RED ROSES AND SYMPHONIES by Cristina Bresser

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My grandfather Orsini died of tedium. It was not the prostate cancer that killed him, but the compulsory retirement after the surgery.

His left arm had cramps lacking chords to press, lacking an instrument’s neck to hold. His face continued touching his shoulder as if there was still a wooden box to support, and his right arm drew ellipses in the air as if an invisible arch could still rescue melodies from the violin, now imprisoned in its case.

Grampa Orsini would rather not listen to symphonies that persisted in playing in his tuned ears. Forty-three years as a violinist at Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Municipal de São Paulo. Four hours’ rehearsal a day, every day. Saturdays, Sundays, holidays.

To this day, I listen to a classical music being performed and my memory of grampa rehearsing continues the melody inside my mind. I may not know who the author is, nor the symphony’s name, but I recall the sequence by heart. This was his legacy. The listening memory of his rehearsals and the smelling memory of the grease he applied on his black hair spotted with white and grey. Grease kept curls straight even when his head danced together with his body, following the violin tune.

Years later, I only remembered him lying down in a dark wood coffin, covered with a white chrysanthemum sheet. I recall cotton balls stuck inside his enormous nostrils,  small hands crossed on his chest and brown shining shoe tips almost tearing the sheer fabric covering him. What was that lacy cloth for? Grampa’s size was 5.5, how could his shoes point out of the casket?

Orsini, orso. Bear in Italian. Concerning my grampa, a teddy bear. He contracted meningitis at eleven years old. He survived, but his growth was interrupted as a sequela. This didn’t refrain him from working when he was twelve. The boy had to support the family since his father, great grampa Pedro, enjoyed life as a traveling salesman, cultivating new families in other cities. But that my grampa Orsini only found out later.

He got a position as an office boy in an accountancy office. That way he could put meat and fruit at the family’s table. Great gramma Idalina loved pears. Orsini worked all day long, studied in the evenings and twice a week his boss set him free earlier, so he could go to music school. He studied and rehearsed all weekend long.

My grandfather graduated in college and in the conservatory in the same year. He would rather have studied piano. His family could not afford such an expensive instrument, even a second-hand one, as his first violin was. Besides, the chord instrument fit his stature better.

Grampa was studious, disciplined, and circumspect. A sad boy, until the day he bumped into a new resident at their building stair. She and her family had just moved from a small town to study and to work in São Paulo. Sometimes he dated gramma Djanira right there on the stairs, during the intervals between classes and jobs.

Their romance lasted forty-seven years. He, as a musician, she as a painter. When my grampa died, gramma stopped painting. In addition to being an inspired violinist, my grandfather Orsini was also famous for his flavored coffee, his unique pastel pastry seasoned with cachaça, and his gardening skills. There were three rose bushes in their garden. The red roses belonged to gramma, the white roses were mine, and the bush of yellow roses was his. The latter, after he left, never flourished again.

One day, upset gramma’s artistic block, I insisted she painted my portrait. Embarrassed she confessed:

¬ I can’t paint anymore because it was Orsini who drew for me. I lost my register.

¬ I got his music forever, gramma.


Cristina Bresser is a Brazilian writer. She has two published books, both in Portuguese: Torre de Papel (Paper Tower) in 2015 – short stories anthology with other authors. “Quase tudo é risível” (Almost Everything is Laughable) a novel, Nov 2016.

She studied Creative Writing at University of Edinburgh. She has short stories and poems published in Northern Light, 121 Words, Ariel Chart, Wanton Fuckery Poetry, A New Ulster, The Silver Streams, Bashabandhan Literary Review, The University of Edinburgh Journal, among many others.

You can visit her website HERE

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