I couldn’t even tell you how long this has been going on. When the air shifts inside of us, when the atmosphere becomes tinted with a subtle, new hue, when a breeze wafts from an unknown, unseen region into our minds we are often not aware of that first moment. That defining moment which says to us: everything will change. All that has been known before will cease to be, and the future will not be what you thought it once was. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t from the outside at all. If it was something inherent in me, a dormant mouse that would grow and blacken, transforming unprecedentedly into the colossal force with dripping fangs that would open its jaws on the right trigger word. Yet that would make it a disease. A festering, leeching being. And I’d rather not think of it in that way; as something that was always going to happen. I don’t believe in fate, even if something fateful has happened to me. I’d rather not think of it that way because then I would have to bear the responsibility. I’d rather not think of it that way because then it can strike anyone, anytime, without discretion or warning: and there are some that are just too beautiful to bear that horrific truth. It would slide its sordid, toxic fingers over the chaste, winter cheeks of the pure; it would scrawl across their twisting, slender bodies that I have watched captured by candles in the most sublime fragility; it would howl endlessly in their gardens of minds and shatter the portraits of all the virtues that they hung so dear in their hearts. It may have come for me, but I could not stand it if it might live in me, feast on me and then drop me, a soiled corpse, to pound on, and look to savage them too. I could not bear the thought.
I wonder if it was visible even then, from the outside. If I look back with romantic eyes I might suppose that I had a troubled swirl in my otherwise dull green eyes, that there might have been a hint of the mysterious destruction. But such talk is a fallacy; there are not so many shades of perception in reality. No: reality sweeps by without the slow motion moments, without the flourishing of many colours within one uttered word as if they were flowers blooming into euphoria, reaching towards the sun; one does not look on another with fifty thousand thoughts running through one’s head; there are no angels that cast their loving rays onto the very solid reception of reality to melt it into something delectable, into the liquid divine, where all the protagonists spend minutes locked inside each other’s eyes uttering lines from the theatre of the gods. Reality is cruel, fast-paced and shockingly real: one never perceives the world as if one is hung delicately in the hammock of circumstances, gently perceiving vertigo; one feels the ground with aching feet, feels the world pressing itself with vulgar insistence on the eyeballs, and feels the falls from grace with as much concrete physical torment as falling from a solid window onto the solid ground. There is no room for inference. There are no second tries, no call for ‘Cut!’ then the cue to roll again, to ensure that exactly the right moment was caught on record; this is the world of hiccoughs, of sweat, of fist-shaking, throat-throttling pressure, of stumbling words and violent mistakes, of surging, inappropriate urges, of a shame that spurts like blood onto one’s clothes and car windscreen: it is a physical world where the mental realm is just a shoe cupboard tacked on to its side, and where the cupboard minion that dwells within frequently throws fiery, dart like stilettos and industrial steel capped boots into the physical realm where you stand, naked and alone, taking the shots and counting the bruises. Everything is concrete, concrete: the only subtlety here are the oozings of your tears and blood as they trickle in between the breeze blocks. And from this I wonder if it was visible, that whispering of unknown voices. Of course it wasn’t. No one suspected a thing; they were as caught up as I was in the physical, jaw clamping business of living, of trying to avoid being squashed by the sliding walls that are always closing in.
I wasn’t always like this, you know; I see now the truth about the way humans live their lives. It is not us that decide to change our lives: it is our lives that change us. I have been devoured by my own life; these last few years I have watched the teeth rise as they have jumped the last few feet to fasten, satisfied above my head. I am all in. What I’m trying to say is that at one point I think I could have gotten out. I could have kicked the tongue and wriggled through the bars of teeth that now imprison me inside this beast. At the essence of my being I know, as hard as it is to admit, that I know what is wrong with me; I know, if I can bear to look into the blinding light for long enough to discern the lamp behind it, when it all started. That night. Years ago, now. It will not seem special to anyone other than myself. You ask those that were there; they will not remember. It was an ordinary night. Every half an hour, like a reminder of reality, to let me know I had not slipped into a dream, an owl hooted outside. There was a time when I glanced out of the window nearest to me and a cloud drifted away from the moon it had been shielding. I glimpsed the owl; it was sat on a branch of the grand oak tree that reached even up to the drawing room that we were in. The silvery glow sighed over its glorious, dark feathers. It stared at me. And then, as if the clouds were drifting towards an identical purpose, on a pilgrimage in the sky, another cloud mass slid into position and hid the moon once again from admirers. The owl disappeared into the night. I didn’t look out again.
There were the same husband and wife conglomerations that were wilting on various pieces of furniture in their various shades of fatigue; the younger guests present were bubbling in their indulgent affections for each other, playing out various themes and characters in their mindless extravagance. One by one they were dropping off, surrendering to the hour; torn asunder by the decadence of the evening. Few remained; they chatted amongst themselves as one young lady played a dull piece upon the piano that seemed almost to fade into nothing. I remained, sat upon a stool. I could not fall and let the evening go on without me. I sensed…well heaven knows what I sensed. I had no reason to be there; I had no reason to leave. Inertia sets in and suddenly it becomes the hardest thing to scratch one’s arm or considering getting up from one’s chair. The air had become so stagnant and dreary that none of the bright colours that adorned the room in such shameless display of wealth and prosperity could hope to alter it. The evening, stretching into the night, stretched into the universe; its fingers were reaching out, grasping at forever. I had heard a rumour earlier on that a coach was going to arrive, and that some guests known well to the host would be arriving: that proposition had entertained me greatly at the outset of the evening, and I had linked my fingers together at the excitement of it all. Of a new face or two. Yet that too, had fallen by the wayside. The owl struck again. The young lady finished her piece; all seemed faintly glad, though they had not the heart to express it. One of the older ladies began to initiate her into a conversation, presumably hoping she would not extend another finger to touch an instrument again while they remained in earshot. And then – it would be so tempting to attempt a crescendo of words, but to do so would taint the memory; the beautiful can not be painted with any such falsity, for they are messengers of truth. It would make it less beautiful – in through the door walked a man, an aging, though jolly looking fellow, with chilled, flushed cheeks and a longer beard than most would think fashionable. From behind him there emerged a boy. A boy walked through the door; he closed it. He still wore a black hat; he had a white, tender scarf around his neck that provided comfort to his whiter neck; which poked out gently, soft and divine. He looked up with eyes of milky innocence; a deep, unfaltering, angelic gaze that took in the room with wonder, with an elegance that is the fantasy of children’s stories. The old man ushered the boy in and, putting his hand on his shoulder, nodded to him to sit down and join in with the women and their conversation. I surmised him to be the same age as me; he could not, I thought, be more than seventeen: though he emitted, simultaneously, the childlike awe and delight in all of the world presented to him, whilst being restrained by an aged sophistication and knowingness.
He sat politely and sipped at some tea that was brought to him. His knees sat together; they gave way to a waterfall of black trouser cloth, which descended on two shining rocks of black shoes. He removed his hat and smoothed out his dirty blonde hair that was already immaculately combed. His fringe had grown a little longer than it seemed intended; and I delighted in the way that it crept into his eye line: I loved even more his tolerance to it, and the way he refused to flick it or smooth it back. I watched his exquisite smiles as they crept across his face; his natural calmness that sat within him allowed his hands to sail through the air on a pre-destined course that in turn calmed the recipient of his attention. He did not utter many words. But I am sure I could have lost myself in his voice, had he the cause to give me a chance.
A few more girls retired to bed. I had no idea what hour it had got to by then; it scarce mattered. Time need not flow again, for it seemed to have crystallised and flowed now through the moments that that boy sat opposite me; through his movements, through his breath. Through the blood shimmering through his body. There were but five of us still in the room: the man - that is to say, who I presumed had been the boy’s father – had since retired to his room, patting his young son on the back and uttering a few words about being in poor health of late. The others were ladies who I did not know well. One of them asked the boy whether he played music; and offered the condolences that he had missed much entertainment in the earlier part of the evening. The lids that covered the immaculate eyes fluttered to the floor while an admission passed his lips: he did. The ladies were delighted, and insisted on his taking to the piano at once: after many modest protestations they succeeded in their task. He settled down on the stool as a bird that lands fearfully on a wire. He deflated somewhat and as his eyes closed, his fingers found the keys. What took flight from that instrument has never before graced this earth; I doubt it ever will again. It was music, how its inventor never imagined was possible; it crossed a different dimension into the sublime; it was a siren’s call, and yet at its origin, held nothing but a divinity, lovingly committing heaven to the air. The moments were inexpressible. I sat in a dull, paralysed form of rapture; I lost time once again and with such profundity, and I watched him sway with emotion as this ambrosia trickled into my ears and softened my soul. Tears fell from my cheeks; I could not imagine what was happening to me. There, before me, were notes describing the very movements of my heart, the very stirrings of my whole being, the entire moment was inscribed with perfection: I could not be, for the moment was too strong, too powerful, too divine for a mortal to experience, and yet I was, I existed, I was there in that moment and it was overpowering. Piece after piece he finished, then started once more, never turning for praise, never accepting thanks; and once again, as he struck each new note, he opened my heart, and let forth such strength of affection and desire as I did not think was capable of one to feel. I felt at once that I was sat forward on the stool, and that my hands had clasped themselves together: I woke into that realisation, then slipped once again into his delicate music.
The last note slid into place. It reverberated through the room, through the world; through his finger, as he lifted it from the key. He opened his eyes and looked back to where the women had been seated. They were not there anymore. They must – as my brain offered up its last strands of logic before collapsing into this mess, into this disorder of passion – have left the room while the boy was playing. He looked at me. I looked at him and he looked at me, I felt another tear fall from my newly opened eyes. I still felt the last note swaying in my soul. He looked at me. And I looked at him.
And do you know what it all means now? Do you know what it means to hold something in your hands, to feel the slippery membrane of a dream, and to watch yourself tremble and let it fall to the ground? I realise now it was not a dream I was holding; it was my life. An undeveloped foetus fell to the ground after that moment and I watched it fall, to only splatter on the floor.
You showed me perfection. You showed me the capacity humans have for living; the boundaries opened up, two extremes of existence that hitherto had not existed. All those things that I thought were only for the gods. They are for us. Well, they are for you. But they are not for me. You showed me perfection; you showed me what I could never be any part of. And I couldn’t go back to living once I had seen you. I could have lived, dreary and dead, dull and devoid, and not known any better. I would have lived longer at a lower level. I got all my living out of the way in that one intense hour that I was in your presence. You showed me perfection. It made me want nothing else. It made me want to die.