His playing always made her weep. He couldn’t bear her tears, this she knew; so she gazed out the window, tracing the contours of the swans outside on the windowpane with her tiny finger. Note after flawless note, his bow swayed majestically, tracing the contours of her heart across time in aching rhythm. She would try not to speak until evening, covetously savoring the echoes in her mind, committing each note to sacred memory. She had a perfect memory.
She allowed the sunlight to caress and dry her cheeks and she closed her eyelids; a temptation she rarely allowed herself. The concentration of such perfect music, undistracted, overwhelmed her too easily. Today, though, she would indulge just a little, for she knew that soon he would go.
She ran her finger delicately along the pane of glass; around the elegant wings, the back of the long necks; her hand following them expertly as they glided. It seemed strange to her that for as many times as she had traced these creatures, marveling at their magnificence, she could not remember once running her finger over their beaks, their breasts, their glistening eyes. As if they were constantly drawn away from her.
Each morning she left food at the lakeside, but the swans never came. Every once in a while it would appear as though they were about to turn toward her, and she would hold her breath, and wait; but they always sped away at the last moment.
The far shore where they played was dismal and hazardous with tangled roots and fallen logs. And no flowers. Whereas the shore before her glistened vibrantly with every hue of blossom, carefully planted one by one. Diligently, she tended to vast lawns that stretched, lush and green, in every direction. She never gave up hope. One day, she knew, they had to raise their elegant heads and see, at last, her many offerings.
Abrupt silence ripped through her. She sucked her breath in violently and spun on him. He flinched at her tears and his kind eyes brimmed with concern.
“I can’t take it. What’s wrong?” He rested the cello carefully on its side.
She glared at it, sullenly. It looked cast off to her; naked and mute on the floor; and for the moment she hated him. “Don’t,” she whispered helplessly, eyes still bound to the prostrate wooden body, “please don’t stop.”
“I’m worried about you.” He balanced his bow along the cello’s side, sealing the music into the instrument for the day. “You haven’t lived long enough to have reasons to cry this much. We have a good life, don’t we?”
She turned to the window again to hide the irony in her eyes. How could he understand? She nodded, her face still turned away. Her tears were not born from sadness entirely. In fact, much of her weeping expressed joy. But her grief was whole nonetheless.
Even if she could explain, she wouldn’t want to. He’d come to understand soon; she knew that. Then, it would be merely a matter of time before he left. He would feel as if his eyes had opened to color for the first time; his delicate musician’s ears tasted their first true tone and all the possibilities that could follow. He would drift away from her as if she were a burden he bore too long, and she would be alone again, stranded with her perfect memory.
She cried because she felt she finally understood. She had believed herself pardoned, forgiving. She understood now that forgiveness wore a new face, perhaps in the same way she did. In the long hours, she often thought on how delightedly she had leapt on this post, as she traced the delicate wings across the windowpane with her finger. She would guide the way. Easy.
But it hadn’t been easy. Somehow they found the way on their own while she could no longer remember that one thing. She felt the most alone in the moment of their understanding.
She loved him differently, this one. She had come to love all of them so. Time and again they far surpassed the majesty and grace she imagined possible. Every one. There was a strange beauty behind the weakness she’d once despised; and though it frightened her, and she could never look at it long enough to see it clearly, it fed her somehow when she drew near.
To this one she was a kid sister. To the last one, she was father. Before that, she was husband, daughter, niece. It never ended. It never became easier. And once they understood, it was not long before they left her. Even were it possible to hold on to them, it would be cruelty to do so. Their pain overwhelmed and terrified her, and in the end she always released her grip.
Desperation set in, in those moments between – moments or ages, she wasn’t sure – they were both. And in those awful spans of time without time, she hated. She wandered aimlessly in her garden, unmoved by the rich colors, unable to comprehend their delicate fragrances, her head spinning as if falling repeatedly from unfathomable heights. Yet with every new arrival, every amazing, unique one, she came to love again, so joyously and completely that she could imagine no end to her peace.
She couldn’t help herself. They echoed something she’d lost; something missing from her perfect memory. Every moment was a collision of joy and pain. And she thought, as she traced her illusive swans, that were she pressed to name this state of being, this torture with bliss, it would be called love. For what else could hurt her so terribly?
She turned again and smiled sadly.
“Dear brother, don’t worry. I cry because music is more pure than love.”
He ceased tracing her illusive form, that form which he had traced so many times before, to wipe the tears away; and sighed deeply, for He had hoped that this time she would turn and see.
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!