Age: 15, Grade: 10
School Name: Dwight School, New York, NY
Educator: Judy Varga
Category: Short Story
The Music of Oblivion
The musician’s feet staggered behind him on the frost encrusted cobblestone, the whiff of alcohol trailing him, evident to the veiled faces persisting behind him. One hand clutched the scroll of fading sheet music, his pursuit of happiness. The other had a firmer grip on the empty bottle of liquor, a constant reminder of the pain in his life. A result of his previous life, one filled with lavish parties and music that had been a gift from the heavens. His ratted hair was saturated with grease and stunk of smoke. He denied this habit; who doesn’t? He blamed it on the crowd of tramps behind him. He neglected his life. He remained haunted by the music of the past. He tilted his chin up, relaxing his eyes and focusing on the waning moon. He tilted his drunken hand and shook it upwards, outlining the waxed edges of the young moon in the blackened night sky. The music of his life had finally extinguished its song.***She tilted her head anxiously out of the window. Her belly prohibited her from wearing any clothes except the nightgown that she had sown in the months leading up to her previous pregnancy. She disconnected her stare and focused instead on her belly. She can feel the life inside peaking out, trying to untangle itself from the barrier of her skin, longing to smell the crisp winter air that brings the chill of melancholy. She places her hand on the top of her abdomen, caressing her skin, trying to penetrate her love into the soul of her child. She can feel the tiny legs begin their dance, and the pain begins to ascend throughout her stomach. She would normally cry out, scared of the pain’s dubious waltz through her body, but she is numb when it comes to the weight of fear. She is numb to pain. She is numb to emotion. She is numb.***The musician continued his walk through the dim street, an inebriate with the sense of lostness and despair. His knees jutted sharply with every step. He was a torn photograph that had been left to burn, but the fire had refused to ignite. His soul was tortured. ***As the night began to cascade across the winter sun, the young moon peeked out of the solitary sky, suspended from the heavens and lowered cautiously down. It was hesitant to come out and shine its light on the broken streets of Paris, but it knew that the mother was waiting by the window, spying from the frame into the blank streets, eyes darting across the blackened stone to find the image of her husband. She knew he was a drunk, a wisp of the musical life that he had once known. But the constant effort of viewing her husband with optimism allowed her to imagine him still high on euphoria. The moon could feel her deep denial and the life waning inside of her. It flooded its light through the night sky, liquidating the ramparts and curtains of darkness, trying to erase Death’s path.***It must be a drunk’s sense of direction that automatically led the musician to a nearby pub. Still clutching the musical score, he lumbered in, alleviating his body from the chase of frostbite. Faces masked behind the effect of spirits flooded around, chanting in their musical joviality. It blinded the musician. He dropped the bottle of whiskey with a clank and staggered to a nearby seat. Previously, his presence would have been welcomed with joy, for his fingers brought music to the ears of the pessimists of France. Now, oblivion had taken over his reigns. His presence was welcomed as if a bad omen had begun its hibernation. They knew that Death followed him in formatted chevrons.
Around the pub, nameless faces watched him and murmured vulgarly.
“Ay, he’s the one.”
“Oh, dear, and the stories? Did he really…”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And the daughter…”
“Is it true?”
“It’s a sin to play with Death’s name and you know that. No, he did it. Used to know him myself. Wonderful musician. Can’t fathom if he still could play.”
“Oh, his poor wife, it must be terrible.”
“She’s fruitless. Lost two children before they reached a day.”
“The poor dear. A drunk for love and Death for a child.”
“Death trails them closer than anyone in Paris.”
“Death always has a reason.”
The whispers raised in an inundation of sound, flooding the drunk’s ears. He knew the gossip, a factor that had led him to seek the solace of alcohol.
A piano stood silent in the pub. The keys were ivory, a bit cracked and flaxen from the countless hands of passersby. The musician laid his head on the rotting wood of the pub table, eyes spiraling into the azure of emptiness. He reached out, fingers uncontrollably mimicking the playing of the keys, an innate habit every musician carries.
The musician turned around. A small, old woman with eyes that rivaled the hue of the sea gazed at him. She held a begging cup in one hand and her blackened nails clutched bracelets in the other.
A vagrant peddler.
His immediate response would be disgust. How dare a woman that held so little status talk to him, the renowned musician of Paris? He headlined every concert and was played throughout the country, even if it was all years ago.
“I have been granted fingers that can make music that captures the souls of my audience and takes them on a magical flight to the heavens. I can create a crescendo that pulls them back down into the sacred haven of the world. I can create feelings and emotions. I can thrust my pain into the heads of others. These fingers have created more weight than your existence has had on the world”
The vagrant seemed unfazed by his passionate declaration. She looked at him intently. The music of the pub vanished from his ears and the taste of spirits vacated his mouth. Her stare pulled him back into an epoch of lost time, and he soon found himself looking back into the eyes of himself. She walked over to him, brushing her fingers across the keys of the piano and plucked a few notes. He winced. Even the presence of alcohol failed to eradicate his musical ear, and the wrong notes made his blood crawl.
She persisted with her hunt for an answer. “I ask again. Do you play?”
The musician sucked his breath in. “My passionate response has obviously not fulfilled your question.”
“It’s a very simple response.”
“Well, I am not a simple man.”
“You are not a man.”
“I beg your pardon?”
The vagrant was now standing face-to-face with the musician, her eyes searching his face for clues of life. She was looking into an abyss of the remains of a life that had been lived years ago. The life that was etched onto the musician’s face was one of agony and pain.
The vagrant repeated her remark. “You are not a man.”
“How dare you profess such a lie!”
“Then prove it.”
The musician, enraged by this remark, began to unbuckle his belt.
She watched him. “You are behaving very foolishly. What are you doing?”
“You refuse to see with your eyes, so I am disproving your idiotic statement with logical proof.”
“Ah. You have succumbed to the sin of the human figure. You are convinced that it is the parts of a body that determines who is a man and who is not. You have just proved my point and have contradicted yours. Those who see with their eyes and not their souls are the ones who sing the song of oblivion.”
The musician was confused, quite dumbfounded by the vagrant’s certainty on who he was.
“I want you to play the piano.”
“What?” The drunk was taken aback by this request.
The aroma of liquor and solitude trailed behind, leading him to the musty bench. Carefully, as if stroking the delicate feet of a newborn baby, he placed his fingers lightly onto the keys.
As if his fingers had been waiting for that command, the drunk began to fish out chords that told his life. He began with a major cadence and a billowing crescendo in his left hand. There was a time when the drunk had an identity. Jean was his name, and the name commanded respect throughout the world of music. There was a time when his music was recognized throughout Europe. His art challenged Chopin. His hands echoed the bliss of euphony, and it was through his hands and with the accompaniment of the piano that God sang. Standing ovations and encores followed every concert. He had been one of the most successful musicians in Paris and possessed the power of creating music that quashed the darkness in the deepest crevices in the world. He brought light to the harrassed, the abused, the old, the poor, the common, the rich. He erased their pain. Jean was sought after by the rulers of the world, for his music allowed them to enter a state of oblivion; pure, blissful oblivion that anesthetized their desolation. He created the music of oblivion.
The drinking and constant flow of liquor had failed to touch Jean’s lips before the death of his mother. She had been a charming lady to those she favored, but harsh to most and had the habit of sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. She manipulated Jean and refused to believe the commitment of Jean’s wife. “She’s a whore, Jean!”
“Mère, please! She will carry your blood and completes my soul. I love her, and you shall as well.”
“Hmph. Your eyes see through the mirage of love and idiocy, my son. She has no love for you except for your fame and money.”
But the desperate pleas and cries from her only son forced her to affirm the young girl who had stolen his heart. Although Jean’s constant begging had diminished the brutality of his mother’s remarks, the nastiness was only encouraged, and her hunger for inflicting misery was galvanized.
Suddenly, the drunk changed his music to a minor chord. The piano entered an abrupt change and turned into a melodic scale. What was once an ode of serenity turned into a concerto of life. His left-hand rode the torrent of sound into a progressive crescendo that wasted light on darkness.
At the height of Jean’s success, his wife bore a child. A tiny girl was now etched in Jean’s family portrait. The child sprang into a loving version of himself. She had hair that radiated the rays of the sun and verdant eyes that combated the northern forests, earning her the name of Esmée. She was an innocent child who had fallen victim to the naivety of adolescence.
The drunk continued his song, his fingers relaxing and converting back to a major scale.
Love eddied continuously throughout Jean’s family. Love cured and guarded the family against hate. It gushed through the planks of the cottage and obliterated the infection of agony and anguish.
But love had failed to perforate the heart of Jean’s mother. As Esmée illuminated the beauty of an angel, the old woman’s soul fell into the gorge of iniquity. Blood didn’t give the right for another to steal the love of her only son. She had failed to understand that love is the strongest force of all and could be shared with more than one, for she had been denied love her whole life. She had been deaf to the voice of happiness. Her heart was plagued with envy of her son’s unconditional love for his wife and daughter. Through her contorted eyes, Jean was only allowed to love her.
Jean’s mother’s soul couldn’t handle the noxious infection of envy. It cracked and whimpered under the decimating weight, and eventually gave away, freeing itself from the body of anger and jealousy. With no more soul, the body of Jean’s mother began to be a habitat for Death and it’s games. A year passed before Death had finally succeeded in his mission.
“You stopped playing. Did you know?”
The drunk forgot about the vagrant’s presence. The memory of his mother had blinded him of reality, and he realized that his fingers had been hovering across an augmented E sharp chord.
“Your hand, it seems undecided. Is that the right chord? Or perhaps try a different one?”
The drunk quivered. He felt small compared to the magnitude of music. “I don’t remember what comes next.”
“I think you do.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I need you to play Death’s song.”
Fright overtook the drunk. The vagrant would not stop until he completed his music. He lifted his fingers and threw them down onto the keys, emanating the sorrow of his mind. His hands began to dance on the keys, and he was soon producing the lament of sorrow.
Jean abhorred liquor. It had a foul taste and resembled the physician’s office. It kindled a fire in his throat, burning and scorching his nerves. He couldn’t breathe when it touched his lips. But after Death stole his mother, it was his solitude, allowing him to be free in an alternate world of serenity.
As time carried on, Jean began to morph into the epitome of a drunk. He could no longer see straight and a pitcher of wine accompanied every step he took. Time began to erode the peace of Paris. Esmée was filled with innocence and saw the changes in her father as benign. She still loved him and his music. Yet she saw through the eyes of oblivion. She didn’t see that his intoxication was replacing his sanity. She didn’t feel the shakiness of his palms as she gazed across the bridge onto the gorge. She didn’t feel his feet jounce the soil as the rush of alcohol entered his bloodstream, causing her fall.
But she felt her heart leap out of her chest. She felt the nullity of air. She felt fear as she continued down the slide into the hands of Death. She felt the screams of her father vibrating across her. She felt the tears trail down her cheeks and the scream leave her mouth. She felt the cold caress of Death.
Above, Jean’s scream shattered the streets of France.*** “Stop please! Make it stop!”
“You are feeling the pain of a man.”
“I don’t want to be a man! Please, please stop! I can’t, I won’t play anymore!” He curled and twitched on the floor, sweat surging down his body. The masked faces had paused their personal lives to watch his suffrage. The musical drunk of Paris was singing a song of agony.
The vagrant curled her thin lips. She kneeled down behind the whimpering man and began cautiously stroking his back as if he was a grenade that would explode. “The moon tells many stories.”
“It is bleeding heavily tonight. A warning. Go home, Jean. Death is playing again.”
The curse of alcohol had been lifted and he understood the vagrant. Death was once again playing with him. *** She knew something was wrong. She could feel the tide of life terminating inside her frail fetus. The current of pain cascaded forward and she fell to her knees, wincing and moaning. Fear billowed in her mind and her lungs could no longer function. Oxygen couldn’t reach her body and she began to suffocate. The pain came in a torrent, encasing her with insanity. She could feel the contractions but she couldn’t feel the innocent life inside of her. She moaned as she made her way to the couch, her eyes panicked and enveloped in worry. She could feel the specter of Death ensconced in her home, stealing the life she had created. Tears stained her bloodless face. She needed Jean. *** The young moon saw the shadow of Death drifting towards innocent life. Death was winning. The young moon loathed Death. Death plagued the veins of Earth, killing the innocent and torturing the broken souls. The young moon bled it’s light on Paris, combatting the tenebrous sky. Death turned, startled by the young moon’s nebulous plan to defeat him. What a fool, Death thought. Nothing can defeat me.*** The musician ran, throwing his leaden feet on the splintered streets. He could hear his wife’s song of pain. The sound deafened his ears and sent shards threw his heart. Death had begun it’s symphony.*** A combination of fluid and blood seeped through her nightgown. She could feel the eerie call of Death and it’s sultry breath on the back of her neck.
“Please,” she whimpered. Sweat trickled down and amalgamated with blood. “Please spare the innocent. Take me instead.”
Death simply smiled.*** The young moon had cheated death once before. It could do it again.*** The drunk barged through the door, panic rippling throughout his body. The cottage was drumming to the uncanny beat of death. Still heavy with alcohol, he trudged around the cottage, eyes spiraling into madness.
He jerked around, oblivious of the sea of blood washing over his shoes. There she layed, her pale body silhouetted by the slough of blood. The color had drained from her and Death had gripped her soul, slowly vacuuming the life out of her body.
“No no Aline no, please stop, PLEASE STOP, lord please, please, there is so much blood, I can’t, I can’t, please, I BEG YOU…”
The tears began trailing from her ears, trying to free themselves from the march of Death. “Jean…”
The moon now hung gibbous and sage in the sky. As Death took her life, the moon aroused the infant’s own. The moon had once again cheated death.
As Jean collapsed onto her expired body, the infant sang it’s cry of life.