This is the first "chapter" of my current novel [play].
|With arms folded, I leaned against my cracked dull grey counter watching it watching me. I stood vulnerable as those triplet eighth notes seemed to prod me with their conjoined stems, how that ritardando starting on measure 27 magically slowed down my actual life as well, how the fermata holding the first inversion F-A-C chord jumbled my goals. It was like a beckoning beautiful creature wanting to be touched, approached, but as I gave it that attention, it bewitched me into a wide eyed reverie.
So it doesn’t seem like I have some horrible beast living in my kitchen, I have 60 pages of sheet music sloppily taped on my kitchen walls surrounding me. Perhaps it’s my style of interior designing, but mostly it’s there to remind me I’m a musician. However, it wasn’t the filled pages with hundreds of triads, seventh chords, sixteenth notes, cadenzas, or arpeggios that unnerved me as much as the following blank pages; the rest of the piece that I couldn’t finish. The full pages just served as mockery.
Some would say that it was “completely silent” as I stood staring at my unfinished magnus opus. But what’s “complete silence” really? In my life, there is no such thing. I always hear something whether it be the rusty faucet leaking in my bathroom, a neighbor shuffling up the stairs with handfuls of bags having just returned from grocery shopping, that same neighbor landing on the fourteenth step that made a quiet squeak, the one spot that creaks in the hallway outside, the hum of my antique refrigerator, or the tick of my African tribal man wall clock reminding me that I’ve been standing here for 20 minutes doing nothing. To say the least, it was never completely silent.
It felt I hadn’t blinked the whole time I had fallen into my trance. My eyes watered a little from the dryness stinging my retinas. My lids were heavy and threatened to close into a slumber, but I quickly blinked and felt a brief surge of energy. Along with renewing my eyes, I drew in a long breath. It seemed like I was preparing for something, but all I really had to do was move from my position. Or perhaps do something at all.
As each week passed, I fell into these blank-faced, unblinking dazes more often. On the exterior, it would probably look like my brain wasn’t functioning at all, but in reality, I was contemplating. Contemplating about how I could have failed at something I used to be so good at; how I could have, after three months of vigorously scribbling down all those musical ideas for that one piece, just stopped. The ideas just stopped. It wasn’t just the appliances or the neighbors I used to hear, it was beautiful strings of music. I used to hear the cellos harmonizing the violins, the harp swimming through runs along its golden strings, the piano pounding out powerful chords, the percussion defining the beat. But they just stopped. I didn’t – couldn’t – hear them anymore.
Sighing, I removed my amber eyes from the glaring failure of my career. I held my head down in defeat; defeated by 60 pieces of paper of all things. Dragging my feet, I walked the two second course it took me to plop myself on my bed to pull out the clothes bin underneath. I cracked open the clear lid to pull out a dark blue silk blouse. The neck line of the shirt sat right at the meeting of my clavicles while the back of it hung down past my shoulder blades. The sleeves draped to my elbows with a single strip of material bunching the middle of the sleeve up to add a ruffled effect. I guess it was to give it texture. Nonetheless, I liked the shirt no matter how much fashion confused me. Especially haute couture. Were those clothes even meant to wear? Or was it just the designers’ form of art? Well, I’m not an expert in the field so I guess I have no room to critique.
Who am I kidding? At least they’re creating some tangible object with their skill while my talent goes to waste.
I was tempted to walk back into the kitchen like those pages had some sort of spell over me. Instead, I managed to force myself to my two feet wide closet to select a dark grey pair of trouser pants to wear with my previously chosen blouse.
I would have stayed in my silver track pants and yellow t-shirt all day, but there was this little thing called work I had to dress for. What a damper on my day. I suppose I wouldn’t mind work so much if it was actually relative to my interests. However, if that was the case, I probably would have been fired long ago. So, I guess it’s a lose – win situation. I don’t particularly like writing for New York Weekly, but it rakes in an income so at least I’m not evicted…anytime soon.
If I found all those noises just inside my quiet, dilapidated apartment, imagine all the sounds I could pick up outside in the city. New York City, where the city’s song never ends. I thought hour long concertos were long, no; they weren’t compared to a never ending work.
After tapping down the stairs – the fourteenth step reliably creaking - I opened the apartment building’s door to enter the other world outside. A much more bustling, noisier, interesting world. I heard cell phones ringing Bach’s Cello Suite No 1, a midi version of Ode to Joy, I Gotta Feeling, and various other hip hop, pop, rap, R and B, and country songs I didn’t know the title of. I heard footsteps stomping over cement, the lid on the sewers before, scuffing as someone tripped, heels clicking on the pavement, dress shoes tapping. I heard my own soles faintly pattering along my route to work, almost lost in the cacophony. I heard fabrics rustling against each other as people bumped into a nearby pedestrian. My silk blouse didn’t make much of a sound except a barely audible shh like it was whispering me a secret amongst the crowd. Contrary to popular belief, there wasn’t honking since the government added all the “No honking or will be ticketed” signs along the streets. Took care of that problem. But in lieu of honking, there was shouting which wasn’t the most pleasant sound, but nonetheless a sound. It was mostly beggars asking for work, usually for money. Impatient business men cover the microphone on their Bluetooth’s (Blueteeth?) to turn around and scorn any on comer who may have bumped into them. I don’t really think the other person cared since they were long gone to even receive the scolding.
I guess it’s a good sign I can still discern all these sounds.
Most people probably could if they really listened though.
I’m still losing my touch.
Who cares if I can hear the sound my shirt makes when it swishes against a cotton jacket?
It’s really not very useful.
If only I was in my kitchen. This would be a perfect time to waste time and stare at a brilliant unfinished piece that I may or may not have mentioned a thousand times before.
I closed my eyes briefly as I let out a sigh. I think its something in the polluted city air that makes my series of thoughts so…odd. Quirky. Disconnected. Apparently I’m just having one of those “up” days as opposed to a “down” day.
Not that anyone could tell. I haven’t smiled in three months or shown any emotion for that matter. I’m just a walking blank page that can make any situation awkward. No one like’s a downer or someone who doesn’t laugh or say anything at their stupid jokes and comments that aren’t funny or insightful in the first place. Norms are a pain in the ass to follow. To be frank, it’s more effort than I want to put into someone who I will probably see once…maybe twice. And that would be a fluke chance.
I know why I’m like this today.
It’s one of those sounds that I usually hear on a daily basis, but today I don’t recall having listened to it. It’s the sound of my pill bottle.
Surprising that I’m not seeing extra people at this point. Or hearing extra sounds. Although, that would be a good thing for a composition major. Especially for someone who hasn’t had a musical idea in four months, two days, three hours, and…who cares about the minutes.
So I swiveled on my heel, quickly returning to my apartment four blocks back. The sounds I had just experienced seemed to reverse like pressing the replay button.
Panting from just wogging (a walk/jog, a common pace amongst New Yorkers) four blocks, I drug myself up the stairs. That fourteenth step still didn’t fail to squeak. I pulled out my keys making a ringing clang noise as I pulled the bunch out of my purse. The lock on my door made a shh- kuh sound as I twisted the copper key in the hole.
It really was like entering a completely different world as I walked inside my apartment. It made me feel deaf coming from a loud, boisterous scene to the most raucous sound being a phone ringing. And the phone wasn’t even ringing. Maybe this is what complete silence was, a false sense of quiet.
Well, the familiar shake of pale green pills in an orange plastic bottle broke the stillness of the room as I pulled it out of the upper leftmost drawer in my kitchen counter. The pills made more banging noise within their container as I struggled with the child proof lid. Finally figuring out the containment, I plopped two pills in my perspiring palm. I could feel the “crazy” already starting to surface as I swallowed the pills dry.
And now I had to fast forward all the way to four blocks ahead plus some.
I think I try to forget about taking my pills. It’s really something I’d rather not do. Vitamins are okay. Antibiotics are alright too. But Clozapine is embarrassing. Not that many people even know what Clozapine is. Rationally though, it will probably never come up in a conversation unless I bring it upon myself. And I don’t really care for conversing so what am I worrying about? Self – consciousness isn’t a usual trait of mine. I’ve only inherited it since this damn medication.
I could feel my forehead dampening as I jogged (not wogging this time) to get to work on time. I had five minutes left until 3 o’clock. Maybe if I hadn’t wasted those 20 minutes before in that staring contest with my song, I could’ve left a bit earlier only to still forget my pills (unintentionally, I swear), come sprinting back to my apartment, and then jogging to the magazine on time. Except I wouldn’t have had to sprint or jog because I would have had 20 extra minutes not staring at paper.
Some people would try to justify this rash last minute action and say “Oh well, at least I got my exercise,” but I don’t really care how many pounds I may gain or lose. I could be 500 pounds and still have the same mentality. And my mentality is more the problem than my weight. I wish sprinting and jogging could help that. No wait, I have these handy dandy pills I’m forced to take thanks to the agreement I made with Juilliard.
“Valkyrie, I wouldn’t make you take these pills and honestly, it didn’t bother me that you weren’t before. But you know what the doctors say, if your disorder becomes a threat to you or others around you, you need to take the medication. Since you injured yourself, I’m going to have to agree with your doctor. You need to take the pills,” the dean of Juilliard had explained to me with hands folded, like he always did when he was facing a serious problem.
I pleaded with him. At twenty, I was on a musical high writing piece after piece. I continually kept the board of education in shock of my abilities. I was so afraid that these pills would sequester my mind.
Well, they did…for a while. I managed to overcome it though. I wasn’t going to let two small green pills a day destroy the music.
I let out a sigh as I saw the familiar angel decorated door coming into sight. My route to work had never been such an event before.
I had a feeling that my adventure stopped here. Laura, my boss, never brought anything extraordinary except extreme pain of listening to her voice and the collective dislike of her work ethics: “All of you do the work to make it seem like I’m doing the work.” At least the off – white angels surrounding the door like two cherubim before Paradise gave me a false sense of comfort. If only I could stand there all day to revel in the craftsmanship.
But that would be ridiculous.
It would be like standing to stare at paper all day…
The main floor of the building was like a reception room. Nothing really went on there and more often than not, the secretary at the front to greet any clients had her cheek plastered into her hand with a glazed film over her eyes that watched everything, but nothing.
Before I could even become situated at my desk, Laura clomped down the narrow hallway between cubicles. I haven't quite figured it out yet, but it always seems like she's charging to me. I think I've proved by now that I listen pretty well...that is, when someone isn’t actually speaking words, but that's beside the point. Anyways, my point is that I would've noticed if my boss interrogated anyone like she did me.
"Valkyrie!" Somehow she made my name sound ugly, "this article on the theatre riot reads like an instruction manual...boring!" She shuffled through the binder in her arms for my article which she promptly tossed on my desk with a flick of her wrist.
Usually, I'm pretty good at disregarding human conversation and voices in general, but for some reason Laura's shrill, obnoxious shrieks were unforgettable. She didn't have one of those ever - lasting, pleasant impacts, but nonetheless, an impact.
"You hear my missy?" Laura questioned as she knocked on my cubicle wall with her knuckles.
Maybe if I responded, she would go away. Though after all these years of staring at my computer screen with her critiquing me from behind my chair, I still haven't figured out what attracts her to me... of all people.
"I try not to," I muttered, joining in with the rest of the office overture as I tapped at my keyboard.
"Oh, well aren't we charming today?" she exclaimed then sucked on her teeth. Not a pleasant sound by the way.
I firmly believe that the office ignores Lara collectively. It wasn't an official declaration of ours, but we certainly share that common interest. It’s almost like she knows that I have a hyper sensitivity to noises since she seems to go out of her way to make a most hideous cacophony right in my ear. Whether it be her arrhythmic tapping of her long fake nails, her grunts, snorts, sighs, "heh"s, or smacking her fire red lips, she is always. Making. Noise.
Discouraged by my silence, Laura concluded, "So, rewrite that article." And with that, she clomped back into her cave...I mean her office.
I vaguely remember writing the article two days ago since Laura likes to assign me double what she does the other journalists...even the actual journalism majors. It was one of my shorter articles on a riot outside of a theatre. A group of actors were protesting the long hours and the pay not matching. I thought that if they loved acting so much they would be zealous to be there extra.
So my idea of rewriting the article was replacing some words that I used with their synonyms. It was an already uninteresting topic that I couldn't possibly spice up anymore. Perhaps if I was actually a journalist as Laura seems to think so.
When I applied for the job, I figured I would do simple tasks such as filing, tracking reader views, maybe writing a few articles here and there. At least that's how my interviewer made it sound. He insisted that "I would be just fine for the job;" that I would bring charisma and personality to the office even after I explained that my degree is completely unrelated to writing let alone reporting.
When I moved to New York, I saw it as a temporary position until I could find a composition job that I qualified for as a college freshman. However, when my financial dependency changed, I unwillingly stuck with NY weekly. Now, I especially can't leave seeing as my primary skill set has abandoned me.
Life wouldn’t be so monotonous if I had something to look forward to: if I had someone to come home to, even a dog would suffice, or play practice to attend, or a weekly Friday night family dinner, a Saturday night out on the town. No, I can guarantee you on Saturday and Friday nights alike, I’m stuck in my homely apartment writing four articles. At least that’s doing something.
I guess this job does one thing for me. It keeps my brain active. Recently, if I wasn’t so busy with work, I would sit around thinking about nothing. Or loathe in my failure. And Clozapine doesn’t help the fact that I’m already stunted academically. Its purpose is to decrease my brain function; so I won’t think so much or so fast. Like I said before, I’m just a walking blank page that used to be colored, used to have content, used to have a meaning. The surrounding world seems to zip by as I slow down. Now that I mention it, I can feel it starting to kick in. It makes it difficult to write at least 500 words by the hour when my brain is stalling. It makes it hard to do anything really. I knew before that obviously we all rely on our brain to function as a normal human being; to do the every day tasks expected of us. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be to cope with such a small object…
With such a small object…whose sole purpose is to decrease function? I go from hyper active to a negative frame per second feeling.
I sometimes wonder about the other schizophrenia patients, as much as I wonder about other human beings that is. I wonder if they led a prosperous life of daily challenges to overcome, if they were assumed to be the next revolutionary artist of their time, if they were once a top corporate official, and if they were any of these things, if they still are. Do they still face each day as they did before or with a discouraged outlook? Do their colleagues watch them through peripherals expecting the patient to have an outburst? Or have they simply been forgotten and replaced?
“I don’t hear enough typing! I want to be able to conduct this place like the New York Philharmonic,” Laura decreed in the background. I wasn’t going to look, but I could picture her lifting her arms and waving them around sporadically as if she knew what conducting actually consisted of.
I lied a little before. I’m not completely lonely, although Kitty isn’t exactly a house pet. You see, I’m an equestrian on the side; Kitty is my thoroughbred whom I adore. We used to compete in dressage, cross country, and show jumping as a teenager, but I became too busy to devote so much time to it once I hit my 20s. So, Kitty and I are stuck with just taking leisurely strolls around Central Park. As far as I can tell what she’s thinking, I don’t think she minds the lackadaisical life. Some have tried to convince me to sell her, saying that she would sell for an awful nice price since she’s a young show winner. But I think the monthly board fee is more than worth it to keep her with me. She’s one of the few fragments from my family and childhood life I have left. Not to mention she seems to understand me better than most. Kitty doesn’t judge my past, present, or future decisions behind those solid black eyes. She doesn’t criticize my situation or my abilities.
So I’ve written a total of 243 words about the pros and cons of Craigslist within the last 45 minutes…not exactly my goal. Are people even concerned about this? If someone was the actual type of person who used pro and con lists for something as simple as a website, shouldn’t they just go research it themselves? Or is the daunting possibility of a possible computer virus that frightening? I don’t even think that my article would help these scared people any.
I sighed for the third time today. My head was hurting from me forcing it to work extra fast against its will…or rather Clozapine’s will. I took a minute to listen to the office. Someone was printing from the scanner in the far right corner of the room, the scanner beeping after each page. It was hard to sift through the endless noise of nails against plastic to determine any other sound.
I didn’t have any ideas worth typing so I just started writing trash in hopes of sparking a relative sentence:
Craigslist’ free resources are its primary reason for being so useful. With the economy coming to a crashing low, free advertising is a plus for trying to earn a little cash.
eBay is free though. I think eBay is better than Craigslist personally. Well, I can’t think that. My article can’t be about Craigslist but promotes eBay. Well, selling on eBay is more effective through advertising which costs a monthly fee; whereas, Craigslist is free across the board. Now I’m getting somewhere.
Even though eBay is another free advertising website, advertising your auctions increase the chance they will be sold. However, this costs a monthly fee to sell an item that may go fast or take months to find a buyer while you’re dishing out money in the meantime. On the contrary, Craigslist.org is free all around and proven just as effective.
So, I continued on this miraculous writing spree to finish the article by 5 o’clock. I managed to finish another feature comparing the fuel efficiency of a Lexus to Mercury and fine tune the “Rejection of gay marriage in Maine” article. I’ve noticed that more and more of my topics are concerned with efficiency and productivity. I understand that with the tight financial situation, if a buyer is going to invest in something, he wants it to work as promised, but the idea is beginning to govern our thoughts.
Well, I proved efficiency wrong for I never bothered to “rewrite” my -- in the words of Laura -- instruction manual piece. Perhaps I should be more concerned about the image of New York Weekly. If reader views start decreasing because articles are reading like dry manuals, then revenue decreases, wages decrease, then eventually the whole company goes down. That leaves me jobless. Or to solve that catastrophe, they would fire the journalist responsible for those dull articles. That would also leave me jobless.
Well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow when I have to return to this inviting exterior, crooked interior place for journalism.
I never fail to take one last look at those angels as they glowed under the blazing city night lights. The illumination across their outspread wings made the sculptures seem even more majestic than during the day. The extra radiance made it as though you could reach out your hand to theirs which would clasp gently around your palm. I don’t care where they would take me, wherever their haven was.
This is what people saw when they imagined New York: the bustling night life, the faint beat of a stereo’s bass vibrating out into the streets, the groups of girls and guys dressed for the club, the lingering note of a saxophone sounding out from the jazz bar I just passed. This was the New York dream.
For being early fall, it was sweetly warm outside. The wind was still while the temperature stood at a relaxing 74 degrees. I could smell all the succulent dishes just being served from the restaurants I passed: 9th Avenue Pizzeria, Aeheli, Luciano’s, Bocca. Places I passed every day but rarely entered. It wasn’t the expensive prices that deterred me, but the fact that I had no one to go with, no place to be there.
I paused outside of a jazz club as I heard a trumpeter bellowing out the famous melody of Rhapsody in Blue. His band members tapped out a 6/8 beat while faintly harmonizing the trumpeter’s solo. I leaned against the wall of the building listening to the intoxicating joining of this band’s rendition on Gershwin. Once the saxophone, guitar, and drum fully joined the trumpet, the piano supported the group with strong chords and fast runs. I closed my eyes as I breathed in the last smells of summer before fall fully set in. As the melody flowed into the more upbeat movement of the piece, I heard the tapping of dance shoes against the floor. Now the piano took the solo while the trumpet harmonized in the background.
After a monotonous day of work, hearing this was like a sweet surprise. If only the composer himself could hear such an intelligent version of his most well known piece. I was tempted to walk in to gaze at these magnificent musicians.
That was one of my favorite aspects of New York. You never know if you just passed a jazz prodigy or a ballet muse on the street. You don’t know if the person whose shoes you just complimented is the next Van Gough. However, when you find out what makes these people tick, it never fails to motivate me.
Now a clarinet and cello duo accompanied by the piano took its entrance. The clarinet is something not often heard in a jazz bar, but nonetheless, it kept the roaring crowd on their toes. I could feel the speakers vibrating the wall I was leaning on. I decided that I was going in despite my very un-jazzy outfit. Music like this filled tiny pieces of my passion that was ripped apart. It was only a matter of time of listening to so much talent that mine would eventually return to me.
Before I tried to sneak in behind others, I looked up at the sign above the door: The Garage. I almost tip toed in as if the people inside were so concerned with me entering their bar. There were red curtains draped across the opening of the dining area and dance floor. I took a position behind these curtains with my right ear to the stage. I hadn’t looked at the musicians yet, just got a closer listen. The band made it sound like there was a full orchestra on stage, but it was just them: a saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, cello, drum set, guitar and piano. The steady beat of the dancing couples was more audible now. Another sound that hadn’t I listened to in quite a while accompanied the scene…laughter. I peeked in behind the curtains and looked at the dining members, smiles plastered across all their faces. The people on the dance floor laughed as their partners messed up a step here or there; nonetheless, they continued until the band drew its final chord – a suspended D-#F-A chord -- which followed the melody for the last time.
I didn’t stay to applaud, but instead quickly exited the club. I think if someone that knew me saw me in a jazz bar, they would probably think I’ve completely lost it and gone on a schizophrenic rampage. In reality, I’m just following that spark; that everlasting attempt to encompass the music of New York in me.
I joined the pace of the others walking on the streets as I exited The Garage. Somehow the rest of the sounds I heard in the night didn’t compare to that soulful serenade I just experienced. Even the ordinary sound of footsteps weren’t quite as moving as the steps of the dancing couples. The midi rings of cell phones didn’t seem like music. The smiles on people’s faces didn’t seem like genuine smiles compared to The Garage attendees. The world around me seemed even duller after escaping the vibrant quarters of all the movement, music, and laughter of the jazz bar.
In my dash for my apartment, I bumped into several oncoming crowd members. If they were the business men of before that scolded those who disturbed them, I didn’t hear their outcries of anger.
I rushed up the stairs of my apartment building. I didn’t listen to the fourteenth step. I didn’t listen to the sound of the lock nor the door handle. I didn’t hear the tick of my clock. All sounds seemed so rudimentary.
So, this is what it could come to: a complete disregard of all the noises that used to inspire me. Or that I tried to make inspire me.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t hear them.
It’s not like anything was going to happen if I continued listening to them.
Probably tomorrow I will have forgotten these feelings anyway. I will continue listening to my shirt rustle, the cell phones ringing, the lid over the man hole, the beat of footsteps. That was the music of my life now. The jazz band just reminded me of what it used to sound like.
I lazily stripped my gray trouser pants to dump them in my bathroom hamper. I turned on the hot water in my three foot wide shower. I pulled my blue silk blouse over my head and put them right where I put my pants.
I gazed at myself in the mirror before it was completely fogged. I used to think of myself as pretty. My amber eyes and crimson red hair were always my best, defining features. People always look better when they smile. A not normally attractive person at first glance can instantly brighten their features by the sign of happiness. Happiness is the real beauty.
I stepped into the warm water after the mirror steamed over, hiding me from my own self. Goose bumps shivered up my legs at initial touch. I let the water run over my face and drench my long hair; the color was so vibrant it made me feel like the water would wash it down my body and down the drain.
I picked up the shampoo bottle, squeezing a palm sizing of goop into my hand in order to cover my whole head of hair. After massaging the liquid all the way down to my ends, I looked again at the green Garnier Fructis bottle. Instructions: rinse…