I can see people’s pain. Like broken rainbows caught on fire its colors rage for my attention, its agony spits light that nearly blinds, and spinning wild, angry dances, the Pain eventually sees me watching it. It reaches for me then, with fiery fingers, and if it comes too close I can feel it.
I’m scared one day I’ll burst into flame.
I try to prevent this.
I don’t want anyone else’s pain. I have enough of my own.
There’s a building I walk by once a week after school. Brown, ugly, dirty, it merely blends into the background, into the sky, into the concrete. Its edges smudge into those of its neighbors... at least it did before Aubrey. Though I’d passed it on my way to piano lessons for the past five years, before Aubrey, the old building hadn't existed to me.
Aubrey soon filled it like a beacon with his hurt.
I managed to ignore the building the first two weeks after it was given life and made it to wrinkled Mrs. Dolby and her stagnancy ahead of my usual lateness. I had been afraid of what I saw radiating from the building down her street and my footsteps had quickened. The Pain hadn’t noticed me, for that I was grateful. I’ve seen the damage it wrought. My Mother’s Pain ruined her, though its passion died long ago. Her Pain is grey now.
New Pain is difficult to look at. It glares. It shelters its owner greedily, it feeds him yet feeds off him, but mostly it lives beneath the rule of its owner. Somehow the Pain in the building was different. It was new and old, and it had come undone. Its owner had lost control.
My ears swore they heard it roaring, moaning, and my heart cried for the poor soul slave to it. On the third week, instead of facing Mrs. Dolby’s strict piano instruction, I found myself standing before the once unnoticed apartment building.
It flamed iridescence.
When I entered The Pain’s domain it turned itself toward me and my skin burned, but I was drawn by wonder as well as fear, I needed to understand it, so I continued forward. The Pain watched me find its victim’s door but didn't reach for me. It didn't want me. It didn't need me.
I knocked on the door but when no answer came I forgot my manners and discovered its knob unlocked. The door opened and streaks of blazing color shot from it. Like coils of rope they wrapped themselves tightly around me until I fled, screaming. Outside the Pain released me.
When I got home my Mother was upset, as I knew she would be. I had missed my piano lesson. She sat across the table from me, the dunes of her grey ash shifting. That frightened me. I prayed they wouldn't wake.
“I’m not going back... I’m not a musician,” I told her.
My spaghetti was cold.
“You would be if you practiced!”
“I don’t have the talent and you know it. You’re making me hate music!”
Her lips tightened. “Day after tomorrow you will go back, and you will apologize to Mrs. Dolby.” She finished her meal and left the table.
Later, from the library, Mom’s violin sang what she couldn't say.
When I again stood within sight of the Pain, I knew Mrs. Dolby would receive no apology that day.
I went to the building, I went to the door, and I withstood the grasping light that shot from it. I walked into the apartment.
The room within was dark and stale. The room was silent.
Through the hallway I drifted, as if in a trance, afraid yet hopeful, and as I stepped into a living-room my eyes squinted against pulsating red; the Pain’s heartbeat.
I became a part of it.
The Pain throbbed through my veins and was at once my pulse, my body’s rhythm. And then I found Aubrey, shriveled and wilting. He watched me through glassy eyes.
I went to him, and knelt beside the wooden rocker he was set in. He turned his head toward me.
“Who are you?”
His voice wasn't weak as his body was. It held a strength I couldn't have guessed he possessed.
“Who are you?”
Someone answered from behind me, “A child who was just leaving.”
I scrambled to my feet. “I’m sorry, I was just... I...” A large woman glared down at me, past thick arms folded across her chest. The words I wished to say remained lodged in my throat.
“You were just leaving,” she reaffirmed, pointing a thick finger toward the dim hallway. Her finger led me, she followed. “There’s nothing to see here. Just an old man readying to die. Leave him be.”
The Pain’s beat beneath my skin begged to differ.
I faced her before she could close the door in my face. “You’re wrong. He isn't readying to die.”
“Young girl, you know nothing of these things. Aubrey’s wasting away. This isn't your business, go on with you and let the man alone.” The woman shooed me with her hands, but I didn't move.
“What’s wrong with him? Can’t he have company?”
The woman eyed me carefully. Again her arms crossed. “And what sort of company do you suppose he needs? Are you selling stuff?”
“I... found him by accident, and now that I've seen him, I don’t know… I’d just like to help.”
Her eyes softened and her arms disentangled. “It’s a shame isn't it. Aubrey Hyme is his name and I guess you could say I’m his nurse. ‘Nurse Agatha’ he used to say. He hired me nearly three years ago after discovering he has Alzheimer disease.”
“Alzheimer’s… is it very bad then? Has he forgotten lots?”
Nurse Agatha nodded her large head sadly. “He was a violinist in his day, a real one too. I mean, music was what he did for a living. He only played the stuff he wrote. I don’t know much about that stuff, but even I could tell his music was his life. It took him all over the world, he once told me. And you know, even when he forgot his name he could still play his violin.” Nurse Agatha scratched her chin. “Not anymore though. A few weeks ago he lost memory of that too, and now he’s given up. Once I tried playing violin music on his stereo but he got to howling like an old wolf. So that was that. I don’t understand the interest you have in him, but I suppose caring isn't a bad thing. It wouldn't hurt for you to visit from time to time, but only in the mornings before noon. It’s his best time, he’s strongest then.”
And so I started visiting Aubrey every Saturday morning before noon. Each time I entered his building, Aubrey’s lightening ridden Pain linked itself to my heart. I soon got used to its throb, I understood its hunger. Aubrey’s inability to play music was feeding his Pain, his loss was fueling it.
In other words, Aubrey’s Pain was eating him up.
“I found these,” Nurse Agatha said one day, after placing three fat binders on my lap. “They’re his compositions, his favorites anyway. I thought you might like to take a look at them.”
I opened the top binder but all the lines and pretty symbols meant nothing to me. They didn't come to life as I knew they were supposed to. I was a child born to two brilliant musicians, whose future was supposed to have been written upon a sheet like the one I held, but I couldn't understand a wink of what I stared upon.
Aubrey watched me quietly.
“You know, Aubrey,” I said, reaching for his hand. “I should be able to read these. My dad could play any instrument he picked up, and the violin is my mother’s voice. If they looked at these they’d hear music.” I placed Aubrey’s hand upon the open sheet. “Can you feel your music? Can you feel it inside you?”
“Who are you?”
My mom hadn't spoken much after I’d made it clear I was done seeing Mrs. Dolby, but her violin had cut through me every night after. It was her music, that expression of what lived inside her that became my punishment. Her sorrow drifted through our home as a torment. I prayed for the ash to leave her but it was all she had left, and she clung to it without end.
“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.” My meal was untouched, I wasn't hungry. “I know you’re upset with me, about giving up piano—
“Just like you gave up violin,” she interrupted.
I watched her chew. She was cold and colorless, a copy of the grey beach which clung to her, the ash that comforted and tortured her. I wondered if she could taste.
“I've been visiting on old man named Aubrey. He has Alzheimer’s.” She stopped chewing and looked at me, icy and still. I braved the silence. “He loves music, like you do. ...Like dad did.”
Her dunes shivered. “Be quiet.”
“He only played the music he composed—
“Be quiet.” Her dunes shook.
“But now he’s forgotten how. His mind doesn't remember music, Mom, but his heart does, and it needs to feel what it created."
“I’m warning you.”
“I can’t help him, but you can. Play his music for him, please. He loved music like you do, like dad did—
“Nobody loved music as your father did; nobody.”
Her dunes were no longer dunes, but a grey sea, they had become waves.
Mom pushed her chair backward and it toppled behind her. “I don’t care who Aubrey is and I don’t care what he’s forgotten. This conversation is over.”
I started to cry. “Let it go Mom, why can’t you just let your hurt go?”
Music flashed through her eyes. “All the talent you could have,” she seethed, “if only you’d take hold of it!” Her composure slackened, her ocean swelled. “Your father… your father was so gifted—
“Dad’s greatest gift wasn't that he knew music. It was that he knew how to wield it. His greatest gift was that he didn't use it to hurt others. Dad used his talent to heal hurts and to make things grow. Dad played music for those who couldn't so they might feel it as he did. He shared his talent mom. He didn't turn it into a weapon.”
Carefully, so that I wouldn't fall upon the floor in surrender, I stood, and before me she shook. Sadly, I watched her waves once again turn to flame.
“I’m going there today,” I whispered. “And I’ll leave the address behind. Maybe you’ll visit us there. I hope you do.”
Again I faced the building and again the Pain there didn't look at me. It was bored with me and my visits, and unafraid. The Pain had seen the extent of my strengths and laughed at my presence. It continued to eat through Aubrey’s soul.
When my mother arrived the Pain was unsuspecting and unprepared. It hadn't thought there’d be a new change to its order. Neither had I.
“Who are you?” Aubrey asked when she walked into his vision.
The room was still, the room was quiet.
“She’s my mother,” I answered, awed and afraid. “She’s come to play your music for you Aubrey.” I handed her a binder.
The violin sang.
For Aubrey it sang, for Mom. The violin sang for me.
Its music danced with Aubrey’s Pain and made it beautiful. It flowed through our hearts, through our souls, until we wept, until we sobbed, because each of us knew how love can be a terrible hurt. Mom’s gift brought Aubrey’s music to life, and as she used her power as she was born to do, I watched her come to life as well. Her raging flames burned to ash, and the ash lifted from her shoulders, it drifted into the wrenching, aching notes she sent soaring through the air.
And then, the music found Aubrey.
It caressed him gently, in sorrow and with love, and it wove through him and about him as it spoke words to his heart.
The notes shivered, the notes eased, and the room fell silent.
Aubrey straightened in his chair.
He looked at me through eyes that were as clear as his voice.
“I wrote that song,” he said, “for my wife, a long time ago.”
My mother, tears streaming down her face, set down her violin and moved toward us. She knelt, and placed a gentle hand on Aubrey’s leg.
“Thank you,” she said, and it was then I noticed the room’s color had changed.
The building, like my mother, had lost its flame.
By J.M. Lavallee