Monday, April 26, 2010

Alone In The Light

The sunlight streams through the half open curtains in a faded yellow that tastes of old forgotten afternoons when the air is almost too thick to breathe and bodies become too heavy to call into action. There are a few magazines strewn on the floor and a half finished bottle of water on the night table. There are a few pictures on the wall and a summer dress hanging from a hook on the back of the door.
Elinore is lying on the large bed in the center of the room, eating dried mangoes. Her only garment is a long white shirt that reaches all the way down to the middle of her tanned strong thighs. For a long while she has been debating with herself on what to do with this afternoon that seems to never end, but all she has been able to muster is getting the dried mangos from the kitchen to slide into her mouth, one by one. She chews very slowly, relishing the bitter taste as her eyes open and close, taking in the yellow sunlight.
Every so often she lets her head fall back on the pillow, her long black hair spreading over the white pillowcase like an explosion of thoughts over an empty page. She then pretends to sleep, but she pretends for an empty room, since there is no one else with her. Maybe if she pretends long enough, she will actually fall asleep and when she wakes up, this afternoon of nothingness will be over. But after a few moments of yellow illuminated darkness behind closed eyelids, she props herself up on her right shoulder once again, and she takes another bite of dry mango.
From behind the wall at her back come the subtle sounds of an electric bass being plucked. The amplified sound is hidden away in a world of headphones, so Elinore can only hear bits and pieces of muted riffs and walking bass lines which travel through the still air of the apartment like tiny colorful trains without a final destination.

Veronika stares at her bass as she plays, repeating certain passages over and over, trying to make sure that they are permanently recorded in her muscle memory, that they become as much a part of her as brushing her teeth or walking on an empty sidewalk. When she makes a mistake, she shakes her head and tries the same line again, over and over, until she is content that she has truly learned the part.
Veronika is sitting on the edge of her bed, with the long and heavy bass draped across her thighs. She is wearing a Nirvana T-shirt and an old pair of blue jeans with large rips across the knees. Her feet are bare and the cold wooden floor feels good against her naked skin. Her long red hair is pulled back away from her face and tied tightly into a long pony tail, not the way she usually wears it, but it helps to keep it out of her way when she practices. Her thin white arms cradle the bass lovingly, with an urgent intensity that is palpable in her movements but which she would never consciously admit to herself.
Each note she plays is processed and amplified by a small processor that sits close to her toes. The sound is channeled directly into her ears through a small set of headphones that she keeps just for this particular purpose. In her ears the notes rumble, distort and vibrate like huge slabs of stone tumbling into a vast expanse of black sand. In her world, the sound is loud and overwhelming, but it is all a secret that she can keep to herself, a secret waiting to be revealed at a later time.
Every so often she pulls the headphones back to make sure that the sound is completely enclosed and inaudible to anyone standing outside. She doesn’t want to disturb Elinore. It is her general policy to be as quiet as possible when she practices. She knows how easy it is for casual friendships to go sour.
She is specially concerned with being very quiet today. Veronika saw Elinore earlier and she looked so tired that she could barely even say hello. She might have given up on practicing at all this afternoon, but there will be a show this very night and she must be ready. It is as important as anything in her life, and more important than most other things. So she continues to practice with fervor while being as quiet as possible, her face a mask of intense concentration and barely controlled stress.

Elinore stands up for a moment and turns on the TV. She turns the volume down low, as low as it can go while still being audible from her post on the bed. Something to let her attention wander away, something to make her forget about the time slowly passing. Anything. Anything at all.
Even though they are not talking directly to her, the sound of the talking heads makes it seem as if there is someone else in the room, as if someone is talking to her, someone that doesn’t need to be answered, someone that will continue to talk no matter how quiet and still she remains on the bed. Over the bits of dialogue, she can still hear little bits of sound from Veronika’s bass here and there but it doesn’t really bother her. The silence is too strong to be disrupted, it would take an earthquake to break apart the yellow solitude.

“…there are many opinions as to the true nature of angels. It is not clear where the idea started, where it originates. We now talk to Maria who has been studying Angels for the last ten years.”

When she first realizes the nature of the show, Elinore has the impulse to stand up and shut the TV off once again. But she is already laying down and feeling too comfortable. Her long legs are stretched over the rumpled white sheets and she can’t bring herself to stand up and shut it off again. The coolness of the cloth against her flesh is delicious and she can’t bring herself to part from its embrace. She may as well listen to what this woman has to say. At least until she is done with the mangos.

“We must then remember that all these paintings, all these icons, they are only reference points… we are talking about a real phenomenon that has degraded over time into an idea that we now believe we understand… maybe we have already decided that there is no such thing as angels… but what are we really denying? We have to mean something by a word in order to deny its existence, don’t you think? So what is it that we don’t believe in when we say that they don’t exist? Or what are we really saying when we say that we do believe? When we say that we know and that we have faith? What is it that we have faith in? Belief in a vague unknown is tantamount to belief in nothing…”

Elinore again closes her eyes and simulates sleep for her absent audience. The yellow turns red beneath her eyelids and she rolls back face down on the bed, still chewing on a bit of mango. She stretches her whole body and a chill runs up and down her spine. A very soft moan escapes her lips and she giggles lightly into the mattress. Nobody can hear her and yet she wants the subtle sense of quiet to continue uninterrupted.
She finds herself thinking about angels. Why angels? Why right now? It’s strange how these ideas come from out there, from a world of electronic communication that is not specifically thinking of her, and yet now the idea is multiplying within her, seeking answers for questions that weren’t there at all just a few moments before.
What do people mean by angels really? She thinks of medieval paintings, of Catholic churches full of winged little naked children.
Why is she thinking of it at all? She makes an effort once again to stand up to turn off the TV so she can forget the subject entirely. But it seems that she would rather stretch her body some more and listen, listen quietly at least a little longer.

A news report interrupts the show. Elinore has lost track of what they are saying anyway, so the two combine into a strange amalgam of voices with a turbulent meaning, a meaning that somehow never coalesces into a single clearly expressed statement, and yet teases the most forward tendrils of her mind with the possibility of understanding:
“…the 24-year-old pop icon is the first artist of the new digital age to reach the five million sales mark, an accolade which came on the back of her two smash singles: ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Just Dance.’ The record was broken when ‘Poker Face’ topped five million sales, after ‘Just Dance’ achieved the same impressive feat…”
Five million individual minds have reached through the ethereal links of the internet to grasp at Lady Gaga’s music, or is it really at her that they are grasping, at her body, at her mind, at her secret dream world, at the myths that she only suggests while slipping sideways away from final labeling and categorization? Do they actually wish to touch her, even if it is only done through invisible fingers that travel through underground channels of quantic vibration?
So many hands reaching out to grab at her… What must it feel like to have all those nodes of attention focused on her, wishing for her, wanting her, needing her. Five million different minds focused on a single point of light, hidden behind the fragile cover of carefully arranged physical barriers.
Where is she now? What does she feel? Is it in any way comparable to what Elinore feels or has the cumulative intensity of all that attention lifted her bodily to another plane of vibrational existence? No way to truly know, no way to find out.

Another mango for now, another moment of closed eyes and a ritualized attempt at simulated sleep. And behind closed eye lids she sees Lady Gaga’s mouth singing:
“I want your drama,
the touch of your hand,
I want your leather studded kiss in the sand,
I want your love…”
Yes your love, no matter what form it may take, no matter what it may turn me into, no matter what it may do to me, no matter how it may transform me, no matter that it may kill me and change me into something I never suspected was possible, something I never wanted to be.
But here there is nothing, silence, yellow silence, closed eyes, the taste of mango and music coming from nowhere, music that simply repeats in little fragments of concentrated attention.

The phone rings next door. Veronika has the impulse to ignore it but then she reluctantly answers. She presses the small cell phone receiver to her ear, questioning her own decision to pick it up. On the other end, her friend Narina speaks up as soon as she hears the connection being established, rushing to let her words out before they fade away and lose their charged content of raw emotion:
“Listen to this… listen…Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. Jack Dempsey said it…walking with a friend… in the dark…is better… that walking alone in the light…”
Veronika wrinkles her brow. For a moment she is unsure of how to respond. She then remembers it is Narina, and it is just like her to say something like this, out of the blue, and it is just like her to expect some kind of answer. Veronica then carefully responds, trying to make sense of her own thoughts as they pour out of her:
“I’m not sure that I understand what it means…I think I like it…I guess it depends on who it is that walks with you, no?… alone is not always the same … and there are different kinds of friends… aren’t there?… In any case, I don’t think it was Jack Dempsey… it may have been Hellen Keller…why did you think it was Jack Dempsey? You know that I have a show tonight?”
For a fragment of a second the mention of Hellen Keller invokes a world of total darkness, of complete and final isolation, a chamber where nobody may enter and nobody may leave, where there will be no rescue coming, no escape, where loneliness will keep on pulsing in a steady beat for all eternity without any relief in sight. For that fragment of a second, there is no friend, there is no light, there is no walking. There is only utter solitude and the complete silence that comes with it.
“Yeah, I guess I’m not really sure who said it…but it still touches me… even if I’m not totally sure what it means… what it could mean…there’s something about it that resonated within me… I can’t really explain it… like a bell, you know? A bell that rings inside of me and I can’t place it… a friend… maybe it’s just that word…you know what I mean? I hope you do…”
There is a new silence between them, a silence not quite as complete as the one invoked a moment earlier, but a silence nonetheless, and the ethereal lines of electronic connection carry only their breaths, communicating in a way that transcends all codes or symbols.
“Anyway… a show tonight? Maybe I will come… maybe if I come I could walk with you in the dark…” Narina giggles at herself. “I’m not sure though… I can’t really promise... I’ll try to be there…”
And just as suddenly as she appeared from nowhere, Narina is gone, leaving behind a fading echo of a word, a vision, an ungraspable taste or color.
Friend, friend, friend… who is really a friend and who isn’t? How would you know a friend if there was only a dark chamber without exits? How would you recognize a friendly impulse coming from the outside?
Veronika shakes her head and returns to her practice. No use thinking about such things when there is a show to rehearse for.

Jennifer waits on the driver’s seat of the elegant limousine. The uniform doesn’t quite fit her and she still feels unsure about her new role. Her black hair is fixed in a small bun and hidden by a little gray hat that turns her into an official representative of the limousine company. Her legs feel hot and trapped within the newly pressed gray uniform and the leather seats feel paradoxically uncomfortable under the weight of her customed body. It all makes her feel strange, displaced, as if her brown skin and her big black eyes have been imprisoned in a role she can’t fully embody yet. She wonders momentarily if this is what happens to people when they finally start to grow up: they get encased in gray and pushed into the stage of a play that was never fully understood to begin with.
She found this job only a few days earlier and, due to one of her new coworkers being sick, she has been lucky enough to score one of the best assignments in the whole agency, their most prized and well known client. The singer is expected to come out of her hotel at any time and then she will be here, in the same car, in the same space as her, breathing the same air, vibrating in the same chamber.
Jennifer feels rushes of excitement that travel like electrical currents up and down her small thin body, they make her flesh turn red and her breath get faster and harsher. It is such pure luck that she finds herself here, now, waiting for such a famous character to step into her car. She runs her hand through her hair and looks at her face in the rearview mirror. She wants to make sure she looks just perfect, just in case somebody looks at her, just in case she says hello.
She heard the announcement this morning. The entire wide sidewalk in front of the hotel is crawling with reporters and paparazzi. All waiting for her. All eager to ask questions and take pictures, all eager to take away another little piece of her on wings of electronic chatter. All eager to see her. All waiting.
For Her.
Jennifer feels the urge to play her music in the car, maybe she will think it is funny, maybe she will smile and then talk to her and be nice. Or maybe she won’t ever look at her at all. Someone like her, she must be so busy that there won’t be any time to talk to a driver, another face in the crowd, lost in a sea of eager eyes hoping for greatness to touch them, even if only briefly.
And yet Jennifer can only hope that something does happen. In fact something has happened, but she wants something more. She wants a word, a look, a smile. Something. She will be sure to take that little bit, any little bit the comes out of her presence and treasure it.
The people outside rush towards the front doors of the hotel. Maybe someone is coming. Jennifer feels as if some of that attention is rubbing off on her, as if she is so close to the source that some of that brightness is spreading through her chest and making her a faithful satellite, a secondary source of light in that great darkness that surrounds all of them, all of us.
She relishes the sensation. It reminds her of love, of making love, of being kissed and touched and hugged and kissed again. But it is somehow grander. It pulses from a place that seems to come from nowhere, a place beyond the realm of the physical, a place she has never truly explored before.
Maybe this is what spiritual people feel when they have their strange experiences, their communions with something higher. This is certainly the closest Jennifer has ever been to something higher than her.
Disparate thoughts clash within her, threatening to fuse into a single vision but then she shakes her head and tries to maintain her attention on the wide glass doors, the same place where everyone else is looking.
She will be coming out soon. Soon. She will be coming out.

The phone rings and Veronika picks up immediately. Narina again. She has apparently thought of more things to say. Veronika shakes her head with a kind of benevolent annoyance. She has to practice. It is urgent. But she doesn’t have the heart to simply blow Narina off completely. Instead she prepares to listen for a moment, before telling her that she really has to go.
“Ultimately, to be with someone is better than to be alone… I think that’s what it’s saying… no matter what, no matter who, no matter where, it’s better to be with someone than to have nobody…”
“Yeah…that sounds right…I mean, I think that is what it is saying…but it’s still a vague message… maybe it’s too general for me…I would like to think that I would be a bit more selective… I wouldn’t want to be with just anyone… you know?…I can see it though… we don’t want to be alone, right?”
“Right…maybe that is why you play music? So that you won’t be alone…maybe it’s a way of calling people towards you…maybe it’s a way of bringing people together? Could that be it? Could that be what hides under most of what we do? Under all that we do?”
“Maybe… I can see what you are saying… maybe you are right… or at least partially right… I don’t know… I don’t like to think of it that way….I hope there is more to it than that…I think I am fine alone… I can be anyway…but sometimes I do need someone around…it depends on the moment…but I can enjoy playing all on my own as well…playing music I mean…it doesn’t have to be done to call anyone…I can simply play… all alone…just like now…”
“I’m sure you are hoping for a crowd tonight though… you don’t want to be alone up there…alone under the hot stage lights…you don’t want the club to be empty right?”
“Definitely not…speaking of which, I need to get back to practicing right now…maybe we can talk about this later tonight… after the show?”
“Yeah no problem… better to walk with a friend… it’s still ringing in my ears… anyway, maybe I’ll see you tonight…”

“Lady Gaga may have figured out the secret formula to attracting the attention of the masses… like Madonna and Michael Jackson and a few others before her…why her and not someone else? What is it about her?”
It is the voice of Ha, in her guise as a TV reporter. Her dress is a calculated balance between sexiness and formality, letting some of her cleavage show but also evoking the kind of straight suit a banker would wear. Something to make them see me, something to make them trust me.
When she talks into the camera, there’s a hint of confusion in her voice, as if she doesn’t actually understand what she is saying. She is merely reading what others have written for her, reading what others have asked her to read. But the confusion is so subtle most viewers won’t pick up on it. Most of them will only see a beautiful female face, soft white skin, intense and sharp black eyes. Most of them are doing something else anyway, they only leave the TV on so that they won’t feel alone, so they will bathe in the illusion of togetherness with faraway people that will never hear them breathe, will never miss them when they’re gone.
None of these distracted viewers will notice that slight hint of confusion in her voice. But Ha can hear it in herself and she wishes she could get rid of it, wishes she could extinguish it and settle into her true role of serene and wise communicator of abstract electronic truth. With time it will certainly go away. It is practice that is needed, practice and perseverance. Then there will be no further confusion, no hesitation, no shivering edge.
“She is certainly talented, but maybe there’s a particular kind of talent that can attract that amount of attention, maybe that is a talent in itself, like writing, or singing…no matter what we say about it, it certainly remains a mystery.”

“I want your love
I want your revenge
I want your ugly
I want your disease
I want your everything…”

“And back to our show…”

Ha thinks to herself, in that moment of complete isolation after the camera has shut down and everyone has turned their attention elsewhere:
“What is she really saying? Who is she talking to? I don’t think she’s talking to a lover, to a potential lover, or a current lover or one from the past… I think she’s talking to us… all of us…she knows we will take revenge on that which we love… like Elvis, like Michael Jackson…too many people screaming for a single being… wanting them…loving them… and then turning around and biting hard… biting so hard that the object of their love gets torn to pieces…letting their love turn into furious and naked aggression… grabbing hands and cruelly nailing them to a cross of shame and destruction… Could she know it all? Could she know ahead of time what fate has in store for her? Could she see the whole pattern and embrace it… embrace the entire show… from beginning to end?… She wants our love, she wants our revenge… she wants our ugly… she wants our disease…the disease that we can’t help but allow to flourish when our feelings have been invoked too intensely… the disease that turns our love into hate, our adoration into disgust… she knows how much it will hurt and she still invokes it in her song…she wants our everything…”

The phone rings. Ha picks it up.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light…I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon…”
“Narina? I can’t talk now… I’m about to go on the air again… we do these little reports in between commercials… I have to be ready…”
“I know, I know… you’re the tenth person I call… after you I will stop calling… everyone has something to do… I just wanted to talk for a bit… but I understand… I do…I’ve just been thinking about this quote, that’s all…I’ve been thinking about it all day… I can’t seem to stop…anyway, I hope you do a good report today…I hope we get to talk soon…”
Ha closes the cell phone shut. What was she thinking about just before the cell phone rang?

A new voice comes on the TV. It sounds like a teenager or a woman in her early twenties. She has a bit of a Spanish accent. Probably someone they found on the street and decided to interview.
“…as a catholic we believe in angels… we believe that angels are ‘messengers of God’… I have family members who are Christian Fundamentalist who firmly believe that it is a sacrilege to believe in angels.... needless to say we don't talk religion…what’s the point right? It will only end in a bad argument… personally, I believe in them and believe that Lucifer was a fallen angel.... he lost his rightful place next to the Father…he ended up exiled to a land of fire and pain…I don't go overboard with angels though…not like a lot of people do. I am more interested in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Saints…the Saints should not be confused with the Angels…you know what I mean?”
Now an older authoritative voice, maybe a professor in some old distinguished University library. Elinore has her eyes closed, so she can only guess at his appearance, she can see the wall of books at his back, a wooden pipe in his hand, a closely trimmed white beard and a pair of glasses sliding down a thin upturned nose.
“Angel…This word comes, as you may remember, from the Greek word "angelo" and the Hebrew word "malak" …the term simply means messenger… In God's word, angels were chiefly employed by God to deliver His oracles to men…”
And a third voice. This one talks with a very slow rhythm, leaving gaps of patient space in between the sound of the syllables. It is low and thick and profoundly male, aggressive in a way too subtle to counteract with reason.
“Angels then were creatures that had transcended our worldly plane and were now focusing the attention of many, fusing it into a single act of will… thus many acting as one through the fusion of their attention…through this unification a higher will could be manifested…the identity of the Angel would be immaterial separate from this fusion…the Angel could be seen as an amalgamation, a fusion of many into one…”
Human. Saint. Angel. Messenger. God. Words and words and more words. Could there be any meaning hiding behind any of them? And if there were something real to which they were attached, how long had it been since the attachment had been broken and the words started to drift through the skies like tiny balloons full of helium whose strings have been cut?

Elinore finally manages to stand up and turn off the TV. Enough with this show. It’s going nowhere. When the loud sound of the talking heads goes away, she can more clearly hear the little riffs that Veronika is practicing, tiny ribbons of sound that twirl upon themselves and find their way across the many barriers that stand between them.
Elinore smiles. For a moment she thinks that maybe she will go to the show tonight. Maybe. If she can get enough energy to go out. If she can let go of the simple pleasures of her bed and her room.
She lays down once again to finish her mango. There’s only a few pieces left. Maybe she can go to the show, but maybe not. It may be better to just stay in tonight. It feels so good to be alone. So quiet. So perfect. So drenched, from head to toe, in bright, yellow light. Alone and touched by nothing but sounds without origin, messages without a voice, poems without rhyme.

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