The young woman with the most beautiful, enchanting name in the world opened her mouth to sing along with the one man band standing on the edge of the sidewalk. Her voice struggled to be heard, to find an even rhythm, but steadily, gradually, it shined brighter than a star. I could hear her story, once trapped inside, flying freely, shaping the words the same way an artist paints a picture- elegantly, with all the colors encapsulating each thought, each feeling, in a single stroke.
The Music Box
“I’m not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere,” His voice spun around and around, like the melody from the music box he left behind. It was a lie, of course, and he went anyway, leaving on a boat that was supposed to come back. “I have to go, I have to go, I have to go,” he sung sweetly into her childish ears. “But I promise you, I will be back, I will be back, I will be back.”
He did not have to go; she swore he did not. What was more important than her, his only little girl? “He needs to go,” her mother danced as he sung, the ballerina going around and around in the wooden music box carved from the exact same tree she was staring at now. “He needs to go, he needs to go, he needs to go bring back the brother you have lost.”
Michael. Why did you go off on that boat, fighting a war that did not belong to you, when you had your only little sister waiting?
She spun the crank again, listening to the music made by Michael before he exchanged his piano for a rifle.
He never came back, and they never brought him back. So, her father went on a boat that was supposed to find and bring him back. Still, she waited, the music box in her hands playing repeatedly with the sounds of those who were never supposed to go anywhere.
“We just have to keep waiting, waiting, waiting.” It was her mother’s turn to sing, her voice steadily losing itself to a thick fog. Cough, cough, cough. That is all she heard from the box as she sat alone in a cottage, stranded with her thoughts, with another box she helped bury in a yard full of white flowers growing in abundance. Her mother could not wait. Another lie, another promise, told and left for the wind to carry far, far, away.
The music finally died, and she went to spin it again, begging it not to stop, when there came a knock on the door. She jumped from her spot in the little alcove where a fireplace stood dry and empty, waiting. “Finally! Where have you been?”
But there was no one at the door. No father. No mother. No brother. A soft melody whistled through the breeze. I am not going anywhere.
She followed the song, music box still in hand, and hopped along the brook running alongside the lone stone cottage. On her left, the road waved tentatively, and she glared. You took them. You took them from me.
The melody continued to draw her deeper, deeper, deeper, into the thicket of woods they used to play in. He once made a flute from the bones of the dead who could no longer speak or eat, run or hide, from predators near and far. It was eerie and cheerless, an abomination not meant to be. He finally found a tree, a great oak tree, with beams thicker than his own burly arms, and made his flute, the beautiful wooden flute he took with him. Her father used the same tree, the same beams, to leave a part of him behind.
Music men, they were. Her mother, the dancer. So, what was she?
Alone. She was alone.
“Come with me. Come, come with me,” the wind sang so alluringly. With the same obedience of a loyal dog, she followed, followed, followed, stopping when she saw the shadow standing where the great oak used to be.
“Oh, find me, my sister, my brother, my friend. Find me by the river where the old music men sing,” the shadow opened their mouth, letting their sorrow flow into words matching her own. She opened her box, spinning the crank once, twice, three times over, watching the ballerina dance as the wooden flute played alongside a guttural voice she missed so much.
The shadow lurched forward, and the bright light lit up a face remarkably like her own: downcast and weary, thin and papery, with freckles spotted down swollen cheeks and a long nose. He smiled brilliantly, his grin reminding her of Michael.
“Finally. I thought I was the only one,” he sounded like him, like the man who left and never came back for the only little girl he had, although he was just a boy. When he stepped forward, he moved, like the woman who was supposed to wait and stay but instead buried herself forever.
“Who are you?” she asked, closing the music box. The music did not stop, however.
“Someone who needs a place to go. Who are you?”
“Someone who does not want to be alone.”
“You do not look alone,” he pointed to the music box made from the great oak that was no longer there. She ran a hand over its smooth surface, then pressed an ear over it, listening to the heart that beat inside.
“No, but I feel it. I feel it every day, inside by blood, inside my music.”
“Just because you feel it does not mean you are it.”
“And what are you?”
The boy grinned sheepishly. “Many things- I am beauty, I am pain, I am the wind, I am the rain. I am not one thing. But mostly, I like to be the music man. Care to sing with me?”
She moved to him like her mother, a ballerina spinning, spinning, spinning, and picked up an old, wooden flute buried inside a hole of the trunk where the great oak tree once stood tall with its thick beams wider than those burly arms. She played like her brother, the music man who gave up his life for another, whistling sweetly and gently, like caressing a newborn baby. Then she opened her mouth wide, letting her voice sing like her father’s, a man who would never go anywhere.
“Come back, come back, to the great oak tree. Little Lorelei misses all you three. Come back, come back, there is no coming back. When all this time you are still with me.”
The music box, sitting on the stump of what was left of the great oak tree, spun on its own, playing back the sound of the shadow and the dancer, transforming its heart into a new music box.
When the young woman with the most beautiful name in the world was done, she collapsed, sobbing onto the street. Her tears ran through cracks not yet mended and most likely would not be. Although I abhor giving it to strangers, I do not abhor giving it to those in pain; a hug can be the most wonderous gift a person could ever receive. I bent down and wrapped my arms around her, giving her everything I have. ” I hear you,” I whisper softly, warmly. ” I hear you. I know your story. I will not let you go, you hear? Not unless you want me too.”
I take a sideways glance at my other companion, at the younger self who I spent so much time trying to reach. I tell myself the same thing. I hear you. I know your story. I am so sorry. I am so sorry that I will not let you go, do you hear me? I will not let you go.
The one man band stops playing, using his break to walk to another part of the city-town that moves too fast and waits too long. A pigeon lands on his head and squawks.