Crescendo at the End of the World
I was more than satisfied with the outcome of my deductions, but felt the situation lacked a certain consistency with Celeste’s case. There was no need to play any songs, and the inclusion of music within the time we spent skating around his issues were less than necessary. At least, that was how I felt. Something in me felt sad for my piano, that it wasn’t included in the conclusion.
Unable to know when his next visit was, I decided to tide my time practicing the one song I kept close by. Though the notes stayed the same, as I played, it was different. I started with a slow simmer, except, the notes didn’t linger in the air but were connected by quick jumps moving time forward, but, not enough to progress in large leaps. There weren’t enough notes to really cover the scope of my life, but, as I replayed them, I changed octave, making it lower, then higher, skirting around each other as if the notes weren’t too sure of where they wanted to land.
Lost in the amalgamation of the swirl of sound rushing together, I failed to notice the door opening, only catching it in my peripherals, and all at once I stopped playing, all the music caught in the air.
There was no visitor with this door.
The world exposed by that door faced another building through a narrow alley. There were few pieces of litter scattered on the ground, and the distant sound of crowds moving began to filter into the room. A warm smell followed, constantly shifting through the room, different tones of it jumping in intensity as the sounds of feet flitted through.
It was the second time I’d been met with the same proposition, and though I didn’t think the room could answer back, I spoke regardless.
“If I walked through that door, would I be able to return?”
There was no answer. Rooms couldn’t speak. But my world was inevitably steeped in things much stranger than a talking room, and so I continued.
“If I were to leave and abandon this space, what would happen?”
“Would there be any point in my creation if I were to go against your will?”
“Would it be wrong for me to live for myself?”
“Would it be wrong for me to be human?”
“Would it be wrong?”
There was no answer, and all I could do was wait by the piano, closing the fallboard, running my fingers once over my song, and take a rest until time passed and I was needed.
Dreaming of the images he gave was something I didn’t expect, though having spent time analyzing and rounding a solution imprinting it within the center of my mind was completely within the realm of reason. Dreaming of things, being influenced by the people around me, being influenced by the world, it felt human.
I watched as he and his friend spent their time together, in secret vows, on the street they were raised, in the city which slept for no one, where they existed for themselves and the moments shared.
In his letters, I could only imagine they kept a correspondence beyond photos, his friend would talk of the stench of the trenches, of the tension of hearing explosions during the night, in watching as no-man’s land filled with bodies dropping limp moments after a failed attempt to rush down the enemy.
He would make many friends in conscription, and he would see many more die.
In my dream, I had a vision of my visitor writing his friend, telling him to wait just one more year and that the war would end, that he had a revelation from some otherworldy source that things would be over, that they could be at peace once more. And to make him believe in his ramblings, he would cite their own meeting as a happenstance of utter fate.
I kept the planetarium close by, bringing it to the center of the room, and turned it on using the lowest settings, watching as only few blinking stars were able to escape. The outside world still dim, with the dry sparkles of snowflakes providing brief moments of extended illumination, but even then it wasn’t enough to stop the stars from spilling upward onto the ceiling. Despite the snow never having stopped, it never piled on the earth outside.
It was a never-ending winter.
Though, for me, it wasn’t any more unusual than my own existence.
When no one came, I often passed the day counting those flakes.
When he next arrived, the planetarium was back on its place by the leg of the piano, hidden in plain sight, but not enough to arouse his suspicions, and so I didn’t need to explain technology a century away or risk any chance for the timelines to converge and break. Though I wasn’t quite sure any sort of parallel world time travelling conventions applied to an actual being who could exist in all times simultaneously. In my mind, there were no such parallel worlds, only the world I saw, and the information gleaned from that single timeline. An errant thought told me it might have been interesting to expose future secrets. I was sure that part was fueled by Celeste.
“The photos I have imparted upon you. I presume you have spent ample time in divulging their meaning?”
It had been a while since his last arrival, and I didn’t think he spent his time idling to allow me to understand his intentions. It was probably a coincidence, but, I didn’t expect him to freely convey the circumstances within his life. And I didn’t mind at all.
“I have. At least, I think I have.” I smiled, taking the photos from the top of the piano and gesturing for him to take them back, but he shook his head.
“I did not impart them upon you expecting them back.”
“I didn’t think you would, but I figured these were rare.” I wasn’t worried about his intentions and I knew he wouldn’t have wanted me to even ask to return them. It might have been better that I played the part first, but I figured the memories he gave were scarce in materiality. These were photos he took in a time where technology was burgeoning, not a time to give away the precious few moments to a being he couldn’t understand. Something in me told me that it wouldn’t have been right to take the shared time away from him, even if they were just a photo, even if they were just a captured point of time which he by all means could remember until the day he died.
“They aren’t mine,” I said these words out loud, not realizing I had, and for the first time, the words flew out of me like the gently falling snow. “They aren’t mine, and even if you can remember them, and cherish them, these memories are real, incredibly so, and I don’t need to have them to confirm them, and I don’t need to take them away from you to confirm they were ever true. Of course they were. You lived them.”
His response would not be in the heightened diction I noticed he used in his daily vocabulary, but in something much simpler. Walking over to the piano, he sat, not a single look my way, not a single breath or attempt at words, but instead, placed his fingers onto the keys. Though he didn’t play a song, he did understand basic chords, stringing them together to form a pleasant scale.
With those notes, he conveyed an unwavering spirit, an unbreakable will for what he wanted, for his feelings and experiences, and he kept playing those simple chords together, stringing them the exact same way no matter how much he changed the scale, no matter how many notes he added from his left hand to support. They were all the same. But they were his, and they were real, and nothing could have taken that away from him.
The snow stopped falling.
On the ground, it accumulated, a soft blanket over the earth, and in the distance, a cat started crossing the bridge.
“Even after the war, everything you’ve experienced, and everything more, will all be there.”
I looked at his photos again, at the time they represented, at the time I knew already past, at all of the things yet to come.
“In the future, those ahead of you, those you’ll never know, will at least be a little bit happy knowing they don’t have to be afraid.”
Not needing to speak at anything particular, not needing to direct my words to any subject, I knew he understand what I meant.
I knew it was all he wanted to hear, and even then, I still insisted, knowing it would mean more to him to keep what he found precious close.
“And these will be proof of that. Not for me, not for you, but for wherever they end up. If not for either of us, keep them for the generation that’s it. Leaving them here will benefit no one at all.”
I walked over, handing him the photos. They weren’t the planetarium Celeste had given me, an object void of sentimental value. They were, entirely, pieces of him, pieces that I already had inside of me that I could access at a single thought.
“Very well. No amount of argumentation will have you concede upon this predicament. Though only I view it as such.”
When he took the photos, he continued.
“You may deny such claims, but you truly are a being beyond my imagination, akin to a god, though I would not fathom to call you such. I am not one of faith, but even still, allow me this once to thank you as such.”
“You don’t have to thank me as anything. But I’ll take it.”
When he reached for his pocket watch and flipped it open, I noticed, for the brief moment he had it out, that on its case was a grainy note, with words I couldn’t quite make out, and he lingered on them, seeming to whisper them as his fingers traced over.
“We will see each other soon.”