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Notes in Monochrome

Summary

The world is subjective, so is the art that resides within it. This novella is a collection of short notes which follows a musician's creative process as he tries to cope with the short-comings in his life.

0. WITHIN; FREEDOM

0. WITHIN; FREEDOM

 

I've always feared the sky. When I looked at it for too long, I felt myself slipping away into the vastness. When I was little, my sister tried to tell me that what I was feeling is freedom.

 

"Freedom?" I was shocked at the thought of it. "Why is freedom so scary?" 

 

How could freedom feel so... empty? 

 

"It's because you don't really know what it is," she said, taking my little sweaty fingers in her hands. "Freedom is a stranger to you, and you've been told not to talk to strangers." 

 

It was strange that she would say such a thing, I couldn't stop thinking about it even after we went back to our lessons. "Freedom is so vast with endless opportunities. But, us as guitarists are bound by these rules that tells us what beauty is."

 

She always began with the A-minor chord. Dad said that it was her favourite. I tried yet again to keep my fingers firmly on the strings, pressing them hard against the fret board. The sounds that came were horrible.

 

"But, then anything would be beautiful," I remember protesting. "If no one can tell me what beauty is, then each and every music piece ever invented would be beautiful."

 

I don't really remember her face that well, but I somehow cannot forget her smile. A wide smile that showed a bit of her upper teeth. "See, music itself is beautiful because it allows the artists a channel through which they can express themselves."

 

"But is all music really beautiful? Like the violin sonatas you tried this morning?"

 

She laughed. "What can I say? Music isn't always the best way to express yourself." Her smile faded and she looked down at her fingers. "I know it isn't mine." 

 

It wasn't hers. Back then I really did not know what she meant. Our precious older sister. The light of the Varrs family name. 

 

I didn't see her after that. Maybe she went to be free? I thought she just wanted to reach the sky, the freedom she loved so much. Maybe she was finally free.

 

1. INAUDIBLE; RAIN IN REVERSE

 1. INAUDIBLE; RAIN IN REVERSE

Painful and slow. I knew this was how it goes. This was how it went before. A thousand needles in my chest, breathless. At this point I wasn't really sure that I wanted to breathe - or I just didn't think about it at all. Outside, surrounded by the gray rain, the gray walls and the dull pavement. Gray and dull like the little bedroom window she had.

She loved the sky. She loved the colors it brought. The sky was a canvas and the sun was an artist eternal. She called it art, didn't she? The red sunsets and sunrises - a bit too repetitive, but always somehow unique. I stole a glance at it.

The artist was veiled above layers and layers of paint. The paint rained, all different colors I couldn't see - all different colors merged into one.

I think I missed a step or slipped on one. Either way, I ended up on the pavement. I didn't try to get up, I was lying in a puddle of paint, unable to cry.

She loved me, didn't she? She did? Why was this happening? Why was I hurting again? The pain never stopped.

And it was raining in reverse now. The paint of all colors flowing up, collecting itself from the ground and arranging itself into crystals that flew up.

The rain of all colors melted away... 

2.WITHIN; PROMISES HELD DEAR

 2. WITHIN; PROMISES HELD DEAR

The library was a strange place. Sometimes I really enjoyed the thought of being surrounded by knowledge. Surrounded by a myriad of ideas, moving creativity and collections of years of knowledge.

It calmed me, mainly because it wasn't raining. All around the endless room, ambiance lurked, teasing the wall of silence but never really breaking it. This was where I could be calm, a place of all things promised. Here was all I've known, and all that I've lost.

A guitar was softly being played, another chapter closing in my life. She started with the A minor chord. It was a soft picking, then she switched to a C, slow and virtuous. 

Something started filling up my heart, quickening its beat. As heavy as it could be, emotion flowed and I was melting away into the music that could only be hers. Did she play it for me?

The notes urged me on. 

And I closed my eyes. 

3. Adagio; Days Before

 3. ADAGIO; DAYS BEFORE 

Like any other person, I always had difficulty going to sleep. A precious little thing, something I had always cherished but didn't get much of. I woke up to an alarm that sounded like someone was getting murdered. A bit frustrated, I got rid of it and sat up on the bed. Bach's violin concertos that I turned on last night was still playing. The sheet music I was learning lay open on the stand.

An excruciating pain throbbed in my head as I made my way into the shower. A few minutes later, I was outside on the street. It was raining as usual and Bach's two-violin Adagio played in my head. I had to be careful not to get the violin bag wet, dodging the men and women on the busy street. 

The orchestra was getting ready by the time I arrived, everyone was tuning their instruments and chatting away as they did so.

"You were supposed to come early," said Avella as she took her seat at the piano. Her slender fingers rested on the keys. "I thing Diego's upset. He really wants you to finish that piece."

I sighed. "I already told him I'm ready for recording. He's the one delaying it." 

Avella shrugged and pushed up her glasses. "Well, he told me that you were supposed to come two hours early so that he could finalize the sheet music. I already turned in mine."

I took out my violin, a small and elegant creature. I plucked the strings a bit to check the tune. "You stayed up all night finishing that?" I asked.

"I'm sorry I missed your call," she said. She seemed upset, because apparently she liked talking over the phone. My tomboyish Evela with her neck-length blonde hair liked phone calls. This relationship stuff wasn't easy and sometimes I regretted it.

"Nah, it's fine." 

"Lunch today?" she asked.

I nodded. 

Minutes later, a piano concerto by Bach and Glass filled the small practice hall. Avella was fluid as ever on the piano. I knew the whole movement by heart and can play it anytime anywhere. But Avella was different. She referred to the sheet music, but she played with so much passion and fluidity that you would think she played this all her life. The thought of it made my day and the rain came to a stop. When we stepped outside, world was as black and white as ever, but it gained color around her. This was why I could never let her go. No matter much I questioned my love for her, I couldn't fight the fact that she made me smile sometimes. 

And someone once told me that it was a precious thing.

4. MUSIC; THE SUNLIGHT LAPSE

 4. Music; The Sunlight Lapse 

The piece began with a low note. I concentrated on the sheet music in front of me as I moved the bow across the strings. I didn't begin the movement immediately. I was waiting, patiently holding the bow, letting the low notes resonate and collect. Still I waited. It wasn't time yet.

And then, with the next chord, the universe shifted and I lay naked on the ground. I was grass. I was exposed, the wind exploring every inch of my green skin. I could feel them worms crawling about my thousand roots. 

I was grass, staring up at a spotless purple sky. The next two progression chords set the sun in motion, it slowly rose up in the sky with the violin's crescendo and then sped towards a sunset with the fall. The music then fell into rythmic short rises and the sun rose and set. The shadows moved in circles and the sky was flashing with purple, yellow and navy.

Gradually, the music became so fast that the sky merged, the sun becoming a golden streak across a white sky and the shadows becoming an ambiance that seemed to shake slightly. Even when the music slowed down, the scene remained.

The Sunlight Lapse, complete. 

5. Color; Love (new)

 5. Color: Love

A mystery, yet something that speaks a little. If love made people forget about the sorrows of the world, then that was not what I felt for Avela. I liked her. I liked the way her fingers moved on the piano, mainly because it reminded me of someone.

I liked her simplistic way of dressing. She was a little tomboyish and wore glasses a bit too big for her face. She was talented, and by god, did I love her talent.

I first met her at a classical orchestra revival hosted by her father. I was disgusted by how she smiled at everyone, her perfect teeth. I also did not like how she assumed I played the cello. Something to do with the way I held the glass of water. 

"Don't worry, none of us want her on our session," said Decre, one of my colleagues on the orchestra. "She's all talk, like all rich kids."

But then the party hushed down and I found myself observing her on a stage in the corner of the room. It was the first time that I noticed, she was still smiling around at everyone. I looked around the hallway, at everyone's faces. Some couldn't wait for hee performance. 

I turned my gaze on her again as she took her seat by the piano. Decre was still telling everyone how he did not like her. But then, her fingers rested down on the keys and the hall fell silent.

Avella's fingers moved as if they had a different mind, different soul. Chopin's Ballade No.3. The music rose around the room and I couldn't focus on anything else. Her eyes closed, her neck-length brown hair trailing after her head as she moved, she made each note stand out. Yet, it was so smooth.

"I want her on our session," I was saying before I realized that I was speaking at all.

Decre laughed at first. "You can't be serious." 

"Listen Decre."

And he did. I saw the laughter fade from his face as he took it in. We all saw how talented she was. And it was enough to change our opinions about her.

Diego and I approached her after the performance. And I shook her hand for the second time that day. With a genuine smile this time.

6. L66 No 1 in E Major; Walk (new)

 6. L66 No 1 in E Major; Walk 

The streets of the town were being combed by the gentle continuity of a breeze. The morning rain had left the streets wet and the air picked droplets of water from the paved streets. The sun was high up in the air and glared down at us as we made our way down the sidewalk, hand-in-hand. It was right after my recording session with diego. She had waited until I was done because we had planned to have lunch together.

She must have waited a long time, yet she didn't seem to mind. It rarely occurred to me that she waited for me a lot. It was her who always had to. 

Most of the time, she put the time to good use. Like today, she was playing Debussy's L.66 on the piano when I stepped out into the hall to look for her.

It had never occurred to me before, how patient a person she was. 

"Were you practicing?" I asked her without looking at her. My focus was on the rythm of our feet and the invisible patterns we left. Because if I looked hard enough, the patterns weren't invisible at all. Focus, and you see the smallest water droplets rise in your wake. 

I felt her shrug. "I just felt like playing some Debussy today. It's been all Bach and Mozart in the orchestra lately." I looked up at her and saw her eyes light up. "How was the recording session?"

"It went alright," I told her. The wind left my face cold, mostly due to the humidity. I could see that Avella was cold too. "Diego says he'll see if he could convince the record label."

"Well, that would be nice if he does." She sounded off. There was something in her tone that told me that something was bothering her. Or maybe she always sounded that way and I never realized. The shame that followed made me swallow and I felt like apologizing right on the spot. I didn't really appreciate her. All I wanted was her to be around, just there, being herself and soothing me with her personality, her talent. To make matters worse, I had assumed that she would be okay with anything that I was all right with. My mind cowered in humility, and I couldn't think straight for a number of seconds that followed. I had absolutely no idea what to do.

Avella stopped walking and turned on her heel, facing me. "What's wrong?" her question brought me out of the corner I was hiding in and I looked at her face.

"I'm sorry," I said softly. "We haven't really talked for a long time." 

And then I waited for her to say something, anything. She stared at me for a long time before she smiled. "Hey, it's okay. We've all been really busy." 

But I couldn't meet her gaze. I chose to examine our intertwined hands instead. Hers were smaller than mine. But, god forbid, the speed of those hands on the keys always mesmerised me. "Yeah," I said softly. "My place after lunch? Or we could go to a movie?"

We had begun to walk again. Above us, the sun slipped behind a group of contrasted clouds. The resulting twilight washed over us in a linear fashion.

"Okay," she said. "I could use a good movie right now."

I felt relief wash over me as we continued on. The sky grew dark grey and the breeze got stronger, maturing into a full-fledged wind that bounced against the buildings through the streets. I looked up as a soft drizzle started. The droplets were so small that you could barely feel them.

When the drops of water got heavier and the ponds started to sparkle, we ran.

7. WITHIN; Realm of Water - Prelude (new)

 7. WITHIN; Realm of Water - Prelude 

The Realm of Water is calm, however stormy. The unsettling sea and the grey moving sky. I often found myself on the bridge that crossed over the river below, usually when I sat down to practice with no real destination.

The wind sang in tune and the waves responded with their laps and surges. The dark grey-blue water rising up and down, sometimes pulling back so much that it exposed the rocky surface underneath.

Here, the music was as muffled as the sounds of nature itself. It would sound ambiant if you weren't paying attention.

I didn't know what it all meant. The mute but harsh storm. It always seemed like it would rain, but the sky wouldn't give. It always grew darker, the more I played. The longer my violin went on, the heavier the clouds got. What would it take to clear up the sky? What did any of it mean?

I wouldn't know for a long time. Though I think I did not want to either. The fear of knowing kept me from progressing onto another movement. I liked what I had. I didn't want it to change.

8. Night; Love Dream (new)

 8. Night; Love Dream

The movie was not interesting on its own accord for any of us. But Avella being there made it memorable. She kept commenting on how terrible the actor was and before long, I started noticing his terrible lines too. I'm pretty sure the two people beside us were annoyed, and for once I didn't care.

By the time we came out of the theatre, it was past midnight. The intense chatter grew outside as people debated about the ending. Honestly, we were too tired to care whether the heroin should have survived or not. I heard one person call the actress melodramatic and another gasping in disbelief.

"Will you drive? I'm a bit dazed to drive." Evella told me as we entered the parking lot.

The ground was still wet and small puddles shimmered in the lights, orange and white. In the car, I sat in the driver's seat and waited. Evella stood outside, the passenger door open. I leaned forward to check on her and waited longer. When she finally got in, she smiled sheepishly.

"Is something wrong?" I asked, turning the engine on. I backed out onto the driveway and paused to look at her again. Her eyes were slightly swelled. "Are you crying?"

She shook her head. "I'm okay now. Let's just be on our way." She looked at me and smiled again.

I nodded and put the car into gear. "Do you wanna talk about it? I could stay a while at your place."

Evella was leaving against the door, watching the lights pass by. "I mean there's no rehearsal tomorrow. You know what? Take me to your place."

It surprised me and I glanced at her. "A-are you sure?" Because she doesn't really ask for anything except for phone calls. She nodded.

"Okay." I turned the car around and started in the opposite direction. We drove in silence most of the way. I thought about turning on the mp3 player, but then decided against it. The silence was unnerving, so much that I could feel my thoughts drifting into the atmosphere - thinking so loud that someone could actually hear me.

"So when will we work on our piece?" she broke the silence. I could feel her eyes on me as I shrugged.

"Let's work on it tonight?"

"Sure. But, you don't have a piano."

I smiled. "I actually have a keyboard. It's way below your standard, mind you, but it's okay for composing... I think."

That made her chuckle. "A keyboard's good enough."

We arrived around fifteen minutes later. We took the elevator to the fifth floor. I suddenly felt tense, one hand on the door knob, and turned to Avella. She raised her brows. "What's wrong?"

I felt the color rush to my face. "My apartment is sort of small and messy," I told her.

She rolled her eyes. "I don't care."

I nodded. "Okay". And opened the door. I flipped the light switch on my way in, removed my shoes and placed them on the shoe rack.

"This isn't messy," Evella said removing her shoes. She stepped into the sitting room and inhaled. "It smells like daisies. You like daisies?" She turned to me with a questioning look.

I closed the door behind her. "I like things that smell nice. Don't like the strong ones though."

"Hm." She looked around at the grey and white walls as she moved towards the couch. What separated the room from the sitting room was a curtain and Evella was delighted by this. "So cozy and comfy," she said.

I opened the closet and carefully dragged the keyboard bag out. Luckily, it wasn't too dusty. She came over and sat on her knees to unzip the bag. "This will do," she told me, running her fingers on the keys.

"Let me set it up."

I felt her eyes on me as I worked to get the keyboard on the stand. I flipped the switch and turned to her. "You want something to eat? We could order in."

We ordered pizza and Avella worked on setting a fundamental. I took the time to shower and change. I could hear the notes ring through the room. It was a considerably slow piece compared to her other attempts. 

Food arrived not long after I had changed into a shirt and jeans.

"So, what are you going for? What's the theme?" I asked her as we sat down to eat.

She shrugged. "I guess, something...cold?" 

We tried different combinations for a while longer. Avella kept waiting on me to match up every time she moved on to a new bar. By the time we finished writing the first few pages, it was 2 past midnight and raining outside. We decided to take a break. 

"Is everything alright?" I asked.

When I turned to look at her, she was smiling. "It's nothing big. Just that things are not good at home."

Before I can think of something to say, she was sitting by the piano again. Her fingers rested on the keys. 

"Well, if you wanna talk I'm here," I told her, trying my best not to make it awkward. 

"I know." 

We were left with a few seconds of awkward silence, until Avella decided to break it. 

It was the way the piece started that threw me off. A run that started on A Major. Quick at first but slowed down to eventually adopt the original tempo Liszt intended. 

Love Dream flowed from her fingers. I could see that she noticed that the notes sounded too sharp on the cheap keyboard, but her fingers kept moving. The melody haunted the sitting room in all its MIDI-like notes. But for me, I could hear it as if it was being played on a Steinway & Sons grand piano.

I picked up the violin and joined her. Me playing what would be the treble on the sheet music along with her. It took two bars for me to fall in sync with her and then I was lost in it too.

Around us, the walls drifted away and the muted rain surrounded us, falling in speed with the melody. Avella was leaning againt a street light. It flickered on and off, following the bass notes. The moths that flocked around the lights were unusually colored, though I did not find it odd at the time. 

More street lights started flickering, each to a single note on the bass clef. Their intensity responding to the volume their respective notes. 

She went on, skipping over the ponds and I followed her in a walk. Above us, it was nothing but a dark sky with the occasional lightning that flashed across it. The street lamps distorted slowly, their flickering lights getting dimmer as the metal turned to earth. 

Then there were steps. And Avella was already atop, waiting for me. We didn't know where the steps lead. But she didn't seem to care. Or was she not aware? I like to think that I wasn't either. Why else would I follow her into the abyss.

We left the flickering street behind us and stepped into a dark blanket that engulfed us. Avella was laughing as we fell, though I couldn't hear her. We weren't the slightest bit scared. 

Surprisingly, I found myself sitting on a bench. I was waiting for her I knew. But I couldn't see her anywhere around me. The rain seemed to glow, illuminating bits and pieces of the trees and walls around me.

Love Dream reached a climax. Then the piano slowly faded away, though I urged the violin to go on. But, Avella wasn't there anymore. 

The music came to a stop. 

9. WITHIN; Cold Hall (new)

 9. Within; Cold Hall 

I wasn't sitting on the bench anymore. 

I was in the library again and it was so cold. I shivered, looking around the room filled with bookshelves. 

How did I end up here again? What went wrong this time? Did I shut myself out from the world again? 

I didn't want to wake up, but I knew I had to. And when I did, I wished I hadn't. 

10. Routine; Undead (new)

10. Routine; Undead 

It has been six months. 

Six months ever since Avella left. 

I didn't remember much of the days that passed by those days. They were all the same to me. Honestly, I don't even remember when I recovered from the shock, the grief. What I know is that I continued performing with the orchestra. It was so effortless to go to work every day, perform and come back home tired. It was, in a way, a method of numbing away the blanket of sadness that had fallen over my world. 

It hurt, but I didn't feel it anymore. 

I dwelled on our last time together and had a strange addiction to Love Dream. It was the last piece she ever performed. It was the last time she had told me how much I meant to her. Even as the days passed, I could do nothing but wonder why. Surely, it must have had something to do with why she cried that night. A part of me hated myself for not trying to comfort her. I should have pried, I should've asked her why over and over again until she finally told me. 

Even if I was helpless to fix whatever made her cry that night, at least I'd understand. The feeling of not knowing choked me up. Why could I never understand? And why did I fail to cherish the time we had together? Maybe if I were closer to her, she would've told me sooner. Maybe if I had been there for her way before, all this wouldn't have happened. 

The police said that she might well be alive. But nobody had seen her ever since. Not alive. Not her dead body. Where could she have gone? 

I often thought back to the incident that happened long ago. Maybe Avella wanted to be free too? 

11. WITHIN; Realm of Water - Silence (new)

11. WITHIN; Realm of Water - Silence 

The waves were so still today. Nothing seened to move on the silky smooth blue-gray water. Above, the clouds were not gaining momentum, but they didn't clear up either. 

I stood on the bridge - the seemingly endless bridge - over-looking the river below me. The water stood frozen in motion, like crystals in the twilight. However, one could swear that if they looked close enough, it was moving ever so slightly. Maybe a quarter inch every 30 minutes. 

And the silence... 

The silence had seeped in everywhere and there was no noise to be heard anywhere. It felt so lonely. So lonely and scary.

Where was everyone? Where was the music?

Maybe if I played some music, this world would change.

I took my violin in my cold hands and raised the bow.

But, what would I play? Which piece would it be? What was I writing before the disappearing?

I tried to play it from my memory. A slow piece, that began with a vibrato. But nothing moved to the notes and they fell into the hollow abyss of silence. Every note I played failed to propagate, bringing the movement to a stop before it even began. 

The Realm of Water remained silent and frozen.

12. Trip; Old Town (new)

12. Trip; Old Town

It was on a Thursday after work, that I found myself walking in the opposite direction of my apartment. There was a chill in the air that left my skin prickling and a crescent of a moon travelled high in the sky with the occasional wisp of clouds passing by.

The streets were mostly empty, the houses and small buildings flanking the asphalt. A cat scurried past, chasing after something that was not visible in the dark on the sidewalk. Or was it rather fleeing? 

It wasn't long before I arrived at the subway, and the streets gradually hummed with life, the light brightening as if in proportion to the amount of people that either went in or came out of the subway. 

I didn't like the idea of where I was headed. Yet, I wanted to go. It was more along the lines of something I needed.

The train ride took about thirty minutes. I sat hugging the violin bag, resting my head back against the glass. If I turned my head just right, I could see the rushing the blur of the city lights; streaks of red, yellow and white against a black canvas. 

When I stepped out the quieter subway, the difference was obvious. The street lights were a dimmer light and the roads were paved - not asphalt. Here, the smell was fresher and I realized that I had indeed missed this town very much. 

Slinging the bag on one shoulder, I started walking. It was dark and the air was damp. It was a long dirt road with the occasional street light washing over the damp earth and the greenery that I knew spread for miles on both sides of the road, though the night veiled it from my vision.

I walked for what seemed like eternity, my heart getting heavier with each step I took. I hadn't seen my family ever since I moved away two years ago.

It was the gate of the mansion that I stopped and looked up at the curtained windows. 

Why did I come here?