After "Chamber Music" CLEAN COPY part I

Dueling: CindyT and S
Language: English
Setting: The [working] title says it
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After "Chamber Music" CLEAN COPY part I

Post by cindyrae77 »

Black :arrow: Cindy
Blue :arrow: S


Ten minutes. Twenty. Twenty-five and Catherine knew he wasn't coming. She'd waited at her basement entrance for him, fairly sure he'd not be there, even though he said he would. Even though the arrangements to meet had only happened a few days ago. Even though she knew it was a thing they would both enjoy. Somehow, Catherine knew he wouldn't be here to meet her, even though he'd said he would 'come for her, on Thursday night.'. Truth to tell, she'd barely remembered, herself, only recalling at all because she'd written it on her calendar the night Vincent had taken her to hear Schubert.

Leaning with her back against the rough wall, a little bent, arms crossed against her chest, she waited anyway, absently staring at her pumps, without seeing them. Or better, seeing the incongruity of those perfect shoes, which a Vogue editor would approve for a Met premiere, on the dusty concrete floor of the dusty tunnels of the dusty underworld.

“Dusty" also had described Rolley, who was likely the reason Vincent had forgotten to meet her. Sleeping on the street had left him covered with a certain amount of the dirt, dust and grime that came with that. Not to mention the despair. Catherine wondered if 'despair' was a 'dusty' emotion, as she pushed away from the wall and decided to go looking for Vincent. She knew he wouldn't be in the Music Chamber. At least, not the Music Chamber where even now, strains of Brandenburg Concerto number three were wafting down. Vincent would likely be in a different music chamber though, and a disconcertingly quiet one. One with a grand piano.

There. The clicking of her incongruous heels on the dusty concrete had not echoed for more than ten minutes, when the great, dark shape appeared in the distance. She stopped, and watched him, coming in her direction. The cloak billowed with his hurried and fluid strides, and the lowered hood did not conceal the shining mane. Her heart skipped the usual beat, marvelling at the magic that was Vincent. And she almost physically felt his admiring and somewhat guilty look as he took in the beauty of her appearance. The fashion pumps were only one detail of the care she had put into preparing for this evening. “Catherine, I’m sorry,” he said when he was at a hearing distance.

"Don't. Don't apologize," she clarified, loving, always loving the sensation of going into his huge arms. He enveloped her and the hug seemed a bit tighter than usual. Either as a further expression of his contrition or something else. She lingered inside the embrace, trying to take all he was feeling into her small frame.

"You look beautiful," he said. "I was supposed to meet you. I ... I remembered earlier, I think. I was just..." he let the sentence drift.

Her voice was an understanding balm. "You've been worried. And distracted. Tell me?" How odd that sentence was, coming from her. It was the one he usually used to invite her to share her troubles or sorrows. Now she was using it on him. Was that what he was feeling? Troubles and sorrows? But they were Rolley's troubles, weren't they?

She softly added: “It’s Rolley, isn’t it?”

"I can't stop... thinking about him. About his all of it. Mostly... about his aloneness. So alone, in your world, yet he won't come down here. Catherine," his eyes held shadows of memory, "I know what that 'alone' feeling can do to you. I know how it... how it hurts."

“How, Vincent? Will you tell me… please?” Again that little sentence, knocking on the doors of his soul to share the anguish. He looked down at her... at the end of his aloneness there, in his arms.

"That feeling that there is no help for you. No hope for you. The feeling that there is no... no solace, no rest. No one to share the deepest part of yourself," The deepest part of herself. The part she'd told him she knew would endure, with him. The part of him he knew, abided with her. "I think Rolley carries that, now. That alone, that helpless feeling, deep inside. But how can that be, Catherine? How can it, when so many here love him, so many here wish him well? Would give him a life? He wouldn't have to take the music back, again... I know there are those here who would understand if he never played another note, but..." he cast a wistful eye back toward the music chamber he'd come from. She'd been studying him, and the storm swept eyes that could own his soul were full of sympathy.

“… but you dream of a miracle.” He slowly nodded, and with a sigh released her, taking her hands instead. She squeezed his, and said with fervor: “Miracles do happen, Vincent. And what happened the other day is nothing short of a miracle. He was just another desperate addict among so many others. But for a moment… he was Rolley again. And now he knows that you’re waiting for him.” He looked at her, uncertainly. “Yes, Vincent. Now he knows that he’s not alone anymore… if he wants. You offered him… hope. Something changed for him… already. Even if he doesn't have the strength to change anything else… now he has something good to play with in his mind, perhaps something to dream about.” She had a little smile, and added, “Maybe you know this feeling too?”

He blinked a moment, the blue eyes remembering, as he made the connection between Rolley and himself. He'd had people who loved him, yes. Father, Mary, Rebecca, Mouse, a host of children and a brother she'd helped bring home. Yet he still knew she'd been the 'end of his aloneness.' His miracle. His Catherine. He'd loved Devin for dreaming dreams that included him. He wasn't sure when he began dreaming dreams that included Catherine. Dreams he'd never dared speak of, in detail. There was so much, encompassed in that word for him. "Our Dream." "The Dream we share." A dream he knew he needed, now, to breathe, and that was no understatement. He could not imagine his life, anymore, without her, without that dream, inside it. He realized how right she was. "I think when it first started, it all but overwhelmed me. And I remember fighting against it, at first. Afraid," he admitted.

They had started to walk without even realizing they were doing it. The direction was vaguely toward the hub, and Vincent’s arm almost reflexively encircled Catherine’s midriff, steadying her, while she leaned against him. Easier for her to walk on her high heels this way, but not only that. Her confident nestling against his powerful and possessive frame wordlessly affirmed that, whatever he was going to say about being afraid, he should definitely use the past tense. “Afraid to dream?”, she prompted.

He inclined his noble head. "To dream... can be a dangerous thing, Catherine. Some people say dreams are not real, and can therefore do us no harm. I don't think that is true. I think Rolley lost his dreams and lost himself, in the losing. I think I ... dream carefully, sometimes, afraid to want too much."

They took some steps in silence. He lifted his hand in a quick gesture, and Catherine understood that he was waving at a sentry. The exact position of posts was still a puzzle for her. “Dream carefully,” she said pensively. “How can these two words belong with the same sentence?”

"I'm not positive I've dreamed any other way," he said slowly, his steps moving in a laggardly, measured pace. "Devin and I dreamed together. Large dreams and small. But part of me knew he would leave, one day, and where he would go I could not follow. There was no cruelty in him, and none in me. I just knew that if he chose to stay with here, stay with me... nothing else he ever dreamed would have come to pass. I couldn't ask him to stay, even though part of me wanted to. If I did... he might just do it. I couldn't bear that, couldn't bear it for him. I knew what he was feeling, how conflicted he was. I understood why he left suddenly, why he had to. Sad as I was when we let each other go, I knew what it meant, for him, and it was something wonderful. When I tell Rolley 'We all love you, you can come back,' I think what I'm trying to tell him is 'It is safe to dream here. There is no cost to it. What could happen that is worse than what is happening, now?' When I tell you that the price of our dream is that it will cost you all your other dreams..." he let the sentence trail, as they drew closer to the music chamber where the great piano sat, gathering dust.

A surprised look on his face, he had suddenly lifted his head. “What is it, Vincent?” she asked. She strained to listen to what he was evidently hearing. The pipes were quiet, she could only hear the echo of their steps.

He knew that in a few more steps, she would hear it too. Sound. Sound from the music chamber, but not music, not exactly. Sound coming from the only thing in that room that could make sound, at least make it that way. The piano. Someone was... tuning it? Tinkering with it? He heard a repeated note, as fingers tapped a key. Middle C. Tuning note. The only note held by both the left thumb and the right, (the strongest finger on the hand) as a matter of course. The anchoring note, for fingering. Where you began. Where you began, before you moved up or down a keyboard. Middle C. The first place Miss Kendrick had ever set Rolley's young, untrained hands. Scale, going up, faltering on a flat G.

Mouse? Was this Mouse, or Eli, or someone else, thinking Rolley might return? Everyone knew about Vincent's encounter with Rolley, by now. What was known to one was known to all, on the pipes. The sentries had been told to keep a look out for him, to make sure he came down safely, if he came near.

“It’s a piano!”, Catherine exclaimed, stopping dead in her tracks. Incredulous and hesitant, she looked at him. “Don’t you suppose… ?” She didn’t dare finish the sentence.

"It can't be. Can it?" Vincent asked, feeling ridiculous for questioning the obvious. Clearly someone was in there, and someone had hands on the keys. Her steps were ahead of his, arrowing toward the chamber. She turned back a second and gave him a smile. One that said 'Sometimes, you just have to have a little more faith, a little more hope.' He came behind her quickly, yet still cautiously, dreading her disappointment, if her optimism proved untrue. He was still dreaming carefully. Catherine came back a step to tug his hand forward, as if to say "No more of that." The flat G evened out a little and toggled between the F and the G, testing. The wavering sound mirrored his hopes, as they neared the entrance to the large room.

No, it was not Rolley. It was hope. Hope at work. Quietly, like in a solemn ritual, Mouse was going about the chamber, lighting the candles on the tall candlesticks scattered all around. Standing close to the piano stool, Jamie was holding a lantern, to light up the work of a balding man Catherine remembered having seen at Winterfest. It was the sounds he produced, tuning the great instrument, that they had heard. The piano lid had been removed, and Rebecca with a couple of children was cleaning it up. A strange, suspended, palpable atmosphere of… careful dreaming filled the chamber.

Catherine's head adopted an almost Vincent like pose as she tilted it to the side, a little, her smile still in place as she watched Rebecca rub lemon oil into the wood. If Vincent feared for her disappointment, she showed none. The children had the job of polishing the low parts of the instrument, the legs and sides. The adults and teenagers all seemed more interested in what went on in the piano's higher reaches. The flat G lifted some more and began to sound true, as Mouse chattered. "Got to be good. Better than good. Better than better. Might get played. Might get played, soon." He finished lighting the last taper.

Smiles and unusually subdued greetings were exchanged when the couple appeared at the chamber entrance. Rebecca stopped her work for a moment. “Hello, Catherine. You look lovely. Are you dressed up for the concert already? I wish I had so much faith!” she softly teased.

"Faith is a thing I'm learning to have a little more of, as I go," Catherine replied, stooping so she was eye level with Kipper who was vigorously polishing one of the legs of the bench. She gave him an encouraging smile and held out her hand for the extra rag that protruded from the pocket of his overalls. Vincent watched in amazement as a woman dressed for a night at the Met now carefully squatted near a piano bench, helping to make it gleam. The scent of lemon oil battled with the very expensive fragrance she subtly wore, and the furniture polish won out. Mouse crowded near the great instrument's opening, and watched the old man ply his trade as he brought the Grand piano to heel. Vincent could see the wheels in the youth's head as they turned. He was probably thinking he could make a gizmo that could do the same thing the Helper was now doing. Something that could tune a grand piano, without taking so much time. And speaking of 'time,' when had word of a concert come down?

Kipper said, “I don’t remember him. Rolley, I mean. I want to know him. Listen to him. Not only playing, that is.”

Vincent knelt near Kipper, placing his broad hand on the young back. "Rolley came to us when he was near your age, Kipper. A young boy with little family and enormous talent. We loved him like we love you, but... something bad happened to him, and he went away for a while. A long while." Vincent looked at Catherine, meaningfully. She gave him a gentle smile and handed him the lemon scented rag, then moved over to where Rebecca was wiping down one ivory key at a time.

Zach came with his cloth and sat on the floor beside the bench, starting to rub an already shining leg. “I remember him, Vincent.” He said. “He was a little older than I, veeeery shy. At night, when we chatted in our beds before sleeping, he never said a word. But he was always the last one to say good night after all the chats had quieted down. To whisper it, that is. I heard it because his bed was next to mine.”

"Did you?" Vincent asked. He hadn't known. Not for the first time Vincent realized that children lived a life that was different than the ones adults thought they were living. He did not know if that was more true of Tunnel children than it was of others, but he knew it was so.

“Yes, and also Samantha remembers him,” Zach added with a mischievous look on his face. She was busy trying to clean up the stripes of whatever it was that Mouse had used to connect the pieces the piano lid had been cut into to carry it Below. She nodded with a little smile, appropriately sad and adult. “She had a crush on him!”.

Samantha cut Zach a look that implied he was an annoying child to her mature 'adult,' and did not look up from where she worked, though Vincent noticed her cheeks pinked, some. "I am sure Rolley appreciated whatever gesture of friendship he received, here," their large teacher said, wisely.

A sharp intake of breath and a sudden shocked feeling from Catherine distracted him. She was staring, wide eyed, at something that a puzzled Rebecca had just removed from the fissure between two keys. A scrap of paper. In trembling letters, someone had written “Please” on it. And a half 100 dollars bill was folded into it.

Catherine knew its counterpart was in her wallet. Vincent didn't, since he hadn't realized it had taken half a picture of Benjamin Franklin to get Rolley to leave the sanctuary of the men's shelter. Vincent's understanding was beginning to dawn. "Wow! Is that a hundred dollar bill?" Zach asked, as Rebecca held out the mutilated currency. Zach intended to reach for it, but Vincent stood closer, and his arms were longer. It was. And the handwriting was not unknown, to Vincent. There was even sheet music in the piano seat which resembled it, vaguely. Words like 'andante' and 'forte' penciled in above the bars of music. Reminders to play a certain way, at a certain time.

“This is… from him,” he said. At those words, the excited voices commenting on find fell silent. “From Rolley,” he added. But the astonished onlookers who surrounded him did not need the clarification.

"He's asking for something," Catherine commented, eyeing the note. "It says 'Please.'" Vincent's eyes held hers over the hundred, and she dropped her gaze after a moment, caught at needing to bribe Rolley into seeing him.

"Message in a piano instead of message in a bottle. Ok good, ok fine. But... sentries alerted. When? How?" Mouse voiced what everyone was thinking. He looked around him in the wide chamber. "Where?"

"Perhaps that is a question best asked of Rolley," Vincent commented, watching Catherine as she rather guiltily took the half of the hundred which he extended to her. "Perhaps he is saying 'please' because he wants the rest of his money." Catherine's eyes looked troubled, and a bit down. She clearly did not believe that was the case. If he wanted the money, he was due it. He'd fulfilled the obligation of speaking to Vincent to earn it. "Or perhaps it is as he says it is. Rolley wants our help," Vincent tilted his head to the side a bit as he watched the now wadded money disappear inside Catherine's pocket. Vincent still held the note. "Mouse, you know the tunnels between here and MacIntyre Street better than anyone. Is there a way Rolley might have come?"

“Woah! Wait a minute!” Robert hollered. He was squatted beside his zipbag with his tuning tools. “Are you speaking of that half bill and note?” With a certain effort, he stood up and came toward the piano. “I found it. It fell at my feet when I opened the sliding doors at the Central Park gate to come here. Someone had slipped it there. Why Rolley? Can be anyone. I meant to go to Father and show it to him after I’m done here.”

"It's from Rolley," Catherine said with certainty, aware of Vincent's blue gaze still upon her. Unless there was someone else with half a hundred dollar bill to spare in the Tunnels. Catherine turned to face Vincent's quiet perusal. "I can go get the other part of the bill and meet you at the Central Park Entrance," Catherine told him. "That is... if you think that's what he's after." Please my love. Please. Just a little more careful dreaming, she thought. Just a little more, for your friend.

“It seems you know something we don’t know,” Jamie said, looking at the silent exchange between Catherine and Vincent. “Okay, whatever,” she added, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Do you think that if it was him, he may be still there now, hiding, waiting?”

“I think that at this moment, with Rolley, anything is likely," Vincent answered, going toward the door. "Catherine needs to go and fetch something." He looked at her kindly, yet with meaning. "And so do I. Keep working, Jamie. There may yet be a concert here. And if there isn't..." he paused, and caught Catherine's expression, begging him to hope. "And if there isn't, a little careful dreaming will do no harm."

"Catherine smiled, a grateful smile. "Yes, I need to go change into something different... for now," she added with a vague gesture indicating her beautiful gown. "See you at the gate." And she hurried off.

Vincent's steps through the passageways of his home were rapid, but he didn't run. If the note was from Rolley (and Vincent knew it was) then either he was there, waiting, or he'd changed his mind and gone again. Vincent was still having trouble reconciling the gifted, shy prodigy of a youth with the shattered human being he'd reconnected with only a few nights before. "Please." Such a word, and so fraught with meaning. A plea for help? A request for the rest of the money, the one most likely to get it? For something else? Did Rolley have one, just one careful dream left inside him? Vincent didn't know. He'd learned much about addicts and addiction, while he lived Below. Some of the lessons had been hard ones. Addicts were notoriously changeable, depending on a great many things. But there was no doubt that a deep sorrow had taken hold of Rolley, and never loosened its grip.

The solid expanse of the iron sliding door was finally in front of him. He took a deep breath, and his hand reached for the opening lever.

The curve of the wall hid its shadows, almost as well as it hid its occupants. For a moment, Vincent actually wasn't sure anyone was there. But like carrion and a meal gone over, Rolley could be smelled before he could be seen, at least by Vincent. While the smell would have been missed by anyone else, Vincent's heightened senses discerned them, and discerned them as the particular odors they were. Rankness. Perspiration, sickness, and... something else Vincent couldn't quite name - the smell of narcotics leaving the system through sweat, trailing an almost tangy aroma of poison as it lay against the skin. He was sitting against the wall much the same way he'd sat against the one on MacIntyre street. Back to it. Knees drawn up. Hands resting on them, shaking a little. The face was shining with sweat, even though the evening was pleasant. The dark eyes, when they looked up at the sound of the opening door, were clear, however. Or nearly clear. Pain wracked them. It took Vincent a moment to understand. Withdrawals. Rolley was going through it, or had been, for the last few days.

His own eyes fixed on those desperate, clear eyes, Vincent opened the gate, and slowly approached the dark corner. With cautious, reverent movements, he crouched and knelt. He knelt in front of agonizing pain and misery. He knelt in front of courage. He knelt in front of hope. And then opened his arms wide. Those clear eyes filled with pain widened, and after a suspended moment, a wracking sob shook Rolley, and he came to rest onto that welcoming chest, into those loving arms. The anguished wailing filled the junction room. From the opening to the Park, undetected and silent, Catherine watched this re-creating Nativity, her own eyes filled with tears.

Rolley wailed. For all he'd lost, and all he'd needed, and all he had, he wailed. For Miss Kendrick. For Anthony. For Vincent. For himself, and for the promise of the music that had been too long gone from his life. Vincent held the shaking body, realizing that the shudders were not the tremors of more withdrawal symptoms, but of a grown man simply continuing to sob into the arms of another. When Rolley could speak, at first Vincent didn't understand. Then he did. The wailing gave way to words, and the words were almost as tragic as the wailing had been: "I can't hear it no mo'," he said. "I can't hear it no mo' Vincent. I could always hear it. Played it by ear. Miss Kendrick said 'You can't be Rolley Parrot no mo', so I didn't. But I could always hear it, hear the music. Could play anything if I heard it." He shook his dark head and wiped his glistening cheeks with his battered hands. "I can't hear it no mo.'"

“Rolley…” Vincent whispered, “Remember? You are the one that we love. Not the music you can bring us. You. Will you let us love you?”

Rolley rose shakily, nodding his head as he continued to wipe his eyes. Vincent steadied him as Catherine stepped forward. She held the gate open as the incredibly diverse pair went inside, ahead of her. Vincent's arm was wrapped protectively around Rolley's bent shoulder. Rolley's dark eyes cut toward her, then away. He was concentrating on his feet, and moving them forward. One either moves toward love or away from it, Catherine. There is no other direction. Vincent's words echoed in her ears.

She closed the gate and the sliding door behind them. And they all moved toward love.


His hands had stopped shaking. Finally. More than the passing of the abdominal cramps which left him curled in half, the nausea that had ridden him like an animal or the sweats that had left him in a constant state of wet discomfort, the fact that his hands (and by extension, his fingers) had stopped shaking was the thing he was waiting for.
Except he couldn't admit that to anyone, yet. They might ask him if he wanted to sit down at a piano if they knew that, ask him if he wanted to play.

He liked Pascal, liked the busy-ness of the man, the way he never stopped listening, the way he kept his finely tuned ear always fixed on the sounds coming along the pipes. He could catch the slightest change in rhythm or pitch and identify its location, when a new message overlapped an old one. In another life, he'd have made a fine concertmaster. He had a most discerning sense of hearing.

They'd asked nothing of him. Pascal had asked nothing of him. He'd been left to wander where he wished. So he'd wandered in here. No one seemed to mind. No one seemed to think it odd that the now cleaned up junkie ("ex junkie," Rolley's mind insisted with a kind of desperate hope) had spent the last few days in the pipe chamber now that the worst was past.

The incessant tapping sort of filled the ghastly silence in that part of his soul which he had came to consider his very core. No more. No more music in it. Even in the most terrifying, anguishing moments of the wreck that his life had become, his head was full of heaven, and he took rest in it. No more. It was the darkest moment of all, when he realized that. No value in him any more. No music. Just garbage, like all the others. “Too late”, he had said to Vincent on the rooftop. “Too late?” he silently wondered now, listening to this different music that filled the huge pipe chamber, and watching the odd brisk director, two levels away, playing his unique tunes.

Sometimes they spoke to each other, but just as often, they didn't. Pascal was not the kind of man who needed to fill an empty silence. If anything, in this room, it was hard to find one. But the nattering, codified conversations were a thing you could either tune in to or tune out of, as you chose. Rolley had barely learned tunnel code when he'd been here before. Most of his time had been spent with Miss Kendrick, learning rhythms and patterns of a different kind. Patterns that were gone, all gone, now. All of it. All of her, and what she'd given to him. All of what he'd given to it as well.

Lost once more in his neverending brooding, he barely noticed that someone had come close. “Hello, Rolley,” Zach said, and let himself plop aside him, legs hanging in the void like his were.

"Hey," Rolley replied, eying the gangly adolescent with a mixture of acceptance and unease. He wasn't sure he wanted to be around children much, yet. Kids could sometimes be intrusive, or even terrifically blunt, neither of which Rolley wanted, right now. He realized as he looked at Zack that the young boy was about the same age he had been, when Eli had first brought him down to the tunnels. He'd been sleeping in Eli's basement, to escape Anthony's... wilder times.

Zach sat there, swinging his legs. Just sat. Close to him. Said nothing. Listened to the tappings, and swung his legs. And seemed to simply enjoy being there, sitting close to him, swinging his legs and saying nothing.

Silence could be as nerve-jangling as cacophony, in its way, and Rolley found Zach's long limbed presence if not intrusive, at least a little unnerving. The child seemed to want nothing of him, not even conversation. Rolley wasn't sure which one of them would break the silence first, or even if it should be broken. Silence was like a rest, in music. As a matter of fact, in music, the word 'rest' meant 'silence.' Rests were the places where you didn't play. Where you allowed your fingers to reset to the keys, allowed your thumb to find that middle C again. The player's position was a 'resting' position, at first. Every musician 'played the silence' for just a moment, before he set himself to the opening notes. Was that what Zach was doing? Playing the silence? Was that what he, Rolley was doing?

Tap… tap… tap… Rumble… rumble… rumble… Pascal’s quiet steps in the background… and Zach’s legs swishing sound. The silence was far from silent. Yes, you could either tune all that to or tune out of. What if that middle C was the starting point of a dialogue with the surrounding audience, rather than with a void to be filled with beautiful, parroting notes?

Very subtly at first, but then with more strength, Rolley began silently swinging his legs.

Zach grinned. Rolley could not see it, as he was staring into the void in front of him. But he… perceived it. He could not help smiling as well, all the time swinging his legs. And noticing that Zach was swinging in sync. Perfectly in sync. Rolley’s smile widened, and he marvelled at being still able to use those almost forgotten facial muscles. Felt good. And then he chuckled, a strange sound to his own ears, and heard Zach’s chuckle echoing. He finally looked at Zach, and Zach looked at him. Neither of them stopping swinging their legs. And they both burst into laughter.

Full laugh. Belly laugh, and if at any time it threatened to stop, one of them simply started it again, the pealing volume and staccato tempo increasing like a symphonic movement headed for the crescendo. Low sound from Rolley, the underpinning bass. Higher sound from Zach, the adolescent alto of a voice not yet changed by puberty. If smiling felt unfamiliar, laughter felt absolutely alien, to Rolley. His chest muscles, entirely unused to having to expand as he took in air deeply, ached right away from the necessity of doing so. His sides hurt almost immediately. His cheeks felt stretched in an utterly uncomfortable way, his neck and jaw tight. And not for the world did he want it to stop. Not for the world. Breathing, that other nearly silent thing the body did, was something his had been doing very shallowly. Shallowly for years, perhaps, but now that was not possible. It felt good to take air in and expel it again, in large whooping gusts. Felt good to need to. Felt good to watch Zach have to struggle for air as much as he was. Zach's expression was joyful. And neither of them stopped swinging their legs.

In their blur of exhilaration, it took them a bit to realize that the couples of legs swinging in sync had become three. And that a certain unusual tapping, iron against wood, was accompanying the rhythm.

Six legs now swung in time, as Pascal's metal pipes beat a tattoo on the wood. Simple rhythm. Nothing complex, or overdone. Zach began to pat his legs with his hands, setting up a double-time beat. Rolley marked the time signature. 4/4 time. Common time. One, two, three, four, their legs like a soundless metronome, swinging to the beat. Pascal hit on every down beat, Zach took the space between. Between the striking of the pipes and patting of Zach's legs, they were a 'one-and-two-and-three-and-four' combo.

What’s missing? Hands clapping, of course. On the “ones”. Okay good, okay fine, as Mouse would say. But before Rolley could proceed, something else marked the "ones". Pling… pling… pling… Something incongruous with the vigorous, rhythmical pulse suddenly emerged from… from nowhere… and lightly landed on the top of the energetic beats like a kind blessing. Rolley looked around. No. It did not come from outside. He closed his eyes. There. 2/4, bravely trying to tame a spirited 4/4 metronome. His left hand stirred. Pling, pling, pling, pling, pling, pling… Incongruous, but SO beautiful. “Rolley, that’s the second movement.” How did she call it? “It doesn’t matter if you like it better: you’re allowed to play it only if you can play the first before.” A strange name… something that had to do with sadness? Miserable… Pathetic! Yes, pathetic. It did not sound pathetic then, like it did not sound pathetic now. It sounded sweet, and soothing.

Muscles had memory, and Rolley's fingers were full of those. it didn't matter that his brain struggled to remember. Without being aware of it, Rolley's left hand began to 'play' on his thigh, the swinging thigh muscle beneath the baggy slacks keeping time. Thumb down. Index up. Shift. Change. Three flats in the key of the first movement, and was that why they called it 'grave?' But it wasn't. It wasn't grave and it wasn't pathetic. It had low drama and for a moment, the melody that seemed to begin on the bass clef moved to the treble. No, it wasn't grave or pathetic. It was a gift. A gift of music. Rolley didn't know the moment his eyes closed. For several long minutes, he still saw the tunnel world around him. Then he saw something else.

The music. The music sheet. “Pathetique Sonata”, in great convoluted cursive characters. By the same guy (“Musician, Rolley! Don’t call Beethoven a guy, for heaven’s sake!”) of the Moonlight Sonata. Three flats in the key of first movement, four in the key of the second movement, the one he was hearing in his head now, prompted by the swinging legs metronome. The one that was broken, incomplete in his head though. That his fingers were struggling to remember, and now stopped, mesmerized at the idea that there was no need to struggle. Four flats, tidy and reassuring, and all the notes, and the tempo, and the keys. Black on white. All there. Not incomplete, not broken, nothing to remember. That’s what he could see flashing in his head. The music sheet. That Ms. Kendrick had taught him to read.

Four flats for the adagio. Adagio. What did that mean? His mind struggled for a definition, and Miss Kendrick's voice came to him. "Relax, Rolley." He'd tried to slump his shoulders a little. "No. Adagio. It means to relax. Play slowly. Leisurely. It means 'at ease.'" So he played at ease, remembering the words, remembering the sheet music, and the conversation. "What language is that?" he'd asked her. "It's Italian," she'd replied, smiling. And he'd walked through the adagio with her, leisurely, as she pointed out the various changes he'd need to make with his hands. Left hand slow. Easy harmony, almost too easy. Almost child-like, in its simple bearing. His left hand began the rudimentary back and forth between two fingers, seeing the sheet music in front of him.

Blurred. After the easy beginning, easy to remember, easy to play, easy to see on the sheet in his mind, the guy, Beethoven, had let his music take flight. The sheet music became a confused flash of white where those elusive little black signs were dancing on the lines (“Pentagram, Rolley, it’s called pentagram”). Memory was not enough to see it clearly. He finally opened his eyes. He realized that his fellow leg swingers had stopped their motion, and were looking at him. Perceiving something had happened. Something important. Wondering what. Zach put a tentative hand on his thigh. “You okay, Rolley?”

For a moment, Rolley couldn't answer, his obsidian dark eyes still fixed on a distant point. Not just a distant point, a past point. He was at the piano where he and Miss Kendrick used to practice, and the smooth, hard bench seat was firm beneath his backside. The seat where they kept his music books. The seat that lifted on a hinge and held his childish handwriting, as Miss Kendrick had taught him to translate the Italian words into English, and the notes into... magic. Was he okay? He wasn't sure how to answer that. Or even if it required an answer. The guy, the dead white guy Beethoven, was still down in the tunnels, resting in the lid of a piano bench.

“Zach… you helped with the piano, right?” No need to say more. The piano. The grand piano. Polished, tuned and ready. In the chamber he had stayed carefully away ever since he had come back… home. He ignored the spark of excited interest flashing in the boy’s eyes while he frantically nodded. Adagio. Slowly, please. He looked down at his hands. Firm hands. Ready hands. “You saw any music sheets around?”

Zach shrugged, but kept his hopeful smile. "I just polished it while one of the helpers tuned it. Rebecca might know. She was helping, too. There was nothing on the front, on the stand in front of the keyboard." Adagio. Was he really considering this? He flexed his fingers, feeling the tension in the ligaments. He'd owe a ton of work in scales if he was considering this. And no, there wouldn't have been music on the stand. Miss Kendrick had been very specific about that. Always put the music away, after practice. Always. Sheet music was valuable, and the lid that lifted on the bench used to hold treasure. The swinging of the legs slowed some more. “Some more” – you mean that it had slowed done already, but it’s not said anywhere, is it?

And then the enormity of what he was thinking struck him. Delusion bigtime. Adagio? No amount of Adagio is enough, ex junkie. The swinging legs now still, he tucked his hands under his thighs, regretting what he’d said, regretting the laughter, regretting the dangerous hope, wishing hard to be alone, staring into the void again, the hopeful look on Zach’s face unbearable. Please, leave me alone. Too late. You don’t understand. Sorry, Miss Kendrick, so sorry… Sorry, Beethoven guy. Sorry, everybody. Past tense, too late, too… He closed his eyes again, cutting off the present, back to his solitary listening to the past.

Then oddly, Anthony's voice. Anthony's? Dead Anthony's and not Dead Miss Kendrick's or Dead Beethoven's? "Bunch of dead white guys, who gives a shit?" Anthony had dismissed Rolley's talent. "Bunch of dead guys." And worse, "dead white guys," about his composers. Rolley knew better than to try and explain, knew better than to argue, lest Anthony's fist come down. Bunch of guys. Dead guys. Dead white guys. Is that where Rolley had learned to characterize them, why he called Beethoven 'that one guy' after Miss Kendrick had corrected him? And then his own voice, timid and unsure, asking Miss Kendrick one day... "They all dead?" as if that was the important thing, thinking that if he could find a living composer's name on the sheet music, that would prove their worth.

"Yes, Rolley, they are all dead. But that isn't important. Death comes for all of us. It's the beautiful things they made in their life that we remember them by, not that they died." Had she said that, to him? Could that be right? The junkie's voice still nagged, and Anthony's voice derided. Could anything rise above that din? Could he hear Miss Kendrick's voice, dear, sweet dead Miss Kendrick's voice, again, giving him encouragement?

But it was the quiet, very much alive voice of Pascal that came to interrupt his frantic thoughts. “There’s a bench.”

The bench. Yes, there was the bench. He knew about the bench. Knew that it had a hinged lid that lifted, and a metal bar that made it stay open while you rummaged. Knew that like many piano benches, it had a velvet lined compartment where every student who had ever learned a whole note scale kept their primer. Middle C. The place you stick both your thumbs. The place you begin. When he first met Miss Kendrick, she'd had her copy of the sheet music for the Moonlight Sonata in her hands. He'd been playing Chopin by ear, being "Rolley Parrot." Miss Kendrick's had asked him... what was it? "Do you know about Chopin?"... "I know he's dead." Even then. Even in their beginning, that fact had been uppermost in his mind. Dead meant gone. Dead meant you didn't matter. The piano bench was where the dead men lay in a tiny, wooden grave. A grave with hinged lid.

Zach said, puzzled: “Yes, there’s a bench. So what?”

For a moment, Rolley wasn't going to answer him. There was a bench. There was a bench and so what? So what, indeed? There was a bench loaded with treasure, secret treasure that Beethoven and Chopin and a bunch of other dead guys and written, and Miss Kendrick, dead Miss Kendrick had touched.

Play something you like to play. Something you like to play when mean old ladies like me aren't bothering you.

Adagio, junkie? You out f your mind? Ain't no word in any language going to describe how slow you need to...

Slow. Adagio. Slow like stoned. Slow like dead. Slow, slow, slow.

"The bench is just a lid." That couldn't be his voice. To Rolley's own ears it wasn't, but it was. It was a slow voice. An adagio voice. A sound that pushed through, but was still uncertain. Baby steps. Adagio steps, unsteady and uncertain, but wobbling forward.

Zach, ever the anxious youngter, brimmed with enthusiasm "A lid like a secret lid? Like on a treasure box?" Zach jumped up.

Pascal, Pascal the quiet one who never stopped listening, Pascal whose 'voice' was a pair of metal bars more than it was vocal cords, understood Rolley's contemplative demeanor. "Slow down, Zach. Slow," Pascal cautioned, watching the play of emotions across Rolley's face. Adagio. Pascal, unlike most people, was not afraid of silence, and saw no need to rush to fill it. Pascal knew that silence on the pipes meant something, and that it was a different something. That it could either mean that all was well, or it could mean that a sentry report was late, and there might be trouble. Pascal knew how to 'play the rests,' to 'play the silences' just as you played the notes. That the pause between the taps was a vital part of the message.

"Adagio. It means 'slow' in Italian," Rolley said.

“Slow. No hurry, in fact,” Pascal replied. “If there’s a treasure there, it has been waiting for you. For you to be ready to… discover it.” He looked at Rolley, intently. “It can still wait, if it’s not the right time. For now… or forever,” he added, smiling. Zach understood and nodded, grinning a toothy grin. Rolley looked at his friends. Ready to laugh, swing, or play the silence with him. Or music, with him. He could decide that the lid of that bench, close to a grand piano which had been playing silence for so long, was be the covering of a treasure chest, or of an honored grave. And he would be loved anyway. But… he could decide that it was both, he suddenly thought. “Oh, Rolley, you are a treasure!” had said Miss Kendrick. No, Miss Kendrick. You are a treasure. He removed his hands from under his thighs. Middle C. He had found it.

He rose slowly. Not 'adagio' slowly, but like a man in no great hurry. Treasure. Miss Kendrick was a treasure. The "Pathetique" was a treasure. Dead Beethoven was a treasure, and so had Rolley been, once, in the eyes of a beautiful black woman. Zach jumped up as Rolley achieved his feet, and Pascal rose to steady his arm. Treasure. That thing you put away for safe keeping until the day you needed it. The thing you drew a map to, lest you forget. The thing you set in low, deep places, and kept as a secret in your heart. Rolley knew where his lay. Or at least he thought he did.
"Let's go find out if it's still there," Rolley said, unable to promise more than that, but knowing what it meant that he wanted to look.

~ * ~

PART II :arrow: ... =116&t=268
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