A View Up To The Stars

I’ve actually chosen to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, surprisingly. I’m not entirely sure where this will go, and I certainly will have more immediate things to write about which may mean it takes a while for this project to come to completion, but I will attempt to keep everyone updated via Twitter about how this is going. This is the first ~2500 words of what I have and I would appreciate it if you would provide some feedback. The title is tentative, but I thought that it made good sense thematically to start.

Alex

Dreamy moments are meant for soundless nights overlooking the great expanse of a valley from some view on a mountain. The cold breath of a fall night with the smell of wood smoke heavy in the air as families cleaned their wood stoves in preparation for winter and used their fire pits. The wind, faint if anything at all, rustles through the trees and provides the only sound to what would otherwise be completely still. The setting sun on the horizon dips beneath the mountains on the opposite side of the valley to yourself. First, she turns the sky tangerine, then she turns it the prettiest scarlet, followed by deep maroon, and then at last the horizon turns the color of a deep bruise as the sun finally sulks her way towards sunrise on the other side of the planet. 

The stars then peep out, one by one, as once becomes acclimated to the night sky. Once the sky on the horizon has taken on the color of a bruise, the top of the heavens opens up to starlight. Only the bright stars initially, but eventually all the faint pin-pricks of light show themselves. Eventually, the sky turns from navy blue to indigo to black. More stars show themselves all the way down to just a few degrees above the horizon. Only when the sun can be said to have completely gone can we really say that night has fully come. Though, it doesn’t matter, that arbitrary distinction between the nighttime and the quasi-nighttime that envelops the mountain. There are no clouds to speak of and what small clouds there are roll pass us as they slowly evaporate into the night air.

Playing in the background, ever so sweetly is the soft first notes of Field’s Nocturne No. 7. Musically, it could be deemed a romance, and indeed, according to Patrick Piggott, they were indeed considered a Romance at one point. 

Thank God they changed the name.

The practitioner who’s studied the music for years knows that playing to “coax the sound” out of a piano is something not worth attempting. After all, the sound is there. Whoever’s fingers it is who glide across the ivory keys knows this all too well. 

There’s a certain obliqueness to the sound as the whole peak shakes when it hears the dramatic flow and the climax, followed by two repetitive notes and then back to silent contemplation as John Field could write it. The sky grows deeper and darker near the highest bit of the heavens. The indigo that gave way to black returns once again, this time as a faint reminiscence-the zodiacal light signals that night truly has returned to this land. 

The houses along the side of the mountain feel the clarion call of the sudden and spectacular impulse of the zodiacal light. There being no street lamps to guide them on the windy mountain road, there’s no impediment unless the denizens of the small houses chose to turn on lamps with functioning bulbs. At this time of night, though, the mountain fastness overlooking the great valley is silent and dark save for what the night sky shows and the wind produces.

So back to the emanation of John Field’s Nocturne No. 7. It’s the awakening, or rather the reawakening, of a soul from slumber at the top of the mountain. It has a source, but more must be said of the lay of the land before we get there.

This mountain fastness was wild land once. It was wild land which had no master and no tamer as well. It was the remnant of what once was a continent of life unimpeded by laws or by time, but simply by the passage of untold seasons. Many of these trees, after this area became protected (well, the bulk of it anyway), are bearing witness to their 1600th season some of them. The trees are all heavy with memories of years gone by. 

Memories of families whose doom lay at the floor of the valley and of life which flourished among them as well. Just so the opposite as every action, bear in mind, must have its reaction as well. They bear witness to other things one can remember as well as the flood of the untold living beings pass by in a moment’s flicker to the now inanimate animate creature. The world remains indiscriminate on its own part, both because it doesn’t care for the trees and because it simply does not recognize memory in the way the living do. Yet all of this bears witness to the playing of the beautifully haunting piece down the mountain and into the valley that night.

The valley that night was similarly dark and hauntingly beautiful in her own way. The occasional car passed up the highway which ran the course of the valley from north-to-south. Drivers, however careless it may be, chose not that night to turn on their brights to ward off deer. Nor did they choose to listen to the impulse that said to stop in the midst of that valley and listen.

The bottom of that valley looks much like the mountains which close like a boa constrictor the valley itself. Wooded in most parts, with a few hills which delineate the presence of large family farms which remain, quite surprisingly to some, the only source of real production in the valley other than the town quite near the center of the valley. Though, it must be noted here that these farms are some miles distant from town and therefore, they might as well not exist to those whose only concerns lie in town. 

To the world outside of the mountains and the valley floor or the people who lived on either, outside of the tiny town that exists there, the playing of Field’s Nocturne wasn’t particularly something that mattered at all. After all, the sonorous keystrokes of the piano were unremarkable at best. They were unremarkable simply because they weren’t professional. The key strokes were incredibly sweet up close with notes sounding like so many bells. The only caveat was that the bell-like tones from the grand piano emanated outwards all night long or at least they did from about 9:00 PM that night.

By 11:00 PM, as the monastery which lies at the top of the valley, near where the mountains form a plateau before their next break, rings their bell, the playing of the Nocturne starts. At this time, one standing near the grand piano would hear a rustling of leaves of paper. Not a mood change, not really, but a shift instead of the tone of the evening. This time, the prevailing C Major gives way to a warm and cozy F Major. The fingers continue to glide their way across the ivory keys, still unremarkable, but still proving to be more than adept at piercing the night aware with brilliant and haunting melodies. 

The melodies were not prepared in any way. In fact, had it not been for a last minute change of plans, the unremarkable hands might not be gliding their way across the piano at this given moment. They might instead have been down on the valley floor, drowning their soul with a few shots of Bacardi and, as the night wore on, a few bottles of Budweiser. Tonight, however, was not a night for silencing a weary soul for a drink-at least not to the person whose hands glided across the piano.

The piano itself was unremarkable, a baby grand piano and nothing entirely special at that, just a baby grand piano that had been tuned the Friday before the night. Some of the black sharp/flat keys were showing signs of wear and tear as the piano had been used by many people over the years. It had been so well maintained in its younger days that the person playing the piano now had played it in his childhood. They had learned all the major lessons the piano player learns on that piano. Their father had had the piano for years, specifically for the father’s wife who in earlier life had been a celebrated pianist.

In earlier years, when friends of the family came to call on the family on the mountain fastness, they had often enticed either mother or, now I suppose I have to tell you, son to play on that piano. At the time, they had encouraged them to make use of the large musical library the two jointly held in the bookcase behind them. The music library still existed years later, but the lives which had spawned it did not. 

At this point, I should mention that moonlight shone down on the cloudless night. The moon rose in her waning gibbous phase and provided a light to the darkness of the Earth below. There is a door out to the balcony attached to the piano player’s house. It was open to let the faint, cool breeze into the house. The light wasn’t obstructed by anything from entering the room with the piano as the trees which dotted the mountain the house sat on all sat a good hundred and fifty yards away from the balcony and thus sat lower than the house. Even with no lights on, the musician could see clearly the sheets of music which sat in the music rack.

Before I reveal the identity of the musician, let me tell you quickly about his home. It sat perched on the side of the mountain near the very top of the ridge. Peculiar to country life are roads which lead specifically to one place but “Dogwood Road” as the locals knew it, before one enters the forest, the road is lined with dogwood trees and leads to the old home which plays host to the musician and his instrument. 

The house itself was grandiose. Four rooms of the house, which overlooked the valley floor where the road which led to the house can be found, had balconies. All, but the one attached to the room with the piano were small enough to only fit one person. The inside, as you might have guessed, was made up of two stories and a basement. The basement held the remnants of thousands of pages of music and various writings and various photographs which the musician’s parents had taken while they still graced the Earth. The basement was also home to the unremarkable musician’s father’s wine cellar. Though, it too, was unremarkable.

Which brings us to the musician whose fingers seemed to glide across the piano as he continued to play Field’s Nocturne No. 5, having let off No. 7 some hours ago by this time. In the night, the only thing visible to anyone who might have been sitting in a room adjacent was the outline of a somber face wearing thick glasses with thick black rims. They wouldn’t see the dark chestnut colored hair that sat wavy on his head or the bright grey eyes which darted from line to line down the page of sheet music. They wouldn’t see the immaculately shaved neck and cheeks and upper lip with not a trace of stubble to be found. It’s also unlikely they would’ve noticed sitting from across the room that the piano player’s hands were small in size but had large fingers attached to them. 

The piano player wore a deep red sweater to protect from the cold and he wore dark grey pants as well. At that point, he paused for a second and leaned back on the bench. The faint quiver of a look of focus had turned to a faint frown and his face began to suggest that as well. He quickly gathered the sheets of the 7th Nocturne and 5th Nocturne and put them back in their binder. He took a moment to pause over the first sheet or two of the remaining nocturnes until he reached the 12th Nocturne. 

When he reached that nocturne, he once again put his fingers down to the piano and began to play them with the same adeptness as before. At some point long ago, this would’ve appeared less ritualistic, but for now it would continue to be so. To wit, his playing Field’s nocturnes and enveloping the valley in a faint blanket of song was something which would continue for some time to come.

His name was Anthony Macon. He had repeated the ritual of seeking the fall air on the balcony only for it to devolve into the late-night peddling of song across the valley for some years hence. He had grown up here as his parents, Kenneth and Lucy Macon, were never really attached to their lives in New York.

Anthony never knew what his father’s profession was, but he had always assumed that it must be writing. The family archives which sat in the basement included his mother’s old music and the photographs from the various cameras the couple had owned throughout the years. By this point, some years after both had passed, the prints and music contained in the archive included Anthony’s own work on both ends-both his purchases and originals too.

Anthony’s biography was remarkable where his world had was not. His parents had at least made sure their precocious son, who had played piano for the literati that made their way to the rural Virginia mountains, had the very best life opportunities. When he had graduated from high school, and his parents had insisted he go to the local high school where he graduated with barely 100 other kids, he made his way to a small college in the Northeast where he studied History and Philosophy. There he developed an abiding love for the philosophy of religion-especially the Philosophy of St. Augustine of Hippo. He graduated with Honors after three years at the school and he made his way to the much larger world after. 

Part of growing up the child of Kenneth and Lucy Macon was the fact that both of them encouraged their son to continue his education as far as he wanted to take it. Their son chose to pursue a Philosophy degree in the United Kingdom next and, after eight years of study, quiet contemplation, and playing the piano in a small cottage next to an unheralded river in the South of England, he was entitled to the use of Dr. before his name.

Alex is the Editor-in-Chief of The Outpost. If you like his content and want more of it, one way to rouse him out of creative slumber is to either DM him your ideas for content and/or support him on Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/axperdue. He can be found on Twitter @_AlexPerdue and on Instagram @_alex_perdue.

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