A Sad, Sad Symphony

Old Francisc Goyer had been working on his symphony for too long to even remember. It was supposed to be his masterpiece, his magnum opus. At times he was afraid, and with some reason, that he might never finish it.
But that night he had a dream: instruments being played by angels. Such a profound mastery hid beneath their long, white as marble fingers that he began to scribble notes on a piece of paper, his hand trembling under the weight of such a clear and extraordinary vision. Inside his head, the instruments kept playing in a miraculous way that couldn’t be explained, but couldn’t be denied either.
It was real. The music was coming from somewhere far, far away; a muffled concoction of sounds. And Francisc feared to do anything other than write. He was afraid to light a cigarette or even drink a glass of water. The symphony could dissolve into the stifled air of the living room, and all would be lost.
He smiled, knowing that it was just a matter of hours before he would finish his masterpiece.
Note after note after note, and the papers on his desk began to form a hint of perfection. He had been obsessed with that symphony, that symphony of pain and burning desire. Because everything bad and terrible that had ever happened to him, somehow, through a magic normal people could not understand, was being altered into music, into suave and nostalgic notes meant to inspire, meant to make people feel what he had felt.
Note after note after note, he wrote and wrote until his fingers turned as white as salt. He didn’t care that his index finger began to bleed, or that blood and ink mixed together on the tip of each sheet of paper. Somehow perfection had infected him, growing stronger and bigger like cancer inside his brain, and he wanted to get it out, get it all out.
Old Francisc Goyer was all alone now, with nothing more than his furious passion for music, and the sweet surrender that accompanied the last notes of his greatest symphony. But it hadn’t always been like that. He had a lover once, who had supported him throughout the years, and now it was all gone. With few words said, as breakups usually occur. They argued heatedly for a few minutes, and when he sensed his temples burning and his heart throbbing inside his chest, he went for a walk. He ambled through town square for a few hours, and when he returned, he saw her cello lying on the floor like a dead animal.
He lit himself a cigarette, and for a while he stood there, peering through a cloud of smoke at the instrument, scratching his beard, sniffing, sighting, and panting. After an hour had passed, it was as if she had never even existed. He shrugged and, not knowing what to do, he made himself a cup of tea.
But he didn’t like being alone, without the one person that truly believed in his art. Without her love, it was nearly impossible to focus, to get things right. So for almost an entire month after they broke up, he couldn’t write a damn thing or play a single note on the piano.
Her cello hid behind a curtain, somewhere inside his study, and he never had the courage to play at it. And time passed and his mind grew weak. One day he was startled to find out that he couldn’t remember what she looked like. And he found it most aggravating, because all he owned now was the faint perception of her beauty. And he knew that he had made a terrible mistake when he got rid of all the pictures of her.
But he, as some might still think nowadays, thought that people don’t want to be happy. No, they just want to make something that is going to last, something that is going to make them immortal. He thought that, as fleeting as life was, if he dedicated it to a higher purpose, he would become much more than just Francisc Goyer.
He did not create art for art’s sake, or for trying to fill in some free hours during the day. He did not create art because he felt this solicitous solitude well up inside his soul, or because his heart felt the bitter disillusion of not being loved back. He did not create art out of fear or revolt, or for amusement. He did not create art trying to entertain or to be wealthy. He made art because he wanted to become immortal.
Whenever he had trouble, whenever inspiration dissolved inside the endless wilderness of his mind, he would read about Goethe. “The supreme genius of modern German literature.” That was enough to make him fill at least a page, or play the violin with as much passion as Paganini would have been able to muster.
When he had finally finished writing the symphony, he slowly rose from his chair and began to walk around the room. The instruments had stopped playing, and the complete silence that engulfed the decaying prison of his body was turning out to be unbearable.
There’s always a sense of terror lurking in the most hidden drawers of our souls, masked by darkness, waiting quietly to devour our hope and desires. And in the murky silence that hid behind desks and bookshelves, that had settled in the corners of the room, he felt its presence stronger than ever before.
So Francisc took the cello from behind the velvet curtain, pressed his thumb across its lacquered surface and breathed in an air that seemed to contain, still after all this time, her perfume. He took a seat on one of the chairs and began to play. It was electricity that seemed to caresses his neck and shoulders, building a web of sensations that danced on his skin. It was as if, and he knew it was such a bizarre and absurd thought, a part of her was still there, lingering on the cello’s strings, a part of her soul, of her love.
He smiled, because he knew it was strange that it all came down to a woman. It always did, and he had always known it. Immortality is a nice thing to have, to be great and successful, and loved by strangers, but still, there will always be a woman, someone you’ll dream about and you’ll want for the rest of your life more than anything else.
Francisc Goyer knew there was only one more thing to do now. He was going to take the symphony and show it to his good friend, Oliver Carter.

***

The storyteller, as they called Oscar, was sitting in his chair, his arms resting on his chest. He was the only one who could break the silence, who could replace it, altering the moment, giving life to his characters and stories and making them glow inside eyes and hearts.

The air inside the room was redolent with the strong miasma of opium. Smoke ghosts sluggishly spiraled toward the ceiling.

Peering through clouds of smoke, Oscar noticed a young boy, someone he hadn’t seen before. He was glancing around the room at the other guests, breathing fast and brokenly. There was something about his features, Oscar thought, which made it almost impossible to take his eyes of him. Like a Greek statue, the boy was an all too painful perfection to watch. Seconds ticked away on all the watches and clocks inside the room, and Oscar whispered gently to himself, “This young boy’s beauty decayed just a little bit.”

It was such an unbearable thought.

Candles anchored on walls, spreading a cascade of pale light, and in that pleasant obscurity Oscar knew he had to immortalize the boy’s beauty. Somehow, the boy deserved it.

The corners of the room drowned in darkness, shadows flickered and quivered on the wooden floor; a waltz. And the storyteller, the one who had all the power, said, “My dear friends, I have called upon you tonight, as I do every Tuesday night, so we may talk and laugh, so we may exercise our brains.”  He stopped for a while to see the reactions of his guests, to feed on their smiles of approval. “I want to tell you one of my stories,” he said in his warm voice. “One of the stories I have to share with you, just so I can kill the burden of keeping them locked inside my head.”  The guests laughed.

After a few moments, he raised his hand and everyone stopped. They were obedient like small children, fascinated by the promise of a tale of wild imagination. Oscar began to tell them a story, his husky voice trembling within the walls of the room. Shadows danced and played on the floor like puppets on strings. The old, old mister M, with his always discontented grin covering his creased features, managed to apply a weak smile on his face. As expressionless as a rock that old fool was, and he did his best to criticize Oscar’s eccentric lifestyle, but every Tuesday he would come to his house and listen to his stories without affording to even breathe loudly.

Oscar always told stories about gods and goddesses, about fairies and heroes. He spoke with the voice of a prophet, but he was no prophet.

After he finished telling his story, the guests rose from their chairs and began to clap. Their host, and they knew it better than him, was going to be remembered forever. He just had to write one story, one wonderful, great, magnificent story. And immortality would be his.

As shadows shivered around his body, Oscar felt the strange aroma of inspiration sipping inside his soul. A new story was building itself inside the prison of his mind, so vivid he could almost touch. He closed his eyes and with his index finger he brushed his lower lip, then his eyebrows. It was a strange thing to do, but no one dared ask him what had happened.

And the story began to form and images blended together and the room was quiet. And time was his and the entire world stopped and wondered if the great, great storyteller would manage to defeat the many demons that tried to grab him from the surreal environment of his mind. As he perceived more and more, as the story unraveled before his eyes like a stage in a theater, like a painting on a canvas, his story took a shape of its own, a little Frankenstein waiting for a heartbeat. Pumping inside his chest, strong as never before, this story was going to be a masterpiece.

All Oscar had to do was wait for the right time for it to be written down. It was a story about a beautiful boy, naïve but well intended, and a magic painting, one able to take away all the sins the boy committed. The story launched backwards and forwards inside his mind, like a spring inside a complex mechanism, and Oscar thought that the poor boy, not quite alive, but not dead either did not belong to this world.

His lips trembled as he opened his eyes. “I never asked of you such a thing, but before I start telling you my new story, I wish that you do not write it down. Do not turn it into a play. It’s the only thing I’ll ever ask of you.”

Everyone in the room nodded. With his hands clenched on the chair’s handles, his heart boiling inside his chest, Oscar began telling his tale. And with what mastery did he tell the story. The words seemed to drop over the tip of his tongue and flow like a cascade of colors and sounds. And they all could see the boy, whose beauty was spared by a magic painting, they could almost touch the dreaded portrait, they could feel the boy’s soul slowly decomposing, like fruits in a hot summer afternoon. It was such a terrible story. This Dorian Gray, as the host named his character, did terrible things because there was nothing for him to fear anymore. His sins were not his own, his skin was beautiful and delicate, but strong like a sculpture made out of marble. Immortality, one might say, was contained inside the magic mechanism that allowed the painting to take over all of Dorian Gray’s sins.

Then, just as light began to grow weak inside the room, Oscar stopped. And they all sat there, in their chairs, looking at each other, without really being able to muster a single word. And there was no need for applause or appraisals; they knew it all too well.

They, the guests, the poets, the sculptors, and the composers, they were all his creations – Oscar’s very own magnum opus. Inside their souls, inside their eyes, he could see that they were still the prisoners of Dorian Gray’s pale grandeur, the boy who wanted to keep his youth and beauty intact.

M bit his grey moustache and rose from his chair and began to clap, and soon everyone followed. They clapped until they felt their hands hot, fever hot, until they felt the skin of their palms numb.

Oscar rose from his chair and staggered his way to the other side of the room, where the bookshelf lay. A profound sense of ephemerality seemed to float around the room, engulfing his body. And that alone, sluggishly, managed to defeat him. The greatest of all tragedies: that of being only human.

“Excuse me,” the young man said and touched Oscar’s elbow with the tip of his fingers. Oscar turned around and smiled.  “Why don’t you write Dorian Gray’s story?” the man asked, blood rushing beneath his cheeks. He gulped. “It is such a marvelous story. It deserves to be shared with the world.”

“Do you think that is what an artist wants most?” Oscar asked.

“I do,” the young man said. “That and creating something almost perfect, something no one else would ever be able to.”

Oscar nodded.  “Ah, perfection. That is a word that very often makes my ears bleed.”

“We look for it, we search for it in everything we do,” the young man said bravely.

“But do we find it?” Oscar asked, amused.

“I can only hope so,” the young man replied, “Even if only for a moment and to lose it forever afterwards.”

“So that is what every artist wants,” Oscar said and he touched his chin with his index finger. “Perfection.”

“Someday, people will read your story, people all around the world. And you will inspire them.”

“I am already sharing my stories with my friends.”

“But that is not enough.”

“What is enough?” The host asked as he pressed his hand across the young man’s heart. “Artists never know what they want.”

“I do,” the young man whispered softly. “I want to become immortal, I want to be remembered for as long as the human race exists.”

“And I thought all humans, artists included, only want to find happiness and hold onto it for as long as they can.”

“No, no.” The man shook his head. “An artist will never be happy.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

“I see you have met your newest disciple,” M muttered as he approached the two men.

“Actually…” The young boy pulled out his hand. “Francisc Goyer.”

“He’s a very talented musician,” M said as he tapped the man on the shoulders. “Very talented violin player.”

“Yes, indeed. I have heard about you, mister Goyer,” Oscar said and he shifted his weight. “I have wanted for some time now to listen to such a promising young musician as yourself.”

“Please, mister Wilde, do not come to one of my concerts.”

“Why not?” M inquired.

“Because it will only make him feel like he has wasted time,” Francisc answered. “I will never be as good an artist as him.”

Oscar leaned in a little bit closer, looked into Francisc’s eyes and smiled. “We all have, what did you call it? Ah, yes. Perfection. We all have perfection inside us, only it is hidden very, very well, where most people don’t like to venture.” He took a deep breath, and glanced around the room for a while. “To create something that is, if not perfect, close to perfect, means having a terrible power, an almost godly power. To create something that isn’t going to be destroyed by the cruel gods of time is nothing short of a miracle.”

  1. grinned, pleased.

“But we all are capable of greatness. Never forget that,” Oscar said.

“You already have something great, something perfect,” Francisc said. “You just have to write it down.”

Oscar didn’t bother with an answer.

Francisc shook his head.

“Mister Goyer, I do not wish to turn my story into a ghost, something that most people wouldn’t be able to understand. I would much rather share it with my friends.”

“I can’t believe you’re going to let this story wither and die,” Francisc said in a harsh, almost condescending tone.

“My friend, that story, all of my stories, they’re never going to die. Why do you think I keep telling them?”

Francisc didn’t seem to understand. He shook his head and clenched his teeth. His face was red.

“And now, if you’ll please excuse me.” He pushed Francisc out of the way, but the boy grabbed him by the arm.

He looked down at his hand, holding tight onto Oscar’s shirt. “I am sorry, but I feel there’s nothing I can do about it, and still, I feel I should do anything to make you write that story. And I can’t understand where this reluctance -”

“Because…” Oscar sighed, “Sometimes, and I know that after I say this I will lose any resemblance of modesty I might still have left, sometimes certain stories that are born inside my mind do not belong to the same time as we do. My mind, ever so often, chooses to travel through time and space and discards the rules of the society we live in.”

“So you think your story will be viewed as immoral.”

“Art isn’t moral or immoral,” Oscar said. “There’s just good art or bad art. And someday people are going to realize it. One day people will stop judging an artist and his art as being the same.”

“Then why…”

“I would like, besides regretting what I did, to regret what I didn’t do. We all feel this need, at least once in our lives, to kill what we treasure most.”

“I know mister Goyer can be persuasive sometimes,” M. intervened. “I find that to be the mark of young, ambitious artists.”

Oscar nodded. “Indeed it is.”

“The other day we ended up having one of the most heated arguments,” M. said as he gave Goyer a pat on the back. “Francisc said that an artist shouldn’t think about evolution, but rather revolution. An artist should try to change everything.”

“Interesting.”

“But wrong,” added M. “I said that making art is like building a pyramid. You add stone after stone, and you build on what others built before you. You can’t create something without learning from the masters. You add your own little brick on the magnificent edifice that is art, hoping that it will last. It’s the only way.” M. smiled. “Francisc is still young, and I have to blame his rash thoughts on the fact that, even though he is a virtuoso when it comes to piano and violin, he doesn’t have the required knowledge and experience.”

“Actually…” Oscar pondered, scratching his cheek, “I think mister Goyer is right.”

“What?” M. snarled.

“Please, let me explain.” Oscar raised his hands. “Most artists are, indeed, happy to add another stone, no matter how little, to the magnificent edifice their predecessors built. And most of the time, that is enough to make them feel accomplished. But from time to time there comes a new artist, someone who stands in front of the most wonderful thing he ever saw, and he loves it. Yes, he truly does, and he understands it and acknowledges its grandeur and brilliance, but yet he wants to start something new, something better. So he works on his own edifice, one that is going to rise higher than what his predecessors built.” Oscar stopped and ran his fingers through his dark hair. “You can only add so many stones before the entire building collapses.” Oscar sighed. “It’s both evolution and revolution that artists are doing. And it has been so for as long as we can remember.”

He then put his hands on their shoulders and said: “I’m sorry, but I have to leave now. As you know, London does tend to become a dangerous place after dark.”

***

Old Francisc Goyer was walking down the street with a pile of papers in his hands. He was holding them close to his chest as you would a small child.

The wind blew among cars and pedestrians, and the grey, heavy clouds that hovered above engulfed the world in a poisonous tension.

He had to take his symphony of pain to someone who could appreciate it, to someone who could tell him if it was good or not. No, no, he knew it was good, but he wanted it to be brilliant, to be fantastic. And so he knew that he had to meet with his friend, Oliver Carter.

As Oliver had once said, “To create a magnificent symphony is to turn an entire orchestra, an entire charade of instruments and people into a single living organism.”

Francisc was old. His mind still revolted against the certainty of his own decrepitude, but his body was weak and he could no longer walk as fast as he used to. But he kept walking, stopping to catch his breath every two, three blocks, and he kept praying that the rain would not start until he reached Oliver’s house.

He felt trapped inside that labyrinth of old buildings, he felt lost and slowly it got harder and harder to breathe. Then it happened. Something began to boil inside his chest, and as he pressed the papers hard against his chest, he coughed twice. He closed his eyes and tried to get it all out. The pain, the fire. He tried to swallow, but couldn’t. The air transformed itself into a viscous, murky agony that couldn’t make its way down his lungs. And he coughed one more time.

Rain began to fall onto the pavement. Francisc Goyer, such an old fool, stood there on the sidewalk, staring blindly at the chaos that engulfed the world. His eyes wet, he tried to take one more step, but failed. He bent down on one knee.

Then he looked at his hands, all wet, ink covering his knuckles, and he chocked. He dropped the papers onto the wet pavement. His magnum opus, his masterpiece, now just a few dirty papers. He collapsed on the ground.

Water infiltrated his clothes and cooled the fire inside his chest, offering him a bit of comfort. He still held, with the insistence of an old fool, a few papers. The rest were flying around, carried by the strong wind. He felt empty, he felt naked.

Someone turned him onto his back. No, no, he wanted to cry. No, please no, save my papers, save my masterpiece, he wanted to say, but words could no longer travel between him and everyone else. His mind, old and strange and foggy, was the one place his voice could still send ripples across.

He travelled through time and space, he met with old friends, talked with people, travelled on roads he never had the time to travel before, he witnessed the sun rise and die a thousand times, and when he opened his eyes, he saw her, smiling down on him like an angel. He felt his eyes burning, he felt his chest empty, and as someone tried to grab him by the shoulders, he coughed once more. He felt something break inside him and he begged, his eyes wet, for them to leave him to die. But he had no voice.

He couldn’t make much of what the ones around him were saying, but he could hear a siren, he could see a little bit of blue and red projected onto the pavement. As he coughed one more time, he saw a piece of paper fly over his body; a huge butterfly. And he smiled.

A strange glow surrounded everything around him. Only his mind remained, for he could no longer feel his body, he could no longer move. He tried to raise his hand, but it was as if it was no longer there, in the same place as his mind. The people around him were waving their hands, trying to help, trying to save him, but he could no longer feel anything.

And the world slowly, without any noise or pain, turned dark.

***

Once outside, exhaustion began to cover Oscar’s body, slowly melting with the fear that he always felt when he had to go out on the streets late at night. The gentle breeze caressed his cheek as he made his way through the starry night.

He had the custom of going through the most dangerous places in London. This night was no different.

The narrow streets were filled with drunks, sailors, and workers, scuffing their feet across the cold pavement and talking in their own strange language, full of mumblings and swears.

This was a world Oscar knew well; primordial, a mosaic, a world lacking any prejudice, where its inhabitants were free. And these poor souls were the only ones who could understand Oscar, the only ones who accepted him. Uneducated, poor, dirty, the bastards whom society blamed for everything that was wrong in the world, they were the most advanced creatures on the Planet.

Oscar passed shabby inns and dark alleys thinking that pleasure and pleasure alone should make the world go round.

When he finally reached the front door of his house, he had to wait for a moment, to clear his thoughts, to turn back into the character who embraced the silly norms of a bizarre world. He closed his eyes just for a moment, and when he opened them, the night with its smells, the dark and the drunks, the prostitutes, the gamblers, the thieves, the ruined noblemen, a world that died when the sun rose from under its grave, all of that dissipated into the cold air.

He went inside and realized that he was going to stay awake all night and write. He needed it; he felt the words growing strong inside his mind. There was a story, a story someone had inflicted upon his soul in such a strange way – a strange young man, who was wandering in such a chaotic quest for glory. He was going to write that boy a sad, sad symphony.

***

This short story is part of Dream City and Other Stories. More stories on Amazon here.

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