How can all lasts come together at once?
Hello and goodbye. Smile and grief. Embrace. A beautiful thought and dream. A childhood memory. Love and pain. Sacrifice. Secret and regret.
I am sitting in Queen’s park, waiting for her. I light a cigarette and admire a black squirrel prancing around my feet as if convincing me to play along. I whistle a tune to acknowledge its sincerity. It looks up at me and nods, then scurries away. I giggle and open the fancy red notebook to record the moment with a hopeful heart that I shall be forgiven. Though it is too late. Life is giving up. The last movement of a piano concerto is playing. The only magic left is the mind.
I am the missing face. The last face that Skye had seen before she flew away with the angels. I kept my promise after all. Despite the lost years. Despite how she put me through the punishing struggles of reaching out to her. Despite all my unanswered prayers. I sought comfort from madness instead. I ventured into her soul. I created a legacy to find out everything I could about her. Every lost tale that unveiled her enthralling life. Every lost tale that challenged the seven deadly sins. Every lost tale that screamed regrets and resentment. I would like to believe that she yearned to see me to kiss her goodbye one last time. Oh, how I endured it for so long and caught myself in lasting grief. I must meet her half way — at the church that had witnessed our last Christmas eve moment. When I dismissed her truths and pains. When I failed to save her. When time cheated. The world! How vile you are!
Grace George, Eli, Dr. Edwards, little Danny, and Ethel deserve my eternal gratitude. Along with wrath and envy. The villains. My villains. The horrid excuses. My horrid excuses. As my tormenting truths would drive me to insanity. They had her. She found home in their hearts. I was forgotten. All I could ever do was visit her mind. In there, I could read her secrets and pains. In there, my existence was safe. I became the knight. The missing face. Yes, I dared to make a move. I gave it a go. I was love.
Dr. Agnes Berry approaches with a tray of two cups of lattes in hand. “Hey!”
“Hey yourself,” I respond. She sits beside me at the picnic table and hands me my drink. “Thank you.”
“This is it,” she says, almost in tears. “My spy job is done.”
“You’re not firing yourself as my best friend, are you?” I tease her.
“I’m firing myself as — whoever I am in your life,” she replies.
“Settled.” I admire the clouds as they sail away together. “Look.”
“She’s waving goodbye.” She takes a sip of her latte and wipes off a teardrop with her finger. “I can’t do it anymore.”
“I’m sorry for putting you through all this.” I hold her hand.
“I wasted away a lot of years just to fulfill my promise to you. To find out about her. To make sure she was okay. To pretend to love someone else. To know everything there was to know about the truths. To attempt to save her sanity. Until she died. What now? Because honestly, I am ready to kill myself after all this shit.”
“I should have done something more.”
“Oh! Now you’re talking. More what? Like what? You were scared to death. So yeah, she pushed you away. She hated you so much. She completely forgot about you. But it was not a reason for you to push me away, too. To make me pose like a puppet just to do the job that stole me away from you.”
“I wanted to know who she was. How her heart and mind would speak of life and act around it despite what she went through. How she justified love without even standing up for it herself. How she wrote Sunset over Empire. Or did she even think of me once in a while?”
“What about you? How did you justify love without standing up for it yourself? How did you work on the legacy? Or did you even think of me once in a while?”
“This is not about us.”
“It is never about us. It was never about us. That’s the problem. Losing her was not your fault. She had chosen to live her life away from you, and she did just fine. She was alone, but she was surrounded with so much love. And she was a hero to them for making their dreams come true. You should still be proud of who she had become and the amazing things she had done for other people. What have you ever done for me?”
“I’m so sorry!”
“What are you gonna do now? Grow angel’s wings for me? Is that it? I want to know.”
“She is dead, for Christ’s sake! Can’t you give me time to grieve?”
“You have been grieving since she was 11 years old. Since you left her without even saying goodbye. Since you decided to wander around life and forget about her. Until she found her revenge. I’m sure you have an idea how excruciating that must feel. Would you blame her though? If you were to ask me, I admire her courage. Something that you lacked. And something that you will never have.”
“I’ve finished the legacy.”
“Which part of it that says you care about me?” she asks.
“I can’t remember,” I weep.
“All these years, you’ve just made me love you from afar. When you could have given me a chance. But because I’ve loved you so much, I’ve made your dream come true. I did the job that you asked me to do. No matter how much it trampled down my pride and dignity — my love — You devoted your time to lose me. You devoted all your heart and mind to bring back the lost moments with her, though you knew it would only happen in a dream. Where am I? Where was I in your life? I was not a dream. I am not a dream. I am real. Right here. Sitting next to you. Loving you all this time. Without asking for anything in return.”
“I would love to grow angel’s wings for you. Would you let me to?”
She looks into my eyes and grants me with a kiss. Our first kiss. My first love. Dr. Agnes Berry. “It has been too painful,” she says. “I love you. But I can’t grow angel’s wings for you anymore. As my resplendent white wings have already flown away up along with those clouds. Goodbye, Sally.”
She knew it was too late. For I would still immerse my time in Skye’s legacy. For my angel’s wings would never grow for her after all. As they were only meant for that 11-year-old girl who needed a guardian angel. Who finally met her hero at 45 years old — Ludwig Van Beethoven. Up in the heavens. Where happiness is given. Where dreams come true. Where love is pure. Where everyone is a family. Where the only beauty that exists is who you are. Where all hearts unite. Where all minds speak in one voice. Where everyone’s legacy is becoming a hero.
I am ready to go home to my cozy studio now. The Devil’s rush awaits. The enthusiasm to feel its searing effect dancing its way down into my vital organs cannot be denied anymore. I know Dr. Agnes Berry shall visit me soon. By then, I will break her heart more. I am selfish to say that I do not regret putting her through the ordeal to do the job for me.
Until the legacy completes itself.
December 24, 1983
My name is Sally Stoltz. I am 21 years old. I am back home for my little sister’s 11th birthday. I have arrived in the morning, and it has been snowing hard for the past couple of days. Windsor is always a snow monster all winter long anyways. However, the smell of my parents’ kitchen and listening to Skye’s piano playing are just as comforting as immersing my psyche into Bach’s Air, my ultimate favorite piece in music history, to save my sanity.
I am young and confused. A college dropout who has nothing to offer to the society. I am a wanderer and free-spirited. I read. I write. I crave for adventures wherever my heart takes me to. I work menial jobs to survive. I travel. I hardly make friends. A loner who keenly and quietly observes the world with all senses triggered by the ruthless mind. There is only one great thing that makes sense in my life: my little sister, Skye.
Skye and I have decided to attend the third morning mass. As we head towards the church, she pauses and looks up at me, “Sally, when I die, I’d really like to have my funeral service here.”
It twinges my heart right away that I let go of my tears. “Darling, I’m going to die first. That’s what would happen. And you are going to be in charge of my funeral and all. Make sure you write the most heavenly piano piece for me before then.”
“Nah,” she says, “I have a feeling I’m going to die first.”
“What made you say that?” I ask.
“I just know. Don’t you have that funny feeling sometimes? That you know something good or bad is going to happen to you, but you just can’t seem to figure it out yet until it actually happens?”
“Yes, I do.”
“So that’s exactly what I feel about this. And it’s going to be a tragic death.”
“Please, stop saying that.”
“I’m so glad I can play the piano, Sally. If I didn’t have it, I would have been dead by now.”
“What is your obsession with death? Jesus Christ, Skye. This has to stop. It must stop right now. You understand?”
“They’re going to kill me,” she whispers. “I can’t stay there any longer. I’d like to stay with Ethel, and Edwards, and Marla instead. They love me there. I’m safe. Please, Sally. You have to make it happen before you leave home again. I can’t tell anybody about it or they’d think I’m crazy. And who’d believe me anyway? Mom and dad are like mom and dad in this town. I don’t know what to do. Please, do something. Would you? Please?”
“Mom and dad –” I reply, “– are like mom and dad in this town. They can’t hurt you ever, Skye. They love you. Very much.”
“They lock me in the closet so I can’t play the piano at night anymore. They handcuff me and stuff. They kick me around and pull my hair –”
“Shut up, Skye. You look clean, for crying out loud. No indication of abuse or anything. Why are you making up all these pathetic stories?”
“I’m not making them up. Honest. They just know how to do a clean job, that’s all. They lock me in the closet, handcuff me, kick me around, pull my hair — Do I have to be really bruised up so people would believe me?”
“Yes! Because that’s what society says!”
“Well, I don’t want to be a part of this society at all. I’m a kid, Sally. I’m getting to know the world. If this is what it stands for, I don’t wanna be in it.”
“Skye, trust me, most of the time, I stop living.”
“How come you don’t like home anymore?” she asks, wide-eyed.
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” I reply. “I just have to look for a purpose. And true love. Somewhere else.”
“Have you found it yet?”
“No. Maybe someday, I will. I hope. But I’ll tell you about a strange dream I’ve had the other night.”
“What was it?”
“It was about me and Beethoven.”
My little sister’s jaw drops as her eager eyes shimmer. “Wow! Tell me! Tell me!”
I sit at my piano like a curious heart that dances for a dream. I feel the black and white keys as if carving the angels’ language in the air. I see the red-flushed madness in his eyes, holding me captive inside the antiquated tiny room. He knows my secret. He exhales his anger. He catches my hands, grips them.
“What’s the point?” he blasts. “You never care anyway. You just sit here and fall in love with the magic playing out of those keys. How dare you waste my time?”
“I don’t want it,” I mutter. “I just want to tell stories.”
“Then for God’s sake,” he exclaims, “make the words sound like symphonies!”
So I sit at my table like a curious heart that lives in a dream. As Ludwig Van Beethoven disappears, my eyes open. Along with a story to tell.
“Cool!” Skye squeaks. “That’s made me really happy today.”
“Skye,” I say, “I promise you, I will go first.”
“Sally, if my funny feeling were right, would you promise to be the last face I’d see before I’d take my last breath?”
“I promise. Don’t forget to write a heavenly piano piece for my funeral, though.”
“I’ve already got a title for it. Sunset over Empire.”
“Why Sunset over Empire?”
“Because they always start hurting me every sunset. This is when I ask the angels to protect me and keep me safe.”
Soon the lifeless body is found. The fancy red notebook rests on my heart. Whether it was the work of a fraud mind or a guilty heart — it was, is, will always be her legacy. A tale that was still worth telling. Even up to this day.
Now I am meeting her half way. Right here. Outside of the church. Where all our lasts came — and have come — together —
I am sitting in Queen’s park, waiting —
— for the present mind to give me courage to forgive myself. Had I not done it, you would have still been here, breathing on right next to me, having a cup of latte, scribbling away across the fancy red notebook pages, admiring the clouds with tears falling on your innocent face, saying hello to the playful black squirrels, humming Sunset over Empire tune, and the sad tales you would create being confined in your dingy basement.
The sad tales found in thoughts, rage, and the seven deadly sins. Conceived by the power of longings. Survived by the words hidden away.
Your little sister had long been gone. On that day. When she went wild all over the street, fearing for her life and knowing that she had been left alone. In the cruel hands of your Mom and Dad.
You never looked back since, and you refused to find out all truths. However, you yearned to be closer to her — by working for the family who loved her with endearing pride as if she were born in their own home.
All through those years, not a word spoken about the 11-year-old girl who could have been a piano prodigy. The 11-year-old girl who would wish to see you before sunset — everyday. The 11-year-old girl who believed that you were her guardian angel. You disappointed her, and no amount of penance would bring her back anymore.
I hope you realized how desperate we were to save you as you would always find ways to smile at your own truths. Until you defeated reality. You rushed into our minds to help you complete a legacy. You had succeeded.
I was the accomplice.
You were the only friend who had sheltered me into the madness of simple bliss. Despite the tragedy and guilt, the mental illnesses and addictions, the fantasies and the illusions — your heart stayed stronger for you to carry on — to meet the fall and reminisce the Christmas eve morning — one after another — Until the knife was found buried in your chest. In the same manner that took your little sister’s life.
Your lifeless body was found on my floor — in my cozy studio — beside the grand piano — I made you a bowl of butternut squash the night before — The Devil’s rush kicked in — and delivered you to the long-awaited desire to end it all — early on — before we could hustle to your deathbed as you would lose the battle to terminal illness.
Now here I am — puffing away –and away — A lot more as usual! The Devil’s rush can wait. As days go by, I will see and hear everything that was concealed in your mind. I will understand. Far beyond the sanity that wakes me up every morning to gallop along with the blitzing commuters and visit your sweet little monsters inside.
You knew what I did. You knew I was always the star. You knew my face. Very much.
To pour oil on your pains, I had to play along. In the midst of my grief, I kept my childhood best friend alive in you. However, I would like to make it perfectly clear, I would sneak in with burning vengeance all the way through. Until the snakes of truths slithered their rabid way into your grave. My special reason. Revenge number one.
Though you died a hero. It was the least that you could do to make up for the past. Yet what a remarkable feat it was.
Thank you for giving us little Danny. Thank you for the music masterpieces. Thank you for loving my mother — in a beautiful secret — or from afar. Thank you for running Sonata Academy. Thank you for your silence. I knew why you did it. But it was never enough.
It will never be enough.
I am writing this letter out of forgiveness.
For I knew why you left home and emerged into our lives. Yet you chose to justify it with your own moral convictions instead. How could you die with a cowardly heart?
All lasts are still waiting to come together at once. The last movement of a piano concerto is about to play. They know who I am, was. My name overwhelms their minds. I will always be the star. In your honor –
— this time around —
Now let us laugh a little, shall we? At our bemused existence.
The Face Without a Name
Poor. Old. Marla.
“Oh, the fat ugly motherfuckers! Snap and clap, bitches! Here I come!”