The Melody of Grief

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
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An artist, desperate for inspiration, discovers a new form of art—synesthesia painting. Unfortunately, all songs must end eventually.

Submitted: March 27, 2017

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Submitted: March 27, 2017

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Art blockhow unprofessional!

He took in the rustling of leaves, which exhibited the monochrome of orange this season so generously gifted, the fresh dew shining the faded black of his leather shoes, the warm wind whispering into his ear that it was autumn, that he had spent the whole of summer with nary a clue as to what he would paint next.

It was all the same, he insisted. He’d managed to capture the whole of what little scenery was at his disposal in various of his previous paintings.  What he struggled to accomplish was capturing the sounds.  In complete isolation, the quiet was almost overbearing enough he might hear it, though this did him no good. No sound has no color, and though color doesn’t make an artist, Quartz without color would be his paintbrush free of bristles.  What purpose would it serve?  Who would he be?

Of course he was still just a boy, but he took art seriously.

Quartz slouched on his wooden stool.  Gnawing on the wood of his paintbrush, the artist let out a muffled sigh.  He stared blankly at the single blue line on his canvas, grumbling to himself inaudibly about how it seemed to mock him.  Him, an artist with no art!  Perhaps he really was bad as a paintbrush with no bristles.  Out of frustration, he jabbed his brush into a dollop of yellow and dragged it across the canvas, hoping some chord in him would strike.

Just then, the faintest, quaintest little sound gave a twitch to his ear.  He ceased his mindless painting at once in favor of having a closer listen.  It was a sweet tune, so delicate Quartz feared it might break.

“Who has chosen to play their song now, after all these days living in silence?  Reveal to me your source!  Why, I have never heard a thing so beautiful!” Quartz added with a sense of urgency in his tone.

The song grew louder in response.  In that instance, inspiration struck. “Refuse to put an end to your lovely song!” demanded Quartz with the most polite shout he could manage.  Walking around with a hand cupped to his left ear, his painting supplies abandoned on the stone leading up to his front door, Quartz listened.

He listened, but to no avail.  If he was to do this newly discovered sound justice, he needed to hear more.  He didn’t remember closing them, but his eyes were shut tight in concentration.  Quartz could tell he was drawing near the source when—THUMP!—he found himself with a bruise on his forehead.

Before him stood one tree of many.  The music was coming from the forest he had never thought, let alone sought out to explore.  As he contemplated entering, a faint hissing arose from the branch nearest him.  With a closer listen it seemed almost as if said hissing was paired alongside an even fainter sound of monotonous buzzing.  How curious.

Quartz approached with caution.  “Are you a harmless snake accompanied by friendly honeybees,” he began, “or are you the Devil in disguise come to punish me with an army of wasps?”

The hissing silenced itself.  “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” said a voice.

Quartz’s heart skipped a beat.

“State your purpose, boy.”

With a gulp, the artist choked out, “I, Quartz, intend to find whatever is singing that mesmerizing song.  I intend to take the source back to my home to create new paintings that will sell."

“You wish to exploit it?”

“I wish to put to good use this inspiration before it dies, unnamed sir.”

From the shadows emerged the reptilian face of the anonymous voice.  He was indeed a snake, though it was unclear where his morals stood.  Upon his head sat a crown of live bees.  “Inspiration doesn’t die, Quartz.  People do.  Accept my companionship on your quest and you will be thankful.”

Before he could protest, the snake slithered off his branch and onto Quartz’s shoulders.  

An abrupt shock of pain numbed the boy’s arm.  “YOOWCH!” he yelped.  “Forgive me, Mister Snake, but your friends are quite rude.  I’ve been stung!”

“They are not rude.”  The snake pulled out the stinger with his fangless mouth.  “You are just not yet awake.  And boy, refrain from using formalities.  I am not a mister.”

“What shall I call you then?  Snake and bees . . . Sneeze?”

“Bless you.”  The snake chuckled to himself, then paused to compose himself and regain his poise.  “I will guide you to exactly where you wish to go, if only you keep your voice at its lowest possible volume.  Mute.”

And thus began their journey.  For a creature with a reputation of being sly, Sneeze was a very honest, and sometimes overly blunt character.  He said what he meant and he meant what he said.  His clear and decisive guidance led Quartz deeper into the heart of the forest, though of course there was always the slightest chance it was all for naught, or that his character was nothing but a facade to lead Quartz into a trap.  And yet, Quartz had no choice.  The snake knew the forest better than he, and he was desperate to find something he likely wouldn’t on his own.  He was an artist!  Without art he was nothing.  Now finally he’d found a chance to be something again, and he wasn’t going to put that chance to waste.

The farther out they ventured, the more the scenery changed.  The trees at the entrance to the forest resembled every other tree Quartz had seen.  It was fall, and their leaves were yellowing, browning, falling off their branches.  As they neared the true heart—as Sneeze referred to it as—each tree they passed was greener than the last.  It was as if the place truly was a heart, as if the forest was truly alive.

With every other step he took, Quartz would try to make conversation with his new acquaintance.  His acquaintance did not enjoy this.

“Are we almost there?”

“Shush,” hissed the snake.  “Listen, boy.  You hear that?”

Quartz halted and focused.  “I hear the song.  It's louder, which means we're near.”

“Yes, but what else?”

Quartz stood silently, confused.

“Ah, yes—just like that.  It is the song we must hear, not you."

 

***

 

“Here."

“Here?”

Sneeze sighed and pointed the end of his tail toward the lushest, greenest tree Quartz had ever seen.  “There.  There lies the heart of the forest.  Within the heart lies the melody of which you seek.  Coax out what sings and you are free to exploit it.”

“Do not speak as though my plan is immoral!  This is for the good of the art world.  How many artists are able to capture sound with a brush?”

“Synesthesia paintings are not unheard of.”

“If that pun was intended, I will have regretted my allowance of your comradery.”

“I suggested guidance, not comradery.  Now boy, quit running that mouth and retrieve what you are here for.”

And so the young artist knocked on the trunk of the lively evergreen as if it were a house and someone would answer.  Immediately, the music went silent, though Quartz pursued it anyway.  “Melody,” he said, feeling quite strange, “I have come for you out of desire to convey your beauty through my work.  My name is Quartz.  If you would so kindly reveal yourself?”

There was no answer for several minutes, but Sneeze nudged Quartz to make a second attempt, this time with more coaxing.

The boy cleared his throat and knocked again, feeling even more pathetic.  “I do not wish to exploit what you have to offer.  I only wish to listen to your song in the comfort of my home, in a safe space—I assure you—where I will paint.  I'd very much enjoy to meet your acquaintance.”

Quartz looked to Sneeze when, again, there was no response.  The snake simply nodded to say that Quartz's attempt was successful this time.  Indeed, he was correct.  There was a rustling of leaves above their heads and down dropped a small person with skin brown as the tree’s trunks and sandy hair tousled as the fallen leaves.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Quartz,” spoke the being with the softest voice.

 “Unfortunately, the pleasure is all mine.  I am afraid to tell you that the music you are here for will not be returning.  I am unable to sing any longer.”

A wave of disappointment washed over Quartz for only a second.  “What do you mean by that?”  He took a step forward.  “How is that you are unable to sing, yet your speech seems free of any impairment?”

“I am no longer a part of the forest’s heart.  The heart gives me the gift of song, and the one who travels to the heart of the forest frees the heart’s current host.”

“Host?”

“Those who wander into the forest alone without any sense of direction are captured.  Life is drained from them for the good of the heart, which gives life to the deepest parts of the forest.  Hosts stay hosts until someone else is enchanted by the lovely melody, and I’d like to clarify that it was only so beautiful because of the trees’ magic.  You are lucky you are here with a guide, otherwise you would have become the next host.”

This was an overwhelming concept for Quartz to digest, but he hadn’t the time to spare for further clarification.  “Is there a person that might be contacted to get you back to your rightful home?”

“I have been a host for too long,” said the child sadly.  “I’ve forgotten who I am.”

“You will remember.  In the meantime, I shall provide you the shelter of my own home.”

Sneeze politely offered the end of his tail for the new companion to shake, to which they awkwardly obliged.  “You may call me Sneeze, I suppose.  What may we address you as?”

The child shrugged.

“Perhaps you can make a name for them as you did me,” said the snake to Quartz.

“Hmm . . . Melodore.  Melodore, after the beautiful melody I shall never forget.”

 

***

 

Quartz refused to accept that Melodore's lovely singing voice was never really theirs to begin with, and that it would not be returning.  He refused because he believed that keeping hope was best regardless of whether or not that hope would do any good.  He was desperate enough for a cure to his art block that he had lost any common sense.

“You are being selfish,” said a high-pitched, almost chirp-like, voice.

The trio stopped dead in their tracks.  Did they have company?

Quartz, daring and curious as he was, chose to take action.  “Who goes there?” he asked.  “Is it us you are speaking of?”

“It is you I speak of.”

“Me?”

A racket of flapping wings filled the ominous silence of the forest.  It sounded as though there was a great army of birds, though if there really were any, they hid well enough in the treetops that no passerby could tell.  Chirps and caws and other various bird sounds accompanied the flapping.

“Yes,” continued the voice, “you are selfish to deny what cannot be undone.  Now you are only caring for your new acquaintance because you believe there is a chance that they can provide something that benefits

A twitch formed in Quartz's eye.  How dare they think him to be selfish when Melodore's song needed to be displayed!  “You know nothing about—”

“Quartz?”  Melodore tapped the boy's arm with a finger.  “Please, cool down.”

“And just what do you mean by that?  It isn't fair that my creative genius is going to be put to waste because you are unable to sing!”

“It isn't my fault.”

“But it isn't fair!  It isn’t fair that all these months I spent with no fresh art, and it isn’t fair that I’ve come out here pursuing something I believed could help in starting a new chapter of my work, one completely unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and now?—now nothing important has come out of this quest, and now I have to provide for a child who remembers nothing of their past.  So no, it isn’t your fault, Melodore.  I apologize if I am coming across as insensitive or selfish.  Of course, this does not assuage my frustration.  You all can’t possibly expect me to react sensibly when my last hope has been stripped away!

All were silent in that instance.  Sneeze stared at Quartz in bewilderment, perhaps surprised that the boy was so passionate about his art, that he had such drive to be great he would vent out his vexation to birds no one could even see.  Melodore shifted uncomfortably.

After what felt to the trio to be nearly forever, the same squeaky-pitched bird spoke up.

 “You have every right to be unhappy, yes, but you must understand why.  The obvious answer would be losing your spark of inspiration.  We would like for you to think more deeply, Quartz.  Could it be that the overwhelming silence of your home was finally given some life, and now you fear living in that feeling of isolation again?”

“It is you who does not understand.”

“Quartz, we could sing for you instead, if you’d like.  That is what birds do, is it not?”

“It is not.  All you birds have done is waste my time."

 

***

 

The three knew they were nearing their way out of the forest when they saw light and each passing tree had more autumn hues than the last.  The deepest parts of the forest had been quite dark, despite it being an early time of day.  Perhaps that was simply an effect of the magic Quartz now knew existed.

Quartz pushed his way through low branches, excited to finally return to his home and feel the sun on his skin again.  Melodore followed warily.

“This is as far as I go,” said Sneeze.

“Already?  You do not wish to visit my home?”

“It is not that, boy.  This forest here is my home.  You are free to visit my home, in the tree where you first encountered me, but this is as far as I go.  I wish you good luck.”  That said, the snake slithered down Quartz’s arm, then his leg, all the way until he met the ground and curled up by the tree of which he spoke.

The boy nodded at Melodore for them to follow again.

Gesturing toward the small and lonely cabin in the distance, Quartz smiled warmly at Melodore.  “Allow me to start off our acquaintance—er, friendship—anew.  There is my sweet, humble abode!”

“The fields in which your house stands, ” said Melodore, “they seem endless.  It is no wonder the birds question if your unhappiness truly only stems from your frustration with having nothing to paint.”

Quartz was about to argue, but decided against it.  He was going to make things right.

“Just . . . come with me, please.”  He offered his arm, and Melodore shyly slipped their hand into the crook of his elbow.

The two arrived at the short stone pathway, where Quartz gathered up his fallen brush, pallet, and canvas.  Into the house they went and Quartz got right to work.  He washed his brush, replaced the paints on his pallet, and set a fresh new canvas on his easel.  He set this up in front of his keyboard, which had never really been put to good use before that day.  He sat Melodore at the keyboard and smiled again, encouragingly this time.  

“Play for me.”

“Pardon?"

Melodore might not have had a talent for singing, but that didn’t mean they were incapable of recreating a song.

“I cannot play and paint at the same time.  What I request is that you play the tune of the forest, the one I have accepted can not simply be sung.  That keyboard is the only instrument I own, so we’ll have to make do.  Are you capable?”

Melodore nodded.  They began testing out different chords and rhythms and tunes, trying to match what Quartz was looking for.  Eventually they figured out a simple jingle that imitated the song of the forest heart.  To this they added on their own improvisation, effortlessly gliding their fingers across the keys for glissandos, swaying to the beat while they held the sustain pedal, even bobbing their head to mimic the occasional staccato.  When this all came together and Melodore really got into the song, so did Quartz.  This was when he began to hear the colors.

The beginning started off uncertain, shy blues wavering unsteadily.  Eventually, the notes melted into a warm purple blanket, then from there grew a deep crimson, emerging as a large, fiery pit.  Out the pit shot bursts of yellow.  Quartz seized his brush and captured what he could, until—

“YOOWCH!

Sneeze’s bee friends had found their way into the house.

“Quartz!”

“It’s alright Melodore.  Continue, please."

“Quartz, you’ve been stung.”

“Please, just continue.  And hurry!”

Melodore reluctantly kept playing, but this time it was different.  The blues, purples, reds . . . they all began to blur.  Quartz could see, but he couldn’t hear what he was seeing.  Why, he couldn’t hear at all!  His sense of hearing was muffled, worsening by the second.  He rushed to get what he could on his canvas, but every color meshed together.  It all sounded like a mess of everything, and Quartz painted with immense speed, but without any thought.  He heard hazy splotches of browns and ugly blobs of black.  The stinger swelled his arm.

“Quartz—!”

The painter threw his brush across the room in exasperation and took a long look at his work.

It was horrid.

His vision blurred as well, but that was merely a result of tears.  He sobbed.  He tried to hide his humiliating face in his hands.  He wailed, he yelled, and he let out a fit of hysterics.  He had come up with a way to coax out the fire of inspiration in him again, and now he couldn’t even capture it on canvas.

He gave up trying to fight the reality of the situation, and a stinger pierced his chest.

 

***

 

Quin Schwartz woke with a start.  His cheek, he found, had partially adhered to the canvas lying on the desk at which he did his best work.  Once unstuck, Quin lifted the smock he wore and smeared off the brown paint from his face.  It seemed he had fallen asleep in the midst of painting.

He brought himself, reluctantly, to look at it.  The painting was a reflection of the emotions he had been experiencing the night before.  Large splotches of brown and black were all there was to it.

“A painting of the melody of grief,” the artist said with woe.  Though it wasn't a work he would sell, Quin dipped a paintbrush to sign it as his pseudonym Quartz, per usual.

A glance to the empty chair in his room reminded Quin of his sorrow, and the framed picture sat on it only made matters worse.  The photo was years old.  In it, Quin sat at the base of a tree alongside a child with skin brown as the tree’s trunks and hair tousled as the fallen leaves.  The both of them were so young, and it pained Quin knowing that only in his dreams was he able to see them again.  Every night he had the same dream in which he was young again—in which Melodore was still there.  Every night he dreamt of losing Melodore, though they had been gone for years.

For years Quin had pursued art as a career, but without Melodore, his perseverance had felt as though it were for naught.  In time, he worried that what little inspiration he had left would die off.

Of course, inspiration doesn't die.

But Quin would have to come to accept that people do.


© Copyright 2017 Flambo. All rights reserved.

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