Crescendo at the End of the World
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when Flander had arrived again, and by then I was certain a great deal of time had passed in his world. I wasn’t sure if this was the room’s way of keeping the rotation of guests fresh, or if it had really been filtering them purposefully, understanding that whenever a guest arrived, even if they didn’t have a direct request, could benefit from entering. It happened more than I would have liked to admit to the room, that it was orchestrating in all of the right ways. His steps were tinted gray, the blooms of light creating pseudo shadows over me as I laid facing the ceiling, watching the stars flow out of the planetarium at the lowest setting.
“I see I may have chosen an inopportune time in my arrival.”
“You’re free to enter whenever you like.” I tried to smile for him, but still stuck in my thoughts I was sure it came off as a weak attempt. Being more aware of the way I appeared I felt my face failing to complete any sort of grin, and I had to focus even more to maintain the tone of my voice, such that it didn’t outwardly reflect the swirl of thoughts in my mind.
“That may be so, but there are times where an unexpected presence may still warrant unexpected disruption. I am sure you can agree.” He didn’t walk into the room, and instead, it seemed he was ready to turn back.
“And if such a situation were to occur to you, how would you handle it?”
With my question, he nodded, taking a few strides into the room, slow and calculated, as if the slightest break in concentration would cause him to fall, and yet, it was still loose. His steps had a slight jump, and though he pressed his weight into one leg to move forward, it didn’t, at first glance, seem to garner any attention. Once his thoughts were found, he stopped, cleared his throat, all the lights he made in these motions turning shades of green.
“It might disappoint you to hear such a trite answer, but I can only answer given certain specifics. If you would like a concrete answer, I am afraid we must go into details.”
“I figured as such. It’s not a problem at all. If you don’t mind.”
“I came here not with the intent of laying bare my time for you, that much I have already conceded. As I had eluded before, I come here out of my own comfort. If I can be of any assistance, my nature allows me only to provide.”
I felt bad thinking Flander might have wanted his time spent not listening and theorizing what troubles I had, I felt bad thinking he might have wanted to report on the status of the soon ending war, or about what was lodged deep within his being. And yet he offered, and I felt only right to accept.
He sat leaning onto the glass of the outside world, the stagnant blue highlighting his face, reaching over to the suit he wore which had scuffs of dirt and stains neatly hidden with fabric. Between us, I placed the planetariums, ready to expunge any stars at his wonder, as his eyes often wandered to them, but, we kept on task.
After my explanations, he made a face indicating his entry into thought, but, he expelled them with a suggestion.
“Often times, when things are not lost, but difficult to converge through any amount of competing factors in our thoughts, it may be beneficial to cleanse with an accompanying activity.”
Making his way to the piano, he smiled, but before playing any notes, gave me a questioning stare.
“That does in fact mean you as well. Have you ever played a duet?”
“No. Though, I could try.”
“And try you will.” He declared as if he knew I was going to accept, as if he knew I had no other choice, as if he knew I would be enticed to try something new.
The seat was enough to accommodate both of us, though we each had sat with half of us breeching over the seat, hovering in place and straining our legs. But the mobility across the keys was present, and I had full control of the treble half of the piano, while he the bass. I waited for his cue.
“Your situation comes with many complications. It is definitely one of oddity, an unexpected appearance in duos, with only one being a disruption, and yet, you claim they may be one and the same.”
Working out the scenario, he started with staccato chords, running C major then down to E minor, and after confirming he didn’t have any particular song in mind, I jumped in with chords to match, eventually harmonizing as we improvised imaginary jazz.
“There are more inventions in the world beyond my understanding. This is one such place, and so I sympathize with the unimaginable coming to reality.”
The playing slowed, his notes now being connected through glissandos, and I followed in suit, matching the pace, making sure that we didn’t overrun each other, that our notes climbed in succession and didn’t tumble haphazardly.
“An unexpected appearance begets an unexpected disturbance. I still stand by those words, by that attribution, and by all the situations where it may come true. Even miniscule, it may apply.”
Transitioning into ties, we played notes in slow succession, letting our sounds converge, colliding in the air. We were basked, all the while, in swirling greens, his voice and the piano creating a stronger bloom than either could produce.
“What is important here, is how you feel. The recipient of unexpected disturbances may do with it whatever they will, but what matters is that the recipient is true to their desires. You do not seem impaired by these recent developments.”
“No. I guess I’m not. It’s not like that at all.”
His playing continued to slow, though he had no intentions to stop, and so I had to take over, finding a way to bring our rhythm back to pace, but with his support, he maintained a time signature beyond the one I was speeding into, and so I slowed down, but he maintained, causing me to think he wanted to increase tempo, but he never did. This ebb and flow remained until he spoke next.
“If this unexpected disturbance is not causing any sort of ill will to you, or anyone around you, then I see only one course of action. And I believe you know this action as well, I believe you have known all along.”
“Because I’m an all knowing being?”
He broke through, overlapping his notes onto mine.
“Because you have spent a sufficient amount of time in thought about this issue.”
The last note belonged to him.
I thanked him as he left, but he shook his head.
“To thank me would be to imply I had any hand in helping you with a trouble, but I believe I have not done so. All I have done is spend time here, as I always have.”
“Sure. But, I’ll thank you anyway.”
“If you are so inclined, I will accept.”
When he left the room, I was drenched once more in that semi-darkness, still being alleviated by the stillness of the blue light. Running through every possibility of how I should act when Aria arrived was pointless, I thought. I knew I only had one thing I could do to even broach the case at hand. No lies, no deep contemplation, no hesitation, I knew all I had to do in front of me, even if what I knew was unclear, it was only right to give an answer when asked. After all, I was capable then of being able to give.
The Aria who arrived next was the Aria I was accustomed to, immediately walking to the guitar, her hair frayed over her shoulder, wearing a simple shirt and jeans, unable to speak, but tried in any ways she could, even if her voice always fell short.
Bringing out her guitar to the middle of the room, I thought she might not have wanted to play, but instead, as she stared at me sitting on the piano chair, her eyes peeking loosely out of her hair, I knew what she wanted to say but couldn’t.
“You want to play together?”
She nodded, pointing to her mouth, and to the door, gesturing in exaggerated ways which didn’t quite fit with who she was now, but it was oddly fitting.
“You’re waiting for Celeste?”
She strung a few notes to indicate a ‘no’ while also shaking her head.
“You want to practice for an ensemble?”
This time a ‘yes’ was played. The thought of having all of us play was one I thought possible with their intersection already proven possible. Though I wondered how it might have sounded with all of our respective sounds clashing over Celeste’s singing. Those thoughts made me laugh.
“I see. Well, if that’s what you want, then I’m not one to refuse.”
It had only been my second duet, and possibly, an even larger accompaniment to my playing. I wondered if I could have arranged for all four of us to be in the same room, playing music, just enjoying time spent together.
She started with the first notes, the lullaby a simple enough tune which didn’t need much coordination between us, but to combine both of our distinct sounds required some foresight from either of us to mend them together. As she played, I began supporting her sounds with my piano, playing in the same key, but making sure my notes were supplementary to the lead she created. I began inserting the lyrics in my mind, singing them as if Celeste was in the room, and letting some of the words flow out of my mouth in gentle hums. Once we had synchronized, Aria took the reins even further increasing the speed and also playing one of the variations of the lullaby, adding longer strings of scales and trills, but she lacked the fingers to play all of it at once and so I had to support the base harmony to make it still sound like our intended song. Once one variation finished, she found another, always starting on the wrong note but finding her way home regardless, as if she had at one point memorized all twelve variations, but that time had long past, and in playing was able to rekindle all that was missing.
Even after we finished every variation known, she kept playing, a storm brewing, and I was ready to stop the torrential force of what we could create, but she stopped first.
She looked up from her playing, her breaths in pants, and she opened her mouth to say something but couldn’t quite get the words to escape, but she kept trying, and every fallen syllable stacked onto each other until the words were audible.
“That was really good.”
“It was. Though, I’m not sure Celeste would be able to follow all of that.”
Our laughter filled the room in the brightest tinges of green I had seen yet.
It seemed during our time of rest that Aria was particularly tired, nodding off as she struggled to sit, trying hard to maintain some semblance of consciousness, though I couldn’t quite see why she had to try so hard.
“If you doze off here, rest assured this is the safest place you’ll find in, well, anywhere.”
But Aria shook her head, fighting against the temptation of sleep by attempting to stand, nearly falling and crashing into the floor.
“Seriously. There’s nothing to worry about here. I can guarantee that.”
But when I stood to walk over, to try and get her to relax, she shook more wildly, her voice escaping her mouth in stilted objections. Each spurt of unintelligible sentence eventually compounded into discernible words. But the only one which struck me was, “no.”
“It’s no problem at all, really, Aria, you don’t have to strain yourself.”
I couldn’t understand what she was trying to get at, why she was so adamant on refusing, why when all the trust we had was still present, why in all of the time we had spent together, in all of the people I was able to help prior, that I couldn’t understand her refusal.
“No.” She said again, straining even harder.
But I kept pressing forward, unable to really know what else to do, but I did know, but I refused it myself, and I wanted her pain to stop. It kept growing, her voice jolting her awake, but the exhaustion brought her down, an ebb and flow of drowning tidal waves.
Those were the last words she was able to let escape, and when she closed her eyes to sleep, to let the day devour her, she was gone. As if she was never there, I blinked, and her entire body faded away, like mist, like the vestiges of cinder carried away by the wind. She dissolved, and she was no longer there, and I was left unable to understand anything.
Not knowing anything was incredibly human. Of course I had known that, and a part of me also knew that being helpless was also incredibly human.