Maps in a Mirror, page 48
And he learned to play all those sounds on his Instrument.
In the world were violins, trumpets, clarinets and krumhorns, as there had been for centuries. Christian knew nothing of that. Only his Instrument was available. It was enough.
One room in Christian’s house, which he had alone most of the time, he lived in: a bed (not too soft), a chair and table, a silent machine that cleaned him and his clothing, and an electric light.
The other room contained only his Instrument. It was a console with many keys and strips and levers and bars, and when he touched any part of it, a sound came out. Every key made a different sound; every point on the strips made a different pitch; every lever modified the tone; every bar altered the structure of the sound.
When he first came to the house, Christian played (as children will) with the Instrument, making strange and funny noises. It was his only playmate; he learned it well, could produce any sound he wanted to. At first he delighted in loud, blaring tones. Later he began to play with soft and loud, and to play two sounds at once, and to change those two sounds together to make a new sound, and to play again a sequence of sounds he had played before.
Gradually, the sounds of the forest outside his house found their way into the music he played. He learned to make winds sing through his Instrument; he learned to make summer one of the songs he could play at will; green with its infinite variations was his most subtle harmony; the birds cried out from his Instrument with all the passion of Christian’s loneliness.
And the word spread to the licensed Listeners:
“There’s a new sound north of here, east of here; Christian Haroldsen, and he’ll tear out your heart with his songs.”
The Listeners came, a few to whom variety was everything first, then those to whom novelty and vogue mattered most, and at last those who valued beauty and passion above everything else. They came, and stayed out in Christian’s woods, and listened as his music was played through perfect speakers on the roof of his house. When the music stopped, and Christian came out of his house, he could see the Listeners moving away; he asked, and was told why they came; he marveled that the things he did for love on his Instrument could be of interest to other people.
He felt, strangely, even more lonely to know that he could sing to the Listeners and yet would never be able to hear their songs.
“But they have no songs,” said the woman who came to bring him food every day. “They are listeners. You are a Maker. You have songs, and they listen.”
“Why?” asked Christian, innocently.
The woman looked puzzled. “Because that’s what they want most to do. They’ve been tested, and they are happiest as Listeners. You are happiest as a Maker. Aren’t you happy?”
“Yes,” Christian answered, and he was telling the truth. His life was perfect, and he wouldn’t change anything, not even the sweet sadness of the backs of the Listeners as they walked away at the end of his songs.
Christian was seven years old.
For the third time the short man with glasses and a strangely inappropriate mustache dared to wait in the underbrush for Christian to come out. For the third time he was overcome by the beauty of the song that had just ended, a mournful symphony that made the short man with glasses feel the pressure of the leaves above him even though it was summer and they had months left before they would fall. The fall is still inevitable, said Christian’s song; through all their life the leaves hold within them the power to die, and that must color their life. The short man with glasses wept—but when the song ended and the other Listeners moved away, he hid in the brush and waited.
This time his wait was rewarded. Christian came out of his house, and walked among the trees, and came toward where the short man with glasses waited. The short man admired the easy, unpostured way that Christian walked. The composer looked to be about thirty, yet there was something childish in the way he looked around him, the way his walk was aimless, and prone to stop just so he could touch (not break) a fallen twig with his bare toes.
“Christian,” said the short man with glasses.
Christian turned, startled. In all these years, no Listener had ever spoken to him. It was forbidden. Christian knew the law.
“It’s forbidden,” Christian said.
“Here,” the short man with glasses said, holding out a small black object.
“What is it?”
The short man grimaced. “Just take it. Push the button and it plays.”
Christian’s eyes went wide. “But that’s forbidden. I can’t have my creativity polluted by hearing other musicians’ work. That would make me imitative and derivative instead of original.”
“Reciting,” the man said. “You’re just reciting that. This is the music of Bach.” There was reverence in his voice.
“I can’t,” Christian said.
And then the short man shook his head. “You don’t know. You don’t know what you’re missing. But I heard it in your song when I came here years ago, Christian. You want this.”
“It’s forbidden,” Christian answered, for to him the very fact that a man who knew an act was forbidden still wanted to perform it was astounding, and he couldn’t get past the novelty of it to realize that some action was expected of him.
There were footsteps and words being spoken in the distance, and the short man’s face became frightened. He ran at Christian, forced the recorder into his hands, then took off toward the gate of the preserve.
Christian took the recorder and held it in a spot of sunlight through the leaves. It gleamed dully. “Bach,” Christian said. Then, “Who is Bach?”
But he didn’t throw the recorder down. Nor did he give the recorder to the woman who came to ask him what the short man with glasses had stayed for. “He stayed for at least ten minutes.”
“I only saw him for thirty seconds,” Christian answered.
“He wanted me to hear some other music. He had a recorder.”
“Did he give it to you?”
“No,” Christian said. “Doesn’t he still have it?”
“He must have dropped it in the woods.”
“He said it was Bach.”
“It’s forbidden. That’s all you need to know. If you should find the recorder, Christian, you know the law.”
“I’ll give it to you.”
She looked at him carefully. “You know what would happen if you listened to such a thing.”
“Very well. We’ll be looking for it, too. I’ll see you tomorrow, Christian. And next time somebody stays after, don’t talk to him. Just come back in the house and lock the doors.”
“I’ll do that,” Christian said.
When she left, he played his Instrument for hours. More Listeners came, and those who had heard Christian before were surprised at the confusion in his song.
There was a summer rainstorm that night, wind and rain and thunder, and Christian found that he could not sleep. Not from the music of the weather—he’d slept through a thousand such storms. It was the recorder that lay behind the Instrument against the wall. Christian had lived for nearly thirty years surrounded only by this wild, beautiful place and the music he himself made. But now.
Now he could not stop wondering. Who was Bach? Who is Bach? What is his music? How it is different from mine? Has he discovered things that I don’t know?
What is his music?
What is his music?
What is his music?
Until at dawn, when the storm was abating and the wind had died, Christian got out of his bed, where he had not slept but only tossed back and forth all night, and took the recorder from its hiding place and played it.
At first it sounded strange, like noise, odd sounds that had nothing to do with the sounds of Christian’s life. But the patterns were clear, and by the end of the recording, which was not even a half-hour
Yet he knew that if he let these things show up in his music, he would be discovered. So he did not try a fugue. He did not attempt to imitate the harpsichord’s sound.
And every night he listened to the recording, for many nights, learning more and more until finally the Watcher came.
The Watcher was blind, and a dog led him. He came to the door and because he was a Watcher the door opened for him without his even knocking.
“Christian Haroldsen, where is the recorder?” the Watcher asked.
“Recorder?” Christian asked, then knew it was hopeless, and took the machine and gave it to the Watcher.
“Oh, Christian,” said the Watcher, and his voice was mild and sorrowful. “Why didn’t you turn it in without listening to it?”
“I meant to,” Christian said. “But how did you know?”
“Because suddenly there are no fugues in your work. Suddenly your songs have lost the only Bachlike thing about them. And you’ve stopped experimenting with new sounds. What were you trying to avoid?”
“This,” Christian said, and he sat down and on his first try duplicated the sound of the harpsichord.
“Yet you’ve never tried to do that until now, have you?”
“I thought you’d notice.”
“Fugues and harpsichord, the two things you noticed first—and the only things you didn’t absorb into your music. All your other songs for these last weeks have been tinted and colored and influenced by Bach. Except that there was no fugue, and there was no harpsichord. You have broken the law. You were put here because you were a genius, creating new things with only nature for your inspiration. Now, of course, you’re derivative, and truly new creation is impossible for you. You’ll have to leave.”
“I know,” Christian said, afraid yet not really understanding what life outside his house would be like.
“We’ll train you for the kinds of jobs you can pursue now. You won’t starve. You won’t die of boredom. But because you broke the law, one thing is forbidden to you now.”
“Not all music. There is music of a sort, Christian, that the common people, the ones who aren’t Listeners, can have. Radio and television and record music. But living music and new music—those are forbidden to you. You may not sing. You may not play an instrument. You may not tap out a rhythm.”
The Watcher shook his head. “The world is too perfect, too at peace, too happy for us to permit a misfit who broke the law to go about spreading discontent. The common people make casual music of a sort, knowing nothing better because they haven’t the aptitude to learn it. But if you—never mind. It’s the law. And if you make more music, Christian, you will be punished drastically. Drastically.”
Christian nodded, and when the Watcher told him to come, he came, leaving behind the house and the woods and his Instrument. At first he took it calmly, as the inevitable punishment for his infraction; but he had little concept of punishment, or of what exile from his Instrument would mean.
Within five hours he was shouting and striking out at anyone who came near him, because his fingers craved the touch of the Instrument’s keys and levers and strips and bars, and he could not have them, and now he knew that he had never been lonely before.
It took six months before he was ready for normal life. And when he left the Retraining Center (a small building, because it was so rarely used), he looked tired, and years older, and he didn’t smile at anyone. He became a delivery truck driver, because the tests said that this was a job that would least grieve him, and least remind him of his loss, and most engage his few remaining aptitudes and interests.
He delivered doughnuts to grocery stores.
And at night he discovered the mysteries of alcohol, and the alcohol and the doughnuts and the truck and his dreams were enough that he was, in his way, content. He had no anger in him. He could live the rest of his life this way, without bitterness.
He delivered fresh doughnuts and took the stale ones away with him.
“With a name like Joe,” Joe always said, “I had to open a bar and grill, just so I could put up a sign saying Joe’s Bar and Grill.” And he laughed and laughed, because after all Joe’s Bar and Grill was a funny name these days.
But Joe was a good bartender, and the Watcher had put him in the right kind of place. Not in a big city, but in a smaller town; a town just off the freeway, where truck drivers often came; a town not for from a large city, so that interesting things were nearby to be talked about and worried about and bitched about and loved.
Joe’s Bar and Grill was, therefore, a nice place to come, and many people came there. Not fashionable people, and not drunks, but lonely people and friendly people in just the right mixture. “My clients are like a good drink, just enough of this and that to make a new flavor that tastes better than any of the ingredients.” Oh, Joe was a poet, he was a poet of alcohol and like many another person these days, he often said, “My father was a lawyer, and in the old days I would have probably ended up a lawyer, too, and I never would have known what I was missing.”
Joe was right. And he was a damn good bartender, and he didn’t wish he were anything else, and so he was happy.
One night, however, a new man came in, a man with a doughnut delivery truck and a doughnut brand name on his uniform. Joe noticed him because silence clung to the man like a smell—wherever he walked, people sensed it, and though they scarcely looked at him, they lowered their voices, or stopped talking at all, and they got reflective and looked at the walls and the mirror behind the bar. The doughnut delivery man sat in a corner and had a watered-down drink that meant he intended to stay a long time and didn’t want his alcohol intake to be so rapid that he was forced to leave early.
Joe noticed things about people, and he noticed that this man kept looking off in the dark corner where the piano stood. It was an old, out-of-tune monstrosity from the old days (for this had been a bar for a long time) and Joe wondered why the man was fascinated by it. True, a lot of Joe’s customers had been interested, but they had always walked over and plunked on the keys, trying to find a melody, failing with the out-of-tune keys, and finally giving up. This man, however, seemed almost afraid of the piano, and didn’t go near it.
At closing time, the man was still there, and then, on a whim, instead of making the man leave, Joe turned off the piped-in music and turned off most of the lights, and then went over and lifted the lid and exposed the grey keys.
The doughnut delivery man came over to the piano. Chris, his nametag said. He sat and touched a single key. The sound was not pretty. But the man touched all the keys one by one, and then touched them in different orders, and all the time Joe watched, wondering why the man was so intense about it.
“Chris,” Joe said.
Chris looked up at him.
“Do you know any songs?”
Chris’s face went funny.
“I mean, some of those old-time songs, not those fancy ass-twitchers on the radio, but songs. ‘In a Little Spanish Town.’ My mother sang that one to me.” And Joe began to sing, “In a little Spanish town, ‘twas on a night like this. Stars were peek-a-booing down, ‘twas on a night like this.”
Chris began to play as Joe’s weak and toneless baritone went on with the song. But it wasn’t an accompaniment, not anything Joe could call an accompaniment. It was instead an opponent to his melody, an enemy to it, and the sounds coming out of the piano were strange and unharmonious and by God beautiful. Joe stopped singing and listened. For two hours he listened, and when it was over he soberly poured the man a drink, and poured one for himself, and clinked glasses with Chris the doughnut delivery man who could take that rotten old piano and make the damn thing sing.
Three nights later Chris came back, looking harried and afraid. But this time Joe knew what would happen (had to happen) and i
“Hey, Joe,” one of the last five customers shouted, “closing early?”
Joe didn’t answer. Just watched as Chris began to play. No preliminaries this time; no scales and wanderings over the keys. Just power, and the piano was played as pianos aren’t meant to be played; the bad notes, the out-of-tune notes were fit into the music so that they sounded right, and Chris’s fingers, ignoring the strictures of the twelve-tone scale, played, it seemed to Joe, in the cracks.
None of the customers left until Chris finished an hour and a half later. They all shared that final drink, and went home shaken by the experience.
The next night Chris came again, and the next, and the next. Whatever private battle had kept him away for the first few days after his first night of playing, he had apparently won it or lost it. None of Joe’s business. What Joe cared about was the fact that when Chris played the piano, it did things to him that music had never done, and he wanted it.
The customers apparently wanted it, too. Near closing time people began showing up, apparently just to hear Chris play. Joe began starting the piano music earlier and earlier, and he had to discontinue the free drinks after the playing because there were so many people it would have put him out of business.
It went on for two long, strange months. The delivery van pulled up outside, and people stood aside for Chris to enter. No one said anything to him; no one said anything at all, but everyone waited until he began to play the piano. He drank nothing at all. Just played. And between songs the hundreds of people in Joe’s Bar and Grill ate and drank.
But the merriment was gone. The laughter and the chatter and the camaraderie were missing, and after a while Joe grew tired of the music and wanted to have his bar back the way it was. He toyed with the idea of getting rid of the piano, but the customers would have been angry at him. He thought of asking Chris not to come anymore, but he could not bring himself to speak to the strange silent man.