A preview of 'Audition'
the opening story in After Hours Garden
It was her second audition that day, and exactly like the first, it was nothing like she expected. Ava was restless; the pulse of the day, one of the most thrilling and heartrending of her life, twice, put her on edge. The thrum of her heart made her want to shift in her chair, tuck her hair behind her ear, smooth the hem of her trim black sweater, reach down and touch her oboe case. But she held herself motionless, breathing out her tension, all her focus fixed on the woman sitting in a high-backed chair at the other end of the silent room. She pressed her lips together, breathed out a long silent note, slow and easy, again and again.
“You played well this morning.”
It was a shock to hear the Maestro speak, to see her turn her chair - in the intervening moment, Ava stole a glance over her. Older than Ava but impossible to tell by how much, she was regal with long dark hair falling down her back in waves, shot of silver. She looked for all the world like she was cut from the pages of a fashion magazine.
“Thank you.” Ava was proud of the stillness in her voice. Silence fell again, sharp as a note. They sat with it for a long time, letting it grow and mutate around them. After a while, the Maestro offered her a small smile.
“You’re playing well here, too.”
She hardly had time to bow her head before the Maestro spoke again.
She stood, quick and smooth, and without a misplaced movement, folded her knees, lowering to the hardwood. Hips to heels, knees spread. Body pulled into symmetry around the straight line of her spine. Still and steady for one long breath.
She folded forward until her forehead brushed the floor. Her hands slid forward off her thighs, ass lifted off her heels, lifted with the smallest arch of her back. The hardwood was cold and smelled like orange oil and ash.
The Maestro sounded far away, as though speaking through water. Ava did not move.
“Please, sit again.”
She rose to her knees and looked at her, once, quickly, then returned to her chair.
“Any prescriptions, conditions or injuries we should know about?”
The Maestro nodded, took a note in her small black book. A hard rushing vertigo swam over Ava.
“Your practise and appearance schedule is as noted the schedule in your Orchestra application?”
“Do you have any other work not listed there.”
“Yes. I teach six private lessons a week.” This last received a lift of the Maestro’s dark brow and a few more notes in the little book.
“Do you have an existing relationship with protocols of any kind?”
“You understand this question encourages disclosure of any protocols at all. We do not allow conflicting power. The Garden doesn’t.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Do you dye your hair?”
“No, Maestro,” Ava said, surprised.
“This is natural.” The Maestro asked, choosing her words carefully. “That milk white?”
“Snow. ” She nodded “My mother called it snow.”
The Maestro closed her book, folded both her hands over it. “Your records are impeccable, though rather sparse. Your behaviour, so far, is acceptable. This is what you want, the second chair as well as a place here?”
Ava smiled, still avoiding eye contact, she bowed her head with only the slightest dip of reverence. Despite the echoes of nervousness, a dizzy feeling like standing at a great height, fighting the urge to step off, Ava nodded.
“Say it for me, please.”
“This what I want, Maestro. To play in your orchestra, and benefit from the training of your House.”
“I want to give myself to the Garden.”
The Maestro smiled, nodded, a dark wing of hair falling over one eye, with a graceful golden hand, she swept it back.
“Your goal in giving yourself to us?”
“The Garden, this house, have a long history as thoughtful teachers.” The Maestro stood, resting the little book on the arm of her chair. She moved to the large window of the right of the desk.
“Submission is simple enough to find. You kneel well. You say that you can take impact and enjoy it, that you can set a table and fold a shirt, pour a cup of tea. You can care for rope, shine boots. I suppose you would lick them…What more is there. Expand on your answer, please.”
At first, Ava floundered, unsure what to say. Without noticing, she’d reached down to touch the case for her 0boe, just for a moment, feeling the rough black plastic and leather trim. Calmer now, she folded her hands again in her lap.
“When I was a child, my mother took me to the symphony - a rare gift. I felt music. I heard it, of course, but I felt it too. It was big and powerful, and it filled every part of me. I felt chills, cold, the way they say you feel when a ghost touches you. And for the first time that I can remember I wanted to do something about what I was feeling. The sensation of music made me want to respond. To do something.”
“I heard the oboe, especially. It was a smooth, bright ribbon running through the centre of this ocean. So clear. Pulling the melody in its wake. It was almost a week before I figured it out, a week of laying awake at night feeling this new complexity inside me. I never felt anything like it before. And one day it just snapped, clicked right into place. I wanted to play music. We were poor as anything, and my mother was reluctant to spare the expense on something that could have been a whim. But I begged. I really begged. I was too young, too get a job, but I don’t think there had ever been a more determined child. Eventually, she relented, and I got a few lessons for my tenth birthday.’
“I was good. Right away, I was good, and it was obvious I was never going to stop. I learned everything I could, but it was never enough. I would practise until my lips were swollen. It was all I did. I outpaced the only oboe teacher in my town, and soon was taking classes from a man who came down twice a week on the train from the university music department. I never did anything else, really. I know then, even though I didn’t know how to say it, that there is playing, and then there is playing.’
“I chose a lonely, isolated, obsessive life of an orchestra musician. I choose to try to be perfect, knowing full well I never would be. My only friends as a child were dead composers and their ghosts, their music. I submitted to that life happily. I feel that way about this.”
When Ava found the beginnings of this world, those first early hints and whispers that her dreams might real, had names…was like hearing music for the first time.
“There is so much more in music if you look inside. There is enough to live off, enough to fill an entire life. Enough nuance and power to consume, to change. Submission is like that. I know I can go deeper, be and know more. I can be close to perfect.”
Ava hesitated. “It’s rare enough to find one thing you love that much, what if I can find two?”
Aware suddenly of how much she’d been speaking, she fell silent, bowed her head. The Maestro, a tall woman, slim as a rapier, stood looking out the window at the slanting afternoon light. Ava had no idea if she was even listening, but when she turned, the motion sudden, there was a smile on her full and luscious mouth.
“You want to perfect your submission, the way you perfected Gabriel’s Oboe this morning?”
“Don’t think I have perfected Gabriel’s Oboe, Maestro.”
The Maestro smiled. “Perhaps not. But maybe you will. We can help you find your perfection.”
Her smile deepened.
The command hit Ava like a smack. Her breaths came in short gasps as she moved trembling fingers, pulled her sweater over her head where she sat, her hair falling around her shoulders in a tangled wave of white. Her breasts were small but bottom-heavy, held in a black bra, and this too she removed while sitting, letting it fall down her arms as she stood. Her nakedness made her cold and warm; a dizzy unreality settled over her as she slid down the zipper on her jeans.
The Maestro noted the absence of lingerie, no stockings or garters, she smiled as Ava drew herself up into an elegant standing posture among a neat pile of her clothes. Hands behind her back, chest open. She kept Ava waiting for what seemed to be a long time as she examined her carefully. The Maestro unfastened the top button of her shirt, rolled up her sleeves to reveal slim golden wrists, the muscles in her forearms honed. She walked around her slowly, Ava started a little when a finger fell on her shoulder, a small gasp escaping her. She had not realized she was holding her breath, that her skin was cool with fear, anticipation. Arousal. Something deep inside her fluttered. The Maestro ran a finger down her back, and Ava tried to suppress a moan but did not quite succeed.
“You’re skin is lovely. Soft. Is it very sensitive?”
“Turn to face me.”
She turned, and the Maestro pinched her nipple, casually. The sharpness stabbed into her and she gasped. Every inch of skin tingled. Hands touched her everywhere in examination. Ava held herself still the Maestro’s hands slid around her wrists, swept up her arms, circled her throat and cupped her breasts. She traced her ribcage, placed a firm grip on her lower back and traced over her sides and belly. A tap from her hand and Ava spread her legs further apart.
The Maestro’s hand ran between Ava’s thighs to explore the tenderness of her vulva, the frill of her labia already shining. She ran one long firm finger along the edges of her lips, and Ava moaned and lifted her hips at the same time her face flooded with shame.
“Hungry little slut.” Helen smiled cold. Ava suppressed another moan, but could not hide her shudder. Finally, Helen cupped her ass, squeezing her thighs and running her hands down her legs, teasing the backs of her knees. Giving her no time to process the Maestro gathered her hair in a fist and forced her to her knees so quickly Ava tasted a small thrill of genuine panic.
The Maestro’s face with cut with a twist of mean focus, eyes narrowed as she twisted Ava’s head one way and then the other, slapped her heavily across the face, and back the other way across her right breast. Bright snaps of pain, Ava shivered and tried to keep her composure. Still, the Maestro only let out a cold laugh, smiled in a way that was beginning to be vicious, her eyes were flooded and dark. For one rebellious moment, AvaAvaAvaAvaAva wondered if the Maestro knew.
“You like this?” The Maestro asked, cold voice, cold laugh and pulled her head back by the hair so she could look at her.
“Yes.” AvaAva gasped. “Yes. I do.”
The Maestro let her go, walked back to her chair and sat down and crossed her legs, smoothed her clothes.
“Crawl over here,” Helen said after a while. She smiled to see her do it, crawling on hands and knees across the hardwood, away from her little pile of clothes, long white hair hanging around her face like pale banners. A complicated expression on her face, something like shame and a hard pleasure, elation. She moved well, like a giant cat stalking to the chair.
Ava moved closer. The Maestro slid one booted foot out to her, lifting the leg of the pants away from the curve of leather. Early evening light shone through the mess of trees out the window and fell like purple liquid over the matte leather.
“Show me your cunt. Lean back, spread your legs and show me if this has made you wet.”
Ava did, trying to move gracefully. Leaning back and spreading her legs, a fresh flush of shame driving into her. She could not believe that only a few hours before she’d hidden behind a screen, obscuring her face, speaking with only her sound, her breath. Played an anonymous song. Now she was screaming with her skin, sex dripping under the older woman’s watchful gaze.
She watched with rapt fascination as the Maestro’s boot moved to her cunt, the beautiful cut of the leather, the hard edge of the sole pressing down with neat even pressure. The boot closing down on her, pressing. Harder. Hard enough to make her mind whimper with fear, pain growing... Ava gave up trying to hold back and sobbed, letting her hips press up in answer to the boot.
“Straddle it,” The Maestro said, voice a little warmer now. Ava crawled up and positioned herself over the boot, knees folded, pushing her chest up against the Maestro’s leg.
“Yes.” She said. “Get your cunt over it. Like that. Good girl.”
Ava did as she was instructed, the press of leather between her legs filled her with pleasure....