“And now the living room,” Pamfil invited, walking his visitors into a stunning high-ceilinged, whitewashed salon/bedroom, clean and tidy, and spacious enough to allow for what to Ela seemed like an impressive array of furniture for only one room: a bed, a wardrobe, a settee, two empty accent tables, two armchairs, a computer desk, several tall and narrow bookcases and CD shelves, and Henriette’s favorite piece, an upright piano—next to which, resting on the floor in a corner, were Pamfil’s predilect musical instruments, a violin and an acoustic guitar. Ela found it a particularly welcoming environment, not only because it was nicely tidy and clean, but also because everything in it was old, worn-out, and, as such, not strident but rather self-effacing—a notion Ela embraced in her work as a piano teacher even as she sometimes felt it had been an obstacle in her life, keeping her from becoming, if not a concert pianist, then maybe an accompanying pianist for a violinist like Pamfil, or for one of the musical talent shows on TV.
She was good, or better said, she had been good once: now that she was in Pamfil’s home to show her prowess, she felt inadequate. True, she often spent extra hours after teaching keeping her fingers nimble, but somewhere along the way she stopped teaching herself new pieces, and to her that meant she stagnated in the interpretation of the old pieces too, for so often when you’re confronted with the challenge of interpreting a new work, you realize how you may improve an old one. But such thinking was not helping her much at this moment. She had to muster whatever confidence she could and get on with it. She decided to rest a little—and calm down—on the settee before playing, so she wiped her hands on her thighs and spent a few moments studying Henriette, who sat down at the desk, herself, too, in the throes of anticipation [. . .]