My sister, inside the violin, whispering to me in her little voice, even after her big death; eternally a small, wiry thing, and some grieving later my parents encourage me to play again, probably on the advice of Lindy, the child shrink, Give Her Space, it’s sunny out, rain forecast, I start to play, and there it is, listen, the quick of her breathing, shrewlike, I pause – silence –  and when I regrasp the bow to descend into the body of the music it grows clearer, breaths like footsteps approaching, play more, longer, all day long if she had her way, the more I play the more her voice un-rusts within its melody, beneath the vibrations, clearer, a path pushed down by walkers, Summer again, long grass, whispers creaking down the wooden waist, Have You Told Mum and Dad That I’m In Here, she says, No They Wouldn’t Believe Me, – Louder, play LOUDER; and so I do and I can’t get annoyed at her, because, you know, and then she chooses a horrible tune and to be honest with you, I think it’s a way of getting our parent’s attention, and Lindy has begun tentatively asking about my musical motivations, enthusiasm verging on delirium, practicing in the small hours, and she says, Maybe you should think about a team sport, and I say Look Lindy, as hard as it might be to understand, when your sister was stone cold dead then shows up inside your musical instrument, I think you would want to rest the freckled side of your face, that no longer has a built-in human mirror wandering around the house, against the chin rest TOO, and Lindy nods her head and her eyes do a thing that reminds me a little bit of pp but I am all ff and so now I just tell her that I want to get into the school orchestra which requires a lot of practice and then she generally diminuendos, but my sister is getting angry inside the violin, sometimes I wish she had found a different channel, maybe a fountain or an antique mirror, something less noisy, but I suppose the violin was made to be clutched and tended, summoned to carve out sound, with its small body resting on your shoulder, it’s built for whispers, for intimacy, to lean up real close, a curtain of hair drifting with the notes, ear primed as if to hear a heartbeat, and as I become entwined with it, I feel her presence lifting me and I’m thankful that she didn’t curl up in her new form beneath the reed of her own instrument, the oboe, for I never would have found her there and besides I can’t stand the sound, so I play and play and then

years pass by and I fall in love and my hands are drawn to other pastimes so I play less though I miss her long and hard and maybe I’m a terrible person, but it makes me happy to see my parents relieved that I am not possessed by the sound, so instead of listening to my sister’s incantations I devote my time to hangovers and getting into Uni, normal things, and I play with the orchestra after all but she won’t speak in public and I get home and the violin stares at me from its box, from its coffin, and I can’t bring myself to go near it so I don’t and then it’s more years and I marry a guy, divorce a guy, marry another guy, job, job, travel, new job and before long I’m facing old age, just like that, and I’m lonely and as sisterless now as I was then, and my parents are stripped to the rags of their last, and I wake from a dream in which she is saying Why Don’t You Play With Me Anymore and I wonder if I ever really grieved or if getting up every day is just practicing pain until embracing your own end, trying to find a tune under here somewhere

and it’s lucky, if music can’t save a person’s life, it can sure as hell bring them back to you, I think, in the attic of my parents house, mid-winter, unable to sleep, clearing out as they downsize, moonlight tensing through the slanted window, my wrists trembling under a melody, searching for that old box, Here if I can just find it, and my fingers are not what they were but thank god for muscle memory, and she’s there, and it’s quiet, but there’s something, she’s saying – You’re – I hear it beneath the strings, an older voice, withered by the weight of the days stacked up, and for a second I wonder if she too has lived a life somewhere – a better life, where maybe I’m an aunt and I let her kids drink wine as teenagers and she lived through her youth and it’s all ripped tights and hours wasted in the bathroom, so I’m playing harder now, and I can hear the words You’re A, you’re a what? what am I, and I’m playing my apology and it’s coming together, the notes lengthening into Springtime, the path to the end of the garden – Unreliable – You’re An Unreliable, the field gate swinging into the holidays, I’m sorry I got to live and you had to die, the public library, one book each, playing music together, Narrator – You’re An Unreliable Narrator – she says, the gate still swinging, me standing, sisterless in the cold air

and my mother, a tiny bird in the doorway to the attic, feet barely able to clutch each step, daughterless, though I don’t think on this enough, voice curled up in her body, muffled as a nest, she says, in little more than a whisper, what are you doing up here darling, and I realize the strings are all frayed and broken, the box lies open under the grim attic light, where life is strewn in fistfuls, and my once-winged hands, taking me somewhere, hang heavy, bowless, at my side 

Just practicing, that’s all mama, go back to bed

— Imogen Osborne grew up in Bristol, England. She currently lives in Ithaca, New York where she is earning an MFA from Cornell University. @ImogenOsborne_