you leave.”
After that, she mumbled, “I’ll kill Frank if anything bad happens…”
Then she was all smiles again as if she did not just curse Frank under her breath and said “Sorry, you know I easily worry, and it is the first time you are going outside of Tienen since you live here. But Brussels is a dangerous place, so make sure to be careful.”
I nodded. I used to live in Brussels, so I knew you had to be careful and avoid certain areas. I was happy that she had not made a problem out of it and allowed me to go there by myself.
Then I remembered Aleksei’s parting words and said, “Can I have some money for clothes?” I hoped my request wouldn’t be too much of a burden. I had an allowance, but it was not nearly enough to buy clothes. The last time I was forced to get some clothes I just got a bunch of black T-shirts and black jeans online and Aunt Christina had called that a waste even though I wear those clothes every day. I remember her saying I wasn’t getting any money for clothes anymore and I hadn’t bought anything since.
“Don’t you have all the black T-shirts you need?” Aunt Christina answered with a frown on her face. I knew it. She was reluctant to give me money for clothes.
“It’s not for black T-shirts. I need something a little more feminine.”
Her eyes turned big, and she said, “Oh, did you meet a boy? You are that age after all…”
Aunt Christina was not aware that Lise and I had been a couple. She thinks we were just best friends, and I did not feel the need to correct her on that part at this moment. I mean, all it could get me was just another troublesome conversation and who knows how she would react…
“Don’t be stupid. It’s to go to Aleksei. It was one of his conditions.” After those words left my mouth, I realized how they must have come over. Aunt Christina’s eyebrow was slightly shaking. “I guess I should not be surprised, since he is a friend of Frank.” She whispered.
“It’s not like that. I’m not getting anything skimpy. He just told me he did not want the neighbors to think I was going to murder him.”
Aunt Christina looked stupefied at me, with my black dyed hair, my gloomy make-up in my black T-shirt, and black jeans before bursting out laughing.
“I-I’m sorry. But this is just too funny. He really said that?” Again, she started laughing. I was afraid she was broken and would not return to normal.
“Fine… I’ll just try something with what I have. HMPH!” In the end, why would I need to change the way I dress?
Seeing that look on my face Aunt Christina quickly sobered up and said “No, no. I’m sorry Fleure. Of course, you can have some clothes.” Then she looked at the clock and said, “If you want, it’s Thursday, the shops in Leuven are open late today. We could quickly hit the shops now.”
She got up, took her purse and her car keys, and said, “Come on what are you waiting for. Let’s go!”
Suddenly Aunt Christina got all pushy and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was clear that if I wanted clothes, we were doing this now.
So now I found myself in a car on the road to Leuven with Aunt Christina, who was humming happily next to me.
“Why are you so happy?” Wasn’t getting clothes for me just a financial burden?”
“I am just happy the two of us get to go shopping for the first time since…” I saw her looking for words. I think she didn’t want to mention the accident to avoid spoiling the mood. So, after a little pause, she continued “Since you came to live with me.”
She must be joking. Why would she want to spend time with me after the way I acted toward her?
Remembering everything I had said and done over the last two years made me feel embarrassed. I looked again at Aunt Christina to see if I could spot any signs of sarcasm, but she looked genuinely happy.
When she noticed I was staring at her, I quickly turned my head and feigned disinterest again, but I clearly was too late, because she started humming even happier.
Once we were in Leuven, we lost some time finding a decent spot to park. These shopping evenings were a lot more popular than I expected them to be and Aunt Christina did not want to spend money on underground parking. But luckily, after some searching around for a little while, we found some parking near the city center. After stepping out of the car, I got a little nervous. This was my first time outside of Tienen in two years after all. I was happy that Aunt Christina just ignored my nervousness. The last thing I wanted now was her looking with worry or pity at me.
We were walking together on the famous Bondgenotenlaan* where there were a lot of boutiques and larger shops, Aunt Christina took me inside an HNM store.
The current trend seemed to have an oversized theme going on, which I did not like very much since wide sleaves would most likely get in the way while playing the cello, but I did find a nice white satin crop blouse that I liked.
I thought to just buy that one and leave, but Aunt Christina said “You aren’t going to wear that one single blouse every time you visit him, are you? Buy enough now that we are here.” She walked me toward a fitting room and told me to wait there.
Then she started bringing me lots of stuff to fit. Even though I started trying out the stuff she brought reluctantly, I quickly got into it. I guess shopping for clothes with my aunt wasn’t too bad. I could hear Aunt Christina whisper to herself on the other side of the curtain “I can’t believe that after all that walking on eggshells and money spent on sessions, this man makes a progress like this with a joke. I am not letting this chance go!” while she took off to get some more stuff for me to fit.
There were some beautiful clothes among what she brought and after picking out a few blouses, tops, a skirt, and a pair of blue jeans. I noticed the yellow ruffle-trimmed dress among the clothes she brought. I felt a tear running over my cheek. This was the kind of thing I used to wear all time. I thought it was really cute, but was I really allowed to do this? Wouldn’t picking a dress like that be a betrayal of my feelings for Lise? Would that not be just acting like she was never here? Like the accident did not happen. I could not do that. Nothing was more important to me than my link with Lise and I would never give that up. I decided to give up on the dress and passed it back to Aunt Christina without trying it on. I started to feel guilty about enjoying myself trying all these clothes.
Aunt Christina not realizing the change in my emotional state said “Oh, but I looked forward to seeing you in that one. I thought that would look so cute on you,” but when she saw the look on my face, she just nodded and took it back. Lise always complimented me when I wore cute dresses like that, and I always did my best to look cute in those days, but there was nothing left to be cute for.
Not wanting to disappoint or hurt Aunt Christina either, instead of the yellow dress, I chose a classy black flounced dress and a blue chiffon dress. They also looked good on me, but they were clearly in a more classy and chic style than the cute dresses I used to wear. It just felt wrong to make myself look all happy and cute. I would be denying what had happened. I had no right to those kinds of feelings.
Since I did pick out some stuff afterward, Aunt Christina looked a bit relieved and asked. “Are you feeling better?”
I nodded. I did not want to talk about it.
When we arrived back home, I went back to my room to practice some more before bedtime but after finishing my first playthrough I was disturbed by a knock on my door.
“I did not want to give this to you earlier since you were feeling down, but I heard in your music you were doing a little better.”
Was my music that obvious?
She handed me a gift-wrapped box, so I put my cello to the side and cautiously unwrapped it.
Inside I found a beautiful beauty case filled with all kinds of make-up. I noticed the only ones missing were the light foundation and the white powder I used to make myself look pale every day.
“You’ll need it to complete your new look. Your regular getup will not work with your new clothes.”
I remembered this beauty case. I once told Aunt Christina that I wanted one like that when I grew up after seeing a beautiful woman doing her makeup backstage. I looked into Aunt Christina’s eyes and felt a lot of emotions run through me. “You remembered,” I said. “Of course, I remembered.” She answered before giving me one of her unsolicited hugs, for the first time in a long time, even though I had tears in my eyes, I felt grateful.
“I’ll help you put it on tomorrow.” She said, before planting a kiss on my forehead like she used to do when I was a kid and leaving me to my practice.
I touched my forehead. It had been ages since I had felt the sensation of anyone giving me a kiss. "She kissed the side of my scar…" I whispered surprised.
Yoyo Ma recorded Bach's cello suites three times. Here are links to all three versions should you wish to compare them yourself: ( I will put this in a copy pastable version in the comments)