That Music Next Door
An example of our creative writing abilities. A story written by Ast A. Moore.
That Music Next Door
His fist almost crushed the wall.
“Stop it!” he cried.
“Let me sleep!” he shrieked.
He launched his fist toward the wall one more time, and as a new cry escaped his throat he fell on the bed, hissing from the sudden pain in his hand. He uttered yet another cry—as much out of desperation as pain.
The music would not stop.
And the pain remained.
He had gotten to this hotel when it was almost midnight. He had been so exhausted that he thought he would immediately fall asleep, but as soon as he closed the door he heard the music from behind the wall. First he decided it wouldn’t bother him; besides it was not blasting loud. But when he tried to sleep, he knew it wouldn’t work. They have no right to do this, he had thought.
Now he was lying in bed with this pain pulsing in his hand and soul, and the music was still playing.
He tried to summon Morpheus one more time. He closed his eyes and forced himself to imagine that it was all just part of his dream. It was not only the music that kept him from sleeping—strangely enough, it was very soft and almost indistinct; they must have had speakers installed on the farther side of the room—but the voices of the people at the party: women laughing, men talking . . . He could see them all quite clearly in his mind. Here was a woman in an old-fashioned dress and snow-white gloves, her little hand holding an umbrella. Over there was a very sophisticated looking gentleman in a tuxedo, a cigar dangling from a corner of his mouth. Two young ladies talking with each other, giggling, and covering their faces with peculiarly colored fans from time to time. The black musicians playing jazz, and some young girl beckoning him to join the party, making his head spin with her narrowed gray eyes, saying, “Come dance with me, Jake. Come dance with me . . .”
He opened his eyes, gasping.
No, he said to himself, I won’t let them give me nightmares. “You there, just stop it!” he shouted, and the wall trembled under the blow of his fist.
A woman’s laughter answered him, and many others joined her, and they all trailed away into the next tune, which now was definitely louder than before.
“Why can’t you just sleep like other people?” he asked the wall.
A blow of brass and a sound of drums was the answer.
And there was something in the tune that made him remember . . .
He was only two years old when his parents died in an accident, so he moved to his grandparents’ small old house on the outskirts of town. His grandparents were so old that they had long forgotten how to deal with children, and he was often left alone by himself. There were no toys for him to play with, except for the many strange objects the old house seemed to be full of. He remembered his grandfather’s pocket watch that played wonderful melodies when you opened it, or his grandmother’s tiny tin boxes full of little shiny treasures; and he remembered how he used to play with the contents of those boxes. He was too young to know what they were for and he did not know any of the games children usually played, because he had never played with other children; so he had invented his own games. He would take his grandmother’s necklaces, rings, and bracelets, and other things he could not find names for out of the tin boxes. Then he arranged them on a table, making patterns according to their shapes, sizes, colors, or according to his thoughts and feelings. He could remember neither his thoughts nor his feelings. His inner world existed on the outside of him. He was his inner world’s world. And he remembered how his grandmother would come into the room where he was playing and say, “Make sure you put all of them away in their own boxes, please, and come downstairs. Dinner is ready and Joe is waiting.” She always referred to his grandfather as “Joe” when she spoke to him, so he always was “Joe”—not “grandfather.” He would go downstairs to the dining room to have dinner, and that was a very special thing, because after dinner Joe would take him out to the porch swing, and . . . Yes . . . of course . . . now he remembered. Joe would wind up the Victrola, and they would listen to the old records of famous musicians whose names he could not remember and hardly ever wanted to.
He smiled. Oh, yes, now he remembered.
The tune had already changed. Now it was a ballad. He recognized it. It had been his favorite song back when he was a child. He had not heard it since then, yet now he recognized it, although he could barely hear it from behind the wall. He could not hear the people’s voices any more—they must have been dancing to the tune. When was the last time I went dancing? he asked himself. It took a long time for him to remember: it was many years ago, soon after he had gotten married. His wife wore a long green dress and a blue scarf he had given to her on their wedding. They were whirling so fast in the dance, perhaps to escape from the prosaicness of life. They tried to escape it for so many years, and had tried so hard. It had taken so much effort that when she asked for a divorce he did not object; but he felt no relief either. He had understood long before that their marriage was nothing but a farce they were playing so well, a farce that was nevertheless destined to end unhappily from the very beginning.
The people behind the wall stopped dancing and started talking and laughing. He heard a woman say to someone: “Look around,” and it sounded like a command to him. And so he looked back.
He looked back at his life, and what he saw was so unreal, so strangely distant and alien that it seemed his past did not belong to him. He saw people he had met, whom he would not be sorry to lose; he saw things he could have done but had not done, because . . . because he just hadn’t; he saw so many opportunities he had lost; and he saw himself being so desperately lonely and unable to change anything . . .
He moaned. Ah, he thought, if I could only change everything, start all over from the very beginning, just have another chance . . . And suddenly he heard the same woman behind the wall say, “You could try.”
“No,” he cried to the wall. “No, there won’t be another chance.”
The wall answered him with saxophone laughter.
He remembered his childhood again. He looked at it as though from the outside, as though that little boy, playing with his grandmother’s jewelry and listening to old records on the porch with his grandfather, was not him. He could not believe he had once been that little boy, that that child was him. He put his hand out to grasp this image of his childhood that seemed to be hanging in the air, to smash it, to crumple and throw it away, for he felt it was so useless, so heavy a load, weighing him down, down, down . . .
“Oh, God! Oh, God! Even my childhood was wrong!”
And as soon as he cried out, as if trying to make room for some other thought, it occurred to him that maybe the music next door, and those people, were his chance—something that would allow him to be reborn. Reborn fresh and new and innocent and free and able to start all over. His new childhood was waiting for him in another room.
Yes, he said to himself, I will go over there. I will plead with them to let me join their party, I will beg them to talk and laugh with me. They will do that for me. They will pat me on my shoulder and say something like, “Oh, forget about it, Jake, old fellow. Look, here is your new life. Enjoy it, taste it, drink it with us. We’ll share it with you as we share a good wine. Your new childhood is right behind that curtain.”
He knew it was silly, even ridiculous. Still, he got up and started toward the door.
Then he hesitated.
A new blast of sound came from behind the wall.
He opened the door and went out into the hallway. He looked around. He did not want any witnesses to his insanity. He tiptoed to the next door where the sounds of music were escaping, as an aroma escapes a pot with some delicious food, and placed his hand on the doorknob.
“No!” His hand moved back quickly, as if burned. “It’s insane. What would I tell them? ‘Hello, I am an old man, looking for a new childhood. I heard the music and thought it was right here’?”
He swallowed. His heart was pounding madly. Suddenly he noticed the doorknob start to turn. He grasped it with both hands and held it like that for a few moments, praying that whoever was trying to come out would decide against it. At last the knob stopped turning.
A sigh of relief escaped his lungs.
“Fool. You are just an old fool. Go away,” he told himself. “Go back to your room and try to sleep or don’t try to sleep, but go away. Run! Now.”
But he could not go away. He could not even move. He stood there as if enchanted by some mysterious force that paralyzed him.
“Okay. I’ll just wait until the song ends, knock, and go in.”
The song ended. Silence fell, almost deafening him. He took a deep breath and turned the knob. He squinted his eyes instinctively, anticipating the bright lights of the party, and opened the door a crack.
There were no lights. The room was dark. He opened the door wider. The room was empty. Moreover, it seemed to have been empty for a long time. Not a trace of the party that had been here a moment ago—only a few old chairs lying on the floor, and an old dusty bed with no mattress.
“Hello?” he said stupidly.
There was no sound. Not even an echo answered him.
He was not surprised.
He felt his eyes hurting strangely.
He raised his hands to cover his face.
The moon came out and saw an old man standing in his pajamas in the middle of an empty, dark, and dusty room, crying.
© 1999 Ast A. Moore