by Katie Winkler

Stalking is difficult in a small college town in the South, but I am clever enough to manage it, and because everyone thinks I am already a bit strange but too small to be dangerous, I have been a great success.

My primary victim is a music professor, thin, dark and middle-aged, who often carries his copy of the New York Times into the latest trendy little restaurant to appear on Main Street, owned by a newly retired couple from Connecticut. My professor arrives round 1:30, after he has released his piano students for the day.

I imagine it happens this way. After class, he goes back to his office, calls his wife, pretends he is going to eat the lunch she has packed, picks up his paper, locks his door and leaves the Sessel Music Building. When it is warm and sunny, he saunters, stops at the commons and sits on the front steps of Blackstone Hall to read a section of his paper. On the warmest and sunniest of days, he never makes it to town, so of course, neither do I.

However, on a day like today, when the late February snow remains on the ground and the wind is gusting, he has stuffed his paper under his arm and wrapped his wool coat tightly around his wiry body, heading with purpose to the town, just a few blocks away.

He has arrived at the Little Taste of Country at exactly 1:24, perused today’s specials on the blackboard outside and raised his eyebrows, at the spicy black bean soup du jour no doubt. He has seated himself at a table by the window where the sun will shine and warm him.

Now, I wait, seated on the decorative iron bench outside, meant for summer tourists, not me. I see the edge of my reflection in the restaurant window and inch my way out of sight.

I would like to go to him, but I can’t.

I would like to sit with him and ask him what he is reading, but I don’t.

I will wait until he leaves the table.

Like he always does.

It is cold out here.

And I am not prepared.

But I wait.

He will leave soon.

Like he always does.

Then, I will walk slowly up to the glass. He will have left the newspaper open on the table in the light. I will read the words I can not read now and will try to know what he is thinking, too afraid to ask.

It is March 1, 2010—Chopin’s two-hundredth birthday, a headline will say.

Then, I will hear the playing again, just as I heard it last night in Witmore Hall, as we celebrated Chopin’s life and work. The professor, he played it then. And I heard it all through the night—over and over—Ballade, No. 3, Ballade, A-flat major, Ballade, Op. 47. The beauty is unfathomable.

It is too good for me.

So, I have decided. One last look and then I’m through.

When he walks away, it ends.

It ends today.

For me, anyway.

It ends with Chopin.

◊ ◊ ◊

Katie Winkler
Katie Winkler’s short fiction has appeared in numerous online and print publications, including Saturday Evening Post, Mulberry Fork Review, Punchnel’s, Fabula Argentea, A&U Magazine and Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, among others. She is an active member of the North Carolina Writers Network and the Dramatists Guild of America, currently working on a stage adaptation of Frankenstein to be produced in the fall. She teaches English composition, literature and creative writing at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Website:

7 thoughts on “Ballade

  1. A beautiful, wistful, and sad glimpse into loneliness. The ending gives us one last tearful note that complements the story’s tone perfectly.

  2. The writing is beautiful, and the subject–Ballade #3–seems chose”n with great care. I sense danger and threat early in this piece: “too small to seem dangerous,” my primary victim.” That edge of threat is coupled with the mystery of the professor’s pretense of eating the lunch his wife has prepared. The climax of the story is the decision to “end it,” a coda thrice repeated, end it because the beauty is “to good for me.” A frisson. AGB

Leave a Reply