Helen felt like she had an entire percussion section playing in her chest. She clutched her case close to her. Everything else had gone wrong today, and the last thing she needed was to drop or lose it. She'd already almost left it at Mom's. Hopefully this train could get her to the auditorium with enough time to tune up before everything started. Hopefully.
Her phone rang. It was Mom. "Hey, Mom. I'm almost there."
"Good, good," Mom said. "I got your dress back from the cleaners. I've already taken care of the bill."
"Thank you so much. I'll pay you back tonight."
"Don't worry about it. Not like you threw up."
Sometimes Helen felt like she needed to be more independent, but today her mom had come through tremendously. "How's Dale? Is he doing better?"
"Still pukey, but he's watching cartoons, so he doesn't care. Sorry we can't come to the concert."
"It's probably going to bomb anyway." Helen had stayed up all night practicing the concerto. Maestro Limmherst had practically demanded it—that slavedriver.
"Well, good luck. You'll do fine."
Helen put her phone back in her purse. Brahms had always been a challenge for her, and the rhythm changes in this concerto had given her more trouble than anything since she first performed Stravinsky in college. It certainly would have been helpful if Limmherst didn't hiss his instructions like some kind of reptile or stamp his foot on the floor so loudly whenever you messed up. He'd made a flutist cry and a trumpeter threaten to quit. Helen could only imagine the fury he'd unleash on her when she cut it so close.
He wouldn't care that she'd overslept from practicing all night. He wouldn't care that she'd nearly forgotten to get her dress back from the cleaners. He wouldn't care that her three-year-old had vomited all over it, so she had to take him to Mom and borrow one of her dresses, which was a size too big and looked frumpy and wrinkly on her. He wouldn't care about the traffic she had to drive through just to get back to where she could board a subway. He had his way of doing things, and if she had life get in her way, it wasn't his problem.
She could already hear him telling her this meant she didn't take music seriously enough. She wished she weren't so anxious, so she could tell him what she really thought. He didn't care about music, he just cared about control, and fame—whatever meager fame you could get as a classical conductor. Musicians like her weren't people to him, they were machines. He had no interest in the passions and struggles they put into their performances. He could never compare to their old conductor. She hoped Maestro Peter's shows in Pittsburgh were sold out, just to spite Limmherst.
The train came to a stop. Helen checked the clock on her phone. She still had seven minutes before the show was scheduled to start. Still barely enough time. Limmherst could say whatever he wanted. She was going to rip his expectations to shreds, and then tell him what she thought.
The door opened, and the next wave of commuters and pedestrians filed in.
Among them, Helen saw the unmistakable balding head and stubbled chin of Wolfgang Limmherst, dressed in his tuxedo, his neck bent with what looked like exhaustion.
He turned his eyes, and saw her. They stared at each other for a moment, each one drinking in the same reality. All the fear within her went silent, as well as all the anger. He turned and went to the next car.
When they reached the concert hall, neither one had anything to say to the other.