A Song To Die To
“You should buy a decent radio and speakers.”
It takes me several seconds to pull my thoughts back to his voice.
“Excuse me?” I’m lost. I have been a mother for only a day, and have already come to the realization that I can not protect my child from life.
“Speakers. The vibrations. He’ll enjoy it. We’ll do one more hearing test before he leaves and continually check in. I’m going to send the nurse in with some additional information about what steps you should take. I know it may not seem ideal to receive this information so soon, but I assure you the earlier we recognize hearing loss, the better that little guy’s chances for decent language and cognitive development become.”
On the way home I turn the music all of the way up. I drop the treble down and turn the bass way up. I cry.
The next test along with all of the follow up appointments go no better.
As years pass I spend every bit I earn on making his life more full. Hearing aids. Drum sets. Sign language teachers. Classes for the deaf. Special phones. A baby grand piano. A light that blinks throughout the whole apartment when the doorbell rings. Music lessons. Translators. Sounds for the car. Anything that can bring any semblance of that lovely thing called noise that I have always taken for granted and anything that can help him overcome the obstacles that might come from a lack of sound in your universe.
The first thing I registered when the doctor told me he may never hear was that I needed to provide him with constant sound. He may not always hear it. But he could still enjoy it. And he did. He spent his life blasting music. Learning piano and guitar and drums. Writing notes and composing elegant melodies that he brought to life through any instrument he could master. The happiness that these vibrations brought him were more beautiful than anything I had experienced.
I learned just a day after he was born that I could not protect him from life. And I continued learning throughout his entire life. But as I lay here passing my last breaths I can’t help but fall in love. My vision has long since failed me, but next to me as the lights inside me flicker out, I hear a sweet song. He kisses my cheek, and I feel warm tears fall on my face just before I let the notes swallow what’s left in my lungs.
I hold the jagged edges
of life in bleeding hands,
I step into endless
dance with you, but
music has died down,
leaving sliced thoughts
that cannot heal,
missing puzzle pieces,
space left unfilled.
of the past within
my soul, I become
daughter of the sun.
Now, I can’t move on -
I just am,
ripped stitches of the past.
I can’t go forward
without erasing what was.
I try to rent my skin
so there will be a place
life hasn't touched.
What’s inside of me,
I cannot hear.
and there is
Master of the Menagerie
I couldn’t look away, couldn’t move no matter how many tripped over me on the sidewalk. My ten-year-old soul had been pierced by an invisible string, and I was tethered to this spot, only a thin pane of glass separating me from this wonderous creature.
She also stood motionless and silent, curves stained a dark cherry, neck long and black with four silver lines descending her front. She said nothing, but I heard her like chimes. She begged me to touch her. She promised she would sing if I did, me and no one else. All others ignored her.
But all I could do was stare.
Night draped a cold blanket on the world, and the shop owner locked up, chasing me off in the process. As I neared home, I heard shouting and entered through the broken window in the back rather than announce my presence by negotiating with the crooked front door.
Sweeping a meager handful of crumbs off the counter, I crouched behind the hole-ridden chair in the corner of our one-room shack, ate, and listened to the rhythm of the bellows. The words were different from those spoken in our town, their meaning lost to me, but the melody they wove warned me to stay hidden.
My father pleaded. The stranger wearing a soft suit demanded. Father was scared. The stranger possessed no mercy, teeth sharp like a dragon’s, mustache shaped like a bull’s horns, eyes round and dark in the shadow of a top hat’s brim.
Gentler voice gliding between the stranger’s, Father backed toward the counter. Was he aiming for our only knife in the drawer beneath the sink?
Is this the only way? I wondered, gut clenched so tight it was surely about to snap my spine. This scary man is so big. Father can’t fight him alone. Am I meant to help? Do I jump out now or wait until he has passed?
Fingers dug into my bicep and yanked me from behind the chair, my breadcrumbs flying. A hand on either shoulder, Father stood me in front of him, speaking more fervently. I tried to step back, to lean against my father, but he pushed me toward the stranger.
Arms crossed, the large man sounded dismissive and derisive, like the snap of a heron’s wing as it leaves you behind.
“Sing, my child,” Father whispered.
I couldn’t, not with my heart blocking my throat or my diaphragm hiding in my toes. I shook my head.
“You must sing,” Father hissed. “I would give you to this tycoon to pay my debt, to save my life and the lives of your siblings. He won’t take you if he thinks you’re worthless, and singing is your only skill.”
I gasped. Father was supposed to protect me, not hand me over to monsters. He told us that every night, that he would always protect us. But when danger drew near, he shoved me at the monster, both our knees shaking.
Father was a coward, and so was I.
I opened my mouth to do as I was told, but only a wheezy croak emerged, like a toad getting stepped on. The stranger scowled and hollered over my head.
Do not disappoint Father. Do not let this man hurt your family.
The words became a beat in my head, giving my heart something to follow. Slowly, it slid out of my throat, and my voice grew stronger, high and clear, like the song of a nightingale, the bird for which my mother named me: Kocho.
Father always thought it was a stupid name for a boy.
I sang of the freedom of the ocean and the wind. Of how the rain roamed but always came back again. Into the music poured borrowed emotions wrought from when my mother had sung the same song. I knew nothing of the sea beyond the stench of the harbor, yet I sang as if I had tiptoed along the crests of its waves. All I knew of freedom was running through crowded streets just fast enough to avoid being crushed by carriage wheels. That feeling, too, was knit into the music.
The song took all of me, and I didn’t notice when the shouting stopped. I fell back into reality only when the stranger’s hand clapped over my mouth. It smelled of foreign spices, skin as soft as a kitten’s fur.
He knelt, an odd glint in his gray eyes. “This shabby town is not worthy of such art. You could compete with any of the pet musicians back home.”
He threw me over his shoulder.
This room was thrice the size of our shack. I stood in the center, surrounded by cushioned divans and glittering lamps. The suit I wore was a miniature version of the master’s, with a short breast and long coattails, but I had grown considerably in the month since he first brought me here. The pant legs revealed my shins, and the coat restricted my breathing.
Based on the visit of a man with a measuring tape that morning, I hoped a new, larger outfit would arrive soon.
This evening, another stranger stood before me, holding a curious case. It called to me, a low hum, the purr of a cat, with the high-pitched jingle of a bell. It wanted me to open it, to set the contents free, but Master didn’t like when I opened things. When he was displeased, I received no food. When he was pleased, I had more than enough.
Even the dumbest of creatures could understand that.
So I held back, hands shaking as the call grew louder. I stared at the case, a harpoon shot through me, digging at my insides as I disobeyed its tug.
“Eyes like a starving man’s,” the newcomer chuckled, propping the case on a couch.
This must be a truly valued thing if it’s allowed to touch the cushions.
I wasn’t allowed to touch the cushions.
The man spoke more, words too fast for me to catch and squeeze the meaning out of. Master replied in kind, leaning forward on the largest of the divans, elbows on his knobby knees as the elongated case flipped open.
Breath left me.
Polished cherry wood gleamed in the flickering chandelier light, again crying for me to touch it. What started as the tinkle of a lone bell rolling across the floor grew into a cascade of chimes pouring off a balcony, each one landing on my head and ringing in my ears. I could no longer ignore the harpoon drawing me closer, my hand lifting, fingers stretched.
I stopped, frozen, the pull still loud and strong, but Master’s gaze was on me. With effort like pushing a boulder uphill, I turned my head to him, all my strength stuffed into staying still, waiting for permission.
He nodded, explaining something I couldn’t hear and wouldn’t have understood anyway.
The newcomer held the instrument out to me, telling me her name: Violin.
Tentatively, I ran my fingertips along her edges: the ridge where her faceplate met her sides, the c-shaped niches at her waist, the pins on her head, and lastly the strings. They were unique, arranged from thinnest to thickest.
The newcomer, a teacher, impatiently shoved Violin into my arms and grabbed a smooth stick lined with fine hair. Arranging Violin’s body at my chin, my left palm supporting her neck, he fit the bow into my right hand and glided it across her strings.
She hummed one note, a question: What did I want her to do?
Teacher turned me toward Master and let go. A grin tugged at my lips, and a song sizzled within my veins, smooth and quick like raindrops.
I pulled the bow back across the strings, but Violin was nervous of my touch, shy, and she sounded like a cat choking up a hairball.
Master threw a book at me, and I managed to turn, shielding my new partner.
Sing like I know you can, I begged her. Don’t bring shame to your family.
Another book hit my back, corner leaving a sting beneath my shoulder blade, and this time my pull on the bow was more insistent, more forceful. Violin cried, giving voice to the color blossoming across my back.
As my fingers flitted over the strings, she responded with new pitches, tones higher the closer my hands came to one another. The less my hands shook, the harder I gripped, the stronger her voice became, shyness vanishing, and I dared turn back to the master.
I stood tall, not as tall as Master, but as tall as I would ever be. In the largest room I had ever been in, floor and columns of marble, I only saw the beats in every movement. Master’s collection surrounded me, a menagerie he trusted me to master. Each of them was a part of me; their voices were woven into my blood, and my songs flowed through them.
It was said I could upstage any pet musician, but I didn’t see it as a competition like that. The more voices there were, the louder and longer we all poured everything we had into the blank, bored air, the more music won.
Silence constantly fought to crush me, and the members of my menagerie were my comrades, my armor, giving me the power to fight back.
Here in this grand hall, onlookers clapped a beat, drawing a path for the sound to follow. My fingers ran along the piano, and it giggled, voice wavering, spiraling three notes at a time, striking the bottom as a flute met my lips. With its astronomical, clear chortles, the melody returned, describing the movements of the dancers’ feet, the swing of their hips and arms.
They stopped, but the path didn’t end there, growing wider, golden and brilliant. I soaked in its radiance and channeled it through me, fingers buzzing as the flute slid back to its stand and I caught up Violin.
She sang one deep note, and someone grabbed my arm. As I stared at him, brows furrowed, someone else took Violin.
“You cannot be a pet musician anymore,” her captor said. I wanted to reach for her, but the first man’s grip on my arm was as unyielding as a statue’s. “You are free.”
I shook my head. “I just want to play music.”
“No. You must be free.” His eyes were a glittering crystal glass filled with insistence tinted dark with concern. “The new law says so. You must be something else.”
But I didn’t know how to be anything else.
Shoes were this factory’s business. Music was forbidden to me, stuffed and sealed inside because it would draw the wrong kind of attention. I was to let no one believe I had ever been anything but a cobbler.
Pet musicians were useless, lazy, dirty.
Yet, as my new comrades and I worked side by side, affixing soles to footwear, the beat of our hammers called to the music I tried so very hard to keep within and hidden. When I willed my toes not to tap, my leg shook, and if I leaned an elbow on it to force it still, I felt an explosion might take me at any moment.
“Boss,” a new worker said behind me as our employer led him around on his initial tour, “at your brother’s factory, a musician plays fast ditties to keep our hands moving.”
“As if I’d ever hire one of them filthy creatures,” Boss sneered.
My shoulders hitched closer to my ears.
If he knew…
“Just a suggestion,” the newbie waived, voice reedy like an oboe’s. “Maybe try it and see how production goes? Your brother’s factory does often beat you in productivity.”
I chewed on my lower lip, hammer fallen still as I strove to wear silence’s uniform. It didn’t fit me. Sometimes it was ripped to shreds when the brilliance in my veins seeped through my skin.
“You make it sound like it’d be so easy to find one. Most musicians are scam artists, and they’re harder to get rid of than fleas.”
They were almost to Boss’ office. Chance flowed through my frozen fingers.
Tell him! Tell him! the hammers whispered, and before I knew it, I stood, workload clattering on the table.
“Boss!” A rough blast from a trombone. I flinched at my own voice, shoulders trying to cover my ears again.
The boss turned. “Yes?” His eyes flitted over my name badge. “Kocho?”
My hands became wooden boards at my sides, stiffness crawling into every part of me as the hammers slowed and stopped, all eyes watching.
“I know how to play a little music.” My timbre was as soft as a harp’s, but I forced my chin level and looked at the boss. He knew I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t filthy or a con artist, didn’t he? Would he throw me out because the blood that ran through me was tainted with sound? Because it burned within me? Because I was too weak to hold it in anymore?
It took over. I wasn’t aware of any response. Hammer back in hand, I pounded a beat as nails slid home and I sang. The inferno that had built, trapped for years with no outlet, poured into the factory. It massaged and scraped my throat, saturating the room and echoing back as ripples and waves, and I crashed through them, creating more, throwing everything I was and ever would be into the organized chaos.
Over and over the beat cycled, raging high and simmering low.
Blankness took three, my arm swinging too far and clunking late on the table.
I blinked. The workload was done. There was nothing left to be hammered.
The sun had moved from its mid-morning slant to its late-afternoon blaze, highlighting fountains of dust as it streamed in the windows near the ceiling. Everyone’s piles were neatly boxed and stacked, their attention fixed firmly on me.
I dropped my hammer, its clatter giving me the beat on which to turn, a slow, tentative rotation toward Boss, who stood halfway out his fancy rolling chair. His gaze was like the stranger’s who had taken music away, spindly brows low over clear blue eyes dripping in concern.
I couldn’t be a soldier for silence anymore. I didn’t believe in that fight, and it was killing me. My knees shook, and the scene blurred. Before I could fall, I ran.
All I could be was a musician. That was all the music would let me be, and if that was wrong, why was I in this world? What was my purpose?
A glint caught my eye through a shop window, and I barged in, wiping tears from my eyes. There in the corner of a dingy pawn shop, mostly covered in rags and knickknacks, Violin slept.
Scooping her up, I cradled her to my chest, back scraping against the papered wall as I sunk to the floor.
“Sir, you can’t sit there,” the counter man rebuked, glare both chiding and expectant.
Violin’s silent chimes jingled. They described the uncertain footsteps of a child drawing nearer to someone barely remembered. The closer they came, the louder the bells rang, their strength and confidence overwhelming me, towing me to my feet.
Holding Violin tighter against me, I scrambled to the counter, my last pennies dug from my pocket and pressed against the glass, their clinks reverberating through my fingertips and into my bones. Violin wanted to answer their call, to sing the song trapped within me.
“It’s worth much more than that,” the man scoffed, his spittle landing on my face. My gaze dropped to my shaking hands.
I knew it wasn’t enough. I alone knew how much Violin was worth. She was a piece of my soul, and souls were not to be bartered with. They didn’t belong alone in a pawn shop.
So I returned to the corner, leaning against the wall as I held the missing part of me.
As the sun burned red on the horizon, Boss stormed into the shop, a policeman at his heels. Their thick shoes spelled a heavy rhythm on the wooden floor, saying everything.
I’ll be taken away.
Panic pooled within me, igniting the fire again. I wanted to scream, anything to scare off silence’s approach. It would kill me this time. My own blood would incinerate me from the inside out.
Why can’t I release my music into the world without disturbing anyone? When did they start to hate clapping the rhythm for me? What happened? When did this blessing become a curse? When did music become a bad thing?
I hugged Violin harder, her strings protesting against my shirt, an awful, pitiable sound.
Boss knelt. “We’ve been looking for you.”
I stared, not daring to move. Could he see the fire burning in me? My eyes were dark; flames should have been easy to spot. Father used to say eyes were the window to the soul and mine only opened the door to a useless place.
Silence claimed Boss for several moments, posing him with pursed lips. I waited, cherishing what time I had left with Violin.
“Are you a real musician?”
“I’ve never heard anyone sing like that. You’re like a bird.” He chuckled. “And you kind of flew off like one, too. Can you play these instruments as well?”
“Yes.” I sounded like a frog, and I hated it.
I am Kocho, the nightingale. Why should I have to deny the music that weaves me?
I frowned, and Boss’ brows knit together. “Which one?”
“All of them.”
I am the master of the menagerie.
His eyes widened, then he pointed at Violin. “But that one’s your favorite?”
I let silence win one more time, but he saw the answer anyway.
Holding up a finger to tell me to wait, Boss approached the counter and spoke with the man there. Money notes were exchanged, and Boss returned to drag me out of the corner and usher me out the door.
I kept my head low, arms crossed over Violin as I concentrated on keeping beat with Boss’ footsteps. The policeman outpaced us, disappearing in the crowd on the sidewalk.
“Did you just…buy me from that shop?”
“I bought that instrument, and I’m giving it to you.” He smiled, and I didn’t have any idea what it meant.
“I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe in things I’ve seen with my own eyes, and I saw more get done in a few hours today than in most weeks. I think I might finally be able to beat out my brother if you come back to the factory. I’ll pay you to work that musical magic again and again.”
A new song welled within me, taut and high with hope, rich and full with purpose, one thought darting through my mind: Is this finally where I belong?
I knew part of the answer. I belonged wherever music did.
It’s funny how one day
she hums along to her CD,
and the next struggles to keep tears at bay
and cries at the same church key.
How he cringes
at a love song,
but then his heart unhinges
when he’s found someone to sing along.
Or how they danced
to that song on their night,
but by circumstance
shut off the radio with fright.
But also how they can find
freedom in keys and strings
playing pennies and dimes
on the road like kings.
How he does not feel
alone in the crowd
with that rock concert heal,
loud and endowed.
Or how she creates,
flowers and grows,
as beats resonate
Play The Music
Chords to be strummed,
frets to slide up and down,
trumpets to be sounded,
a chorus behind harmonizing,
the crescendo of a deep kettle drum,
the passion of violins radiating power,
harps angelizing beauty,
and Mozart fulfilling every man's needs.
These are the moments
where I want to dance,
where I want to sing,
where I want to laugh.
Never let the music end.
The sounds of the timpani echoed through the grand hall. Each vibration of the sound moved like thunder through the ear drums.
Every voice of the choir rose in the atmosphere, all the voices swaying with such gentle movements. Soon, a soft flutter of the flute came in...as if it were a bird chirping gleefully, while beating it’s majestic wings.
Strings were strung a short while later. Plucked as though they were fruits ripe for the picking. O, can music be savored too? Such a glorious ensemble all playing for all to hear.
And the whole group beamed with joy, as the final anthem moved steadily to the closing bar line.
When the final phrase is heard. The instruments now silent. Audience rise. Ready to cheer, & applaud the execution of the sound of the very belle musique.
Lana’s head hurt. So did her heart. It hurts when someone close to you dies, let alone your twin. She held back tears as she sat down on the piano bench. Her heart wrenched when she realized she was alone this time. Normally Liam was next to her on the bench, playing along with her. A silent tear fell down her face.
She placed her hands on the keys and started to play. She didn’t think about it, she just let her hands do their things. She let her fingers move up and down the keys, letting the sound echo through the theatre. As her fingers continued she let her mind wander.
Liam, she loved him like herself-- maybe because he was her other half. She remembered how when someone would pick on her in school he would stand up for her. A smile spread across her lips as she remembered his smiling face. She imagined him sitting there next to her on the bench and she didn’t feel so alone anymore.
This is for you, Brother, she thought as she snapped back to reality.
She added so much emotion into each note. All the anger, the pain, it felt so good to let it out. Her eyes shown with tears as she played the last note. The whole theatre erupted in cheers as she took her bow. It felt as if Liam was standing right there, beside her, his hand in hers.
If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could? -Lauren Wolk
I fell in love with a musician and music hasn't been the same for me since
The way my heart beats rythmically to the tunes of his presence
My smile dances to his sound
No longer just a past time, but an adventure of discovery
Together we listen to the chords and percussions of life
Carefully walking to create the perfect chorus
I wouldn't have it any other way
As goosebumps cover my arms, I sit, elbows resting on the thick shellac covering a damaged bar and press my forehead into interlocked fingers. The first few horn notes from a song I have never heard reminds of the “The Army Song” and I close my eyes as the cold sensation spreads. As each hair stiffens and stands taller, my back naturally does the same. I sit up straighter, stop drinking, and listen with reverence to each word and every beat of the song only playing in my head. That song finishes as the jukebox continues and I relax. I look to the patrons sitting in the adjacent stools and notice the same reaction. The one to the left, a 22-year-old, is young and anxious. His eyes are bright and clear, taking in the world and learning all he can from everything. His drink is a cheap bottled beer, all he can afford a low-ranking infantryman’s salary. He peels the label back, look at the attractive waitress longingly, and rubs the still raised hair on his forearm. As he places the empty bottle on the bar, another patron sends him another with a “Thank you for your service.” He nods in appreciation. He is stick thin and athletic with an air of misguided confidence and self-assurance. The alcohol flushes his clean-shaven face. The shorn sides of his head, the small patch of hair slightly longer on top, and the clothes, obviously from the base store, give away his chosen career. He is at this bar alone and looking for companionship. He eagerly looks to the door at odd intervals with contained disappointment. This happens now, and, as he inevitably turns back to his beer, I see the rare face of innocence. He is here because he quietly wishes the waitress would notice him, but she has never and will never remember him, so he looks for other patrons to make rash and poor decisions with. He does not know, nor does he care, about the next three years, let alone the next thirty. He is serving his country during a war he does not agree with because that is what he was taught to do. He is repaying his debt to a country that held him and raised him. He knows he will go to war, he knows of the dangers and the cost, but he is willing, moreover eager, to complete the task he signed up for. He is ignorant and stubborn, strong and fast, and the epitome of youth. He is on his way to Iraq and all he can think of is the pleasure derived from a beautiful woman’s touch.
I am in the middle. I am a hairy, unkempt contemptuous oaf of a man. My eyes are slits, leery of all, and mostly hidden by my lowered brow. I rarely look up from a Black and Tan, my drink of choice when I’m drinking away my veteran’s pension. My world is one of mistrust: mistrust of people and the government I so fully supported. My hand aches as does my head. A nonverbal exchange is made as I finish my beer and the waitress delivers another. “Thank you for your service” I say with the irony lost on her. She is the same beautiful creature the 22-year-old longs for, but I am older, jaded, and cognizant of the patron server relationship. While he wants to make an impression on her, I can only look downward knowing full well she remembers me. She remembers me from last night, the night before that, and from all the nights and days I have settled into this barstool. The sharp angular features of my youth have softened, both in the face and the midsection. In retaliation for years of forced conformity, both the hair on top of my head and on my face is longer than socially acceptable. I think I don’t shave because I am lazy, but as the night goes on and my heavy heart and lighter head begin to speak more honestly, I know I desire to hide behind this all. I do maintain some composure. My hat may be dirty, but my clothes are clean. No one mistakes me for a derelict. I just appear as one of those people who has harder time than most people when handling life and the world. My arms are thick and hard and my back strong, but my hand, the left one, is weakened by blasts and surgeries and the dull ache in my head often flares up, causing impatient outbursts that leads me to self-prescribed alcohol. I’m not sure why I fought anymore, I just know they operated on me after I nearly died for them, and when I was unable to do my job, they gave a thousand dollars a month and no transferable work skills. I work for minimum wage under the supervision of nineteen-year-olds. They grace me with their condescension because my memory, due to the blasts, is not as sharp as theirs. They do not know I’m a veteran, a decorated war hero, a Purple Heart recipient. All they know is that I am almost 30 and I work for them, so I must be worthless. And so, they treat me that way. All day, every day, and afterward, I come into this bar, I sit down, and I drink enough to forget those things that even my bruised brain refuses to let go of. No one knows who I am or what I did, and most wouldn’t believe me if I told them because I don’t look like any other soldier they have ever seen.
To my right, the stool is taken up by a 40-year-old leaning over a glass of water. After many years of irresponsibility, he has nearly stopped drinking but certainly stopped drinking alone. He looks at me with wizened eyes that are just as bright as the 22-year-old’s, and a stout, knowing expression. His attitude is one of hope and happiness. His clothes are pristinely pressed, and his hair is sharp and short. His well-groomed stubble is purposeful as he radiates confidence. This confidence, however, is different than that of the 22-years-old’s. This confidence is one of a man that has seen life, seen death, and decided to do his best to beat both. He is a proud veteran and is willing to talk to anyone about his service. His head aches and occasionally so does his hand, but he can control the pain because he realizes the alcohol is not a cure, only a crutch. He is still strong, but tight and sharp minded, making him more than the pile of useless muscles I am. The waitress is polite and kind as they speak with no pretenses. He has a home and wife, he only comes here to humor me and show me what I have given up. No one speaks, but the younger man looks at the older man with respect, the man to the kid with envy. I look at the both of them with the contempt and they return the scowl. We cannot stand each other. I disappoint the them both and they show me my biggest failures and regrets. I am a battered, beaten, and cynical version of the first, and a futile waste to the latter. I sit here, every night, giving half my paycheck to the jukebox and the other half to the waitress. Someone, the young man I think, plays “I’m Proud to be an American” and I weep. The blasts ruined my emotional responses, so I cannot control it even if I chose to. I just choke up and heavy, slow tears fall from my eyes. My two other-selves cry too, but unlike me, they know why. “Tomorrow,” I say to the other two, “tomorrow, I will do better, I’ll make you proud, both of you, but tonight, I will have one more.” One more song, one more drink, and probably one more night in this bar. As the last of the beer hits the back of my throat and the waitress hands me another, I promise me, all three of me, that things will change.
I have gotten pretty good at lying to myselves.
The Breath of Life
The familiar tingling was back in Ronan’s fingers, only this time, it was stronger. He gritted his teeth, curling his fingers into fists, pulling them tight against his side. He would not--could not--give in.
Ronan struggled to distract himself, making patterns out of the speckles of moonlight that adorned the wall and ceiling. Seconds passed, but the urge didn’t pass, let alone lessen.
Before he could talk himself out of it, Ronan kicked off his damp sheets. The floor was warm and sticky, a testiment to the thick and humid air that was causing sweat to trickle down the passageway between his shoulder blades.
Or, at least that was what he told himself, that it was just the air, not what he was about to do.
I promised I wouldn’t do it anymore.
Guilt nagged at Ronan, but he pushed it to the side. His addiction was too strong for any kind of reason, and no matter how hard he tried to stop, he always caved in the end, always went back, always did it more.
The hallway that led from his small attic bedroom to the stairs seemed to stretch out. He quickened his gait, reached the stairs, and climbed down as fast as he dared without making too much of a ruckus. This excursion would be hard to explain, and if anyone knew what he was doing. . .
The price was too high for Ronan to pay.
The floors downstairs were cooler, though not by much. An old, mildewy air conditioner rattled softly from by the faded couch, forming an odd sort of monotenous melody in the stillness.
The window was open, its thin curtains hanging limp. It was through this that Ronan escaped, as he knew the door would squeak. His parents, now more on edge than ever since his last incident, the slightest noise would send them scurring towards its source.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, he thought, heart thudding in his chest in rythm with his feet.
Clouds obscured the moon, but he’d traveled this path so many times he could do it blind. In fact, if he got caught, he might just have to do.
The thought was disturbing to say the least, but not enough to give Ronan pause. He was too far in now, past the point of no return.
The slight breeze began to cool as the hill sloped downward, the pathway narrowing as it wove between the massive trunks of the old oaks. Even though Ronan’s eyes were well adjusted to the dark, he couldn’t pick out the dilapitated old building he knew was there.
He squeezed through the door, barely breathing. Fear and excitement coursed through his veins, forming a sort of poignant drug that drove him over the threshhold and towards the platform mere feet a head of him.
Ronan stumbled up the stairs, catching himself on the brittle wooden bench. He sat down on it, tingling spreading from his fingers to his elbows, all the way through his shoulders and down his back. Ronan found the pedal, letting his fingers wander over the chipped keys.
The notes were out of tune and muted, but Ronan didn’t care, melting each note together to form a tapestry of beautiful melody. He closed his eyes, drinking it in, a feeling of calm washing over him. This was all he ever wanted.
The Libertas Accords had changed all of that, banning anything that could encourage rebellion against the State. One had to be State approved with a license to prove it to be allowed to play music, and then it had to be only State approved music. Ronan had thought it would never be enforced. . . but fear was a powerful tool, more powerful than any amount of friendship or trust or loyalty. The State didn’t need cameras or spies when everyone was so scared they were willing to turn in their own neightbors to save themselves.
The more Ronan thought about it, the more frustrated he became. The chords flowing from his fingers strengthened and darkened, growing on each other. Each note was a part of his soul, pouring out into the space, begging for someone to listen.
“I can’t keep doing this,” he growled, jerking his fingers away from the keys as if they were scalding hot.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, tears slowly forming and slipping down his clammy cheeks. The tingling was gone, replaced by an emptiness that grew with each time, and each time, it took more to fill.
With a tired sigh, Ronan got up from the bench, shuffling down the stairs and center aisle. Back outside, he drew in several deep breaths of air, trying to steal the feeling of being alive. But without the music bleeding from his veins, it as just an illusion.
Ronan trudged back home without feeling or noticing anything.
He was already plotting his next trip back to the old church and its secret hidden within.