Eli is the one true friend who only barges in whenever he feels the need to.
He is the only absolute connection I have ever had since I was 6 years old. He makes me laugh. He helps me make crucial decisions. He can leave scars of judgments. He is straightforward. He tries to save my vulnerability. He also likes to challenge my sanity and strengths.
Just like today.
“So have you thought of a revelation yet?” he asks.
“You know I was doing fine before you morphed back in,” I groan.
He hurls himself down on to my crumbling couch. “Honey, a single woman who happens to burden herself with a colossus of grim life possibilities is never okay, and will never be okay until she comes to her senses and evolves into a normal person for once.”
“Jesus Christ, Eli!” I roar back, “I don’t wanna hear shit from you right now, okay? I quit my job, I’ve got sufficient funds, I’m privileged enough to smoke in this hellhole, I’m writing, and I meet the outside world as much as I can! I’m living a dream! Let’s not complicate things anymore! Please! I’ve had enough shit in my life already!”
“Fine,” he agrees. “Then what? Where is this going?”
“What do you mean?” I pour a cup of coffee.
“What do you wanna accomplish from all this?”
“I’ll figure it out.”
“Honey, that’s not how it works.”
“I know! But you didn’t get my point!”
“You find it more rebellious and more surprising. That was the point.”
“Stop reading my mind. You’re always scaring me.”
“Stop confining into your head. You’re killing yourself.”
“This is not an intelligent discussion, is it?”
“All right. You want something intelligent? Sit down.”
“Is this about Beethoven?”
“It’s about you,” he says. “Take a seat.”
I sit beside him. “Okay. I’m ready.”
“I can tell there’s something new going on,” he says. “It’s best to let it all out. With the sound of your voice. Now. I wanna hear it. C’mon. I’m here. I’ll listen.”
“Suffering unlocks a promise of life,” I say. “Like, you must suffer greatly first before you conceive your own art. Then you must suffer greatly while art grows within you. Then you must suffer greatly for your art until you die. Only death could separate you from it. And only in death you would ever find peace. However, your art will continue to live on. It’s the only beautiful thing you could give to the world. It’s been a lonely life, but it’s part of the whole package. If it wasn’t for pain, where would I be? If it wasn’t for Beethoven, how would I appreciate its worth? It’s still an extraordinary life, Eli. Still extraordinary. I wish you could be here all the time to experience it with me.”
“You know where I am, honey,” he says, holding my hand. “And you know I always show up when you least expect it.”
“I know,” I sigh. “I have a theory that the only time that we can make the best out of life is when we’re alone. Loneliness is a gift after all. For then we realize that everything has its own purpose and beauty. We get to know ourselves more. We are more free. We were born for something very special. We’re just gonna have to be patient to figure it out for ourselves. You may think my life is sad, lonely, and miserable. Well, now I’ve got words to accompany me. I’m fine, Eli. I’ll fall in love when my heart is stronger enough for it.”
“Honey,” he laughs, “our hearts are never stronger enough for it! Stop convincing yourself you’re okay. You’re not okay. You never were. Until you accept the truths.”
“Like having me and everything else you’ve got in mind.”
The flashy image of Beelzebub on a wine bottle emanates through my callowness. I pick it up in an instant without worrying about my weak blood vessels. I am addicted to alcohol. But it would be the easiest way to go once truths conceded. Right? Oh, I know. I know I am in a big trouble. Pause. Reality check. Who the hell am I talking to now?
What happened in my past again? Why did I quit my job? Where does Ludwig Van Beethoven live? No! He died in 1827? No! I need him to save me right now! Why am I still here? I don’t want to be here anymore! This world must die! Reclaim faith! Let’s go!
This wine bottle is perfect. A part of my Devil’s collection.
The mocking faces from childhood. Parents who tortured their kids. A grown man who danced his way on top of a fragile 6-year-old body. The school graders who found entertainment in hitting a classmate with rulers. A young man who shoved himself against a virgin’s will.
Death of a beloved. Death of a beloved. Death of a beloved.
Death of comfort and love. Death of songs and teachings. Death of a sprinkle of happiness. A terrifying truth. Getting heartbroken. Heartaches rested in their throne, gripping a scepter as weapon of protection. Cruelty. Shocking events. Humans. Ludwig Van Beethoven. The cruciation of symphonies and the piano sonatas while fighting for their places in the world. The reluctant words. The stories marching their way in. Cigarettes. Ritual sacrifices. Candles. Prayers. Sex. Deception. Harm. Tears. More sex. More deception. More harm. More tears.
My Devil’s collection. My life.
“Do I need a corkscrew for this?” I ask the cashier.
“Yes, you do,” she replies.
“You carry them here?”
“Where are they?” I start to hyperventilate.
“I’ll grab one for you.” She waltzes her way towards the far-end corner as I tag along, then snags a corkscrew from a basket and hands it to me.
“Cool,” I say. We then strut back to the counter and I pay for the two items. “Well, thank you very much!”
“You’re very welcome,” she says, smiling. “Happy thanksgiving!”
I leave the store with a dash of hope to survive. Something more inconceivable than my greatest devotion for Beethoven. Something more evil than the past. Something more than my Devil’s collection.
I hop on to the bus to get home. It is a gloomy day. Empty seats erect boldly. It gives me room to breathe. I am a happy camper.
Until a woman graces us with a disturbing mystery. She shuts her translucent white umbrella close. She takes a seat almost in front of me. She wears a black coat. Her curly long blonde hair waves glamour. Her red lipstick hollers blood. Her fierce eyes invite battles. Her distinct rambles unmask her life.
“Poor old Marla stabbing herself to death. Oh, those fat ugly motherfuckers. In their 40s, low-life fatsos. Really ugly. Really fat. I saw what happened. I know them. I escaped. Poor old Marla. I escaped. They looked for me. I was good. Fat ugly motherfuckers. Really ugly and really fat. Poor old Marla. I’m so sorry. I’m not beautiful anymore. I know I can never be beautiful anymore. They look at me and see a damned woman. But I escaped. I was good. Just poor old Marla. The fatsos with ugly eyes, ugly teeth, ugly everything were not punished. Motherfuckers should be dead by now. Motherfuckers. Really ugly. Really fat. They take advantage of Marlas. All Marlas. I’m also Marla. But I escaped. You see, I’m still here. They ruined my home. They ruined my beauty. They ruined my life. Motherfuckers must die. All motherfuckers should be stabbed to death. I had the sharpest knife. I did. It was a nice knife. I could kill. I could kill them. To save poor old Marla. I could murder those motherfuckers. Really ugly. Really fat. They took everything from me. But I escaped. I thought it was clever. But I should have gotten the knife. I should have saved poor old Marla. I should have. I was a cowardly son of a bitch. But she stabbed herself to death. The motherfuckers made her stab herself to death. Really ugly and really fat. How could they be so cruel? I lost my beauty. I lost poor old Marla. Motherfu–”
I get off the bus. I want to scream.
I swoop into my dingy basement. I cannot wait to taste the wine anymore. Damn, cork. I don’t know how to pop it out even with the tool. But nope. Not yet. It is not the right time yet. I remember all of a sudden how my body responds to alcohol consumption. It’s like venom. A few sips could kill. It is an exaggeration. But it can be proven true. I just cannot prove it right now. Not yet. I am still on a mission. Good luck to me.
I have to look for an easy victim. A gullible and mesmerizing face. I can steal her heart the way Beethoven would captivate rock ‘n roll fans. I don’t know where to find her. I don’t even know if I’ve still got the Devil inside of me. But Eli was right. I cannot run away. My life depends on it. Regardless.
I look at the flashy image of Beelzebub displayed on the wine bottle. He is the reason why I have thoughts to write down. He leads me to ideas. He scribbles violent and wistful music notes in my head. He teaches me to become more than what I am supposed to be. Good or bad. It is all up to me.
Poor old Marla. Poor. Old. Marla.
He is a fine young man with a kind face. Oh, his face is one of my favorites now. It is pure and loving as if it is taking you home. His thoughtful smile ignites a memory. A special one. It has to be. I am certain of it. Or I would run a knife across my chest. To wake up.
Though I cannot remember him at all. He simply looks familiar. My adoration for him feels familiar. Being with him brings me closer to the moment Beethoven composed Symphony No. 9. It is surreal. But I let the stranger into my dingy basement anyhow.
He claims he is Danny, my nephew. But I do not believe him. Little Danny is only 3 years old. This is an imposter. A fine young man with a kind face. Still an imposter.
“How old are you?” I interrogate him.
“I’ve just turned fifteen,” he replies, looking around. “You really don’t remember me at all, huh?”
“No,” I sigh. “The last time I spoke to little Danny, he was only 3 years old. And that wasn’t long ago.”
“I’m just here to visit you. See how you’re doing. If you’re okay. I just wanted to see it for myself.”
“Would you like some coffee? Tea? Pop? Anything to drink?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Why are you here?”
“Well, don’t you wanna see me? I’m a little grown now. And I also play the piano.”
“Who taught you?”
“You kidnapped me when I was 3 years old and took me to Sonata Academy. I remember you playing the most enthralling piano pieces for hours, and I was hooked. Really hooked. It was when you made me fall in love with the instrument itself. My earliest childhood memory. With you. I’ll never trade it for the world.”
“It’s funny ‘cause I can’t remember anything at all.”
“It’s okay. They told me you got sick. Don’t worry about it. You’ll remember me sooner in time for sure. You will. I know you will.”
“When? At my deathbed?”
“Please, don’t say that.”
“What do you expect me to say then? Do you have any idea how confusing this is all to me?”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ve come because you have stopped caring. And I was hoping that you’d care again. You loved me very much. You still do. And I can feel it wherever I am. I always think of you, and I always imagine us creating our own memories together. But I don’t understand why you don’t do music anymore, though. Why? Why did you abandon something that made you truly happy?”
“It made me feel miserable!” I confess. “Here. Let me drop the truth for you, little Danny. I never performed on stage for once because it terrorized me. So instead I worked as a ghost composer. I abandoned it all for reasons that I shall only keep to myself. End of discussion.”
“I already knew about the stage fright and the composing part. I just think it’s sad that the world doesn’t know your name.”
“My name is never important. I never really had one. I don’t.”
“What did you do? What happened?”
“Who the hell are you to ask me that? You’ve stormed in here to judge me?”
“I’m here to help you!”
“Beethoven is helping me. Writing is helping me. None of you bitches are helping me. Why do you think I’ve imprisoned myself in here? Why do you think I’ve been avoiding people all this time? Why do you think I’m alone? You’re a goddamn artist. You know why shit like this happens. If you don’t, then you may have to consider other options. Because a true artist goes through hell. A true artist puts himself into hell, dragging innocent people along for the ride. A true artist is unforgiving. Never ever forget that.”
“A true artist never forgets who he is. Do you know who Beethoven’s immortal beloved was?”
“Exactly. That’s why I’m here. To remind you of it.”
“You haven’t lived long enough yet to understand all this. What do you know about life, for Christ’s sake? I bet you can’t even do Moonlight Sonata Movement No. 3.”
He throws himself at my cheap digital piano keyboard and turns it on, then runs his prodigious fingers across the keys. Moonlight Sonata Movement No. 3 erupts inside my dingy basement as if covering my life with a spellbinding canvas painting. My little Danny, my little self, my little genius. I see him in flesh. I listen to his magic. I talk to him about truths.
Oh, my little Danny. I am proud to be — whoever you believe I am in your life.
“How was that?” He bounces away from the instrument.
“You’re truly gifted,” I say, almost in tears.
“I got it from you.”
“Maybe. But mostly you got it from pain.”
“I hear it all the time. I can’t shut it off. My best friend is my piano. I think I’m sick.”
“That’s how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to be tortured by it for it to really work.”
“What should I do?”
“Enjoy it. It’s your magic. It will keep on torturing you anyway. No matter what you do, it will always harm you one way or another. But it’s the only beautiful pain in the world that gives you rewards in the end.”
“What about your magic?”
“I turn to Beethoven to believe that such magic is real. Sometimes, we create our own pain. From it, we create our own art. With it, we create our own purpose in life. Solving a mystery is not important. Having a mystery is. Because in it, life goes on. Life has more meaning. Life is real that way. After all, this world is full of judgmental fools. I’m safe in here.”
“I need my own mystery, too. To make it more fun.”
“Little Danny, promise me something.”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Whatever you do, please don’t hurt other people.”
“Did you hurt a lot of people?”
“Yes, I did. I was evil to them.”
“Like, did you kill someone?”
“No. God, no. Well, almost. But no. I didn’t. I couldn’t. No, of course not.”
“She killed herself because of me.”
The head massage works. The eucalyptus rub makes it even better. I am floating away to the ceiling. Ha-ha! Please! I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I’m just lounging in bed, filling out a page with something smart. I know it is not a smart thing to do. Being lazy and surrendering to what my mind says or sees. I am listening to Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto Movement No. 2. It is heartbreaking. It rips my fantasy apart. Because it is the only thing that is real right now. Yes. Beethoven never lies to me. He saves me. He makes me see the truth.
Confront happiness. Confront principles. Confront love.
I have none of that. Give me courage, more time, and understanding. No one would ever know what my mind grieves over. No one else would hold my hand the same way as Eli would. No one would love me. I am going to die alone. Might as well do it now.
Aw, come on, Skye! Stay around a little bit longer. A beautiful wonder is coming into your life. Believe it. Pray for it. Plead for it. It will happen. True love can happen.
My mobile phone rings. Oh, someone loves me. Who could it be? Yes, it is ringing. God, I feel dizzy. But I hear it. It is ringing. So loudly. I recognize my ringtone. It is mine.
“Hello?” a kind voice greets.
Huh. She sounds eerily familiar. Like an angel. Though she seems insignificant in my life. As if I have learned to forget about her all through these years. Oh. She must have hurt me badly in the past. Like, she abandoned me and broke my trust. “Who is this?”
“Skye, it’s Sally,” she says, “your big sister. Remember her?”
“Why the fuck is everybody asking me that?” I grumble.
“Sorry,” she says. “Well, it’s been a while. I called your work, and they told me about what happened, so –”
“Why?” I bellow, “What happened? What did they tell you?”
“Oh. They just — They just told me you quit, that’s all. Nothing biggie, really.”
“It sounds like a huge fucking deal to me. What did they tell you?”
“You’re not well. You’re seriously — ill. Or — something.”
“Yeah. That’s it.”
“Spit the truth, you son of a bitch.”
“Look, I’m calling just to make sure you’re okay. I know you don’t like it when someone shows up at your door unannounced, so I gotta make sure I’ve got your permission first before I go.”
“Eli showed up at my door unannounced.”
“He was just here the other day.”
“Why is that impossible?”
“Well — because –” — she pauses and snaps out of it — “Skye, I’ve called Dr. Edwards.”
“What?” I vault out of the bed. “I know who he is! Why the fuck did you do that for?”
“Please see him, okay, darling?” she convulses into tears. “Please!”
I calm down. “Okay.”
“Thank you. I love you.”
“I love you.”
“Good to know.”
“I — uh — listened to your piano stuff the other day.”
“Sunset over Empire? The one that I wrote for Grace George?”
“You remember. It’s my ultimate favorite.”
“It reminds me of somebody each time it crosses my mind.”
“You’ll remember,” she giggles. “You’re gonna make it on Christmas eve, aren’t you, darling?”
“Christmas eve?” I blurt out. “What’s gonna happen on Christmas eve?”
“It’s our thing. Try to remember. You and I go to church together, then we talk about important things — like — secrets, fears, and maybe some happiness. And it’s your birthday, too.”
“Darling, Dr. Edwards will come see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Dr. Edwards Dr. Edwards Dr. Edwards! Why the fuck do I need to see him for?”
“You will see him every Friday at 2 o’clock. Promise me you’ll cooperate.”
“I will. But I want you to know — this is betrayal.”
“Do you love me?”
“I should ask a question. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, I do. That’s why I’m calling.”
“No, Sally. You don’t hear me. I have a funny feeling you’ve never heard me at all. That’s why you’re calling now. To make up for it.”
“I love you,” she insists. “I have always loved you. I want to be with you on Christmas eve, and I’m hoping you’d feel better by then. This is why my I’m calling.”
“For all I know you’re not even real!” I accuse her.
Sunset over Empire tunes hum through the phone. It zooms me back to a long gone memory. I played the piece for Sally at our old piano. Tears soaked her up. She said it was tragic yet charming. I still cannot figure out what she meant by it, though. I was simply glad it enslaved her fancy as she was always hard to please.
I remember her. At last.
“Now tell me I’m not real,” she cries.
“I believe you, Sally,” I reply, whispering. “I believe you now.”
“Darling, I’m one of the real ones,” she sobs. “You’re my little sister, and I love you very much.”
The sad part about life is living for rules. It’s a defensive trick to bask in as it urges me to become more human. Whether it is sharp or dumb, as long as I walk away with a good memory, that’s what’s important. Sometimes I sound like me. There are also times when I sound like a stranger. I have noticed that I have been swearing a lot lately. It amuses me to be aware of it. Just like that. There are actually imperative things happening around me that I am cognizant of. One minute I am smart. The next minute I am ignorant. How do I define my consciousness in a coherent sense? I have no idea. I may just have to continue living for rules. What are my rules again? Tick tock tick tock tick tock. I have to investigate the concept of my purpose.
Experience my mind. This is not a simulation. This is for real. Music notes have a brilliant life of their own. They are a nobody’s fool. All they need is one personal emotion before they group themselves together in one poignant harmony. That’s their rule. Simple. Straightforward. Never shy.
A Devil explodes in me out of desperation and desire. Gullible women for desperation. Honest music for desire. I charm them. The torch is lit. The game starts. They get burnt. I let them win. Game over. I go back to where I belong. Outside of the game line. This is the Devil’s rule. I trashed it long ago. But I may have to steal it back again. Soon. Before time runs out.
The mundane drives my impulses to live. I get up. I listen to Beethoven’s symphonies. I eat salted caramel danish and noodles. I drink a lot of coffee. I go out whenever I feel like I’m putting myself in danger. I scribble across the fancy red notebook pages. I stare at my cheap digital piano keyboard. I devour classic films. I spend time with Beethoven in my reveries and dreams. I analyze the intelligence hidden in classical music.
I am not unhinged at all. I am just being me. I am only looking for somebody that I can trust. Are there rules for it?
“Let’s talk about Beethoven,” Dr. Edwards says, crossing his legs.
“What about him?” I reply.
“I was hoping that you’d tell me. He seems very significant in your life.”
“Beethoven is my Devil.”
“About a few months before I turned 11, my mother introduced me to him. I didn’t fall in love with his music. I felt envious of what he could do. So then I asked — Miss Feinstein — if she could teach me piano. She did. And I cracked the piano code soon after. Actually, it was some days before my 11th birthday. I remember being so angry and wild that I sat at the piano and played like a beast. They were all shocked. Like, unbelievably shocked. I wasn’t. Because I had had it long before, and it was only waiting for the perfect time. And that was the perfect time.”
“Do you remember why you were so angry — and wild that day?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“What was it?”
“Being a woman.”
“But you were 11. Almost 11.”
“Exactly my point. Now I’m 45 years old, and it still makes me angry.”
Dr. Edwards clears his throat and winces in his seat. “We have been interacting with each other since you were a kid –”
“Interacting,” I laugh. “I like that word. So refreshing.”
“But you haven’t been honest for once. We’re always going full circles. Look, I didn’t come here as a therapist. I came here as a friend. I couldn’t just abandon you just like you abandoned music. Pardon me for wasting your time but I really want — to save you — Skye. I really do.”
“Why is that?”
“Maybe because I just want to listen to the music that you’ve been hiding in your genius.”
“I’m not a genius. Music is just something that moves my sensibility. Like a sentence. Or a Math equation.”
“Something’s up. Your sister is extremely worried. She loves you. Please do this for her.”
“Cooperate every Friday at 2 o’clock while my psychosis is being shredded down to pieces in order to solve a lifelong puzzle? Sure. Let’s do it. My brains are pumped already.”
“I’ll see you next week.”
“Will I still be alive by then?”
Sitting at Starbucks with my fall coat on and sleek black hair down reminds me of an easy breeze of life. Damn. I wish for an alluring face to find me. I am savoring my caramel macchiato as my hopes search for a credulous creature. In her 20s, 30s, 40s, or even 50s, perhaps. I don’t really give a shit as long as I’m unleashing the Devil in me one last time. Have I already said that? One last time. I promise.
I see and utilize things as if they’re a luxury. It is my only distinction in society. It is my enticement. I am a nobody. I am clearly average. I just have charisma and quiet intelligence. As what I have been told. Okay okay. Enough of being modest. I can be pretty if I want to be. Like this morning. It is funny how looks give me power to view moments in different perspectives.
The butterfly effect from the past walks in. Instincts recognize her right away. The delicate stride. The infectious smile as she greets the cashier. The good-girl getup that makes her look even more tempting. Yup. That’s her. In her early 70s now, I presume. But still as enchanting as fuck.
I walk up to her as she waits for her order. “Is it Mrs. Feinstein?”
“Excuse me?” she replies, flustered.
“It’s Skye Stoltz,” I say in a fearless voice. “Don’t! I mean, please, not the bad flashbacks. That’s not why I’m standing in front of you right now.”
She flinches. “Okay. Good to know.”
“How have you been?”
“Sorry to hear that. How’s your little girl?”
“She’s got her own family now. They live in New York. Thank God.”
“Yeah. Thank God, eh?”
“What about you?”
“Since you’ve thrown a personal answer at me, back at yah.” We share a giggle. I see a major predicament coming. Vengeance? Desperation? Desire? Or forgiveness. Stop! Take it slow. Have fun. Decide once judgment has intervened. Be normal, for God’s sake. Be fucking normal. Damn it, I hate swearing. “Single. Always. I mean, there were — people — but — I was never –”
“Ethel!” a barista calls.
Mrs. Feinstein grabs her drink and smiles at me. “Well, shall we sit?”
“Absolutely.” I lead her to my table, and we sit down. “So you live alone?”
“Hmm. Me too. It’s cheaper.”
“That’s right.” She takes a sip of her drink. “So how’s piano?”
“It’s all right,” I reply. “It helped me with bills and a comfortable lifestyle once upon a time. Until I fucked up and worked at some phoney music school as an administrative assistant. And as a matter of fact, I quit the job about three weeks ago. If I can recall.”
“You fucked up how?”
“I’m not sure how exactly. I just did. What about you? You still teach?”
“Yes. I still do.”
“Good for you. Wow. I admire your dedication.”
“It’s not dedication. It’s destiny.”
“My destiny is to die a tragic death.”
“Oh my God. Please don’t say something like that. It harrows up my stomach.”
“Does it? Sorry.”
“You’ve said it in a very casual way. It’s scary.”
“That’s just me. I’ve been quite scary since.”
“I thought we were not –”
“Don’t worry. I did not accost you to settle the past. I’m here to catch up. No strings attached.”
“Maybe I should go. This is not a good idea after all.”
“If you leave right now, I swear to God, I’m gonna scream.”
“Oh God, Skye. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Oh yes, I have. Big time. You haven’t seen that side of me yet.”
“Are you okay?”
“Don’t I look okay?”
“You look — beautiful.”
“That’s what I wanted someone to see me. That’s the whole point.”
“I can’t — I don’t think I can deal with –”
“34 years flew by like a blink of an eye. I wish I lived in an unparalleled universe instead as I should like to keep some moments. Like our moments.”
“Oh, for the love of God, Skye. We are not gonna talk about it.”
“Screw the bad part, Ethel. I loved every second of it. It’s probably why my life has been a complete shit-hole ‘cause I haven’t entirely moved on yet. Have you?”
“You know it was a huge mistake. It still haunts me. It gives me nightmares and anxiety attacks. Constantly.”
“That explains the divorce then, huh?”
She leans forward and looks me in the eye. “I was always tempted to look for you.”
“Why didn’t you?” I fight back my tears.
“I was scared of a lot of things.”
“Well, I suppose this was fated to happen after all. Did you miss me?”
“Yeah. Very much so. But –”
“I’m old enough now.”
“I can’t. I’m too old. I’ve got a grandkid, and my daughter wouldn’t like it for sure. They’d all kill me.”
“Can’t we be friends at least?” I caress her fingers.
She examines my eyes. “You’re not well.”
“I’m sane. If that’s what you’re worried about. I mean — I may have episodes once in a while but –”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“Yeah. Dr. Edwards. My therapist. That’s a doctor.”
“I’m talking about a physician. Have you had a full physical exam yet?”
“I hate doctors. I’d rather die than suffer from hospital bullshit. Why? What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“Cringing black. I’m sorry. I just can’t stand looking at you like that. It worries the hell out of me.”
“You wanna do something about it?” I hold her hand. “I want to be a part of your life again. Things are different now, Ethel. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Huh!” She sits back. “I don’t think you understand every word that has just flown out of your mouth.”
“Maybe not. But do you understand love?”
“I was married, for crying out loud. I understood its tangible meaning.”
“But you never understood true love, did you?”
“Okay, you win. On one condition.”
“I’m sending you to a doctor.”
“Don’t bullshit me.”
“Watch me, Skye. ‘Cause I am not gonna sit back and watch you die. Not anymore.”
The last face I saw in my past will be the last one I will see before I close my eyes in the near future. I trust it. I am in love with it. I have forgiven it. My beautiful secret. My forbidden childhood. My wild innocence. I shall keep it with me in the grave. What were the odds of us crossing paths again after 34 years? It was meant to happen. We are bound to complete the story of our unrequited romance. The rest of the world becomes insignificant.
Ethel stayed in Windsor with her husband and her little daughter — even after our painful breakup. She then moved to Queen city soon after the divorce. It ended amicably. Much to her daughter’s surprise. She has been keeping herself busy with teaching and in denial of her private longings — since. Until yesterday.
Today I’m having lunch at her cozy studio. I missed her cooking. I missed her scent. I missed her nurturing hands. The deepest care. This is how I would like to remember life. The unconditional bond between two women. I will say it again: the rest of the world becomes insignificant.
“The classic butternut squash,” I say, ravishing my meal.
“I missed you,” she utters from across the table, staring at me. “I missed you everyday.”
“Happiness always betrays us in the end, doesn’t it? Though we were in love.”
“I loved you. You were infatuated. But we were certainly not in love. I just wanted to point that out.”
“If we weren’t, then how come the feeling became such a permanent fixture that destroyed both our lives all through these years? Now this rekindling event has made us fall in love with life all of a sudden. Do you have a rational answer for that?”
“You’re so smart. I’m going senile.”
“My first heartache was my greatest tragedy. It changed me a lot. The pains that followed after had become pleasures. I was a Devil. I had the time of my life. I could get whatever I wanted just because they thought I was a genius. Love would only take a peek from an old wooden door. It wouldn’t come in. It tried. But I guess it kept its place. The first heartache.”
“I’m still — Oh God — You just — You amaze me — I don’t know how to respond to that — I can’t — This is –”
“Relax, Ethel,” I giggle. “I’m just trying really hard here to impress you.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she laughs. “You already impressed me on the first day, for Pete’s sake.”
“What was it about me that impressed you?”
“I just had this strange feeling of taking care of you. It was weird. But it was too strong. And it terrified me so badly that I would cry at night.”
“That sounds more like pity to me.”
“It was love at first sight. There. Don’t be cynical about it now.”
“Are you real?” I ask.
“What kind of a pathetic question is that?” She almost jumps out of her seat.
“Tell me something real about you right now. Or about this.”
“Okay. Have a spoonful of butternut squash first, then I’ll tell you.”
I obey the order. “I’m ready.”
“How was the soup?” she asks.
“What about the texture and the flavor?”
“Good. Was that real enough for you yet?”
“Fuck,” I cackle.
“Don’t bullshit me either, Skye,” she says. “I may be old. But my heart can still see the truth.”
“What truth does your heart see right now?”
“To be with you.”
“Really. That’s bull.”
“I want to take care of you. I’m afraid something really bad is about to happen. I want to save you from it. Do you believe me?”
“I didn’t come here for pity love, lady. If you wish to save someone, I would be an awful disappointment. I’m a pain in the ass, I feel okay, and I’m having butternut squash. What’s in my shit that got you so worried about anyways? My ‘cringing black’ eyes? Screw that. That’s the ugly effect of insomnia.”
“Why can’t you sleep?”
“Because there’s music blasting through my fucking head all the time!”
“Submit to it. That’s your job. Do you have any idea how many people would want to have your genius?”
I slam the table with my fist. “I am not a goddamn genius. The music notes have always been there just waiting for humans to manipulate them. Just like grouping words together to tell a story. It’s all just recycled. Secondary. It may sound original, but a plumber somewhere in this world may have conceived a special idea first, which is obviously recycled given the proven theory. However, something has just prevented him from bringing it to life. Maybe it’s never that important. Maybe it’s just a happy musing. Maybe it’s just a silent piece of him that gives him courage. Who knows. And that’s exactly what I am. Just another plumber with an idea.”
“What about people like Beethoven?” she replies.
“If an ignorant would listen to Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Chopin, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Liszt, Brahms, Schubert, and all the others but Beethoven, he would be mesmerized by their music right away without even wanting to know about a particular piece and its composer. And then you put on Beethoven’s symphonies. He perks up. He’s curious. He’s eager to do something. But first he wants to know about the music and the entity behind it. That’s Beethoven’s magic. That’s what separates him from the pack. I know we all have our own preferences. Everything in this life is subjective. Everything. But Beethoven knows exactly how to hold someone’s consciousness right off the bat. Now that’s the man right there. The man. The kind that we should all aspire to be.”
“The man. Not a genius? Just the man?”
“Just the man whose personal catastrophes drove him to compose electrifying symphonies. Just the man who was fiercely ambitious to exploit music notes to suit an idea. Just the man with wicked convictions who expressed them through an art form. What’s genius to me? The existence of music notes. Just being there. To be abused. To create something amazing for selfish humans by a selfish fellow. That’s genius.”
“What do you call Beethoven’s magic then?”
“Once he holds you captive, your fate is sealed.”