I was walking home from work on a crisp day when out of the corner of my eye, I saw an alley I had never seen before. I knew that the alley hadn’t been there yesterday, because yesterday I had specifically remarked to a co-worker that there was absolutely no mystery in this city. Everything was unwrapped and displayed, spread out against the concrete streets like butter on bread. My co-worker, sullen with her hair in a bun, had dug pointedly in her purse for a pair of earbuds.
But there it was, the alley I had wished for. An alley to satisfy the most demanding of dreamers. Thin and purple, brief pockets of smog obscured any eventual ending. My fancy tickled, I squeezed into it, thinking briefly of muggers, but deciding that the mysterious alley didn’t appear between two previously touching buildings for me to get mugged. As I proceeded down the alley, I felt the strange moistness of the brick against my fingertips. It was the kind of gristly rock found in steamy temples (like in Indiana Jones). I was in the pulse of the city: follow the vein and enter the heart.
After about ten minutes of walking, I came across an open door. Its sign was written in French (I spoke Spanish), but I could tell it belonged to some kind of store, a shop (the kind spelled S-H-O-P-P-E). That a store would be stuffed this far into an alley, magic or not, surprised me, and I wondered briefly about monetary flow and customer counts. With some hesitation, I entered.
Arranged around the shop, which was more spacious than I expected, were hundreds and hundreds of violins. They were painted the deep red of dried blood and ancient things. Some of them were simple and unadorned, some of them were covered with intricate carvings depicting scenes from nature or mythology. Their thin strings glowed faintly, the way light glows against closed eyes. Splayed around the room were sheets of music, all drawn by hand. I could tell, by the way each note was drawn, so perfectly and lovely, that it was the most beautiful music in the world. Two small cats, one black, and one white, were entwined together on the floor. A scroll lay on the counter, ancient with mildew and sealed with wax. Behind this counter there was a very old man, probably Russian, with his white hair high in a widow’s peak. This, this had the makings of glory. I rocked back and forth on my heels, caught up in the magic, not knowing what to say.
“Young man,” the Russian spoke, imperiously. He had a voice like leaves rustling. “Young man, do you by any chance play the violin?”
“No,” I told him, frowning. “But I play the piano.”
The old man cocked his head. “Oh?”
“Yeah, sorry.” I felt foolish. The atmosphere suddenly became very heavy, and I felt like I wasn’t meant to be there after all. The walls of the shop turned burgundy and squeezed. I stared at the cats, realizing that I was a dog person. All the parts to fantasy were set in motion, and I kept guessing the trigger wrong.
The Russian didn’t tell me to leave, but I could see the suggestion in his bleary eyes. He looked at me with a hollow pity, but I didn’t ask why. A few dull moments passed, and the violins began to swim before my eyes, smooth curves blending into harsh ones.
I was saved by the entrance of a girl. Her hair was dyed gray with purple streaks, and slung across her back was a violin case. There was a magic in the way she looked around the shop. There was even magic in her goddamn shoes (five laces, three knots). The Russian smiled at her fondly, as if welcoming a daughter. He held up the moldy scroll and she walked towards it, entranced.
The spell was broken, and all eyes were on me. The cats began to hiss, the girl screamed something in French, something I could understand even though I had never taken a word of French in my long, tedious life. I ran. I ran fast. The alley seemed to widen, eager to be rid of its foreign invader. Her words echoed endlessly in my ears.
“What are you doing in my adventure?”
ANNESHA SENGUPTA is a full-time undergraduate student at New York University, though she hails from Richmond, Virginia. In her writing, she tries to find the thin line between hard and soft, beauty and obscenity. Her science fiction has received a National silver medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest. Life scares the hell out of her, but she loves it anyway.