Crescendo at the End of the World
There was no real way for me to ask about her life. As she stood in the doorway, one hand over the knob on her side of the world, she could only stare and ask again.
“Well? Was that your way of grabbing my attention?”
I nodded as fervently as I could, and gestured for her to stay a little longer. In the time she thought about my intentions, I caught another glimpse to where the door led; a room full of scattered equipment. Most of them were telescope parts: lens, tripods, tubes and eye pieces scattered in chaos. A few maps were used as a blanket, with compasses and pens coupled in tandem. The reflective floor I glimpsed prior was in view, indicating night.
“Fine. But, I don’t have long. Well? I’d like to say that but, nowadays I’ve just been, well never mind about that.”
As she stepped back in my room, I gestured violently for her to continue her thought. She laughed at my mannerisms, at my wildly flailing arms and hands.
“I got it, I got it, you want to talk? But, well? That’s going to be hard, right?”
I nodded, and then gestured towards her. She pointed at herself to follow along. I then pointed twice, hoping it could translate correctly.
“You want to know more about me?”
At once, relief left my mouth in a sigh, and I tried to mutter a ‘yes’ but only produced a soft hum.
“That’s uh, well? That’s a little, how do I put this?”
She looked away, her body turning to follow, unable to look me in the eyes. I figured it meant the topic was painful or embarrassing. I wanted to tell her that I understood, I wanted to tell her I wanted to know about her, even if I didn’t quite know why myself.
Another part hoped it would be possible, to just talk and learn about others.
To be anything like a human. To be anywhere close to that world.
I spoke in a way I thought she could understand, pressing on a single key, producing a long stagnant sound. With her attention, I decided on a chord, opting for a gentle sound. Once played, I made a short progression going one tone above, then down. She didn’t need to know the notes, only that they were gentle, the tune an amalgamation of sounds just jumbled in the moment. But I tried. I pressed on those two chords, and followed with a few notes in the same scale. It wasn’t anything complex, but I needed her to understand, to get some semblance of assurance.
Her soft stare was hard to decipher, but eventually she smiled.
“Is that your way of trying to comfort me? Well? I’ll tell you a little, okay?”
I nodded with my hands still warm on the keys.
Turning towards the glass window, she stood in place, watching the outside world, though, I had a feeling what she saw was far from what I could see. Standing in place like that, with the blank canvas of the city to her back, it seemed, in that moment, that she belonged somewhere. Even if far, even if constructed through miscellaneous rules and laws beyond her understanding, she seemed to have found a place.
Unable to tell her anything, I let her continue.
“It’s not something I would want to talk about. I find it rather annoying, you know? Like, it’s just something that’s a part of me. Well? I’m not sure you would understand that, but, it’s why I wouldn’t want to talk about it at all.”
She made an attempt at a smile, but stopped halfway, my eyes meeting hers, trying as I did, to put as much conviction in them, to let her continue.
“I guess it’s only fair, you are trying your best to help, and you have helped. And I’m grateful for that, I really am.”
She walked to the wall of instruments, her steps slow, and she stopped at each of them, carefully etching their shape before moving on. For some of the instruments, a sharper reflection was evident, capturing more of the room and her in its glean causing her to stop and shift in place, seeing just how distorted she could make it. In those moments, she laughed, and smiled.
“I have a feeling that, you’ve never used any of these.” She didn’t have to look back for my reply. “They’re right here, and yet, they probably feel distant. Well? Maybe distant might not be the right way to put it. Maybe they’re just waiting. For the right time.”
I answered with a lower chord closer to middle C, producing a neutral agreement in the air. Playing the chord arpeggiated, enunciating each note individually, added enough of an accentuation for the tone of the words I would have said.
“Do you think you’ll ever be able to play them? Well? I guess you probably can, but, seeing how comfortable you are there, I guess what I mean is, do you think you’ll even try?”
She looked my way, and I raised my hands in ignorance. I never planned to play any of them, but, sitting there, on the piano, having already produced music, elaborate or not, I wasn’t quite sure.
“That uncertainty, of not knowing, that’s something that’s always been with me, I guess. Well? I’m just saying a bunch of things and not really explaining myself, am I?”
When she turned back to the wall of instruments, I couldn’t help but watch as the ends of her hair pointed to the floor, as if icicles in a never-ending winter, the slightest touch would disturb their peace, but they would undoubtedly, always be sharp enough to cut.
“I’ve always liked stars. I know, I know. Well? I came here not because I wanted to learn music, not really.”
When she got to one end of the wall, she stopped. Her breaths were short, and she seemed to collect herself as she turned towards me.
“I’ve always liked stars. That’s what I want to do, find them, figure everything about them, and show them to the world.”
Before I could ask her why she came to learn how to sing she was already ahead.
“It sounds dumb, and I know it is. Well? Maybe you won’t tell me that, but, if you could, I mean, you know what I mean. You don’t seem the type to let me downplay myself. You seem too nice for that.”
A pause, she collected her thoughts, again, and I recognized what she was doing, and I wanted her to stop, and I wanted her to feel like she can talk, and so I went again, playing a single chord to split the silence in the room.
Another chord, then four measures of following notes, all kept in the same tone. I could control the sound this way, a simple progression not needing to be complex, but, enough to form rhythm and melody. I focused on the same few notes, repeating the measures until I could feel my fingers straining. I didn’t want the notes to drift, I needed to convey to her that I wanted them to stay, that it mattered more than anything in the world. I hoped she understood, and so I kept playing.
For a brief moment, my mind slipped. I kept my thoughts centered on trying to tell her what I wanted, and fell too far. I took a glimpse into her life by accident.
It was probably only half a minute, but the tiny slivers I peered into stuck in my mind as afterimages. All at once, I saw the inception of her dream, a child in the dark, her eyes obscured by slashes of hair thrashing in her face. But through the slivers, when regular sleepless nights in her small apartment with her mother occurred, looking outside of her window, stars were always there. Even in the unending heat of summer, in the frigid cold of winter that haunted her skin, in the constant sneezes of spring, the stars she sought were always there.
In tandem, I also received images of times volunteering at observatories, at the way she spent countless hours staring at the night sky, staying far past midnight, when no one else would be there, when she would have to hide from the cleanup crew, emerging only when the shine of outer space found its way to her.
In-between these bright fixtures in her life were times she had to wait at home, for a mother who came only when she could, for the times she knew she spent staring at a universe beyond. She saved all she had to purchase equipment for her university’s astronomy club, supplying all the gateways to the sky, despite the earth around her being so tattered. Despite knowing disapproval if she ever expressed how much she was spending. But they were never close to begin with. Her mother would hardly notice when she cut her own hair.
The last glimpse I caught before I left those forceful memories were of times she spoke about her dreams, about the way she couldn’t, about how friends and extended family, councilors and teachers all prodded forward but she took steps back. Vivid among them was the night she spent rehearsing ways to tell her mother about wanting to see the stars, about how she wanted to reach out to grab and contain them, documenting the outer world. Self-rationalization never made it to be a lucrative profession. That night, when her mother had been home, all she could do was watch by her bedroom window the way the moon sliced through her curtains, barely able to land on her, and when she closed her eyes, they were gone.
All of these memories didn’t belong to me.
I wanted to tell her I was sorry, but all I could do when I regained focus, was keep playing my notes, pretending as if that was all I had.
By the end of it, she had gone home, not really having told me anything, having avoided everything, having smiled, but her smile faded like a crescent moon. I stayed on the piano, watching over the emptiness of the cityscape outside my glass windows, at the wall of instruments, and the ceiling, at the wooden floor, and strung the lowest chords I could imagine. It only felt right, and I kept playing, and I kept clawing until I found my way back to middle C, and I tried to drown away the thoughts I stole from her. But I never could.
They were always in me.
If I wanted, this would all be trivial, I would know exactly why she felt the way she did, I would know exactly what I needed to do, and have her be fine with the results, have her be on her way.
But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.
Something in me told me it wasn’t what I wanted.
I kept playing, repeating the same notes, the sounds all melding in the room, a distorted melody, and I thought, avoiding everything I knew about her, about what I could do next.