Truth To Power

Entry by: Alobear

2nd March 2017
“And that was the last straw.”

The sudden cessation of words brought Hester back to her surroundings. She focused on her companion, who was looking at her expectantly.

“Um, it sounds like you put up with a lot of provocation there.”

“Thank you!” Salome threw her hands up. “That’s exactly what I thought. Anybody would have done what I did, under the circumstances.”

Hester scrabbled through the snippets of Salome’s story that she could remember, and couldn’t identify what action that might have been.

“And what was that, exactly?” she hazarded.

Salome steepled her fingers under her chin.

“I snuck into the music room while everyone else was at lunch, and I filled her cello with whipped cream.”

Hester couldn’t suppress her sharp intake of breath.

Salome’s eyes sparkled. “Shocking, I know,” she said, her tone self-satisfied. “But someone had to take that witch down a peg or two. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Hester was imagining the cellist returning to the almost guaranteed destruction of her prized instrument. She wasn’t entirely clear on what this poor girl had done to Salome, but Hester was fairly sure the cello hadn’t done anything to deserve such treatment. She realised Salome was waiting for a response again.

“Oh yes,” she said, mustering as much sympathy as she could manage.

She didn’t think Salome would be likely to question her true feelings, though. She seemed to generally assume everyone agreed with her.

Salome preened. “Nobody in that orchestra will dare cross me ever again. Not after that.”

Hester could well believe it. She looked down at her scallops, no longer sure she could stomach them. Her aunt had used quite a lot of influence to get her this meeting, and it was important she not screw it up. But she was very far from certain she even wanted the coveted second violin position in Salome’s orchestra any more. There was more at stake than her own personal feelings, though, so she kept her smile firmly in place.

“I would imagine not,” she said. “You certainly put her in her place.”

“So,” Salome said, fixing Hester with her intense gaze. “Tell me more about your background. I gather your aunt is a professor here.”

“Yes,” Hester confirmed, though now she was wishing that wasn’t the case. “She teaches history. She’s always been very supportive of my music, though, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to speak with you.”

“Of course you are.” The words were unironic. “The question is, what makes you deserving of my attention? I’m a very busy woman, you know, with a great many very important demands on my time.”

Hester squirmed in her seat. “Um, well…”

“Speak up, girl,” Salome snapped. “I don’t give places to people who can’t stand up for themselves.”

This contradicted the whole of the conversation so far that Hester just stared at her for a moment. Then she sat up straighter and met Salome’s gaze unflinchingly.

“But when they do, you wilfully destroy their instruments?”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Hester wished them back again. What was she doing? Her aunt had put her reputation and career on the line to get her this interview, and now she was criticising the conductor?

Salome’s fork had stopped halfway to her face, a lone mushroom suspended forlornly in the air.

“I beg your pardon.” She spoke the words in a low tone.

Hester squared her shoulders.

“It just seems to me that, if you want to employ people who are able to stand up for themselves, you have to be prepared for them to do so when they disagree with you.” Salome’s gaze bored into her like a laser, but Hester kept going. “And, instead of being prepared to engage in a healthy exchange of views to the benefit of the orchestra, you’ve damaged expensive equipment, rendered one of your cellist’s unable to play, and demonstrated that you don’t actually care about your musicians’ thoughts or feelings at all.”

Hester held her breath, wondering what effect the unvarnished truth would have on Salome’s lofty attitude of power.

“No, you’re right.” Salome brought one finger up to her lips in a gesture of studied contemplation. “What I want is not people who can stand up for themselves at all. I am the conductor and my word is law. All the musicians should be snivelling wretches who turn up when I say, play in silence, implement my instructions to the letter without complaint, and go home only when I say rehearsal is over.” She regarded Hester thoughtfully, and smiled. “Thank you, dear. You’ve helped me a very great deal. There are going to be some changes in the orchestra come Monday - much more shocking than the whipped cream in the cello. This has been a very productive meeting.”

She rose imperiously, spun on her heel, and stalked away.

Hester slumped in her chair in relief. She assumed the abrupt ending to the meeting signalled that she would not be Salome’s second violin. She couldn’t say she was unhappy about that. In fact, she felt like she’d had a lucky escape. And she also seemed to have managed it without angering the notoriously mercurial conductor, so her aunt would be safe from Salome’s wrath.

Hester speared a scallop, popped it in her mouth and chewed. There would be other orchestras. She just felt sorry for all the other musicians who played in Salome’s. They were evidently in for a rough week.