Crescendo at the End of the World
Somehow, the perception of time was clear for her, even if the outside world was stagnant to me. It was always day, and the concept of night was only found in my mind, the way stars shone, the way I knew what it might mean for something to be as filled as a starry night, and yet as empty as space. It was all perception.
Before she left for the day, she smiled, placed her hands in her pockets, as if nothing had changed, and told me her name, that she would come back the next day. I didn’t know when that would be, what time meant for us, but she had gone, and I was alone.
I tried to speak her name, muster any semblance of words so that I could solidify her existence.
Nothing came of it.
Unable, even alone, to try to be human, I held her name in my head, wondering if I should trace her in my mind, find her fate.
But it didn’t seem appropriate.
I didn’t want to.
I closed my eyes to clear my mind, to funnel my thoughts, to figure why that particular lullaby was so important.
It was a soft tune, sung primarily for children, though its origins might be lost. Most commonly known as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” it in fact had a different name told at a different time, matched to a different rhythm. Though, those details might not have mattered to her, and I was sure even if I could talk, it wouldn’t do any benefit to let her know history.
After all, history wouldn’t have helped her in the slightest. Knowing her lullaby was a poem written two-hundred years before her birth, in a poetry collection filled with nursery rhymes sung to a French piece composed even years before that original writing, might not have mattered. She might not even know the song she sought to sing was more varied in meaning. The most common stanza of the poem was only the first. Perhaps due to its simplicity, in the way that even children would know its meaning.
But when I thought about those missing lines, those worlds yet told, those places abandoned in time, it felt like I had found a missing piece of the universe, just drifting.
One day, someone will find it, put it back together, and the sea of stars will be whole again. But I knew it was neither her time to do so, or mine to impose. Somehow, some part of me, not the logical part that could sift and figure out her future on a whim, but something else told me that. That all she wanted was to learn those four lines, and sing them with all her heart.
When I looked outside, the roads had grown longer, spiraling out of control, and it looked as if the sky was out of reach. Outlines of buildings started sprouting from the earth, an entire city at bay, and nothing in my mind could explain why it was happening. Nor why I was born.
But I lived and hoped, and waited for her return.
I heard the door crack as I sat at the piano chair. I planned to play notes for her to listen and hopefully match the pitch. Even if I only had conceptual knowledge of music, the lullaby, as well, was conceptually simple. As the door snuck open, as the world behind her blended its life into my room, I noticed for the first time my reflection on the sheet rack.
Aquamarine eyes, tall enough to peer over the fallboard, nearly enough to check my reflection on the lid, and though my hair was parted from my face, I could imagine it being a bother on a windy day. I wondered then, what I was, and if it was okay for me to take on such a form, but I didn’t have time to think as she was already in the room.
“Well? I hope you can help me today.”
Only using my right hand, I positioned my fingers at middle C, the treble clef was all I needed to work with, and, anything more would probably be too complicated. Starting at C, I moved to G, then A, then down, then F, then E, then D, then C. Every note played in pairs, except for a few key ones used to punctuate the sound. Playing that sequence, made little sense to someone who didn’t have music sheets in front of them and a lack of knowledge, though I didn’t blame her. I was only pulling from what I knew.
Instead, after I had finished the four measures and received a blank stare and smile, I tried again. Slowly. Intensely.
I started back at C, and played another. I stopped, looked at her, and played the same notes twice.
Twin. Kle. Twinkle.
No budge. But, she did seem more focused, more aware of what was happening.
Twin. Kle. Twinkle.
I put more time between the notes, letting them rest in the air.
Her face scrunched, more recognition, I hoped.
Back to regular pace.
Twin. Kle. Twinkle.
She joined in, though her sound was still off, and as I stopped she looked at me with a slight smile on her face.
“Right. I can hear it, and I get it, but, it’s not that simple?”
I shook my head, trying to tell her that it didn’t matter if she could or not, that she just had to try. There were countless people I traced in my mind that started the same way. They weren’t born with the innate ability to do what they wanted. They had to work hard, and even if they failed, even when their thoughts of misery filled their mind, even when the world seemed to implode, they tried. They kept trying. They tried until there was nothing left to try but that wouldn’t be for a long, long time. So they kept trying.
I hoped she would too.
When she finally got the first two notes down, without pausing to catch something in her voice, without laughing in embarrassment, or stumbling for perfection, I moved to the rest of the song.
Twin. Kle. Twinkle.
She raised her voice a little too high, though she got the idea, and even when it was off pitch, she smiled at having recognized which notes to reach. Without pausing for too long, I continued.
Off pitch, a little too high again, and yet, she didn’t seem to want to stop.
I held the note, letting it ring in the air, and she too mimicked that sound, holding her star as much as she could, even if it was in another sky. Not having decided whether I wanted to carry the momentum or start from the top, she was already beaming.
“That was good! Right? I did it! I, I did it.”
Though it was far from what she probably had in mind, she was better than when I first met her. Her hands now firmly at her sides, not hiding within her pockets, and when I paused without continuing she gave me a questioning stare.
“Well? Shall we continue?”
Not wanting to lose her, I pushed to the third measure.
These notes were unique, two single syllables placed in succession. She would have to sustain the same tone for consistency, but before I could play the notes again she had already started.
Without needing me to lead, she had pushed ahead, reaching the end of the fourth measure in a breath. Then, carrying it herself, she continued, not realizing I wasn’t playing at all, continuing as if it her notes were natural, though they were always too sharp, sometimes too flat, but she continued until there was nothing more to continue.
“I know. I know there’s more to be done. But.”
“It felt nice just getting there. You know?”
I smiled back, and we started again.
Growing tired from constant singing, she decided it was about time for her to head back. Throughout the session, she followed my piano notes strictly, following every key, but it seemed she was always an octave too high or low, always within reach, but never quite. No matter how many times we singled out a measure to repeat, no matter how often I let her take control and sing with heart, no matter how many times I tried to emphasize where the sound should be, it was always off.
Frustration only simmered slightly. I felt it in the air, and though I would have liked to tell her she would be fine, that she would arrive where she needed, I could only smile and play. Absorbed in what we were doing, I never noticed that the world outside had become concrete. Buildings manifested in a modern city, the sky covered in apartments, the road littered with streetlights and power lines, and the reflection of light on glass showered through. This artificial illumination differed in quality to the pure sun. Logically I could trace the refraction. But logic didn’t matter. My mind wandered elsewhere when viewing those buildings, something more sinister and harmful to the very people who built them. The steel seemed to melt the more I looked, the glass filled in tiny cracks, and the emptiness of the streets made the asphalt seem like ash filled gutters.
I was brought back as she opened the door.
She smiled, waved, and I noticed, from the brief moment of the light emitting from her world, a disheveled room of equipment. I didn’t want to peer my way into her history. Some part of me knew I shouldn’t, and so as the door was closing, I slammed my hands onto the piano, a flurry of notes crashing into the air.
She stopped, and with a confused voice, turned back,
“Was that your way of grabbing my attention?”