Lit Mag

Let the Bees Buzz by Anya Wang

Let the Bees Buzz

I spent months practicing that sonata. I spent hours in front of the studio mirror, pleading with my mascara and eyeshadow and foundation to at least try to hide the Crimes Against Beauty on my face.

But when I reached that stage and sat myself down, again the silence had been too loud. Again I could hear every eye staring at me. Again I could hear every breath holding for me. Professional musicians are expected to play everything from memory, but I couldn’t remember my notes, no matter how ardently I begged my fingers to play them.

Again the piano before me was silent. I could already hear Dr. Persnickety’s voice in my head, remarking with frustrated disappointment, “Memory slips, memory slips. You’ve practiced the piece so many times before. Why, then, are you always so nervous on stage?”

Later I’d be sitting outside the performance hall on the concrete steps, my tears shamefully liquefying the makeup I had spent so long perfecting. Marco would appear sometime later and laugh a little at the sight of me. I’d remember a similar scene we had a few months ago: he was lounging on the steps in front of the University Hall, his face contorted in a fit of hearty laughter. I was walking up to him, thinking by the look of him he was drunk again, but when I reached him he told me in a forcefully nonchalant voice, “They’ve kicked me out, Alice. The University. Said I was too ‘unconventional.’”

But today it was me on the steps, and I was crying, not laughing. He plopped himself down beside me, his golden-brown eyes shining in the glistening summer sun. “I think there’s something you gotta know, Alice,” he said. “Wanna hear it?”

My voice was too choked up to speak anyway.

“What you gotta hear, Alice,” he continued, offering me a wad of crumpled tissues from his pocket, “is those bees buzzing within you.”

I had no idea what he meant, but I had grown somewhat used to his absurd observations.

He spread his hands before him smartly. “You see, you’re too—cautious. You’ve got your head too far down the—” he made air quotes with his hands, “‘elite musician’ path. You’re worrying over every hertz, every finger placement, even measuring the milliseconds between your rests—you’re hunched over the piano, Alice; you’re silencing those bees. But I’m speaking from my busking-till-midnight experience when I say this, Alice,” he laughed at his own description, “but that’s not how performing works. No performance is perfect. To perform is to be comfortable with the bees, not to silence them.”

He grinned stupidly at himself, proud of making such a clever statement.

One week later I’d be standing before the studio mirror again, Dr. Persnickety’s voice ringing in my head. Sometime after Marco and his bees, she had found me, her eyes piercing me with equal parts exasperation and pity. She had said something about my being “a tremendous pianist in the practice room.” Something else about needing to be able to perform, however, to be a musician. Another about how she’d practically broken all the University’s rules by giving me credit for my performances despite all of them being nothing but memory-slipped silence. A reminder about how today was the last evaluative performance of the year. And something extremely alarming about needing a decent performance today or else “I will have to consider withholding your freshman year credits.”

I stared at myself in the mirror. Every imperfection glared starkly back at me. The uneven eyelids. The pimples buried under my foundation. The low, flat, nose bridge spreading across my face, fighting against my contour and highlighter to embarrass me before the world.

No makeup could silence them. A trembling buzz rose within me, and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, distorting the reflection of myself before me…

You’re a horrible pianist.

Who’s heard of a musician who can’t perform?

Mom was right: only a blind idealist chooses an artist’s path.

But Alice, I see you. This isn’t shyness. Or stage fright.

This is arrogance.

You dream of becoming a world-class musician.

You dream of being a celebrity, ushered around with paparazzi and private jets and golden music halls.

You dream of your name etched into history, admired in conversation, praised in acclaimed reviews, revered in bronze statues.

But look at you now, Alice… never has a more arrogant, mindless girl walked this earth…

I looked up at the mirror again. Torrents of tears were ruining my face—again. I looked like that Scream painting, the jagged lines of black mascara like knife wounds slashing down my face.

I thought back to Marco and his bees. Yesterday, I didn’t really understand him. But today, staring at my face in such a mess, I think I did. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, silence them.

“Alice Reynolds?” the stage manager called from the backstage curtains. “It’s your turn, miss.”

I think if the me yesterday, or any normal person, had looked the way I did right then, they would have at least tried to wipe their face before going onstage.

But I think I was too far convinced in that moment of emotional insanity that I would no longer silence the bees.

I tore my eyes from the mirror. I smiled at the stage manager, a warm, oddly vindictive feeling kindling within me as her eyes widened, startled at the look of me.

I could hear the silence. The staring eyes, the held breaths.

But I could also hear the bees buzzing as I drew back the curtains, proudly revealing the destroyed mess of paint on my face to the world.

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