Consequences Part 16

December 9th, 2011 by Wordsman

To the right of the door was a closet.  He pulled the door open and was greeted by a rush of wind, smelling of things that are too old to touch.  The closet was dark and expansive; god only knew exactly what had accumulated there over the centuries.  In the center, however, a shaft of light fell from an opening high above, a tiny hole far too distant to see.  All around were innumerable treasures, ranging from the dimly lit to the completely invisible, but Peter saw only the light.  He stepped forward carefully, looking now at his feet, now at his destination, knowing that the slightest misstep could spell doom.  The walk felt like an eternity.  The further he got from the door, the dimmer the light from the exterior became, until eventually it was only him and the pedestal that stood in the column of illumination.

Peter stood there, his goal within arm’s reach, for quite some time.  This was it.  This was what he had come for.  But he was afraid.  Afraid of what?  He couldn’t tell you—though in the murky depths of the ancient temple, being afraid of everything was always the safest bet.  He closed his eyes and thought of his mission.  Reaching down blindly, moving as gingerly as a safecracker, he traced the edge of the stone pedestal, and then his fingers spiraled inward, slowly advancing until they reached the hard plastic case.  With easy familiarity he flipped open one latch, then the other, then he gently lifted the lid.  Then, though they felt as heavy as one of the temple’s great stone doors, he raised his eyelids.

There it was: the flute, glimmering in the beam of light like a treasure worthy of an ancient king.  Before he really knew what was happening it was in his hands.  A tune started to play, seemingly from nowhere, starting softly but growing as he raised his prize up to eye level, and then climbing in a triumphant crescendo as he thrust it skyward, as if the flute could somehow carry him up the beam of light to safety.

And then he turned around and saw a huge boulder rolling toward him.  Yeah, right.

As before, Peter’s fantasy was based on a hint of truth: in this case, the amount of time it took him to search the closet.  It was nowhere near as spacious as an ancient temple chamber—either real or imaginary—but you could still have hired a professional treasure hunter to dig through it and felt that the expense was justified.  Mom and Dad’s opinions differed on many subjects, including cat naming, but one thing they agreed upon was organization.  They agreed it was overrated.

He eventually located it on a shelf, hidden behind a very old sport coat.  He decided to carry out any further investigation elsewhere, because the room still made him a little uncomfortable, partly because it was the place where (presumably) his sister had been conceived and partly because of thoughts of poison-tipped darts shooting out of holes in the wall.  He walked cautiously out of the closet, watching out not for differently colored stones that would trigger traps but trying to make sure he didn’t trip over any shoes or old tennis rackets.

Peter went out to the kitchen.  Sourdough turned his head around to watch.  Sourdough had a curious nature, but he also was smart enough to know what happened to curious cats, so he did his best to act like he wasn’t.  He relocated from the windowsill to the back of the couch and promptly pretended to fall asleep.

Peter opened the case, not as slowly as he would have if he had really found it on a dusty stone pedestal, but not as quickly as when he had been playing it every day, either.  It seemed to be in pretty good condition.  Knowing Mom, she probably dug it out once a month or so to polish and maybe even try a few notes.  Then she would return it to the mysterious morass of the closet.  He wondered how long before she noticed it was missing.

His concern, however, was not with the condition of the flute; it was with the condition of the player.  He hadn’t even touched the thing in six years.  Peter had no idea whether the forgetting curve for instruments was more like the one for bicycle riding (pick it up twenty years later and you’re still fine) or the one for calculus (stop doing it for a month and forget everything you ever learned).  His fingers found the appropriate keys quickly enough, and he raised it up, resting the instrument above his chin and just below his lower lip.  Then he blew.

About the best thing you could say for the performance is that it didn’t cause Sourdough to yowl, leap up, and run down to the basement to join Cicero.  It took him four tries to get any kind of sound out of it at all, and when he finally succeeded the noise was feeble and grainy.  He tried a couple renditions of “Hot Cross Buns,” which was the only tune for which he could remember the fingering.  It sounded like “Hot Cross Buns” always sounds, which is to say, pretty bad, because the only people who ever perform “Hot Cross Buns” are ten-year-olds who picked up their instrument for the first time less than three weeks earlier.

He stared at the flute accusingly, then turned to his audience to see the reaction.  Sourdough stared back, as inscrutably as you would expect a cat to do.  Possibly to himself, possibly to the cat, or possibly to the flute, Peter said, “This isn’t going to work.”

But with the possibility of inquisitive family members returning at any time looming—not to mention the Beherrschunglied—he packed it up and took it with him back to the subway station.

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