The Linen Symphony Part Two
Morning arrived with a worn porcelain pitcher of fresh water and a bowl of warm, tasteless broth. He awoke and watched from where he lay on the stone floor as a young girl broke off a portion of a stale baguette. Their eyes met, and she acknowledged with a silent nod as she offered the bread. He reached out to take it with crooked fingers that functioned more like a claw than a hand. The ring and pinky digits of the left were cold and unmoving, while the middle and index worked as one in opposition to the thumb. His right hand had fared far worse and was, for all practical purposes, useless. It hung at his side, numb, misshapen. He had spoken the intimate language of music to tens of thousands through these finely tuned hands. He now cursed the ruined remnants and quickly pulled the appendage back once he had secured the bread in his grip.
He lay motionless until she slipped out the door, then sat up and began devouring the meager offerings.
Soon, the final moments of his past life began replaying again. No amount of willpower had ever been enough to stop the endless memories. So he ate and reluctantly bore witness to the tragedy again and again.
Phillippe Trazomme was returning from a month of performances throughout Great Britain and Germany. The last few hours of the coach ride were always the hardest as he eagerly anticipated arriving at his father’s home in Versailles. He longed for the man’s company, enlightening conversations, and sharing his latest experiences.
Jean Claude Trazomme had been his mentor, instructor, and only parent throughout Phillippe’s young life. A brilliant musician and conductor in his own right, he had pushed his son to his musical limits and accompanied him to all of his concerts until his health began to fail. He was now forced to stay behind, living alone, patiently awaiting his son’s return to share in his accomplishments and praises.
Phillippe remembered the strict disciplinarian and the long days of rehearsals. He also recalled that those lofty objectives were his own, and his father had merely obliged by lighting the way, then driving him to his limits with near saintly patience.
“Greatness is the reward of absolute mastery,” he had repeated, guiding the young Trazomme through the hours of repetitious rudiments, reading, writing, and breathing the language of music. The perfection of his virtuosity would not have been possible without his father’s tutoring.
There was so much to share with him from this last tour. He envisioned a long chat near a warm, crackling fire as the carriage finally halted at its destination.
He quickly climbed down and sprinted through the door, only to find the modest two-story structure filled with grieving friends and acquaintances. His father had succumbed to the ravages of consumption and passed away two days earlier. Phillippe had unknowingly walked into the wake of the man who had meant everything in his life.
Phillippe was devastated. It seemed that all of life’s rewards were in vain without his father to share in them. He stared down at the body, laid out upon a long table. Phillippe found himself unable to move, unable to breathe. Well-wishers surrounded him, expressing their condolences. The room smelled of withering flowers, body odor, and decay. Gasping for air, he pushed through the crowd and made his way to the door.
Outside, dark rolling clouds had gathered, and small droplets were falling. He walked aimlessly down the rain-soaked cobblestone street with no thought of direction. He was soaked to the core when he entered a tavern and attempted to drink away this ultimate sorrow. Hours passed as he downed one refill after another, gradually growing numb to the sharp tang of cheap wine. His eyes fluttered as he leaned to one side and vomited. That was enough for the bar keep, who brusquely removed him from the premises.
Back out in the gloom, Phillippe gazed up into the dark, rolling skies as rain fell in a slow, steady cadence. Dizziness overtook him, and he staggered into a large framed sailor who was in no mood for a bumbling drunk. The man turned with an ugly snarl and gave him a mighty shove into the center of the street. Phillippe flew helplessly, losing his footing on the slick stones and tumbling down. He attempted to stop his fall by throwing his arms out in front, but the momentum was too great. He landed hard on the filthy street, his forehead making a sickening thump as it struck. The impact left him bleeding and barely conscious. Before he could comprehend his situation, a heavily laden horse-drawn wagon rolled over his outstretched fingers, crushing nearly all of them. The pain and anguish of that exact moment flooded his senses, and he recoiled, struggling to pull his hands from under the large wooden wheel. He winced at the sound of crushing bone.
His eyes shot open, and the pain receded as he again comprehended his abysmal surroundings. The stone walls, the ancient door that kept him locked within. He breathed heavily, recalling so many other doors that had suddenly slammed shut before him.
Without the ability to compose and perform, his very existence was catastrophically transformed. Simple subsistence became a burden. Once his modest reserves of savings were spent, Phillippe Trazomme was evicted. Support from friends lasted only so long, and soon he was living on the street. For years, he struggled to mete out a meager living, doing odd jobs around the village. But without the use of his right hand and limited function of his left, there were few options for employment. He would work the most demanding and demeaning tasks for long hours, earning barely enough for meals and shelter.
And though he could no longer make the music, it nonetheless never stopped playing through his mind, so loud at times that he wondered why others could not hear it as well. Complete concertos, incredible orchestrations, breathtaking melodies, all-new, never heard before, and never to be experienced again. At times he stopped what he was doing to embrace the power and beauty of these fleeting gifts from heaven. He even attempted to commit the musical visions to paper, to hold on to just a tiny fragment of the brilliance that sparkled just out of reach. But his right hand could not hold or even feel a pen, and he struggled to make the simplest musical notations with his left. Knowing that he could never again emulate these notes on any instrument drove him to the brink of madness. Most days now, he cursed his mind for tantalizing him with visions he could do nothing with but watch as they flooded and danced through his consciousness and then back out again, disappearing forever.
When work was no longer available, he resorted to begging on the street for coins or scraps of food. His sharp mental skills faded and dulled with each passing day, dragging him further into depression and lunacy. And then came the day when he was deemed a nuisance, a vagrant, and swept away like street rubbish, then committed to this horrendous place. Despair and all of its ravages now engulfed him, extinguishing any hope of a better life.
Existence now meant simply that his heart was still beating. Creativity and purpose had forsaken him, and he would sit, pace, and stand with hardly a coherent thought for entire days. But as soon as he laid down, the orchestra began to play. He would openly weep at its beauty, moaning, with arms wrapped tightly around his aching body until the music once again faded away and left him with only the anguished echoes of the asylum.
One crisp autumn morning, he awoke to the smell of distant smoky fires and noticed a few dried leaves that had found their way into his cell. He crawled over and held one in his outstretched hand. The bright colors seemed to glow from within, so strikingly beautiful against this drab, lifeless background. His mind filled with memories of children frolicking in great piles of fallen leaves, and he closed his eyes, grateful for the fleeting images.
Somewhere nearby, a woman’s agonized rants cut through the air, and the pleasant respite faded from view, leaving him feeling even emptier.
He looked disdainfully at the bright leaf, angry for the mocking visions of serenity it had dangled before him. He grimaced as he folded his damaged fingers around it and crumpled it in his palm.
An unfamiliar sound emanated from inside his hand. His eyes widened in wonderment. It was as if the very definition of sound itself burst forth as the leaf broke apart. The splendid crunching and crackling were so pure, so intensely consuming, that they sent jolts of raw energy through every limb. He could feel the sensation coursing into his deadened fingers, where he had felt nothing for years.
What followed was a moment of absolute silence. And then…an explosion of sound as the most spectacular overture he had ever experienced burst from the void and flooded his senses.
His arms and head were thrown back convulsively against the wave of music that washed through him like a massive tsunami. He was lifted to his feet and struggled to maintain his balance against an unseen current. It was magnificent, so completely encompassing that he could not believe it had been borne from within his own imagination. He listened and then understood without question. This was the song of eternal paradise, broken free from the heavens and flowing unabated through this desolate room and this unworthy man. His outstretched fingers clutched futilely at the energy that pulsated around and within.
Every fiber of his being had reawakened, and he knew at once what must be done. He began searching for some way to document the moment. He had to capture this fleeting audio hallucination, this stairway that led back to his former life. So overpowering now, so real, that he could behold it with absolute clarity. It would be his ultimate masterpiece, and it was within his grasp. He looked around desperately but found nothing except the water-filled pitcher. He quickly dumped its contents and smashed it to the floor, then picked through the pottery shards, finding one piece large enough to grip that most closely resembled a writing instrument. As if guided by some inner voice, he seized the sharp fragment and thrust it deeply into a large vein in the bend of his right arm. The implement found its mark, and immediately blood pulsed forth.
As the red stream flowed from the wound, he dipped the pottery piece into it and began to write the music in his head onto the wall. He had not written anything in years and never with his left hand. It was clumsy and messy, but he kept moving. Dipping the pottery pen into the pooling blood and scoring the music as though painting a macabre vision on a makeshift stone canvas. The same power that had guided his violin bow as a child now moved his hand across the wall.
The music was coming faster in his mind than he could write, but he penned what he could. The notes seemed to create themselves as his hand moved across the jagged staffs. He had covered an entire wall in his dripping blood ink composition before consciousness began to fade. As he stepped to the next wall to score the staffs, his legs gave way, and he dropped to his knees. He refused to be taken down and fought through the weakness like an animal that instinctively knows his survival depends on these actions. He rose and moved like a madman driven by unseen demons as he worked faster, documenting less of the performance dynamics and concentrating on notes and timing. Phillippe had finished nearly two-thirds of the second wall when blackness overtook him. All strength vanished in an instant, and he collapsed onto the cold stone floor.
At first, he didn’t understand, but then he glanced down at his right arm and realized he had inflicted a mortal wound. Fear overcame him, but then his eyes filled with the musical score written on the wall. For the first time in nearly a decade of tortured existence, he smiled. Tears filled his eyes. He visualized the performance in his mind as he reviewed the red staffs that filled nearly the entire two walls. It was not perfect, but the music he had written flowed smoothly, capturing a melodic duet woven tightly in an intriguing harmonic structure. He basked in a comforting warmth that radiated around him, feeling as though he had accomplished the most important task of his life.
He sensed a familiar presence behind and turned to see his father kneeling beside him, reading his work, smiling, and nodding his approval. Further off in the distance, he heard applause from an unseen audience, lightly at first, then increasing in amplitude until it eclipsed all other sound.
He had beheld the siren’s song as it played down from the heavens for one last time and shared it with the world. And it had completed him. He exhaled his last breath, content, fulfilled…and free.
That evening, when meals were brought around, his body was discovered. The young girl found him lying on his back, a peaceful expression frozen on his face that seemed so foreign in these cursed halls. It appeared he had finally found something in death that eluded him while amongst the living.
The girl always made a conscious effort to avert the gazes of the inhabitants of this terrible place. It was unsettling to watch these people shuffle about in a state of bare existence, ranting, sobbing, or simply staring at nothing for hours at a time. To peer into their lifeless eyes and see no reflection of the soul that once inhabited the walking corpses troubled her deeply. Their faces often returned in her dreams. But each time she looked upon this man, she had sensed a dim flicker buried deep within the depths of his sunken eyes. So defeated and spent, mired in misery, yet still clinging to the last vestiges of life. As though this world still demanded more of him before allowing release.
She followed the direction of his vacant stare and gasped, beholding the man’s artwork. She stumbled away, startled by the realization that this was not only written in the man’s hand but his own blood.
The initial shock of the morbid image passed, and she studied the composition. Raised in a home of musically educated parents, she could read music as well as the words of any book. She realized immediately the enormity of what she beheld. This was the last, great labor of a brilliant mind, and she scurried out to find a pen and ink and something to write upon. Paper was harder to come by, so she returned with just a pen.
She sat on the floor beside the deceased composer, rolled up her outer dress, then began copying the music onto her worn and mended underskirt. She knew the wall would be scrubbed clean as soon as the man’s body was removed and felt it important to capture his final work of art. This masterpiece, etched in blood, would mean nothing to the custodians of the asylum.
The melody played in her mind as she copied his work, stopping numerous times to stare up and behold its wonder, its beauty.
When finished, she reviewed her work, checking for flaws, noticing only now that the bottom edge of her underskirt was stained with the composer’s blood. There was nothing to be done except to ensure it dried before it could seep further up into the manuscript.
“Who are you?” she asked of the lifeless genius lying beside her. “What tortured soul could exist in this dark corner of Hades and yet create these notes that flow from heaven like the flights of angels?”
She picked up a rag, moistened it, and gently cleansed his face.
“That will be its name,” she told him as she stroked back his hair, then laid his arms across his chest. “Vols d’anges. The Flights of Angels.”
She blinked back a tear.
Of all the nightmares that had followed her home from this dreadful place, she now beheld the most beautiful and lasting memory.
“Your work was not in vain, I swear to you,” she assured him. “I will share this with the world.”
She sat another moment, softly caressing his cheek while she read his blood-stained manuscript once more, committing its image to memory. She then softly lowered his eyelids and cupped his lifeless hands. “Bravo, maestro,” she whispered in his ear. “Bravo….”