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The Final Measure

November 14, 2013

The Final Measure
©2013 Kolyn Marshall

Silence. Peaceful silence. It’s that moment of calm and complete serenity we instantly feel jilted out of when the radio alarm kicks on.

“…for the third winner this year. Jackson Rose was one of two with this week’s winning lottery numb…”

Jackie rolled over and slapped the top of the clock, terminating the happy little news report. With a heavy sigh, Jackie wished she would have a bit of a winning streak. Just a little. Just enough.

“Please God, just send me something…some good fortune. Please?” Jackie prayed as she opened one eye just enough to see the numbers displayed across the clock face.

5:15.

Ugh.

With all the will she could muster, Jackie opened her other eye and stared blankly out the window to the grey sky beyond. Outside the wind howled as it moved around the building, buffering the ever present city sounds. Busses, car horns, and a blur of life in general all mixed together in a cacophony of noise.

Gathering strength, Jackie rolled over and sat up on the edge of her bed. Blinking a few times helped push the rest of the sleep from her eyes. Doing so allowed her to see the flashing light on her phone. Email. Jackie picked up the phone and scrolled through the list of new messages. Over due car payment. Over due student loan payment. Past due on utilities. A new approval notice for some new credit card. Triple bonus points included.

Jackie deleted them all and headed to the shower.

Warm spray shot out from the shower head as Jackie stepped in. For the first five minutes Jackie did nothing but stand there. Her hair fell down across her face and shoulders as the water ran over her.

Standing there in the comfort and warmth of the shower, looking down watching the many rivulets race towards the drain, Jackie began to hum. It was a totally subconscious act. The notes came from deep within, from behind barriers and locks secured ages past. It was a solemn sound. Simple and pure.

The more she hummed the purer the sound became. At some point tears began to flow down Jackie’s face and mix with the retreating water. Tears filled with emotion too powerful to comprehend let alone acknowledge. It was as if her soul was crying.

Jackie stood there until the water began to run cold. Reaching up she turned off the water and rubbed her eyes. Weary from the efforts of crying and stressed beyond what she thought were her limits, for the first time in years Jackie actually felt…okay. She laughed to herself and wondered if her grandmother was right about the power of a good cry.

Stepping out of the shower, Jackie dried off and then stood in the middle of her closet naked and looked at the two narrow rows of clothes. Most of her options were limited to two categories. Jeans and t-shirts, something she was strictly prohibited to wear to work and a three pant suits which made her look like she should be working for an oil exec instead of an ad agency.

Pushed to the side, stuck between a suit jacket and the wall, was the day’s winner. A short length, bright yellow, sun dress. Each time Jackie wore the dress she felt wonderful. The dress was barely long enough to cover her bum, which made her feel slightly sexy in a daring sort of way.

It was the right choice for a day to beat all days. Today Jackie took her life back. Today she began to make a difference.

The problem was no one told the weather.

Overhead the sky was filled with a flash of lightening followed quickly by a loud clap of thunder.

“Not today,” Jackie said to the gathering clouds. “Not today. Nothing’s going to stop me from having my day.”

With that declaration, Jackie grabbed her backpack and headed out the door.

****************

For the first part of her walk the weather obeyed but that didn’t last long. As the sky grew darker the winds grew more forceful. Jackie found herself wishing she had grabbed her coat let alone the umbrella. Sometimes you can push fate too far.

By the time the first drop hit her face Jackie was already heading toward a canopy. Two steps slower and she would have been taking a second shower. With a flash of lightening the sky opened and emptied every ounce of moisture it could find.

“Crap!!” Jackie barked. “Just ten more minutes and I’d be at work. Now I’m going to be late.” She closed her eyes and tried to push the negative thoughts out of her mind.

“I’m not going to let this get me down. Nope. Not going to let my thoughts turn grey. Instead I’m going to make the most of where I am.”

Turning Jackie found herself looking at Main Street’s newest shop, Past and Future Presents™. The door looked like it came straight from an old English castle, which, after looking at the antiques in the window, Jackie thought probably did.

In the window were old books, two antique shaving kits, and a set of quill pens complete with matching ink wells. Sitting in the corner was a hand written sign which read “Bring the Magic of the Past Home™”.

Catchy, Jackie thought, as she opened the door and walked into a world long since forgotten. Inside the air was heavy with the smell of old books and candles. Every inch of floor space was filled, making walking difficult at best. Old dressers, tables, lamp stands, a Knight’s armor, swords, and bookcases filled with books littered the room. All highlighted by flickering candle light.

Jackie gently picked up a leather bound notebook and thumbed through the blank pages.

“They say capturing one’s thoughts helps keep devil at bay.”

Startled, Jackie nearly dropped the notebook on the floor. Looking towards the sound of the voice, Jackie found herself looking at a well dressed older lady. Her gray hair was long and flowing down past her shoulders. A pair of half-moon reading glasses lay suspended on her chest suspended by a pearl chain.

“Hi,” Jackie said as she put the notebook back.

The old lady walked gracefully around the various items and came to stand next to Jackie. Raising the reading glasses up to her eyes, the Caretaker looked at Jackie and smiled.

“A creative spirit, I see,” the Caretaker said as she gently returned the glasses to their resting place.

Jackie smiled nervously as a clap of thunder rattled the glass window.

“Let me see,” the Caretaker said as she glided over to a bookcase and picked up a wooden cup filled with old paint brushes. “Painter?”

Jackie watched as the old lady held up a brush and looked through the bristles at her. She could see the old lady’s blue eyes through the worn horse hair bristles.

“No, not a painter,” the Caretaker said returning the brush and cup to the bookcase. “Maybe a writer.”

The Caretaker picked up an old worn fountain pen and moved it around until Jackie appeared through pen’s eyelet. Jackie smiled nervously. She suddenly wished she had continued walking.

“No…not a writer, but closer. Yes, closer.” The Caretaker returned the pen and then turned slowly around, looking from item to item in the tightly packed room.

“Thank you for your time, but…” The old lady raised a finger and Jackie instantly closed her mouth.

“No…not a writer…composer.”

The old Caretaker smiled brightly and nearly floated across the room to a stack of old papers sitting on a small side table.

“These are what you have been looking for.” The old Caretaker handed Jackie three sheets of old, worn, blank sheet music. Jackie took the sheets and looked at the empty staffs, the rows of parallel lines seemed to call out to her.

“Mmmm….” Jackie said and as she did a note appeared on the paper. Shaking, Jackie let the pages fall to the floor.

“These are Beethoven’s own,” the Caretaker bent down and gently, almost reverently, as if she knew what Jackie had seen and picked up the sheets of music. “By the end of his life, Beethoven had gone deaf but music was still in him. Unable to hear the music he composed greatly frustrated the composer. Beethoven began to obsess over losing the ability to know if what he heard in his mind translated to the world around him. It was this obsession which, shall we say, imprinted itself on to these sheets of paper.”

Jackie stood there dumbfounded at what she was hearing, let along what she had seen. The Caretaker smiled and continued.

“Beethoven’s love of music and his need to share his gift was so great and so strong it had to find a way out. And find a way it did. The Ninth Symphony was one of the compositions which came from Beethoven’s new…gift.”

The Caretaker smoothed out a bent corner of one sheet and handed the three pages back to Jackie.

“These are all that remain of Beethoven’s pages.”

Jackie took the sheets and stared at them. The note she had sung before had begun to fade from the sheet. “What…where….”

“Ah,” said the Caretaker as she began her way back behind the long wooden counter. “Music, you see, is alive. To make music requires giving something of yourself…let’s say you have to put a little of your soul into it.”

The Caretaker rang up the sale and Jackie reached into her pack and pulled out the necessary cash. Possibilities raced through her head. She could make anything she wanted! Any song, any melody, anything she dreamed.

“Enjoy,” the Caretaker said smiling, “but be careful. The more you give, the more the music will want to take.”

“Okay,” Jackie said half dismissively as she walked out the door and back into the rain.

************

Jackie stood outside the shop and looked down at the three sheets of paper. Did what she think happen actually happen? Excited to try her new ‘gift’, Jackie folded two of the three sheets and placed them in her backpack. Satisfied they were safe and secure, she began to hum the tune she had sung in the shower.

Instantly notes appeared on the page. A “C” whole note appeared. Jackie giggled. Her joy overflowed! No more bills was the thought that ran through her mind. No more scrambling from part time job to part time job. No more worries. No more anything!

Even as she dreamed of a better tomorrow, the note that appeared so easily on the page began to fade.

“No!” Jackie called out to the now blank page. “What the hell?”

Rain beat down on the overhead canopy and poured over the sides in long waterfalls. Without thinking, Jackie stepped out from under the shelter of the canopy and into the rain. Water soaked her hair then her sun dress. In seconds her appearance matched her mood.

Walking, she began to hum. It was a deep, sorrowful sound, one equal to the despair she felt. Her hope had faded and with it a future worth fighting for.

Like before, notes appeared on the page. Quarter notes, half notes, and even measure bars. Keys began to form above the measures while tempo and style markings appeared below. This time, however, Jackie could feel them being pulled from deep inside her.

Jackie paused and waited. The notes remained. They didn’t fade or disappear.

Seeing the notes appear made her want to hum more. Each note seemed to strike directly to her soul. Note after note moved from her to the page and with each note a sense of elsewhere settled around her.

A car horn blared followed by the sounds of air brakes. Jackie looked up from the half full page of notes and found herself staring face-to-face with a city bus. The grill mere inches from her. Above her, looking down, was the fear soaked ashen face of the bus driver.

Jackie just stood there, their eyes locked, not certain of what was going on. After a heart beat the bus driver opened the side door and stepped out of the bus.

“Lady, are you alright?” The rotund bus drive asked.

Jackie just stared at him blankly, her thoughts still tethered to the song.

“Lady?” It was an innocent gesture, one driven by sympathy and concern. Without thinking, the bus driver reached out and softly touched Jackie’s shoulder.

The song playing, cycling through Jackie’s mind exploded into brilliant harmonies. Complicated rhythms began, pushing the tempo, driving the intensity. Deep inside, Jackie felt a warmth begin to build, an energy she could feel. The bus driver took a half step back, his breath suddenly catching in his chest. There was something in Jackie’s eyes that scared him. Something not quite human.

“Where am I?” Jackie finally asked. Her voice barely sounded recognizable.

“Crossing thirty-second street,” the bus driver said, looking down at his fingers. A numb tingling sensation had begun to take over his hand. “Look, lady, you need to get out of the way. I’m backing up traffic.”

As if to confirm the driver’s statement horns began to sound somewhere behind the bus. Without thinking, Jackie nodded and moved past the driver and stepped onto the sidewalk. With barely a second glance, the driver stepped back onto the bus, closed the door, and drove off.

Sometime during her walk the rain had stopped. Looking up, Jackie watched the low hanging clouds push across the sky. Her wet hair fell heavily across her shoulders, a tangled mess made worse by the wind.

“Rain,” Jackie said out loud to no one in particular. “No more rain.”

It was then she felt it, the ancient parchment paper she held in her hand was bone dry.

Slowly rational thought returned. She was walking to work, found the antique shop and the paper, then…now…here. Looking up once more Jackie read the street signs. Thirty-second street, just like the bus driver said. Six blocks from where her work was and thirteen blocks from the antique shop.

Thirteen blocks.

Over an hour’s walk.

She had no memory of walking that far or that long.

“What the hell is going on?”

************

The waitress filled the cup to the top and walked off. Jackie watched from what felt like a million miles away as the cream poured from the small cup into the coffee. She sat there, watching as the black consumed the white.

Sitting next to the cup was the parchment with row after row of notes, measure bars, and tempo markings all in neat script. But it was the notes that held Jackie’s attention. What she saw on the page she knew were the same notes that kept running through her mind…over and over and over.

What was happening to her? What happened to her when the bus driver touched her? Did she really feel what she thought she felt? Why did the bus driver look at her that way?

Too many questions. What’s worse is Jackie was more afraid of the answers than she was the questions. Slowly, cautiously, Jackie reached out and touched the parchment. Nothing happened. She touched it again for a bit longer and still nothing happened. With a deep breath and a long sigh, Jackie pulled the parchment closer.

Her eyes instantly went to the beginning. What was written there made sense. She understood the latin terms at the bottom, the shapes and styles of the notes, even the intended instruments needed to make the right sound. How did she know this? She wasn’t a music major or even very musically inclined, yet she knew.

She found herself looking at the first note and hearing a mid-ranged Dmajor clearly in her head. Then a C then an Aminor.

From nowhere an image of a spring meadow appeared in Jackie’s mind. A sweet spring day with a blue sky and light wind. Birds danced from tree to tree as slow ripples moved across the lake. Tall mountains bracketed the backdrop in a majestic framework of nature.

Far in the distance, from out of the beauty, came the sound of the song. Rich, flowing, natural. Jackie could feel herself humming the tune but she was nowhere in control. Reality as she knew it ceased to exist. All that remained was the music.

Then, as quickly as it came, it ended. The lake, the trees, the birds all began to fade. Jackie tried to keep them from going but she couldn’t. Blackness replaced the beauty before her and ringing filled her ears.

“Sandy? Lady what happened?”

Jackie blinked a few times and the small cafe table she was sitting at returned. At first all Jackie could focus on was the unnerving sense of depression she had. Was it all gone? Would she ever get back there?

“Lady, what the hell happened?”

Jackie turned towards the sound of the voice and found herself staring at the cook. His white apron smeared with various colors, red, yellow, black. The small boat shaped hat sat slightly askew on top of his head. He was face-to-face with Jackie, kneeling down.

“Sandy?” The cook was looking down at the floor. Jackie leaned over, more from an instinctive response than any thing driven by conscious thought, and looked down. Later she would have a hard time remembering when she began screaming. All she would know for sure is what she saw.

Laying on the cafe floor was her waitress. The color had all drained from her body leaving her skin a dull gray. Her eyes were rolled up, white, lifeless.

************

Jackie didn’t hesitate. She grabbed the parchment from the table and ran. Somehow she knew where she was going. Reality slowly returned with each impact her feet made on the concrete.

Fifteen minutes later, out of breath, Jackie found herself standing in front of the small antique shop, Past and Future Presents™. With what little strength she had left she pushed open the door and walked in.

“Hello!” Jackie called out as her eyes adjusted. “HELLO!!”

“Yes?” Said the old Caretaker as she emerged from the darkness behind the counter.

“I want to return this,” Jackie said as she fumbled through her small pack and retrieved the three pieces of parchment.

The old Caretaker looked at the pieces of paper and smiled.

“I can’t, dear,” she said with what appeared to be genuine pity.

“What do you mean?” Jackie said.

“I can’t. It’s not done.”

“What’s not done?” Jackie returned.

“The song,” the Caretaker said reverently. “They are connected to you and will be yours until the song is completed.”

Jackie looked at the sheets of music. Almost all three sheets were filled. The last sheet lacked one measure from being completed.

“How do I do that? How can I make this be over?”

“Music is an expression of life,” the Caretake said with a smile. “Ludwig van Beethoven understood this better than anyone. It’s why his music speaks to so many of us today. He was able to capture the essence of life in musical form.”

“Life?” Jackie repeated.

“Life,” the Caretaker confirmed.

The Caretaker came around the counter and reached to take Jackie’s hand. Understanding what had happened with the bus driver and the waitress, Jackie flenched, pulling her hand away, but the Caretaker was quicker.

“Don’t,” Jackie said in a whisper. Fear and despair suddenly filled her soul.

“Fear not, child,” the Caretaker said. “I have nothing to give to the song.”

Jackie looked up from the Caretaker’s hand and stared into her coal black eyes. “How do i make this stop?”

“Life, child. The song needs a life. It cares not if it is yours or someone else’s.”

Jackie could feel her hand growing cold and pulled free of the old lady’s embrace. With tears streaming down her face, Jackie ran from the store.

She had no idea where she was going. All she cared about was getting as far from the old lady as she could. Jackie ran until her legs could no longer carry her. Breathing hard, Jackie slowed to a walk and turned down an empty alley.

Sitting down on a crate next to a dumpster Jackie took out the three sheets of music and held them in her hand. Anger began to form inside her. Anger at being trapped and helpless. She was tired of being helpless. It seemed as if someone else had always been in control of her life. The bank, the utility company, her lame ass boss. Someone else was always making her do something.

Holding the three pieces of parchment together, Jackie tried to tear them up, rip them into tiny pieces, but nothing happened. The parchment held.

“Fine,” Jackie spat and wadded up a sheet and threw it down the alley. Sitting there, Jackie watched as the parchment unfurled and flew back to her, landing gently in her lap.

Frustrated, Jackie dug into her pack and found a lighter.

“Let’s see how well you hold up against fire, bitch,” Jackie said with a cackle and struck the wheel on the lighter. The small yellow flame danced in the cool air as Jackie moved a corner of the paper into the flame. Instantly the flame grew larger and crawled up the side of the paper. Jackie watched as the edges of the parchment glowed red, then orange, and finally black. Hope filled Jackie’s soul as she watched.

But that hope was quickly crushed as the parchment failed to disappear. Jackie let go of the little paddle on the lighter and the flame died out leaving the parchment as it was, unharmed and complete.

Defeat has a very distinct feeling. It’s a nearly unbearable weight pressing down on your shoulders. The pressure causes your breathing to slow and your shoulders to hunch over. Your soul becomes the only thing holding you together.

Jackie looked at the parchment and the one last measure and knew she had one of two options. She could find some unsuspecting person and steal their life force to finish the measure or she could give what little remained of herself.

She wondered if this is what drove Beethoven. There was a chance, she knew, that she could survive. Beethoven did. How many songs did he give before he died? It was only one measure. Only four little notes. Did she have that much strength left?

If she did she could use the music to get out of her debt, to become finally free. To live a life she was proud of. Slowly, hope began to fill Jackie’s soul. The weight on her shoulders didn’t feel nearly as heavy.

Just four little notes.

Jackie could hear the song beginning to play in her mind and she knew what notes she wanted. They were her notes, her life, her future. For the first time ever, Jackie was in control.

Closing her eyes Jackie began to hum.

From → Short Story

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