Page 76 of The Protege


Last night Isabeau had her solo debut with my orchestra at the Mayhew. She played The Swan on her mother’s cello, her first performance with this instrument. Sometimes I look at her and I realize what I’ve taken away from you. I want you to know how proud I am of her. There’s so much pride in me that it feels like I’m being proud for both of us.

I burnt a DVD of her performance that an acquaintance recorded on their phone.


I go to the television in the corner and put the DVD in the player. I see myself in the pink dress and hear my playing, the gentle sound of the strings behind me. It always made my father upset to hear me playing the cello after my mother died. I look at the box of letters, positioned so close to his bed where he could reach them, and wonder if it still hurt after I’d gone, or whether he found it comforting.

I read the letters in chronological order and as I progress I feel Laszlo’s prickliness toward my father thawing with each one, and I wonder why. Perhaps my father is writing back. Maybe there are more letters.

One dated around my fifteenth birthday provides some answers.


I’m sorry about your relapse, for your own sake but especially for Isabeau’s. I’ve done as you asked and I haven’t told her that you’re trying to get clean. I suppose you’re right. This cycle of hope and failure would be hard on her and I want to protect her from life’s disappointments as much as you do. But I won’t stop asking her if she wants to see you. I would never keep her from you and if she ever asks I will bring her to you immediately.

I found another clinic online that has had great success treating patients such as yourself over an intensive three-month program. It’s more expensive than the last one but I’m willing to cover the costs again. Please consider it.

Isabeau has learned to play…

I stop reading and look up. Dad tried to get clean. Dad tried to get clean several times, and Laszlo paid for the treatment. My heart is pounding so loud in my ears I feel like I’m inside a drum. Did Dad not trust he would get better? Was he afraid to hurt me with shattered hopes?

I feel my face crease with tears. All this time I thought he never tried, but he did. He tried for me.

I sit on Dad’s bed long into the night, reading every word that Laszlo wrote him. Listening to every recording. Watching every performance. I’m stunned by the number, and there’s not only these, but also descriptions of what I’m doing, how I laugh, what’s interesting me. Laszlo wrote pages and pages about me, giving my father everything he was missing out on. I thought he hated my father but I feel that I’m reading kindness, even friendship, in the handwritten lines.

There’s a letter around my sixteenth birthday that has angry, spiky lettering and I sense that Laszlo was in a temper when he wrote it.


I don’t care that you failed again and that the money was “wasted”. The money doesn’t matter. Tell Isabeau soon, please. She can at least take comfort from the fact that you have tried to get better, that you want to get better, for her, even if you can’t. Because right now she has nothing and I can’t help but think that this is worse. Shouldn’t she at least know that I have kept you appraised of her life all these years? That you read my letters again and again? That you listen to her playing when the pain is at its worst to help you fall asleep? It feels wrong to lie to her through omission, day after day. I hate keeping this secret from her.

If you could only see her face when I ask her if she wants to see you. She won’t admit it but she’s hurt that you have never reached out to her and I feel like the smallest olive branch from you would make all the difference. Every time she says she doesn’t want to see you I’m sure she feels guilty. There’s no need to protect her from false hopes anymore. She’s sixteen, not a child.

But yes, all right. I know what you’ll say. She’s your daughter, not mine, and I respect your decision to keep this from her. Even if I think it’s the wrong decision.

The letter lays in my lap and I stare at the dark window. Night has fallen while I’ve been reading. I remember Laszlo’s face in Bangkok when I screamed at him to tell me what was wrong, what I’d done, what he was keeping from me.

I can’t, baby. I can’t. It’s not your fault, but I can’t.

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