Moderato, con Moto | a new chapter

(moderately fast, and very lively)

Teodor Axentowicz(1859~1938) — Under the Burden of Misery

There was a kind of great mist that half drew over our minds like those crimson curtains dappled over the Palace of Versailles; from what I heard, they were deep and supple and comforting, yes, comforting is the word. Yet I imagined them as somewhat obscuring, pallid, cold. The severe cold delayed the awakening of one’s eye, but could not stop its affect on the mind. And there we sat, minds rolling hither and thither between the evening wind.

It was the summer of my seventeenth, and his twenty second year, lost in that great big woods under those eaves, living like his parents never wanted him to. I wrote, but in every draftI could never get his face right. He looked the way it smells after it rains in a forest. Crumpled clothes bent over a soft notebook. He had fingers like sapling branches, long and thin and splotched with ink.

His hands worked at the page, rending, shaping the formless lines and blotched drops of ink. Oh how easy he made it seem, and how delicate they were. Holding them up to the light, colours sifting through, drenching the hand in yellow. Yes, that was it, a line here, a blotch there. The candle surged and sunk; a tortoiseshell butterfly dashed against the dry window-frame, scattering dust against the glass. Patter, patter, patter goes the little butterfly.

I asked if it ever bothered him, living out here in the quiet, so far from everything he knew.

“It’s this place that I know,” he replied without stopping. “This place with it’s streams carving paths through the forest bed, and it’s howls at night. It’s this place that I know.”

“You ever wish…”

He had a vintage heart, with a wild love and a gentle soul to harbour it. Of course, I thought this because I loved him. For everyone else he was like the rough draft of a statue or the half-finished canvas.

I like to think of his ‘worthiness’(or so they put it) as an ‘almost’ thing. Is that not what the inner critic utters when he casts a scrutinising eye upon the exhausted muse? They say: You are almost a writer. Almost an artist. You are almost perfect. She almost survived. Almost is the kind of word which exists in a state like that of a poet in between two-rooms; or that glyph of a crow you see on a corner of an old map.

“What?”

“That you’d chosen different,” I said, recalling my thoughts.“That you’d stayed. Finished school. Found a girl. something like that — got a car and a house.”

“This is a house.”

“But you’re almost never in it, and you know what I mean.”

“Yes. Yes, I know.”

And the pen scratched on for a minute before he set it down, tipping his head back, his adams apple drifted up and then down again. A line here and a blotch there was all. His mind hewn at that image of perfection. Why, creativity flowed from head to fingertips. Tumbling and rolling the wind crumbled the night leaves. Patter, patter goes the little butterfly, again and again. The candle surged red then dimmed. My thought really does drift sometimes.

“Life is about choosing mountains,” he said quietly. “choosing the places where you know you can breathe. Where you know you are free. And sometimes, maybe for some that’s school… or a car or a girl.” his head rocked slowly as he shook it. “But I prefer the mountains that you find when you leave the worn out trail.”

I saw in his eye that he had lost his spark. He set down the page and let loose a strained breath. There was no use. The leaves outside rapped gently at the glass. Maybe he wanted to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to leave the comfort of the candle. I felt my selfishness.

“But what about what they say?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “We all say something. We all yell our opinions at the sky, and when we’ve finished there’s nothing but hot air and people all the same; making cases for why their mountain is the right one. But there is no right one, there’s just mountains…”

And at that word his voice drifted slowly away. The candle flushed warm. I looked at him, thinking hard. Watching the light paint his face. Patter goes the little butterfly.

“And there’s just people… and it’s only when we turn them into trail guides that we begin to lose something inside.” his voice quieted.

He turned and looked at me, and I felt that restless longing a bird must feel when it peers between the bars of it’s cage and sees its likeness soaring. Everything was a little bird-like in that moment; the twitch of the hand like that of a shivering swallow sat on some roof ledge. We don’t really get swallows here, but I like to imagine them anyways.

“We’re all just people…” he said. “People with different experiences and hurts and thoughts and feelings. And some of them think the schools and the cars and the cubes where you write the papers all day will fill them up…”

He paused, looking down at the notebook. Flipping it so I could see the inky black trees and a great red sun rolling away behind a jagged peak.

“But sometimes, after you’ve tried everything, you realize what you were looking for was never inside any of those. It’s home, buried beneath your bed,” He laid one hand over his heart. “Buried beneath your flesh.”

My lips curved and he tore the drawing out and extended it to me. Why was it that he, so weak, so imperfect, so unspeakably lonely, was to endure his thoughts alone? So flawed as when the slightest breeze drafts past he would be torn from me…waves breaking upon the shore. His eyes avoided mine, dilated and lost. The wind chocked and died.

Patter goes the little butterfly.

The butterfly! The butterfly!

He rose and unlatched the window and sung to the dark in a kind of deep rumble the way rocks crack and fall from some distant peak.

“Fly! Fly from me and do not return!”

The candlelight danced and was gone. He set away the leftover scrap-paper, fell back. He was very tired.

But the tortoiseshell butterfly, exhausted and faded, lay dead on the sill. Patter, patter comes the rain.

None felt like talking, and thus we sat in silence.

“The trouble comes when we start talking like people,” he said. “instead of mountains.”

Note from author: This was created by splicing a new piece with the of my previous work The Florist. Central theme was the spark of inspiration an artist feels and the subsequent fatigue afterward.

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

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There are so many little worlds which I oft seen, so many hands which I have oft clasped and so many secret treasures which my heart oft keeps sealed. But where could I keep them but here: the hopes, the pleasures, the dreams, the thoughts — whose charms were broken if revealed?

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Vincent Chang

Melburnian high school student | owner of The Afterglow Publication | lover of all things literary |