Gerard started playing the violin when he was three years old. He had two lessons, and then quit because he hated to practice. He picked it up again when he was ten and didn’t mind practicing so much. It helped that he didn’t really practice all that often, of course.
Perhaps for that reason, he continued taking violin lessons for the next seven years. By then, he was good enough that it was fun to practice. He could play famous songs and sound somewhat good. So, he continued to play and practice and practice and play.
After years of effort, he managed to earn a spot in the city orchestra. This was very motivating. Gerard began to practice like he never had before. And, one day, after years and years of work, he worked his way up to fourth chair violin.
Gerard had to practice constantly to keep his place, but he was proud of his position on the orchestra. He sat on the front row, nearly facing the conductor, and sometimes he felt like the star of the orchestra.
And then, one day, they had a potluck sectional practice. All the violin players brought food from home to share after the practice. They usually practiced and practiced and were corrected and corrected. Then they went home.
But today, they ate potato salad and potato chips and deviled eggs and talked about the weather. Well, Gerard talked about the weather anyway. Some of the rest talked politics, and then most of the violinists were so angry that the meeting ended quickly. People just picked up their dishes and left.
Gerard, who hadn’t eaten anything but a few of the potato chips he’d brought, went home and made himself a ham sandwich with extra mustard. Then he practiced his violin, because it turned out that he had a little bit of free time, and he never, ever, ever was going back to the second row of violins.
That evening, the phone rang. More than half of the violin section had food poisoning, and that included the first three violins. Gerard was going to be first violin for the benefit concert. “Was it the potato salad?” Gerard asked.
“Why do you ask?” the conductor asked. “Did you bring the potato salad?”
“No. I brought potato chips. I just thought that it was always the potato salad on TV, isn’t it?” Gerard said. Now he was feeling a little nervous. If the police came to question him, how would he prove that he didn’t bring the potato salad?
Who brought the potato salad? Did they poison everyone on purpose? Would they come after him next now that he was temporary first chair? He hadn’t realized that accepting the position would make him such a target.
Gerard didn’t want to think about it, so he practiced even more. After all, he’d be playing as first chair violin in two days, and this time he had a solo. Gerard wasn’t sure if he was more happy or terrified.
The day of the concert came. Gerard didn’t like his new seat on the end of the row where everyone could stare at him. He tried to block all that out and play his best. Everything started out okay. And then, four pages before his solo, at the end of a difficult run, his bow somehow flew out of his hand and disappeared somewhere behind him.
Gerard turned around in his chair. Everyone was playing as though nothing had happened and there hadn’t been a flying violin bow anywhere. He looked under his seat through the maze of feet. There it was. Three rows back.
He looked at the score and flipped forward two pages to where the orchestra was currently playing. There just wasn’t time. He turned and poked the seventh chair violinist sitting next to him. The man frowned and kept playing.
Gerard took a deep breath and started to tickle the violinist. The man paused and Gerard’s hand darted out and stole his bow. It was just in time. Gerard felt all eyes on him as he played his solo.
The moment he was done, the bow was snatched out of his hands, and the scowling seventh chair violinist started playing again. Face burning with embarrassment, Gerard stood and walked back three rows.
He tried to carefully navigate the cramped spaces between chairs and stands. He only knocked over one music stand. He caught it before it hit the floor, but the music went everywhere. Ignoring the whispered insults, he dove for his bow and hurried back to his seat. The show must go on, and all that.
In the end, even though he hoped no one noticed his slight mishap, it ended up being all anyone wanted to talk about. Even a year later, people kept coming up to tell him that it had been their favorite concert. And the seventh chair violinist was still glaring at him and offering to serve him some potato salad.
Gerard knew that everyone else thought that was a joke. But Gerard wasn’t so sure. He was pretty sure he saw mayonnaise packets in the man’s violin case once.