Crescendo at the End of the World
The next time she arrived, I had placed her guitar into the gift I prepared. Sitting on the piano chair, I waited for a response. It was difficult providing any specific instructions for Celeste. I knew I wanted to get a guitar case, but, whether there was a specific design or brand my guest wanted, I wasn’t sure. I hoped the thought and materiality of whatever I got was sufficient, and I hoped the room wouldn’t mind having one of its components be snug into the warmth of a container.
When she moved towards the guitar, she seemed to eye it like a new object, like a foreign part of the world she had gotten accustomed. Tracing her hands over the surface, I listened to the way the fabric responded to her skin, the sound the color of clouds.
As if needing permission, she turned towards me, her face obscured in all of the darkness, and though I heard short whimpers leaving her mouth, an attempt to ask, I had already known what she wanted.
I smiled, as much as I could, hoping she could see.
“It always seemed lonely whenever you weren’t there, so I decided to give it a little extra home. I hope it’s fluffy enough.”
When she looked back, her hands still tracing over the body of the case, I told her, “From now on, whenever you come here, you can rest assured it’ll be safe. Not that anything ever happens here that’ll put it in danger, but you know, extra safe. Call it a waste, call it pointless, but it’s quite fitting and respectful, don’t you think so?”
She nodded wildly in agreement. There was a spark in her movements, her body swaying with energy as she found her way to the zipper, unearthing the guitar underneath. Then, as the case collapsed, she closed it, listening as the sound of the metal enclosed the guitar. It wasn’t that she was discovering how the guitar case worked, but it seemed it had been a long time since she ever had the opportunity. Nostalgia bred in the air as she slung the case over her back, feeling the weight of it as she moved about. Taking slow steps forward, she kept her hands close to the strap, adjusting it as she felt fit. Enough sound was made for the light to straddle over her face, and even through her hair, I could see her smile. She always wore the same things no matter the visit, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it, thinking it was just how it was. Making circles with her guitar case, she was giggling a storm, her voice unable to leave her mouth, but her joy was enough of a reward.
The music we played that day was more controlled. She kept the case nearby as she slowly found her way through the strings, the notes not strung in conventional rhythm. Instead, it seemed she wanted each note to be precise, playing and letting them linger in the air, almost as if she was waiting for a response from each one. Though what she wanted to convey wasn’t as clear to me, I figured I could try anyway. Walking away from the piano, I made my way to the middle of the room, grabbing the planetariums, and taking out my pocket watch, prepared for the usage of props if the occasion was ever presented.
When she noticed this, her playing came to a halt, and I figured she wanted me to start.
“Well, I guess, I’ll try to ask for your name. Though, I’m sure it would be hard to speak with just that.”
A single low note was plucked, and she let it reverberate through the strings for further emphasis, a resounding ‘o’ filling the air. I figured she wanted it to represent, “no.”
“Right. Well, your name aside, I guess, well, the real meat of you being here is you have something you want done right? I mean, I’m not forcing you to tell me or anything. I would rather you be comfortable being here, but, you do have something you want, right? And, if that’s the case, then I want to help.”
I realized too late how complex the conversation was going to be, but couldn’t exactly restrain myself or account for how much I wanted to talk. Like my facial expressions, which I wasn’t sure I was in any position to control, my words found themselves laid bare. As expected, it was difficult for her to respond to any of what I said, but she tried anyway, finding high notes then lower notes, then everything in-between, holding each one for as long as she could, in attempts to form semblances of words or moods.
“I guess, this isn’t going to be easy at all. But, I guess that also comes with my own inexperience. Well, we’ll take things one step at a time, and maybe we’ll get somewhere? Maybe we won’t. But we’ll try.”
She strummed a chord and nodded her head.
I felt it was going to be a long day, and an even longer time before we make any real progress, but I didn’t mind at all.
“Have you been playing guitar long?”
To indicate length of time, she played a scale in succession, letting the clash of notes fill the air in a nest of progression. Then, at the apex of their volume, she filled the air with another note to cut through them, stopping them in their tracks.
“I’m guessing it’s something that you’ve always wanted to do?”
She played a ‘no’ which I wasn’t expecting, but from the way the ‘no’ sounded, it wasn’t one of negativity. It was a sly ‘no’ with the sound twirling more than usual. I figured I was on the right mark, but a technicality was left to be found.
“In that case, it’s not something you’ve always wanted to do, but it’s something you’ve always done?” She strummed a ‘yes’ using three separate notes, each varying in tone to match each syllable. It was a small change in expression, one which, might not have mattered to most people, but it did matter for her. Wanting to do something is a big difference to something always being done and it was in these slight semantics which I figured humans preyed on, whether malicious or in our case, an attempt to get the most meaning and clarity.
“Finding something like that must be absolutely amazing. Being able to find passion and never let go. I’m sure, you’ve played to plenty of people back home, right?”
Her answer wasn’t a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ but an uncertainty placated within the muddied note she gave me.
“Not even friends or family? That would be a waste, holding everything to yourself, not letting anyone get a glimpse into what you can do. Maybe I’m just being a little presumptuous, but, that feels rather sad.”
There was no answer, and I didn’t expect her being able to really give anything to such a loaded statement. I didn’t expect her to want to answer what I was implying, but, I kept going, trying to find the best words I could to reach out for her.
“Do you enjoy playing?”
There was hesitation, I noticed her hands moving across the strings, trying to find where they needed to be, but she couldn’t play any of the notes, instead letting her skin sink into them, the tension pushing her back, producing not music but indignation.
“If you had the option to choose one thing to do, one thing at the end of the world, would it be playing music?”
She couldn’t answer either, but I knew from the way her hands moved across the body of the guitar that an answer was waiting.
“If everything were to be stopped, if everything ended in moments without any way to reconcile, without any warning, and you had the chance to do just one last thing, I guess this is just a long winded way to ask you how much music means to you. I know it’s hard to answer, but, I think it’s important if you can.” I didn’t want to sound as if I was pressing her, as if I was interrogating parts of her life and trying to dissect them for my own use. It just felt right to ask, and I wanted to know those feelings which caused her to play to the point of damage, to the point of pain. To the point where all she could do in the room was play.
When she still couldn’t answer, I moved back to the piano, not sitting, but standing above the notes. I didn’t want to show her that I was giving in, that I was going to sit and go back to how we talked without words. Instead, as I played my notes, I made sure to raise my voice to follow, the lights being produced outside a blend of azure amber.
“For me, it’s not a matter of passion in the same way. That sounds rather sad, but, I don’t think it’s something as strong as what you feel when you play. When I play, it’s a necessity, it’s something I have to do because, there’s not much here.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “There really isn’t much I can do, so this is where I am, able to play and enjoy music because what else is there when you’re at the end of the world, at a place beyond existence.” I kept adding notes, increasing the complexity of the arbitrary rhythm I found, but not enough to overpower any of my words. Smoothing out my playing with gentle trills and slurs, I was able to keep them close, the sounds an accompaniment, evidence for what I was saying, but not enough to define what I was. I wasn’t that kind of being, but I was close. I couldn’t help but have joy in playing, and that might have leaked over to her, as I saw her smiling in the low blooms of light created from the outside world. She smiled and couldn’t help but keep smiling, and when she looked at me, with her hair parting from her eyes, I could see how clear they were, like a never-ending ocean distilled in harmony.
Before we could make any progress, the door had begun opening. Although there were only a few possibilities in my mind as to who could have been opening, I somehow expected something more sinister or strange. But instead, it was just Celeste. For a moment, I also expected her to be unable to see my new guest, that it only made sense with the circumstantial events of a lack of guests aside from her. However, the first thing Celeste did was look to her side at the guitar-laden girl.
“Oh? I didn’t know someone new was here? If I just walked in on something then, maybe I should go?”
I considered it, but, I wanted to see what would happen. There was a possibility this wouldn’t bode well for the situation at hand, but, there was also the opposite reaction, and it could have been what I needed.
“You’re fine. We were just talking.” It wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t a lie at all, but I withheld the underlying intentions.
With my confirmation Celeste turned and kept her stare at the guitar case, no doubt realizing it was being put to use.
“Oh! I see. I see. Now that’s a real handy gift don’t you think?”
Celeste walked over, crouching, mostly ignoring her as she stared at this new development. Celeste was in awe at the case being put to use, and though it was still dim in the room, I could tell how much she glowed in the prospect of seeing it in action.
“By the way, my name is Celeste.” She stuck her hand out, and though the response was slow, she eventually received a hand to shake.
“Those planetariums were the handiwork of me, though in a room like this, it might not be as great. Nothing beats an actual starry sky, you know?”
I moved away from the piano and picked up the planetariums, shifting to the middle of the room, closing our distance.
“With the two of you here, things are gonna get real lively, right? I bet the two of you have been playing a bunch?”
“You could say that. I wonder if you sang along with guitar instead of piano if it would make a difference.”
We both laughed at the comment, me not realizing that I was able to make jokes with her in that way, or how easily it came to me, and her, undoubtedly, not expecting a comment like that from me. Our laughs blossomed in bright blues, exposing the face of my silent visitor, who looked not knowing the context, but smiled in the joy bouncing between us.
“What was that old saying? There are things more in this universe then you could ever think?”
“There are more things in heaven and Earth.”
“Right, well? You never know, maybe my voice is just naturally tuned with a guitar, and maybe sometimes even you can learn to joke around like that.”
Placing the planetariums on the floor, I angled them towards Celeste, imagining where the beam of stars would land, and placed them just above her head, staining the instruments behind her.
“It would be a fun experiment. But, I’m not the one who’d be in charge of that.”
“Right. Well? We only just met, but, why don’t we play a little? If experience has told me anything about being here, it’s that this is the best way to get to know each other.”
After a small moment of pause as she considered if she wanted to, she agreed on a short duet, nodding to Celeste. The song itself was easy enough that no prior practice was required. While the strings started first to lead the melody, Celeste’s voice slowly crept through, still off-pitch, still carrying the brunt of any arrangement it found itself in, but her voice was well supported. The strings beneath her voice were soft, matching every shift in tone and every dropped accent, and as the lullaby stirred in the air, I let the stars escape from the planetariums, and they were showered in them, a tiny concert within a glowing galaxy erupted.
Even if the music was simple, silly, and anything but professional, she smiled, her fingers not needing to strain themselves or rush ahead, and she could just exist with the activity she loved without need of exertion.
When the song finished, the first sound to cut into the darkness, to give a spark of light, was her short laughter.
“Well? I guess it was worth trying anyway? But it was fun. It really was. I hope we can continue having fun like this in the future.” Celeste brought her hand out, and without hesitation, received a shake in return. Between them, the aquamarine light that sprouted from her words, didn’t dissipate. No matter how time passed, that slight blue was still present, a small beacon floating across, and I was the only one who could see it. The warmth that was made.