The Call Of The City – Episode 12

Juliet and Grace in New York Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Grace wiped her damp palms down the sides of her skirt before reaching for her violin case again, the familiar curve of it comforting in this tense moment.

She was in the waiting-room of the audition hall at Juilliard, about to go in for her audition, and she was terrified.

She’d had a lovely time with her aunt yesterday, walking through Central Park and then touring the Cooper Hewitt museum, with its displays of cutting-edge modern design and art.

Juliet had spoken passionately about some of the pieces, making Grace realise all over again that her aunt had lived an entirely separate life from her upbringing in North Yorkshire.

When Grace had asked how she’d got her start working for the interior design magazine, Juliet had smiled and said it was luck.

“I got an apprenticeship, making coffee and sweeping floors, and when a junior position opened up they let me have it on a trial basis.

“I worked my way up from there. Back then, you could do it that way.

“Now it’s all about who you know or where you went to school.”

“You must have worked very hard,” Grace said. Juliet just smiled.

Her aunt, she reflected now, was loving and remote in turns, almost as if she surprised herself by being affectionate or open.

Juliet’s default setting, Grace suspected, was to be solitary and distant, yet when flashes of warmth and affection broke through, Grace felt hopeful that she might get to know her aunt properly after all.

Especially if she won a place at Juilliard and lived in New York with Aunt Juliet, a prospect that thrilled her even while it seemed impossibly distant and foreign.

“Grace Cavendish next, please.”

Grace looked up at the assistant standing at the door to the audition hall, and her heart thumped in her chest.

It was time. Everything rested on the next few moments.

“Here.” Her voice came out scratchy and when she stood, her legs trembled.

She felt as if she were filled with water and there was a buzzing in her ears as she walked towards the audition hall, the doors looming ahead of her, a darkness beyond.

Once inside, the room seemed enormous, a vast, soaring empty space with four folding chairs at one end and a music stand at the other.

Grace walked towards the stand, willing her heart rate to slow.

She feared, if she spoke, her voice would come out in a squeak.

“What will you be your audition piece?” one of the examiners asked her, her voice polite and crisp, with the barest touch of impatience.

“Um . . .”

For a second Grace’s mind blanked. She couldn’t remember the name!

Then one of the examiners, a kindly looking man in his fifties, smiled at her, and she started to breathe again.

She could do this. She needed to be able to do this.

Even if she didn’t get offered a place, she wanted to have given Juilliard her very best shot.

“Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor,” she said.

One of the examiners nodded, while another pressed her lips together, seemingly unimpressed.

Grace knew she was taking a risk in playing Mendelssohn; the concerto was considered easier than the more challenging pieces she’d played.

But her violin teacher had told her that how she played, and the emotion she showed, was just as important as technical skill, and Grace loved the piece.

“Begin when you are ready.”

She took a deep breath as she lifted her violin out of its case.

It wasn’t the most expensive or elegant instrument out there, but she’d saved and saved up for it, and it was the best she could afford.

She took another deep breath as she fitted the violin under her chin and then lifted her bow.

This was it.

The first note sounded squeaky, making Grace cringe inside, but then she forced herself past it, concentrating on the music, and the way it enveloped and then buoyed her soul.

“Put your heart into it, Grace, along with your soul,” her teacher had advised her. “That’s the only way, along with loads of practice.”

The practice she’d done, upwards of four or five hours a day for the last few years.

Now it was time for the heart and soul.

The rest of the audition was a blur as Grace played several other pieces, including one the examiners requested.

None of them gave anything away; their faces were blank as they thanked her for her time and told her they’d let her know in the next few weeks.

Grace thanked them and packed up her violin.

She felt exhausted and emotionally drained, having no idea if she’d nailed it or been a disaster.

She supposed she’d find out in a few weeks, when the letter came.

As she stepped out of the audition hall, she was surprised to see her aunt.

“Aunt Juliet! I thought you were at work?”

“I was, but I needed to talk to you.”

Grace noticed how anxious her aunt looked, her face pale and drawn as she wrung her hands.

Dread curdled in her stomach. What could have made her aunt come to find her all the way across town?

“What is it? What’s happened?”

“Grace, I’m so sorry, but it’s . . . it’s your father. It’s Andrew. He’s had a heart attack, and he’s in hospital!”

To be continued…

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.