Sunset Over Empire
Desire and desperation have one thing in common. Fear.
You may cheat. But they always tell the truth. You may escape. But they always shelter your shadow. You may fight back. But they always hold a more powerful sword. They make you drink wine to death. They exhaust your every thought. They hurl you into a psychopathic pit. The moment you have met them is the exact moment that you realize your predestination. Your days are numbered.
It is 10 in the morning. I am pouring a glass of wine. My memory has just warned me that my physical body is supposed to be allergic to it. It has failed to remind me of its contradictory effect on my mind. That it sends me to euphoria where reality lives. Eli barges in on me as I run a pen across my fancy red notebook. He looks worried stiff. My one and only friend’s heart is broken. I’m always the culprit. I can only give him a smile of remorse. No spoken words anymore.
“I know you’re not sorry,” he cries.
“It’s called spontaneity, boss,” I say. “Which is something that you have a knack for. Aw, c’mon. It’s just a glass. It’s not gonna kill me. Look, I’m working on my legacy here, and you know what I’ve just found out? I actually do sound more perceptive through written words. You wanna take a look?” He nods. I hand it to him. He skims through the pages in horror, then throws it back at me. “What the fuck!”
“And you’re proud of this?” he bawls out. “You wrote lies?”
“Exactly why society is fucked up because of people like you!” I retaliate.
“Bring it on,” he challenges. “I’m here to be betrayed anyways. Go on, Skye. Dump it all on me.”
“These are truths of happiness,” I reason. “What to live for. What to expect. What to appreciate. Like this creepy-looking guy on the subway who tapped me on the shoulder just to ask me what time it was. I told him, ‘it’s 9:16.’ Then he gave me the most sincere smile I had ever seen in a long time. It made me feel amazing about the world, about humanity, about life. That guy defined truth in a way that no one would ever expect him to. And that — is what my legacy is all about!”
“I can’t save you anymore, Skye,” he says. “Perhaps you might want to investigate the past that led you to this rat’s nest.”
“There’s only one thing that could save me,” I say. “It’s my reality.”
“That would be a great subject of investigation then. I suggest you better start with me.”
“You’re scaring me?”
“I’m confronting your sanity.”
“Are you telling me you’re not real?”
“Can you see me clearly right now?”
I close and open my eyes. “Yes, I do. You’re standing right in front of me.”
“I’m your imaginary friend, Skye,” he laughs. “Just a spontaneous help who pops in whenever you need a rational excuse to stay alive.”
My faltering hand grips a glass of wine. I take a sip and allow my senses to luxuriate in it. I look around my dingy basement. The plain black drapes, the worn-out velvet curtains, and the packed bookshelf pressed against the wall stay still. Their serene wisdom warms my mind as if whooping out mythological hints that pollute my acumen. I know who I am. I remember who I was. I have a name behind closed doors.
Eli was every wrong in the world. Not everything must be justified. Not all doings must be good. Not all bad in the eyes of humanity ruins hopes. I do not owe anyone an explanation. If I do not make sense to them, it is because their understanding holds limits. An open mind requires setting aside society’s principles. There are music notes invariably going on a spree inside of me. They are not going to stop until I sit down and pay attention. With Eli gone, I can easily withdraw from the promise. Yet something stings in my memory. I have to find out the truth myself.
Was Eli just an imaginary friend?
“Sally,” I phone her, “are you up for telling the truth?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she replies.
“I’ve just had a weird encounter with Eli.”
“Really. Huh. ‘Cause he’s just called me and told me the same thing.”
“He said you passed out on him after an argument. He freaked out about it, so he grabbed your phone and dropped me a call. He didn’t know whether to call an ambulance or –”
“But he told me he was just my imaginary friend.”
“You told him that. You accused him of being just an imaginary friend. Now he’s completely devastated.”
“Please tell me you’re telling the truth,” I plead in whisper.
“The blackout lasted for about five minutes,” she explains. “Once you got back to your consciousness, you caught him going frantic over your phone, so you shoved him out the door.”
“That. I can’t remember.”
“He told me you were drinking again.”
“You guys are the ones driving me insane here! Not my goddamn wine, you half wit!”
“I’m driving right now. Can I call you in a bit?”
“Where are you off to?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not important.”
“You’re fucking lying. You’re on your way here, aren’t you?”
“Skye, I’m really worried sick about you.”
“You’re on your way here! Aren’t you?”
“I’m your family! I’m here to help you!”
“Just answer my question, goddammit! Give me some truth here!”
“Just let me be a part of your life for once!”
“Not this time, sister. Not when you’re manipulating my reality to your own benefits.”
“I am your family. I would never do such a thing.”
“So tell me the truth. Answer my question.”
“Yes. I’m on my way to see you.”
“Thank you. I’ll be gone before then. Goodbye.”
“Shit! Skye! Don’t you dare run away from me again!”
I learned to exist for human wisdom and persecution. I understood my purpose. I cannot let them manipulate me anymore.
In the center of her chamber, I am conducting an imaginary orchestra. I feel Ethel’s tranced eyes protecting me from her own discreet corner. Emperor Concerto Movement No. 2 grieves along with my fragile hands waving in the air. Ethel can hear it, too. Every wistful note and every teardrop. I pause and stare at the shiny grand piano. It is a tempting archangel. No. My time has already come to a finite end. The beast that stole my childhood away. The mind trips that violated the genius. The lies that gave me power. This beauty is seducing me back while being held captive by the woman from the past.
Let me check. My name is Skye Stoltz. I am Skye Stoltz. Today is Tuesday. October 17th, 2017. I am 45 years old. I am with Ethel Feinstein. She was my first and last piano teacher. She is also my first and last love. Again. Let me check. My name is Skye Stoltz.
Memory check. Done. Passed.
Ethel holds my hand for a dance. She leads me towards the grand piano. I resist. I dance away. She catches my waist with her delicate arm. Her lips touch mine. We kiss. As passion ignites, she waltzes away and sits on the beast’s bench. Her smile provokes my desperation. The beast releases my desire with a sophisticated melody through her fingers. They are all hypnotizing me. They want to own me back. They are ready to kill me.
I scream. Ethel snaps me out of it with a comforting hug.
“Hey hey,” she says, “sweetheart, you’re fine. You’re okay.”
“Promise me you’re real,” I cry, shaking.
“Yes,” she assures me. “We’ve already talked about this. Remember the butternut squash?”
“And I’m –” I stutter, “– I’m in y-your studio right now –”
“You said you got scared of something. That’s why you’re here.”
“She thinks I’m psychotic. She’s sending me to a madhouse. I’m sure of it.”
“Who’s sending you to a madhouse?”
“She claims to be my big sister.”
“That’s what you’re afraid of?”
“Yes. Ethel, I swear to God, I’m not psychotic or anything. I just — I just see things differently sometimes. I know that. Because I’m keeping everything in my fancy red notebook.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not asking you to understand it! I’m asking you to believe me!”
“Well, I’m sending you to a doctor as per our agreement anyways.”
“For a full physical exam. We’ve already talked about this on the first day.”
“What for? I’m standing here, aren’t I? I’m communicating. My senses are aware. My vital organs seem to coordinate really fine. What else would you want to know?”
“Sweetheart,” she sighs.
“Don’t you fucking sweetheart me!” I yank her arm away. “You’re just like them! A manipulative bitch who just plays a game with my head to get what she wants!”
“I’m here to help you!”
“Help me help me help me help me help me! Goddammit! Everybody wants to help me! Why can’t they help themselves instead and just leave me alone!”
“Fine. I’ll do that. I’ll leave you alone.”
“So if you wanna die, please have the decency to die alone. Not in front of me. That’s our new agreement now. How does that sound to you?”
“Sounds like a dream-come-true to me.”
“Perfect. If you still wanna stick around longer, you have to follow my rules.”
“Like what? I’m not fucking playing the piano anymore!”
“Piano is out. Music is out. Completely.”
“Really?” I giggle.
“Absolutely,” she replies. “All we have to do is talk. You can tell me everything. Every little detail of what’s going through your mind and I’m gonna record it.”
“What do you mean, record it?”
“You’ve heard it.”
“Just in case you die in no time or die on my floor. Or worse, kill yourself in front of me. I can show them a strong evidence that I’ve got nothing to do with it. All right? Do we have a deal?”
“You want us both to sign up for this serious shit?”
“Oh, sweetheart. This is not just some serious shit. This is easy death. I mean, obviously, you’ve been wanting to die for so long. Why not do it with grace and leave a legacy behind that would teach the world how fucked up it was to be like you.”
“I’m 72 years old,” she laughs. “I can be an influential piano teacher, but not a genius like you. I can’t even explain to you as to how complex Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is. But I’m sure you can.”
“It tells of the dark and radiant images of truths,” I reply. “Like a little girl who despises the fact that every princess in fairy tale books must be rescued by a prince. There are millions of Shakespeares in the world right now who are deemed to be mediocre. Home teaches us an emotional lesson first. School limits our intelligence. Society crushes us with fanaticism. We take risks. The outcome gives us a unique understanding of who we can become. We grow old. Our faith in ourselves starts to die. A triumph only lasts for a relative moment. Working hard on a dream means changing lives along the way in order to feed strength and courage into our subconscious so we can make it come true. Every journey ends at sunsets. Sanity whistles the ordinary. We all rise and fall. Everyone is destined for a sad ending. No one is spared. Not even the Queen. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is just the calming storm of humanity.”
“My God. Your words sound like symphonies.”
“What did you just say?”
“I said your words sound like symphonies.”
“That’s what Beethoven challenged me to do in my dream. How did you know about that?”
“I didn’t know. I just thought of it.”
“Fuck. You’re not real.”
“Skye! We’ve already talked about this!”
“Stay away from me, you son of a bitch! I’ve had enough of this mumbo-jumbo shit already! Stay the fuck away from me!”
“Sweetheart, please –”
The grand piano rises and dances in the air. Thunderstorms. Darkness. A calming mist rests in my face.
I smile at my truth.
“Stop convincing yourself you’re okay. You’re not okay. You never were. Until you accept the truths.”
“A true artist never forgets who he is.”
“I’m one of the real ones. I love you very much.”
“But you haven’t been honest for once. We’re always going full circles.”
“My God. Your words sound like symphonies.”
— like symphonies — symphonies — symphonies — !
I wake up from the nightmare. Ethel is sitting on the bed, holding my hand. I snatch it away as I catch my breath. I scowl at her. She responds with a kind smile. Resplendent white wings surface from her back in one blink of an eye. Instantaneously, the cozy studio radiates with sweetness and pure love. Now I know who she truly is. The guardian angel that I prayed for when I was a kid. I am sheltered at last.
“Where am I?” I ask.
“Still here,” she says.
“Where is here?”
“Is your name Ethel?”
“Yes, sweetheart. It is Ethel.”
“Your wings are beautiful.”
“Oh. My wings?”
“Yeah.” I smile. “I’ve never seen anything so peaceful and so beautiful like that in my entire life.”
“Are you hungry?” she chokes up.
“What time is it?”
“It’s almost — sunset.”
“Please stay with me. Don’t leave me here alone.”
“I’m here, sweetheart. You’re here with me. You’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re safe.”
“Thank you,” I mutter.
“I always wanted to keep you with me,” she succumbs to loud tears.
I sit up and seize her hand. “What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing. Just — the past, that’s all.”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“You know I haven’t forgiven you yet for what happened to me when I was 11 years old.”
“It was summer,” I confess. “I was playing in our backyard, and — a neighbor snuck in and asked me if I believed in angels. I said yes. Then he said he knew where to find them and that he would take me there. So I went with him. He took me into an ugly garage and — and — played his way all over me–”
“Oh my God,” she cries, “sweetheart –”
“I remember praying to God to send you down to get me out of there. But you never came. I stopped believing in God and in angels since. Sometimes I wish he should have killed me instead. I remember him asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I wanted to teach people how to love. Then he cried and told me to go home. I could have told anybody about what happened. But I don’t know why I decided to just keep it as a secret. Until now.”
“I am so sorry!”
“I forgive you. Look, you’ve got wings for me now. My dream came true.”
“It’s just your imagination playing tricks on you,” she claims.
“You wanna know what’s in my imagination? Humongous music sheets. The music notes settle in their respective places. In C sharp Major. They’re composing a piano concerto. Now there’s the brass section. The strings. The percussions. The woodwind family. The piano leads the ensemble like a queen. It’s violent. It enamors. It’s desperately looking for an escape. It becomes a cowardly charm that it is seeking a peaceful end. It laments over its fate. It realizes it’s paralyzed from reality. Forever. It still looks for hope. Something to bring into its heart. Something good to remember by. Until it meets the most powerful truth. It dies. With a smile. And all it’s left is its humongous music sheets with notes settled in their respective places. The bloodless C sharp Major then becomes — immortal.”
“You have a magnificent imagination. Sweetheart, look at me. I’m just another person. Like you. I don’t have wings. But I can assure you that I will be your guardian angel from now on. What do you remember about me? About Ethel, I mean. What do you remember about her?”
“She was my piano teacher. We fell in love. I forced her to make love to me. She kept saying I was very young. It made me really angry. I was always wild around her. I think I frightened her out of my wits. But she would still be there for me regardless. Because she loved me so much. She said so herself. Then one day I pushed her to the floor with all the strength I had in me. I climbed on top of her. She went frantic. So I punched her in the face. Several times. Until she couldn’t fight back anymore. And then I raped her.”
“Oh my God! Sweetheart! You didn’t hurt me at all! You couldn’t hurt me! Nothing like that ever happened!”
“Are you telling me –?”
“No! I’m not saying you’re going insane or anything! I’m just saying that that horrifying incident never happened!”
“So you’re telling me I’m lying?”
“No! This is exactly the point as to why I want you to see my friend because I can’t do this alone!”
“What can’t you do alone?” I cry.
“Making you feel better!” she replies, shaking my shoulders. “Listen — listen here — I can’t send you back to your place like this. I know that you don’t wanna see your sister right now. But if you want to be — with me — I have to keep her posted about your situation, so she wouldn’t have to worry anymore.”
“What kind of a doctor is she?”
“She makes people see the truth.”
“I have Dr. Edwards. I’m supposed to see him every Friday at 2 o’clock.”
“Okay. Okay. Good. Can I meet him then?”
“Sure,” I yelp. “Now I think I’m ready for some more butternut squash.”
“Okay.” She kisses me on the cheek, then smiles. As her resplendent white wings fade away before my eyes.
Ethel serves me a huge bowl of butternut squash. It’s scrumptious, as always. It validates my physical existence. I can taste every ingredient and every spice. I can see my hand holding a steel spoon. I can hear Ethel’s distinct voice detailing about her phone conversation with my sister. I can feel my imagination touching the piano keys. My name is Skye Stoltz. My name is Skye. I am sitting in somebody’s dining room. I am loved. I am understood and seen. I am living my dream. No one can destroy it. Please God. Help me keep it this way. Help me.
The woman from the bus appears with her vindictive eyes. She rants on:
“– — — 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 sprint out of my seat as my frantic scream sends Ethel to a panic. She consoles me with kisses while struggling to keep my hands still. My eyes are closed. I’m afraid to open them. It was just a hallucination. Yes. It was. How else should my sanity justify it? These things are insignificant. Different from Ethel’s resplendent white wings. Anything that makes me feel bad is insignificant. This is how I should see life. Except when music reconciles with the wild in me. Only then that anything that makes me feel bad becomes important. I need the bad to keep going sometimes. My drug. My spark.
I open my eyes. The vivid colors of the room perk up. I am in Ethel’s arms. We are on the floor. My assuaged body refuses to move. The ceiling smiles down at me. Though it’s a little bit blurry. But I know it’s smiling down at me.
“Would you like to tell me about it?” Ethel whispers.
“No,” I reply.
“All right then. Would you like to hear the tunes of one of my favorite contemporary piano pieces?”
Ethel hums every melody note of Sunset over Empire. She makes it sound like a melancholic lullaby. I listen as my wish sings along with her humming. I wrote it for her. Grace George owns it. But the wish of being with my first and last love created the longing music. I have lived on to experience this moment. There is nothing more gratifying in life than this. Must I remind myself again. My name is Skye Stoltz. I am 45 years old. I am alive. I am in her arms.
“That was –”
“Sunset over Empire.”
“Of course you knew what it was,” she says. “You’re a genius after all.”
“Grace George is,” I reply.
“You know her? Personally?”
“I worked for her. Now she wants me murdered.”
“Skye!” she dreads.
“I’m not kidding you,” I giggle.
“This is not funny. Why do you find it amusing?”
“I’m already dead anyways. There is nothing to be murdered in me.”
“Please don’t say things like that anymore. It’s a — It’s a little too much for me to take on.”
“Where’s your recording gadget shit? I thought you said you were gonna document our talks. That way once I die on you, your ass is spared.”
“Aw, come on, Ethel. You were fucking firm about it.”
“I never said that.”
“Never said what?”
“Documenting our conversations. I would never do that to you.”
“Don’t you fucking twist my head any more than you already do.”
“Skye!” she cries. “Oh sweetheart, please, see me. Just see me.”
“Get the fuck away from me, you filthy bitch!” I scamper away.
“Okay.” She rises and calms down. “I guess you win all the time.”
“Oh yeah. All the time. From the time I fucked you when I was 11. Until courage saves my truths. I will always win, Ethel. And Grace George can kiss my fucking ass with her murder mission. I would still win.”
“Why would she want to kill you?”
“Because I hold her truths.”
“I was her ghost composer. That’s just one of them.”
“You wrote all her music?” she exclaims.
“Yeah. That’s why I’m dead now.”
“Grace George has been undergoing some serious mental treatment,” Ethel discloses the news. “She’s been my friend’s patient. So stop bullshitting yourself with all these wicked lies anymore. If you had already been dead, you were responsible for it. Not Grace George. Not me. Not other people. Maybe you should have murdered your ego first, so you could stop pushing us all away.”
Dr. Edwards’ rhythmic footsteps reverberate around the cozy studio. He pauses in the center and takes his time to evaluate the ambiance. His eyes survey for any suspicious life that may have been going on inside. He scrutinizes the grand piano in stinging silence. He throws me a nonchalant glance, then delivers his qualms to Ethel who is just as dubious as he is about her presence.
There is something eerie in him. A luster of dark mystery. It’s uncanny how I have just noticed it now. I refuse to disclose my madness to a familiar face who wears a stranger’s mask all of a sudden. He is not just a therapist. He can never be a friend. He is infesting my life with an agenda. Who is Dr. Edwards? Who is this man who offers his time and professional service for free to a recurring long-term patient? What does he want?
His shiny brown shoes melt away. I can see his bare feet now. They are grimy and tired. He is dressed in a grungy red robe. His long beard reaches down to his stomach. He is bald. His wrinkled skin makes him look like a hundred years old. He limps on with a cane to aid him.
He is inside a small ancient brick house, sitting by a fireplace. His dismal stare defines regrets and maybe even remorse. Stacks of old writings cover his aged table. Old dishes and rotten foods lay around as if they have importance. The words from his cryptic literary works leap out by themselves. He meets them with a mischievous smile. He has succeeded.
“Are you hiding?” I ask the old man.
“Oh no, dear,” he replies. “I’m living.”
“You’re either a sage or insane,” I giggle. “And what are those?”
“My sagacity,” he says, “and insanity.”
“Can I read them?”
“Maybe. Let me ask you a few questions first. May I?”
“Sure. Go for it.”
“What do you think of death?”
“Death is an opportunity to live a life that you wished you had lived.” I walk towards the table and praise his handwritten pieces.
“Do you have such a wish?” he provokes my secret.
“Not everyone perceives death the way that you do. Therefore, not everyone holds such a wish.”
“Yes, I do have such a wish. I wish I were a genius so I would understand and explain everything about life.”
“What puzzles you about life, dear?”
“Just like what happened to Ludwig Van Beethoven. That’s what puzzles me the most about life.”
“He made his enthusiastic audience feel good about life. It made him feel good about himself. It’s a didactic accomplishment.”
“Convincing. I still don’t buy it though. I think it’s way more than that. Like how love misfortunes and childhood trauma cheated their way into his masterpieces? Unbeknownst to the enthusiastic audience.”
“Wrong. Some of them shared the same tribulations. Most of them experienced at least one or two of his crucial moments. And all of them got hurt at some point by the people that they loved wholeheartedly. He would be selfish to believe that he was the only one who was going through hell. Now this is not an assumption. This is based on human facts. That we all must suffer in order to live a full life. Otherwise it’s a lie.”
“You sound like me. Ethel thinks my words sound like symphonies sometimes.”
“Which brings me to the last question. Who is Ethel?”
“She’s taking good care of me. She makes sure I still get to wake up in the morning. She loves me. I love her. It’s something that does not require an understanding. Because it has already existed before time agreed for us both to meet yet again.”
“Go on. Read.”
I pick up a piece from one of the stacks. I read every inked word in horrifying silence. “You son of a bitch!”
He releases a demonic laugh. “Kill yourself, dear! Kill yourself now! It’s your only way out! Because I’m warning you, it’s progressing really fast! You won’t be able to tell reality from delusions anymore! Your days are coming to an end! Soon! Really really soon! Are you ready?”
A glistening light intrudes. The old man and the ancient brick house dissolve back to a previous memory. I gasp and walk away. Ethel follows me from behind and catches my hand. I pause and turn to her. I can still feel reality breathing along with me. I am okay. I will be okay. “Would you please tell him to leave?”
“What’s the matter?” Ethel wonders.
“He’s up to something,” I say. “Whatever the hell it is, it will kill me.”
“Sweetheart,” she whispers, “he’s here to help you. And you’ve known him for a lot of years now. What’s not to trust all of a sudden?”
“I can’t explain it. I just can’t stand being around him anymore.”
“Skye,” Dr. Edwards calls from the living area, “are you ready?”
“Shut up,” I grunt, “Jesus fucking Christ.”
“Would you please do me a favor?” Ethel asks.
“I’m not doing it,” I groan.
Ethel presses my hand. “Sweetheart, would you still like to be here? To be with me?”
“Fuck,” I mutter, “don’t you dare throw me into a guilt trip dungeon, Ethel. I’m telling you, this guy is not who I thought he seemed to be. I got fooled all these years. Look how I ended up, for crying out loud. In my mad head. Which will kill me in time for sure. So you tell the asshole to fuck off and forget I have ever existed in his books.”
“You will always be in my books, you crazy lunatic!” Dr. Edwards screams.
“What the hell did you just say?” I scream back at him.
“I didn’t say anything!” he responds.
“I heard you clearly, you evil-eyed monster!” I dash towards him.
“Skye!” Ethel hastes along. “He didn’t say anything! What are you doing?”
“Fuck you!” I punch Dr. Edwards in the face.
“Stop it!” Ethel embraces me from behind. “Oh God! Please!”
“Get the fuck out of here!” I scream at him. “Out!”
“You’re ready, aren’t you?” he teases.
“It’s the Devil’s rush,” I stagger as I skulk naked in Ethel’s bathtub. The foamy hot water burns my skin, and its comforting tingle craves for the forbidden. Must I live or die? The forbidden can only choose one for me. Whereas I can always play with my thoughts while being stuck in between. I put myself into defining moments that my reality can never comprehend. I feel emotions that even Beethoven’s symphonies can never reach to. I am in power of my own truths.
My truths appear to be lies to other people. My truths are kind and passionate. My truths have hidden stories to be proud of. I am a part of the world’s cliches. I dare you to visit my mind for you to understand. The Devil’s rush snakes into my blood streams. It has been patient. It is thirsty. It challenges death.
I am ready to challenge death.
Today is Saturday. October 21st, 2017. My name is Skye Stoltz. I am 45 years old. I was once a prolific composer and piano virtuoso. I drove a beautiful figure to a lifetime of madness. I reclaimed my normal life. I cursed music. Guilt has been accompanying my thoughts. The forbidden has become my best friend. I remember me. I remember some critical memories. I am okay. I am sane.
I am not ready. There is still more to live for and die for. I shall leave with grace. Though I will not die pretty. I would rather go in my sleep. But it will never happen. I am going along for my sealed fate. The sealed fate.
The Devil’s rush pleads to be taken seriously. Ah. I miss my dingy basement now. I will always have a home anyways. I will be alright. I will miss Ethel. But the bliss of the Devil’s rush is incomparable. Like the beauty and confidence of Grace George. Or the larger-than-life autumn leaves in parks. Or how sunsets blush away from the skies to spend time alone with the horizons. My sanity can feel my heartbeat as if a touch can validate it without judgments.
Ethel. Oh, Ethel. I must say goodbye now.
You cannot be burdened up anymore. You must enjoy the rest of your days. You will always be my most beautiful memory. I love you. Never worry now. Smile. Create worlds with the grand piano. Life must respect you. Love must keep you happy. Your reality must stay as shy and inspired as it has always been. Remember my name, Miss Feinstein. It is Skye. Skye Stoltz.
The Devil’s rush knows no boundaries. My narrative weakens. Who am I? Oh, by the way, it is Skye. I have already said that. Many times over? How many times? Sanity check: I stare at the cloudy bathroom walls. Concrete. White. Generic. Oh wait. Brown? Or blue? Nope. It is green. As green as the color of a witch’s skin. This is my sanity. I am okay.
I pour a glass of red wine and serve myself a bowl of tiny crackers. I am naked. My hair is still wet. I have just sprung out of the bathroom. The Devil’s rush keeps on assaulting my thoughts with the same plea: Please don’t abandon me. I am the real one that exists for you. I make you feel better. You know I am the truth. Keep me. Keep me. Keep me.
Heavenly. The red wine dances its way down into my systems. I am back in my world. I am back. Death waves at me from its hidden corner. What is in the next life? How would it make me happy? What would misery feel like? Or who could possibly be waiting for me there? I guess I will find out soon, huh? In the meantime, I shall entertain my passion while making love to the red wine. Whoah. I have already emptied an entire bottle, along with four or five pieces of tiny crackers. I have cheated death in the most supranormal way. What is happening? I thought I was supposed to be allergic to alcohol. I really thought I was. I am. I believe I am.
I look around. I am still at Ethel’s cozy studio. I have simply found her stash. Somewhere in a privy drawer close by the fridge. Did she know about my Devil’s rush? Or does she have one of her own as well.
The grand piano starts playing by itself. Sunset over Empire breezes out of the black and white keys. Every note is a zephyr of a fool’s paradise. It is cuttingly sad. I am in awe. I cannot believe my heart was genius enough to have composed such beautiful piece. The world loves it. They might not know who Grace George was, but they know my music. Little Danny loves it for sure. I am hoping that he would not get to know the world’s knowledge much. That he would stay ignorant about certain life experiences that would only hurt his dream. He would not turn out to be a washed-up ghost composer like me. He would have the courage to show the world what he could do. For them. Because music was not born selfish. It is always meant to save a lonely heart.
I dump the empty bottle into the trash and walk towards the grand piano. It still plays on by itself. Music is the only kind existence left in the world. Sunset over Empire was composed out of a kind longing for a beloved. For Ethel. My beloved.
Where is she? Where did she go? I have been left alone for some time now. Is this a trick? I cannot remember her telling me of her whereabouts. Did something happen before this? Oh, memory. Has my consciousness been aware? What have you done to me? I am trapped in somebody’s mind. I have been controlled by something that is more persuasive than my senses.
Am I still me?
I am forced to call my sister. “Sally!”
“Skye?” she exclaims, “Skye! Oh God! Thank God! Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I mutter. “I’m fine. I was wondering if I could shoot some questions at you.”
“Of course,” she breathes through my mobile phone. “What about?”
“Did somebody named Ethel or Miss Feinstein call you?”
“Ethel. Miss Feinstein. You know, my piano teacher when I was a kid? Did she call you?”
“Why would she call me for?”
“Oh my God,” I break down.
“Skye,” Sally panics, “what the hell’s going on? Are you sure you’re okay?”
“She told me she called you just to let you know I was fine.”
“Okay, please tell me what the hell you’ve been up to here. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I ran into her at Starbucks. She’s been looking after me since.”
“Why would she want to do that? You know you freak me out with your undesirable habits. I mean, an older woman who’s clearly a senior couldn’t possibly wean you down, could she?”
“She can. Believe it. It’s hard to explain. But she’s been pretty good at it. Really.”
“Where are you?”
“At her place. Somewhere midtown.”
“I guess,” I sit at the grand piano. “I’m sitting at her grand piano. I’m gonna play a note. Tell me if you can hear it.”
“Okay,” Sally agrees.
I play the C3 note. “Did you catch it?”
“Catch what?” she asks.
“The note. I’ve just played C3.”
“I didn’t hear a thing. Play it again.”
I play a C Major scale. “Okay. Did you hear it?.”
“I think I would recognize piano notes right off the bat, sister,” she says. “Nope. Just some weird clanking. Where in a world are you?”
I weep out my harsh awakening. “Sally, I don’t know where I am.”
“What?” she yelps. “No no no no no, sister! You are not playing this game with me again!”
“Hiding away from me when I badly want to check on you. Coming up with an alibi. Pretending you’re sick. Why don’t you want to see me? Yet here you are bugging me over the phone constantly! I don’t get it!”
“I’m not hiding away from you. You are always hiding away from me.”
“I don’t wanna argue with you anymore. I just wanna make sure you’re okay. Alright, I’m picking you up. What’s the address?”
“I’ve told you, I don’t know where I am.”
“Oh my goodness. What am I gonna do with you, Skye? You’re making things harder and harder everyday.”
“I gotta go. I’ll call you as soon as I know where I am.”
“By the way, Dr. Edwards told me you failed to show up last Friday. Where were you?”
“Dr. Edwards was here last Friday.”
“Where is HERE, Skye? You don’t even know where it is either, for God’s sake!”
“I think I’m about to die!” I scream.
“I’m about to die because of all these crazy things that you always put me through!” she yells back.
“Sweetheart!” Ethel barges through the front door.
I run towards her. “You son of a bitch, you lied to me!”
“What’s this all about now?” she wonders. “You were still sound asleep when I left. I didn’t wanna disturb you anymore. Would you like some soup?”
I slap her in the face. “I had to do that so I wouldn’t think I was going insane.”
Ethel feels her inflamed cheek. “How was that?”
“It felt real.”
“Who’s on the phone?”
“My sister. That’s what I was gonna tell you. You didn’t phone her after all.”
“Oh, sweetheart. I didn’t say that. Besides, why would I do such a thing when you’re an adult and seeking help yourself.”
“Ethel,” I cry, “would you please talk to her?”
“No problem.” She grabs the mobile phone from my grip. “Oh my God!”
“What’s the matter?” I panic.
“You’ve called 911,” she says.
“What? No! I was talking to Sally! My sister! What the hell are you talking about? Give that goddamn phone back! Give it back!”
“Look at this, Skye! Look at the caller ID! Can’t you read it yourself? 9-1-1! Can’t you read that?”
“No! It’s not 911! It’s my sister, Sally!”
Ethel caresses my face. “Oh, sweetheart. You don’t have a sister.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s too much for you to take it all in right now. How about a bowl of soup, huh? Butternut squash?”
I snatch my mobile phone back and look at the screen. It reads Sally. Which one is real? “Okay. Butternut squash.”
Ethel struts away into the kitchen. “Remember what Beethoven said? That anyone who tells lies doesn’t have a pure heart, and can never make good soup.”
I press the device against my ear. “Sally,” I whisper.
“Who were you talking to?” Sally sounds irritated.
“Ethel just got back,” I say, keeping my voice low. “She said I called 911 instead, and that I don’t have a sister.”
“Could you please ask her where you are?” Sally insists, “I’m picking you up right away.”
I approach Ethel. “What’s your complete address?”
“Why?” Ethel responds.
“Sally is picking me up,” I say.
“Skye, you’re talking to a 911 operator,” Ethel says. “Either the police or the ambulance officers will turn up instead. Don’t worry. I’ll handle it myself.”
“I am not talking to a 911 operator!” I scream at her. “I’m talking to my sister, Sally!”
A knock at the door intrudes. “911. There you go.” Ethel marches away to respond to it. Two ambulance officers, a male and a female, appear on the doorstep. “Hi,” Ethel greets them.
“There was a call?” The female one looks confused.
Ethel turns to me. “Sweetheart, you can hang up now.”
Death is looming in. Close enough already. My name is Skye. Skye Stoltz. I am 45 years old. I have a big sister named Sally, and I am ready to go home now. To die.