Crescendo at the End of the World
For a few days, she never came back to the room. I thought she might have been satisfied with the progress she made, being able to sing with me, being able to take charge and lead the melody, being able to construct something close to music even if she still struggled. It would suffice, I thought. If a child heard how much effort she was putting, then surely it would look like she could do anything.
As those days went by, I watched the outside world, noticing a few changes as time went by. Those changes, I figured, were a direct response to the progress I had made with her, though I would never get a concrete answer. Wild life roamed through the park. Troves of birds flew freely, slicing the sky in their wings, with squirrels watching from tree tops, and the stripes of raccoons hiding in the bushes. Often I would catch the slight splash of a fish from the pond, though from the angle I had, I could never confirm its existence. Churning by were the clouds above, and if I stared enough, far enough, I could catch slight glimpses of movement from the faraway buildings.
If I sat focused enough, I could imagine myself in this fabricated park. I could sit by the wayward grass, its blades gentle on my back, the sweep of wind finding its way climbing atop me. The sun would never be as heavy as it could be in these breezes, and if I waited enough, a trill of salted air would land on my tongue courtesy of the pond. Skittering by, I could nearly touch butterflies, but, I would be afraid of hurting them upon impact, by the force I could inevitably inflict. Lost in this façade, a few errant thoughts found their way to me, but I only decided to act on one of them.
The last time I had worked on the song of my life, I was three measures deep with a fourth on the horizon, the notes all scrawled and ready on the fallboard. When I pressed my hands into them, my skin fell in the spaces, but they weren’t deep enough to be stuck. Instead, racing my finger across, I read the notes, imagining what they might sound like, and though it hadn’t been a year since her arrival, I felt like I wanted to continue.
To hone that impulse, I played the notes in front of me, their melody strung with slurs, hopping with staccatos, and slowed with time signature changes stored in my mind. What I carved was nothing as complex as what I played, but it only felt right, something in me told me it had to be played as such, with the ups and downs, with long strung notes and then a sudden burst of light, as if a new encounter.
It wasn’t long, but I kept playing, and I hoped to never forget.
Out of curiosity, I placed my hand over the door where the mold of the knob existed. Rough against my skin, I ran over the cracks, not hard enough to bleed, but lightly enough for the possibility of splinters. Pressing my head over the frame, listening to the outside world, nothing resounded. When I leaned my back over the door, and sat focused on the room, it felt, for a moment that it breathed. There was a light hum from the room, and I separated the sounds of my breaths and heartbeat to confirm.
The room was alive, as much as I was.
I almost considered peering into her life. It would only be a moment, a fraction of a minute to glean the rest of her story, to find the conclusion of her conflict. Even when she had told me the fragments of her problem, the pieces jumbled in her mind, put together in her full sincerity, I knew there was more. But I stopped myself.
A part of me knew I wasn’t born to peer into lives like that.
A part of me waited for her.
A part of me wondered how she even did so, how this ritual was maintained, how it even became a ritual.
The longer these thoughts ran through me, the easier it was to pick them apart.
I just had to wait longer. I told myself that. All I had to do was wait and she or someone else would arrive, and I would be able to help again.
All I wanted was to help, and so I sat waiting, staring at the ceiling, at the wooden floor, humming to myself, listening as loose words slipped out of my mouth, not realizing how easy it had gotten to form them, that I could form them.
With words at my side, I began practicing, testing the pitch of my voice, seeing how long I could get before my throat would reject itself. Speaking at a relatively lower volume was fine, words leaving my mouth as if I was human, and I mimicked the conversations I had with her, playing them out both ways, seeing how the words felt when she said them, and imagining my response. Playing out the encounters again, it felt as if everything was real, not a figment of my mind, or an illusion out of loneliness.
It felt like she was there with me again.
When our encounters ran dry, I began putting words together in new conversations. Though there was no one to converse with, I spoke words into the air as if there was.
“This is my room. I’m not sure where it is, or what it is, but it’s mine, and I’m here.”
“I don’t know. I don’t have a name, what’s yours?”
“That’s right. I’m the guardian? I don’t know, but, if you have anything on your mind, I will be glad to help.”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t have anything like that. I’m just an ordinary…”
“I’m just an ordinary…”
I stopped; I took a few breaths, and looked at the door, at the enclosure around me, at the piano, at the songs I had yet to play and the instruments on the wall, at the worlds remaining.
I would never die.
I would never leave.
Those thoughts found their way inside me, and never left.
“I’m glad to help, after all I’m a…”
“I’m here. I’m here, and I’ll help.”
“Yeah. I’ll do anything I can. Now that I can…”
“Now that I can talk, I’ll do anything I can.”
It felt as if I could speak for as long as I wanted, and the more I did, the more I listened to the sound of my voice, realizing where it came from, the intonation I learned from her, the tiny vocal queues that made her voice hers, yet, I had placed it within me. It was slightly off, but, the replication, and the source was undeniable.
“You know, we can stay here, for as long as we want. And if you do, I hope I can do everything in my power to help you.”
“No one will ever find us. No one needs to find us. I hope you’ll stay with me until then.”
The world outside started changing again, and as it did I spoke out to the room.
“Why? Why does everything have to change?”
The trees began to melt.
“Why can’t it just stay the same? The world out there, it’s, it’s not real, right? Why can’t I just, stay somewhere?”
Every distant building blurred in a bright ray of light.
“It doesn’t matter either way right? It doesn’t matter if it stays the same, right?”
Shards of grass exploded into the air, catching any wildlife in its way.
“Where do I belong in all of this?”
All at once, the destruction before me began to reshape itself, as if molten lava flushing into a mold, the trees hardened into a bridge overlaid with the road, and the grass found its way into gravel, and the buildings were now railroad tracks laid below the bridge. This world was closer; its details clear against the glass window. It wasn’t until I edged my eyes away from the focal point that I noticed a sprawling city in the distance, an array of buildings all empty and grayed, but they were there, and this bridge, this link, was here.
“Where are you bringing me?”
The door creaked, as if answering, but I knew it was doing nothing of the sort.
She had arrived again, all smiles, the star in her hair glittering especially bright.
“She was happy.” She spoke first, and I wasn’t sure when I should reveal my voice.
“She was happy.” She smiled again. “She really was.”
I walked over to the piano, thinking it might be appropriate to give our ensemble one last chance of existence, thinking she may never visit again, that she had no reason to.
She followed me closely, and when I sat, she walked over to the wall of instruments.
“Wouldn’t it be fun, if we tried something a little more interesting? Not that, I mean? Not that I can’t sing anymore after I did what I came here for. But, it would be cool to see one of these in action.”
She started reaching for them, and I was reminded of how futile her attempts were before.
“Seeing them all stuck on the wall, trying their hardest to look all pretty and shiny when they could be out here, well, you know? Reminds me of things.”
The room repelled her as usual, but she kept trying, and I wanted to tell her there was no point, the laws of the room couldn’t be broken, that it was simply how it was, not a fault of her own, but the way things were. I could have told her. I could have simply used my voice, and yet, I stood there watching. I watched as she kept trying, the way her hair remained edged and frayed, damaged on all ends and yet, tidy. The way she leaned all the way over to reach with the slightest push able to cause crumble. The way her lab coat, a part of her I never bothered to question, actually had patches of fabric sewn in discolored white, hiding within its creation.
Every way about her was exactly the way she was, and no matter how much the room repelled her, stopping her from ever gaining distance, she pushed on, and some part of me hoped she could defy the universe.
Of course, the room wouldn’t budge. It was just how things were, she smiled, not being distraught about the failure, and even seemed glad she tried. I was too, and we played once more, her voice still off pitch, slightly sharper than it needed to be, sometimes flatter, but it was music played nonetheless, and the lullaby was completed in a single breath, and we no longer needed to wonder what those stars were.
Before she left, with the door open, her world peering through in the light, I asked her softly, without realizing I had used my voice, if she would ever visit me again, if she would just for fun, not because she had a problem to be solved, but if she could as a friend.
“You, you never told me you could use your voice.” She laughed, and I did too, apologizing. “Well, the ritual was very specific, and technically I’m satisfied, but, if I can, I’ll try.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you again sometime, Celeste.”
She had a fitting name.