Tonight I play a Bach sonata. The intricate simplicity of the music is ecstatically liberating for me. These simple, basic chord patterns arranged so brilliantly that the sounds sparkle, tickling the tips of my fingers as I play. My hand dances on the fingerboard; my fingers flow like water over wood. The violin is afloat weightless in my arms. And I am all beauty.

The noise is so pervasive and complete that I am shocked by the echoey silence that swims around inside the room after I finish drawing out the last note. I am slightly uncomfortable and embarrassed at my own presence after the passion I have just expressed alone in my empty apartment. My palms are sweaty, and the fingerboard of my instrument is slick. I stand awkwardly for a moment and continue to stare dumbly at the sheet music in front of me, and soon I replace the wrinkled papers to the tottering stack of tunes in the corner.

Bach sonata. I knew before unlocking the front door what I would play when I came home. The music reminds me of a young me, screaming delighted "Stop it, Daddy!" with my hair flying in my face and him spinning, spinning me around. I whistled while I drove. I was cheerful from visiting Alex, and he had kissed me goodnight, too. I never spend the night at his house, but I drove away from him this evening grinning just the same.

Tonight he stroked the back of my neck so softly that I felt it in my toes. His hands weren't gruff like they usually are, pushing into me with aggressive force and slamming harsh, painful kisses across my skin, so that I feel like his whore. Tonight I felt like a real person, more than just a handy scratch for his itch, and I didn't yank an angry, deaf Beethoven from my stack when I came home.

I'm not sure why I visit Alex. He's never been over to my apartment before, and we've never been on a date unless you count the first time we met. It was at the symphony, and we were both alone. The program for the evening waved up to me with its elegant black letters, announcing that we would hear Scheherezade, one of my favorite pieces. I couldn't have been more pleased.

I was primped up sexy for no good reason, except that I hadn't dressed myself up for a while, and the day had been so unexpectedly sunny that I was urged to make myself pretty for the thick night air. It was just now turning spring. I went to the symphony by myself frequently, so I rarely made an ordeal of looking good.

Alex approached me during intermission, sidling over across the warm haze of the smokers' room. With a half-smile on his lips, he asked me for a light, and I held the flame out for him, shining up his one face in the midst of all those others. He pulled coolly on his smoke, and he looked me over languidly from the corner of his eye. I took a shallow sip of my own cigarette and nervously replaced the lighter in the side pocket of my purse.

"Great program, huh?" he asked.

"I love Scheherezade," I told him. We exchanged names, but only our first ones. Until two weeks ago when I peeled his wallet open, just to look at his driver's license. It was tucked behind a picture of a woman who had to be his mother. Alejandro Flores, it told me. Alexander Flowers.

When the lights started gently blinking us back towards the music hall, he followed me to my chair up in the balcony. The vast chandelier overhead was lambent, so alive with glittering crystals that my spirits sagged for just a moment as the light dimmed to make way for our music. We sat together in the excited darkness, our backs arched against those elegant red velvet seats, awash in a sweet chaos of furious sounds and passions.

Tonight was the best since that first time after the symphony, and I remember playing the same Bach sonata that night as well when I got home. Before Alex, I hadn't been with a man in a while, but he was there at the right time. Me in my short yellow dress that screamed spring, and Scheherezade in my ears, and Alex sidling over to me so cool with his overbearing masculine presence. I was weak to it all.

I am weak to it still, but tonight has given me a new hopefulness. Alex's tender kisses are enough to make me drive home with a wet smile on my lips, enough to make me play good music with my palms sweating, but I don't love him.

Two weeks ago he called me at midnight. The television was on, but the volume was turned all the way down. It said MUTE in green letters across the screen. A vague hum permeated the room, and blue shadows twittered around my dark walls. I was still awake, but I answered the phone on purpose with a sleepy voice.

"Hey, Jade. Jade, hey, why don't you come over and visit?" I could hear ice jingling through his talk. Vodka and tonic. Already I could smell him, through the tiny pores in the plastic, with his voice slurring into my ears, "...Jade?" I knew he was drunk, but he's a slippery one. Sober, his words are slow and hollow. I sighed as quietly as I could into Lola's ear. She was perched on my chest, purring louder than the television, and I clutched her to me as I spoke.

"Give me a few minutes. I've got to get myself organized." I hung up the phone without saying anything else and tossed Lola to the floor.

That night I came home with a bite mark on my shoulder and thick bruises on both of my hips. In bed Alex kept saying, "Do you love me Jade, do you love me?" His voice was dim and angry like he was chanting maniacally without hearing himself, and I didn't bother to answer. He was drunk and didn't care, and I was pinned like a rag doll beneath him. I strained to hear the muted sounds emanating from the stereo, but they were squashed by the sounds of our sex.

Alex slumped off of me and passed out sprawled naked on the sheetless bed, before my chest was finished heaving. His body glistened in the gray moonlight that shone in stripes through the blinds. His eyes were half open, not seeing. I tried to cradle my body around him and fall asleep, but I couldn't slow my breath down.

Tonight the bruise on my shoulder is almost gone. An indistinct ring of red teeth marks dots my skin, but no matter how hard I press on it, it doesn't hurt. With my violin tucked under my chin, the mark is completely covered. With music.

I sit down on the ragged carpet and cradle my violin in the crook of my arm. I think about Alex, and I think about nothing. I blankly pluck notes on the tired strings with the tips of my fingers. They're still warm from Bach. Without trying, I plink out a non-rhythm, nothing tune, and I decide I will never see Alex again.

I imagine myself being forceful and brisk on the telephone. The next time he calls and breathes shallowly into my ear, "You want to come visit tonight?" I'll tell him I've decided he's not worth my time and effort. I'll tell him to fuck off. I'll put on my short yellow dress and dance around my cramped apartment improvising a tune that would make him weep with longing.

With this free image prancing through my head, I drift off, but I don't crush the fragile wood in my sleep. Lola wakes me up early, and I am so hot on the scratchy hard surface of the old carpeting that curly brown fibers stick to the moisture on my skin. A pattern is etched into my side from the pressure. I gently push Lola away from me, because her fur is too uncomfortable against my body, and her purr is too loud. She is perfectly content with this heinous summer heat, but I can barely breathe, even in the calm empty darkness of predawn morning.

April Ruff