Friday, March 11, 2016

Love In The Time Of The First World War

My first attempt at writing of love. The year is 1917, and silent movies were accompanied by live musicians, in this case a pianist.

Soon houses thinned into farmland and wilderness. Doug turned around, desiring the company and the light the town provided. How long he walked he did not know, not conscious of where he was going but merely trying to stay on whatever road seemed most well-travelled. Here and there were people headed towards their destinations, but Doug did not know what they were. Perhaps they were on their way to visit family and friends, on their way to houses that provided comfort and camaraderie to those who knew the owners.

For the first time in recent memory, Doug felt alone. Whatever the downsides of a lumber camp, there existed within it a certain comradeship. Interdependence required as much. And before that, even though alone, there were other words more apt to describe what he had been feeling. Fear, frustration, despair, but not a longing for human companionship. Perhaps his time in the woods had achieved the desired aim—he was thinking and feeling normal human thoughts and emotions again. Even the events of the last few months had not been able to prevent the healing that had taken place. Whatever might be wrong with the outside world, it did not have to leave its mark on his soul. He was beginning to feel whole again, and feeling whole, he realized that man was not meant to spend all his time alone.

Music drifted into his mind that seemed to accompany his thoughts. Elegant, beautiful music that stirred in him subtle and wonderful emotions. Anonymous longings sprang up in him like long-dormant flora, feelings universal and timeless. Another soul was touching his, telling him of deep mysteries beyond the understanding of man.

Music. It was a language that spoke of things over which words had no power.

Chopin! Tears came to his eyes and he did not know why. It was beauty, beautiful music beautifully played.
He did not realize it but he began to walk towards the source of the music. It was only a piano, but each note reverberated in him. It was another thing entirely than the music he had been used to of late, a fiddle played by oversized hands accompanied by a concertina and doggerel verses.

And just as suddenly the music changed. It was as if at once a chase began, and if to accompany it came a hunting song or a madcap dance. Looking up to the source of the sound he saw a rather large building and upon it read the sign for a moving picture show. He had come upon a theater, albeit a very humble one. A woman sat at a window, distractedly. The show had apparently already started, but Doug was able to get her attention and purchase a ticket. He entered into a small dark room with perhaps no more than fifty chairs arranged in front of a silver screen no more than ten feet across. And upon it played some drama concocted by one of the major studios. But while in other circumstances he might have been interested in the movie, it was the piano that called to him. It was too dark to see the people inside the theater as more than shadows, but he could see the movement of the pianist. It appeared to him a ballet dance, so fluid and lovely was the body as it swayed to the notes. She was positioned to the right of the screen, facing it so that she could respond musically to what was being shown. Every act and emotion upon the screen was played out more convincingly in the movements she made, more so in the music itself.

Doug could not even recall the movie he was watching, only that it was the most moving he had ever seen. Not the story itself nor the actors but the accompaniment. It lifted everything, from the simplest movement to the look of longing on the starlet’s face. Music infused the story, making it sublime.

Sometimes as the light on the screen was brightest, he could make out her fingers touching down gracefully upon the keys and it appeared to him in his enchantment they moved like tiny faeries in an intricate dance.
He did not see her face and yet he was convinced he loved her. Her grace and gentle soul, the playfulness that let drop hints of her depths like ripples on a pond. He was content to sit in the dark, alone with the music she played.

It was over far too soon. The film ended and the lights came on and-lo and behold! She was beautiful. Beautiful as the music she played, lovelier far than the starlet that had been on the screen. Long brown hair pulled back into a pony tail, with here and there a strand escaping like non-conformists. Her entire person seemed to radiate grace, as though you could not feel uncomfortable in her presence.

And yet Doug felt extremely uncomfortable at the moment. He wished to approach her, make her aware of his existence, and yet knew no way of doing so. He was a stranger in a small community and knew such forwardness would be quite unacceptable. He knew of nothing he could do to catch her eye. Already she was surrounded by others from the audience. And yet Doug could not help noticing there was no one who seemed to be either suitor or husband.

She was young, younger than Doug by several years, but seemed in possession of a maturity beyond her age. His eyes slid from her face as she happened to glance in his direction and in that moment he noticed no ring on those fingers that had danced so eloquently on the ivory keys.

She left amid a group of people, family he couldn’t help thinking, judging by a similar look among a few of them. Doug too exited into the darkness, alone but with thoughts of another, one whose name he did not even know. And all the events of the last few months receded in his memory, and all the concerns of the last few years slipped away. He had sought to flee what had been haunting him, the inescapable truths of a world too large for him, and at last he knew what he had been seeking.

Love was the answer. Love was the cure for all the sickness and ugliness in the world. The revelation came not as a thought but as an emotional welling up within him, like the passionate passages of a nocturne.

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