My husband, Eddie, granted me permission to share one of his stories with you.
|If you look closely, you will understand Eddie's dismay.|
And now, for your reading enjoyment, I present to you Emily's Sonata...
Emily rocked back and forth on the dirty cot with her knees drawn up to her chest and her hands pressed tightly over her ears. From within her cupped palms she heard the piano of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture; the sweet strings of Brahms’s Violin Concerto; the complex ensemble of Mozart’s 41st Symphony. She heard Pamina’s Lament in every child’s plea for help. And their abductor, whose footfalls fell like brass cymbals as it checked the locks on their doors, was the Queen of Night.
But where was her Tamino? Why hadn’t he come to rescue her? Would he ever find her in time?
Dust and dirt clouded the air like a London fog. Emily slid off the cot and onto the dirt-packed ground where it felt easier to breath. She sat there staring for several long moments as something magnificent slowly began to take shape. With her finger she traced this piece of brilliance, capturing the minutest detail. It had a full row of 88 keys: 52 whites, 36 flats. It was the most perfect piano Emily had ever seen. She touched the Middle C and heard the throaty resonance of its voice. Then she hit an A… an E… a D. Before long she was playing chopsticks and laughing out loud as the music seemed to resonate off the walls and illuminate the cramped dusty cell. It was all there in her head, in the tiny closet of her memory. To Emily, everything was music.
Tears opened deep fault lines in the dirt on her unwashed cheeks. She thought of her parents and of her baby sister, Rose. Only 18 months old. Would she remember Emily? Would Rose’s eyes become heavy with déjà vu when she heard a song that Emily had loved to play? Would she hear Emily’s ghost whisper don’t be afraid when she was scared or lonely? Who would be there to protect her when—
No! Emily forced these thoughts down into the basement because thinking this way felt a lot like giving up. You’re still alive, kiddo; still breathing.
Her father often said that hope was always just around the corner. As long as she had her life and her music, she’d continue to believe.
Emily cracked her knuckles to loosen the stiffness in the joints. She did her exercises, closing and stretching her fingers until she felt warm blood flowing through them.
Her fingers hovered over the keyboard. Magic was seldom more than a fleeting wisp of air. Like a thought written in water, it was there one moment and gone the next. And if there ever was a place where magic went to die, Emily was definitely sitting smack in the middle of it. Could she endure the screams or would her pleas be nothing more than noise lost in a chorus? How long would it take for the silence to chip away at her mind? Would she be able to hold out long enough to look her abductor in its awful eyes and dare it to do its worse? Emily saw a brief glimpse of herself, curled on the cot, ticking off the moments of her life, praying for it to be over and hoping it was quick. She forced the image out of her mind and into the basement.
Emily’s favorite song was Dance of the Sugar Plumb Fairies. Not because it was a particularly complex piece (it wasn’t), but because the title had always delighted her. It made her think of winters at home and of the holidays with her family. In the close confines of her cell, she could almost detect the faint aromas of Christmas ham and gingerbread cookies. Good times; good magic.
Emily closed her eyes and saw the Metropolitan Opera House. She was on the stage floating in a vast sea of eager spectators. She was shocked to see that the audience did not consist of the types of sophisticated socialites who frequented successful opera houses. There were no black ties, no white gloves, no glittering evening gowns. Instead she saw the terrified children who were occupying the other cells in this labyrinth. They were bruised and battered, half covered in rags that served as clothing. There was row upon row of saucer eyes staring raptly at the young girl sitting center stage with her dirt piano. Only, it was no longer a dirt piano. It was a Bechstein.
The melodies rang out like angel song. The notes so tangible Emily could practically grab one and put it in her pocket. She played the next note, then the next. Music poured from her fingers. The Plumb Fairies marched once again.
On and on she played. Sweat collected in her tiny furrowed brow and spilled down her nose. She wiped it away with the grimy sleeve of her shirt and kept playing, never missing a note.
When she finally stopped, she was out of breath and drenched. She could have been anywhere at that moment, at a recital in her school’s auditorium or soothing her baby sister to sleep with a gentle lullaby. Music had power. It could lift you up and transform you; heal you; take you to times and places where life was just simpler.
And then the cymbals started again, jarring Emily back to the place where danger lurked in every shadow and evil held sway over them all. She went to the door hoping to get a glimpse of the Queen through one of the chinks in the wood. She heard the other children shuffling. First they were mewling, then sobbing, finally their voices rose to screams of terror as whatever lurked in the halls was once again jiggling their locks. Teasing them like a cat swatting a cornered mouse.
Closer and closer the footsteps came. To Emily they seemed to boom in the halls like a rising cadenza. Each step ticked off another second of her life.
The world was a slaughterhouse as screams turned to pig-like squeals of psychotic terror. She was acutely aware of the musky ambience. Her senses were assaulted by the thick stew of sweat and urine and blood and shit. Unanswered pleas for mothers and fathers rose like shouted prayer.
“Keep playing,” a boy yelled.
“Please don’t stop,” yelled another.
Soon everyone was yelling for her to play. Their frantic, wailing voices drowned out the squeals that Emily had come to associate with imminent suffering and death.
“I can’t,” she yelled back. “It’s not real! None of this is!”
Was that true? They had heard the music after all. One girl shouted out Plumb Fairies as if to prove the point. But how? The piano was just a desperate fantasy drawn by a young, terrified girl. There were no real keys, no strings, no pedals.
But you heard it, her father’s voice said to her.
Yes, in my mind.
A place that is just as real as the Met. Remember, hope is always just around the corner.
Were they somehow linked like so many computers? Connected master to slave through shared suffering? Stolen from their families and hidden away like dirty orphans. Emily imagined a network of astral strands as delicate as spider silk connecting them all together.
“Please play,” a girl shouted. “Mommy!! Please play the pretty music. I’m so scared, mommy…everything smells so awful.”
Emily had envisioned their abductor as Mozart’s Queen of Night. But that wasn’t right. The impression was slowly changing into something much worse. This thing wasn’t a queen at all but an inhuman beast. A heaving, drooling, raging, primitive animal with no remorse to speak of and an insatiable hunger for suffering. It probably had red eyes and long dragon teeth which it used to tear the flesh from its victim’s bones. And it was coming, dragging its claws along the wooden cells, leaving behind deep uneven grooves. It took great delight in the screams of its children.
Emily knew that it was coming for her, hungry, dying to sink its teeth into her. It had heard her music too, and like a crucifix or sunlight her melodies had inflicted grievous wounds upon it. She could feel its anger boiling, creating an almost palpable atmosphere.
She was in severe trouble. This realization snapped Emily out of her mental doglock. She had to play. It was the only chance left for any of them. The music was going to save them all!
She hunched over her little dirt piano and bore down on the keys sending a barrage of whole, half and quarter notes at the beast. They fell like arrows, piercing its pale flesh and spilling its blood. Music exploded in its black heart, filling the blackness with brilliant bursts of light. The beast roared as Emily imagined her sonata forcing back a heavy curtain, exposing the monster to the vast horizon of sun and burnt sienna skies. We can do this, she thought! We can stop it!
Emily played furiously. Every note an angry statement against her oppressor. Her parents and teachers smiled in the audience. The children were on their feet as she rolled through a medley consisting of Für Elise, Symphony No. 25, A Study in C Minor, and several small pieces from her own compositions. The notes rang out, filling the cell, the hall, everything. She heard the children humming the songs as she played. The more familiar melodies were hummed the loudest.
Her fingers left splotches of blood in the dirt as she slammed them onto the keys, not feeling the pain at all. A couple of her fingernails snapped off at the root. The middle joint of her left ring finger dislocated. But still, Emily played. She soared to the music, throwing sweat from her hair and blood from her hands.
Emily fell back exhausted, but content. The beast was slayed. They were safe. She smiled as the hall erupted into applause and whistles. They were on their feet and chanting her name, chanting for an encore.
Emily heard the rattling lock on her cell door. It was Tamino. He had survived his trials and had come for her at last. She was serene, just wanted to go home. She had played the concert of her life and was spent.
The door swung open. The beast was before her, a hulking dark mass standing in shadow. She could see two tiny red eyes pulsating in the impossible blackness of its face. Two burnt embers scanning the room for its next feast. Fee Fi Fo Fum. It stepped forward into the light of the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling.
He wasn’t a beast at all. He was just a man. In another life he could have been one of her piano teachers. Emily might have even developed a crush. His face was so gentle. He wore a pair of thin spectacles over eyes a color Emily always thought of as lover’s blue. Dimples and brown hair. Married too if that was indeed a wedding band on his left ring finger. He smiled and tilted his head at her lovingly. This was how he stole trust, she thought. He used that smile. Like vampire glamor magic. This was his mask. The beast lurked somewhere beneath the surface, waiting to feed.
“You played beautifully,” he said in a silky baritone voice.
He had heard the music too. Maybe he was there to save her. Perhaps she had gotten it wrong and the beast was truly dead.
Then she saw the long instrument he held in his right hand. The blade was as black and as sharp as a dragon’s claw. It had come to do its work after all.
“Together, Tamino, we walked the burning fire,” she whispered. “Take me home now.”
Emily put her hands over her ears for the last time and smiled. She could hear Moonlight Sonata’s first movement playing softly in her palms. The notes swirled and danced around her. Perhaps she would just reach out and grab one.