Nothing will hurt you here.
It started with a whisper, low and slow. Gentle pings on the piano, and then, strings, each note a pull, causing a twinge in the middle of the chest that feels almost like pain, the low bass a soothing rhythm, slowing the heartbeat to match its cadence, first slow and calming, then gradually growing faster, louder, to a climactic peak, a cathartic exhalation, before slowing back down in a comforting decrescendo.
“It is beautiful.” I breathed after the song finished, suddenly realizing I was crying. “Oh my gosh, I have never felt like this while listening to a piece of music. This is incredible, Lucy, truly incredible.”
“Thank you, Ms. Hahn.”
Lucy’s expression was inscrutable. Her deep brown eyes pools of ink beneath black lashes, not a single line on her expressionless face. She was looking at me intently. “How does it make you feel?”
I wiped at my face to dry the wetness on my cheeks. “I don’t know… there’s something about it, a sense of something I can’t have, or something that I’ve lost somehow…”
“Yes?” Lucy prodded, leaning forward.
“Longing.” I finally said. “This song. This song captures perfectly the feeling of longing.”
Lucy nodded, seeming satisfied.
The sheet music lay haphazardly on the table.
“How did you make this, Lucy?” I asked. Lucy was my brightest student, technically gifted, able to execute the most difficult pieces on both the piano and strings without a single mistake. She was a joy to watch perform, her hands a flurry of perfect technique, the product of thousands of hours of practice and natural talent. But for all of Lucy’s gifts, being creative was not one of them. Not once has my best student created a truly original piece.
Lucy leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Of course I would.” I countered, not quite feeling the certainty of my words. There was something about the piece that felt surreal. Even then I knew, I knew the song I just listened to would go down in history as an iconic piece, it was simply too good. There was no doubt in my mind I was witnessing the nascent of a musical legend. It was exactly the kind of thing artists dream of, the only thing.
She flicked her gaze back to me. The silence between us stretched, the air in the room thinner, as if we’re at the peak of something. Finally she said, “It came to me in a dream.”
“A dream.” I repeated doubtfully.
“Yes.” Lucy sighed. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
As a teacher at one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the country, I have certainly seen my fair share of students being driven to the brink of a mental breakdown. There was an unbelievable amount of pressure, being at the top of the craft, the cutthroat competition, the hours and hours of practice, the extreme passion and perfectionism, the never ending mantra of not being good enough.
I watched Lucy’s face and was suddenly struck with the youth of it. The face of a girl too young to be feeling this much pressure, to carry this weight. And it was a heavy weight, wasn’t it? To be this talented.
Girls her age should be giggling about boys and decorating their dorm rooms, worrying about make up and what outfit to wear to the next party. Instead, here Lucy was, talking about composing music in her dreams.
“It just asked something in return.”
I blinked. “It?”
Lucy nodded. “I thought I was dreaming, you know, I didn’t take it seriously. It asked to take a piece of me, a feeling, a human thing, and it said in exchange, it would help me turn it into a timeless piece of music.” She looked down at her hands. “Then I woke up, and I had this song in my head, I recorded myself playing it and here we are.”
I swallowed something thick in my throat. Poor, poor Lucy. Another young talent broken by the pressure. Already I pictured myself making phone calls to the school health center, helping Lucy make an appointment for an evaluation.
“But you see, I think it actually took it.”
“The feeling.” A look of deep concern crossed my young student’s face. “I don’t feel it anymore. I can’t. It’s like, it was cut out of me.”
“The feeling of longing.” I said slowly.
“Lucy, listen to me.” I leaned forward. “I am glad you finally found your creative side, but I think you’re putting yourself under too much pressure. You have to take care of yourself, okay? I’ll make you an appointment with Sheila. You’ve met her, right? The school psychologist. I really think—”
“Forget it.” Lucy stood up. “You think I’m crazy. Anyway, I have to go, I have other songs I need to record…”
“Yeah… I have to. It’s the only thing that matters anymore.”
Then she was gone, the wooden door swinging shut behind her, leaving the rapidly scrawled sheet music on the table. I stared at the sheets for a moment, noticing the slightly unhinged way in which they were handwritten, as if it was done subconsciously, automatically. There was a particular spot where the note head was shaded so aggressively that it looked like the lead of the pencil snapped.
I should have gone after her, should have stopped her… but I didn’t. I had a busy schedule, the next student already waiting outside in the hallway, and I told myself I would call Sheila to check on Lucy later. It could wait, I told myself, she needed to calm down, maybe get some songs out of her system. Secretly I wondered what kind of masterpiece she was going to record next. If it was going to be as good as the one she just showed me.
Already I was intoxicated by the music. If I was being honest myself… I simply wanted more of it. It felt precious. It felt… worth it.
I would never forgive myself for that.
The tragedy of Lucy Chen made headlines across the country.
The nineteen year old prodigy was renowned for having created thirteen masterpieces in a matter of weeks. Each masterpiece was titled a specific emotion, each perfectly capturing the feeling. The effect was described to be almost supernatural, the way each note was so perfectly placed that it caused measurable physical effects in both the performer and the listener: heart rates racing and falling, muscles tightening then relaxing. It was not uncommon during a performance for audience members to start weeping.
In short order, this drove Lucy’s creations to the highest recognition. The collection aptly called “Fragments of a Soul” garnered Lucy the Pulitzer Prize for Music posthumously.
The last piece of the collection was titled simply “Joy” and it was dedicated to her music teacher, Ms. Geraldine Hahn, who declined any comment on the matter. The sheet music was rumored to be accompanied by a handwritten letter addressed to the teacher, the contents of which widely speculated upon by many music enthusiasts.
Geraldine Hahn left teaching shortly after Lucy Chen’s death, citing “personal reasons” for her early retirement. It was rumored that she had checked herself into a psychiatric facility at the urging of her family and colleagues. Both Ms. Hahn and the school have declined to comment if her retirement had anything to do with Lucy or the letter.
The tragedy of this musical genius will resonate with music schools across the country for decades to come, each of the thirteen pieces achieving cult status. It has been said that the highest achievement for a student was to perform all thirteen pieces in succession without a mistake.
“Joy” became one of the modern choices for an audition repertoire for most conservatories, which typically required only classical works such as Bach or Chopin.
The exact nature of Lucy’s death is to be kept private in accordance to the wishes of her family, though they have confirmed there is no evidence of foul play.
I am not sure why I am writing you this letter. I think some part of me thinks you might understand. Or maybe I just want someone to know. It seems the right thing to do, to tell someone.
The most wonderful thing has happened.
I was scared at first. It was terrifying, the blackness of it. Like an endless shadow. At the same time it was calling to me, pulling me deeper into it, like gravity.
And then, of course, the music. The music was so beautiful, so perfect, that I just had to keep going, keep giving.
After a while, little by little, the more I gave it, eventually… I stopped being afraid.
Now, nothing feels the same. Nothing feels like anything, really.
And I…like it.
I wish I could tell you how freeing it is. How beautiful. To feel this nothingness.
I have no more worries, no fears, no ugly memories. There is no pressure to do anything or be anyone. Nothing hurts. Nothing matters.
I feel… weightless.
I hope you like this final piece. It is the last part of me.
Do not be afraid.
Do not worry.
Nothing will hurt me here.