Crescendo at the End of the World
Celeste had made a short visit. She grumbled walking in, a warm thermos held in her hand as she paced, complaining about the previous encounter.
“I can’t believe anyone would be so disrespectful, I mean, yeah? It seems like, it seems like he’s going through his own problems, but, really? To just waltz in and be so, rude, it still irks me.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at how annoyed she was getting, shaking her hands, swaying the steam that rose from her container. When she opened it, all at once, a new smell ran through the room, it was warm. But the warmth was more extreme, and it felt like it could stain my nose the longer it lingered, as if there was more substance to its source, and though I couldn’t pinpoint what was inside, it sloshed in long waves, riding the walls of the container.
“But I guess there are people like that too, right?”
“Have you met many?”
Unscrewing the lid, she placed her mouth over the entrance, leaning considerably far for a small sip, and took a moment to embrace what she tasted. After a moment she nodded and smiled.
“That recipe isn’t half bad, I’m impressed. It’s not perfect. No, it’s a little salty, which goes to show how much I shouldn’t just measure things out by eye. But, it’s fine, it’s good.” Celeste noticed the questioning look I gave her and shook her head, not to deny anything that had been said, but as a gesture. “Ever since you got your voice, I feel like you’ve gotten more expressive. And that look tells me you’re worried.”
Though I couldn’t deny what Celeste suggested, I also couldn’t understand if it had been true. Taking effort to communicate using facial expressions and gestures was all I had prior, but I wasn’t sure I was actively aware of them. I wasn’t sure if I was growing to be more human.
“You know the girl I helped? The reason why I met you in the first place? Well, we’ve been getting along more lately, and recently, I’ve even met her sister, the only other person, she says, that makes her feel safe.” She gave a distant laugh, looking at the outside world, taking another sip.
Each visit was always an occasion, and often I forgot how much time passed between them, how during my times spent talking with the few guests I had, more time would be passed in solidarity. Those days seemed to go by quicker than I realized, and the emptiness wasn’t so empty anymore. I had people to look forward to, and the world around me expanded in ways I couldn’t see, in ways locked behind the information in my mind.
“Well, anyway, her sister gave me a really cool recipe for soup, said it would work wonders for a student, and, well, it was cheap and, I can confirm, pretty good. Especially portable, you know?”
“I’m glad things have been well for you.”
Celeste nodded and walked over to the piano.
“And, to answer your last question, the actual question? No. I haven’t met many. Just him, whoever that jerk was.”
She placed her thermos on the free space around the music rack and hummed softly.
“I’m on lunch break right now, but, I feel like singing a little, you know, it doesn’t hurt to practice, right? What about you?”
“I guess I have time to spare.”
By a fabric of fate, a few moments after Celeste had left, he had arrived. Umbrella in tow, stature as clean as possible, every few steps lumbered in the air with the scent of the city lingering as he closed the door.
“Unfortunately, today’s visit will be cut short. I have much to do, the war is long fought, and the men have some reprise as the line is held. I have much to do, indeed.” His eyes held firm on the ground, unable to meet mine, but before I could even think to respond, he started again.
“I presume I should I give you my reason for arrival. From the preparations I have made to reach another world, to be able to talk to a being such as yourself, I wish not to waste too much of your time.”
“There’s no time wasted here.”
He nodded, reaching for his pocket watch, eyes fixated, this time, even longer, at its contents. Facing the outside world, his back blended in its wake, it seemed he was about to cross that fabricated bridge at the slightest implication, his feet would trounce over the blazes of color in each step, and wherever he went, he would arrive without the slightest worry of failure.
“I suppose not. I suppose, not being from this world has you in existence beyond mine. In other words, time is convoluted. Nevertheless, I still would not waste it, whatever time means to you. Time is precious.”
“It is indeed.”
His eyes were still locked onto his pocket watch, his fingers now moving to clear something on the surface, though from where I sat in the room, I couldn’t get a good look. He always towered over in a way to prevent anyone from peering into him, and when he paced, his umbrella tapping away, it added to his posture.
“You see, and, forgive me, but there is more to the previous story of the abandoned child that I have not given you.”
I recognized what he was doing, how he was avoiding and guiding the conversation away, though I couldn’t recognize why he was doing so, I at least knew he was deliberate in his words. There was nothing more I could do than hope he found his way back, and so I indulged in the cards he played.
“You last left off with the child having met another.”
“Correct, but more particularly, in how that child had continued his life of poverty. Do forgive me, but I seem to have left a few key details in that story.”
His pocket watch was still open, though it didn’t seem like he was keeping track of time, but rather wanted whatever it was on the inside to be in view.
“In all actuality, the child still kept relations with the family he met, promising to frequent their neighborhood whenever needed. The cycle of meandering on the streets aimlessly in dredges was not one of complete misery. It had never been like that at all for the child upon having a place to return. It had never been such at all.”
He closed his pocket watch.
“Whenever I tell this story, with strangers or friends, there is always a long pause of acceptance that the story ends there. A loose child without fortune, on the streets, a beggar by trade, a beggar by birth. It is only appropriate that one think this story only be of misery.”
“That is until your corrections. Though, it still is a little sad.”
“That may be true. But it definitely is not the melancholic drunken tale many expect.”
He looked out at the bridge, though what he saw inevitably differed, and I felt like asking what it was through those windows he could see. I felt like trying to understand how the room operated, to see if I could glimpse into the place that had birthed me, that had given me a chance to pretend to be human.
To try and be human.
To exist at all.
“That boy would grow up a coward. He would not be a man worth listening, or a man worth taking seriously. He would be known at the drinking table as an orator, having much to tell, but each word worth a few coins of entertainment. A poor boy by birth, all he could do was hope to please others, because others were the source of his survival.”
“Working in the company of others for survival seems normal.”
There was a brief moment where my eyes caught sight of a distant object in the outside world flowing from top to bottom, as if in a stray gust, but it wasn’t quite clear enough.
“It is. It is absolutely normal to live such a life. Even in war, it is only normal to fight.”
He cut his words short, and took steps towards me with his umbrella still holding onto him. This time, his steps were unbalanced, one foot moving slightly more forward than the other, almost as if skipping. From his coat, he produced square paper films, and handed them to me, sepia tinted photos abound each one, but before I could respond, he had already turned away.
“As I said, I have not much time for today’s visit. The war grows rabid each passing day. Deaths number beyond the lives I have seen. I hope to return, but until then, I impart you those mementos. I presume one with as much knowledge as yours, could do something with them.”
It was a handful of photos he had given me, all carefully kept in condition. Despite being void of color and crisp, they were well intentioned, with the focus of each image in full tow, along with a small caption written in a space below the film. With what I was given, it aligned with the time period he was from, the usage of cameras, particularly the kind which allowed for captions to be written with a built-in mechanism to do so, was often done in secret. Being able to capture photos during a war could lead to accidental leakage of information, and yet, photography never simmered. There was no better way to document their time and possibility of death then with an image, and so they snuck their Autographic cameras onto the battlefield, confirming their existence. The photos I had in front of me, was one such confirmation.
When I looked at each photograph, I couldn’t help but be lost in their scenery, my mind embolden onto the worlds he captured, and each one even had a hint of fragrance from where I imagined they were taken.
Captioned: Him Off to War
Image: Twenty or so soldiers gathered, conscripted together, uniforms tight, long rifles holstered to their body like a third arm, helmets bushed on their heads, and faces stoic, save for a single man smiling. The background had little foliage, a lone tree in the distance covered by the men, and the smell of it all: warm tingled with cold; it was a sticky scent, lingering far beyond its stay. Prominently, they heaved heavy backpacks. The things they carried seemed burdened.
Captioned: Our Summer Camp
Image: Huddled in the trenches, men shared drink and rations, bitten off from the packaging, some still eating, some discarded onto the dirt surrounding them. Some held hands of cards, a poker game left unfinished as every head looked towards the sky, an unheard sound. The scent of it was uninviting, a sharp sensation which threatened to cut into me if I let it linger, and it was unbelievably warm and stagnant, as if any further temperature would cause it to explode. The night sky was barely in view.
Captioned: Haven’t Lost a Leg
Image: The same man smiling before stood tall, centered amongst ailing men in hospital camps, slung over his shoulder his helmet laid over his heart, as if it protect from stray bullets. The dull colors of the surrounding hid the bustle of dying soldiers, all eyes unaware of the world being captured before them. There was an amalgamation of smells, some warm and bodily, some cold and frisked with a combination of chemicals used to manage the borders between life and death. Something smelt particularly sharp, as if filled with a solid foundation, a strong pungent aroma that hung on to the film.
Captioned: Our Street
Image: The same man smiling before stood tall, centered with few passing by on the street, the morning sun a glare on the camera, leaving him in the image of a ghost. Buildings on every side layered the edges of the frame, and in the distance, barely found, were small pieces of litter rolling by gutters. There was no particular smell, an absence of any texture.
There was only one photo that stood apart from the rest, one that existed beyond the rules of the previous worlds found in those pieces of carbon paper film.
Captioned: Quiet Lake Night
Image: With lack of light, the photo is barely visible. Some stars provide illumination, but the technology didn’t allow it to be anymore than slight swathes of clarity. The water shimmered like plastic, something sat atop, its shape curved like a swan, and the reflection of the moon distorts underneath. It smelled cold, a coldness that persisted only a moment, passing by once found, and then there was nothing.
Flipping through these photos, letting my mind wander in them, I failed to notice the outside world shifting again, though, it was only a slight shift, one I didn’t think qualified as any significant change, but it was change. It was becoming night.