Story: Remembering Life
By: Nicole R. Sander
One day Ariana realized that the world had lost its meaning for her. She realized that its usual convincing and ever so charming shine had worn off. Like an old beloved garment, ripped at the seams from ceaseless wear, the tears became so cruelly and blatantly visible that she found herself contemplating how strange it was that anyone would want to persist in the shabbiness.
Thrown into the new day against her will, her long dark hair sticking up in various directions, she pensively sipped her pungent, acidic coffee contemplating the dreaded workday which loomed in front of her like a great iron giant. She thought about how she would spend her day in a purely futile attempt at slaying this massive giant only to find that it was a fixed figure which would regenerate itself overnight moving back into position for battle the next morning.
Running details of her noxious workplace through her mind, she saw herself and her coworkers sealed tightly into a cramped dark box waiting anxiously for a clean escape back into the real world. She thought of her boss, a small man with an insufferable ego and a big bristly mustache hanging over his thin lips, covering his mouth and his words when he spoke. Small crumbs and particles of food were always somehow stuck in the thick hairs there, and they would linger distractingly taunting her with each word. So, instead of listening to his insipid, droning voice she would make a game of figuring out what he had just eaten.
He would start, “Remember on Tuesday to make sure that those…”
‘Bran muffin and orange juice,’ Ariana would think to herself ignoring his instructions and trying to decipher what the origin of his mustache crumbs could possibly be.
‘Could be Oatmeal’, she would speculate.
Setting her coffee down, Ariana closed her eyes to change her thoughts. Soon the sound of a great and blundering corporate symphony crept into her mind. There was an andante of drilling telephone altos and large printer and copy machine gratings and rumblings, then the allegro, varying tones of repellant voices and shuffling papers. Gradually becoming loud, louder and louder, the noises blared and pulsed vehemently in her brain. She slammed her hand down in frustration.
The noises stopped.
I won’t do this today, she said to herself.
She stepped into rush hour. The morning was comfortable and lukewarm but the sun, slowly rising over the horizon threatened a hot day. The street was flooded with people and a few absentmindedly brushed her with their bags and jackets as they passed. She took a moment to study their faces. Most looked fairly miserable as they trudged by. Ariana watched them, barely awake, their facial expressions marked by their own notions of the day. She realized that she knew exactly how these people felt but until today, never took the time to really pay attention. Many were busy rushing or chugging down their coffee as fast as possible. Quietly observing, she wondered why she felt different from them. She watched as they boarded trains, buses, or cars to begin their daily commutes. There they go, off to their own specific daily forms of torture, she thought.
Ariana continued meandering through the chaotic morning scene, stepping in between a line of frustrated cars impatiently inching forward every few moments anticipating release. She could feel the animosity in the urgent powerful blasts of honking horns and the determined clamor of heels violently clicking the pavement around her. The pressured feelings of anxiety and frustration, the whole mood of the city filled her with a desperate need for escape.
She moved on, quickening her pace and trying to focus her mind on the aesthetics of the streets and houses more than the people who surrounded her with their visible urgency. Suddenly as if out of nowhere, a majestic iron gate appeared at the end of the street in front of her. As she approached, she could see that the gate was slightly ajar, and through the bars a vast green refuge. Arriving at the gate, she pushed it gently, and it creaked slightly as it opened. As she entered, she ran her fingers over the cool bars. Her feet sank into a grassy meadow flecked with patches of small yellow and white flowers. The meadow was fragrant and she stopped quietly for a moment, taking in a deep breath of air. Ariana was overcome by a calming feeling as she watched the green extend into the distance, meeting with a modest pond in the middle surrounded by pine and maple trees. She looked up at the sky and saw the clouds gently pass as two swallows, following each other eagerly crossed it. She lay down in the cool dewy grass and closed her eyes. The breeze rustled her hair and cooled a few droplets of sweat that had formed on her chest. A few moments passed and then suddenly she felt something tickle her nose.
Ariana, puzzled, opened her eyes to find a small boy of about 8 years old standing over her, dangling a kite string in her face from one hand. It seemed that the kite string was what was responsible for the tickling.
Ariana surprised, smiled up at the little boy.
“Where did you come from?”
“I came from over there,” said the little boy, pointing to a house at the edge of the meadow that Ariana had neglected to notice.
“Want to play a game with me?” asked the little boy, still tickling Ariana’s face a bit with his kite string.
Ariana thought for a moment.
“Sure, why not, “ she said. “It’s not like I have anywhere important to be.”
Ariana stood up and followed the little boy. His kite flew behind them as they walked together to the middle of the meadow.
“Okay, this is how the game works, “ started the boy. “First, I hold onto the kite string and you make a wish. The louder you say it, the more it will come true. We wait 30 seconds. If the kite flies right, your wish comes true, if it flies in a different direction it doesn’t.”
Ariana, wanting to indulge the eager little boy agreed to make a wish.
First, they readied themselves and the little boy did a countdown of three.
Ariana closed her eyes and exhaled. She yelled out loud that she wanted a calmer city. They waited and watched the kite for thirty seconds. The kite did not blow right, it blew forward and swiveled down a bit.
“Try again, “ laughed the little boy. His laugh was infectious, and she couldn’t help but feel a little more at ease.
Next, she closed her eyes and concentrated. When the little boy said three, she yelled for a cure for all of the anxiety in the city. They waited and watched the kite. This time Ariana tried to see if the little boy’s hands were moving the string in any particular direction but he seemed to be holding it quite still, and it was clear that he was taking this game very seriously. The kite whipped left this time.
“I guess that wish was a long shot,” mused Ariana.
“Try again, “ said the little boy, noting the seriousness in Ariana’s face this time.
“This one I’m keeping to myself, ok? I’ve always heard that if you tell someone your wish, it won’t come true”
She made her last wish and they waited. The kite immediately flew right.
Ariana rejoiced, basking in her sense of satisfaction. The small boy beamed back at her waving his kite about in celebration.
“I told you it was a fun game, “ he said assuredly.
Ariana thought to ask the little boy his name before she left, but a part of her decided that she preferred the idea of not knowing.
Before leaving, he gave her two small yellow and white flowers. She put them gently in her pocket. Ariana was feeling little more relaxed now, stepping out of the refreshing green.
As she walked, Ariana’s mouth felt dry and she realized that she was thirsty. She also realized that she was in an unfamiliar part of town but it did look interesting, and there were signs of life about. She walked by a quaint bookstore promising a collection of old books with a lamppost at the entrance and calligraphy on the door. As she continued, she passed a large French bakery with beautifully decorated cakes and pastries in the windows. Soon, she stopped in front of a small simple wooden door, which looked like the entrance of a tavern. The door had a sign that read American Brass. As she was reading these words, she heard the warm lively sound a trumpet, the rapid melodics of a bass, and the soft brushes of a high hat. She decided to enter.
The tavern, booming with jazz music was dark and empty except for a few people scattered about chatting either in a booths or at the bar. As she entered, she was hit with the steady familiar aroma of beer and french fries. She made her way to a bar stool and ordered herself a frothy beer while she scanned a nearby menu and listened to the happy, playful sounds of the band in front of her. She didn’t know whether it was the tavern, the atmosphere, or the unhinged feeling of the day, but her heart wanted to escape with the music.
An old black man in a white fedora set his trumpet down as the tinkling of a piano and the thumping of a bass spelled out a beautiful soulful melody that hung in the air, filling it with purpose. The man approached the microphone and began singing slowly, and with care:
“Don’t you hear when your dreams are calling out to you? No matter where you go, I’ll love you anyway. ”
Ariana was overcome quickly with a sensation of contentment and bliss. She listened to the song coming from deep within him, the soulful sound of his voice resonating throughout the walls of the tiny tavern, permeating deep into her body and filling the empty crevices of her heart. She realized that this moment was her private moment with the world so large and full of intrigue, and she savored it, feeling electric and almost as if she was capable of floating into the air. She let herself transform into part of the song’s melody and a lightness came over her, her doubts melting away as she basked in the radiance of the song’s power. It was then that she tasted the immensity of life, and suddenly she felt the possibilities of many unknown wonders to come.
She looked up into the twinkling eyes of the singer.
Looking right back at her he sang, “Don’t you know how much we have? Why go anywhere else? “
Ariana felt completely different as she watched the singer. She felt like all of the chains and the walls and barriers of the world had broken and for a few moments, she was free.
Once the song had finished, the singer thanked the audience and announced that the performance was over for the evening. He came down to the bar and took a seat next to Ariana. Removing the white fedora from his head and placing it on the bar next to her, he ordered a whiskey. When it arrived he took a slow, long drink savoring the flavor and turned to her.
“I saw you getting lifted out here, seemed you liked the music.”
“Yeah, that’s what it felt like. That’s what it’s called? “ Ariana felt a little embarrassed and uncool after asking.
“Well I don’t know if it’s like an actual term or nuthin’,” He explained. “But that’s what I like to call it when someone is really feeling the music. To me, it’s like getting lifted. It’s like your spirit lifts up and floats up around in the air with the sound even though your body stays put. I could see it by the expression on your face.”
“Well, it felt like nothing I had ever heard before, “ Ariana admitted.
“That song is a special one. Let me tell you a story. Years back, when I was younger I was married to this pretty little thing, we got pregnant you see, and I loved her so much, I truly did. I was a scoundrel in those days though, just young, playing music, and out drinking every night and meeting different women…anyway you get the picture. Well, my baby knew. She knew when I would come home sweating out alcohol and perfume that I was playing around on her and it hurt her. Again, I was too stupid and young to see it back in those days, I was just in my own jive escaping the pressures of reality. So she started singing me the song “Why Go Anywhere Else, ” which is the song I just sung to kind of taunt me. Years after, by the time we fell back in love and things were looking like they were gonna straighten out she would joke around and sing that song to me. Then she got hit with cancer. She had it so bad it was brutal to see her lying in bed so weak and full of pain, I was a mess. The last night we spent together, she sang me that song in her small little voice, she sang it to me and I knew we were gonna find each other again someday. So now, whenever I feel that song coming on, it rushes out of me with a whole lot of emotion, and every time I sing it, I sing it like I was singing it to her.”
Ariana, touched by his story couldn’t help a few tears that crept out of her eyes sliding slowly down her cheeks.
“Now, now look what I’ve gone and done! Shame on me for making a pretty thing like you cry,” he remarked as he patted her hand.
He took his fedora off of the counter and placed it on her head.
“You should have this, man it looks better on you than it does on me.”
Ariana smiled through her tears and tried to return the hat to him but he wouldn’t take it.
“You listen here girl, this hat always gave me courage and made me feel good right up there on that stage, now you wear it and feel good in it yourself. That there’s a present from me to you.”
Before she could say another word, the jazz singer rose up off of his chair, and then walked to the door of the tavern, gave her an abrupt nod, and was gone.
Ariana decided to put fedora back on and she wore it all the way back to her apartment. When she got home she noticed that someone had left her a message on her answering machine. She pressed play.
The message sounded, “Ariana, this is your boss George. Since you clearly have more important things to worry about than your job, I’m afraid we have no choice but to terminate you. Please come in tomorrow and collect your things.”
Ariana went to her bookshelf, set down the fedora, and pulled out the yellow and white flowers from her pocket. She put the flowers on top of the hat, admiring the new arrangement. Suddenly she could hear music coming from outside her window. Curious, Ariana poked her head out to see where it was coming from and it seemed to be coming from above her. She opened the door to the hallway where her neighbor Timothy was carrying a case of beer up the stairs under one arm.
“Hey Ariana, we’re having a party on the roof, come on up there,” Timothy’s head was sticking out from behind the case of beer which was high in his arms.
A few minutes later she stepped onto the roof. It was sunset and Ariana saw a view of the vast skyline laid out in front of her, basked in a warm glow. She accepted a glass of wine from someone while watching the people talk happily and dance to a light and steady beat. Pink and purple hues blanketed the sky far above the quiet city. Ariana didn’t miss the two swallows, which flew after each other across the horizon. Then she smiled to herself because she knew that her wish had come true.