The Cricket and the Conductor (Remastered)
If you stand by a tree, while it is raining, you will hear the rain’s percussion on the leaves, and what then the leaf does not want to lose. That is what sound is, a trio of hope, fear, and reverberations.
The Cricket and the Conductor (Remastered)
From where I wait, the child’s spirit comes to me, still showing signs of his death–his head battered in and bloody, his face contorted in anger and confused betrayal, his mouth opens in a scream that no longer makes a sound.
His first shock is that though he is screaming, there is no sound, and though he is bleeding and broken, there is no pain. His second shock is much greater, and it is my job to deliver it. For though I see what he thinks he is, I see also what he truly is.
I am the first one he will see on this adventure. If I do not convince him of the truth, then I am also the only one he will see for a long time, and we will see one another again and again. But he will not remember this–if he and I do not succeed.
When he comes — each time — I tell him that he died for himself, that his soul had that body destroyed so that he would remember not that particular death, but the soul who called for it and why. I try, gently, so delicately, then to get him to turn around and see the soul that chose both this life and this death for itself–of which he is a mere vehicle. For his soul, it knows so much! It just needed him to remember who he was and will be. The moment he remembers he planned his own death is the moment he remembers his soul and the moment he has the chance to give that chance to the person who helped escort him to himself—that is, who murdered him– by painful circumstances, yes, but transposition is not always easy.
Sometimes I do not succeed in this role. Sometimes the comers refuse to turn around. Sometimes, they keep their mouths open, believing that the sound will eventually come from their weightless shadows. And then, the soul, who gambled for its lesson, cannot move on to the next.
From where you stand, the apple on the child’s desk appears to be a piece of fruit. Round, red, sweet, and independent of all else. It is a simple thing.
From where I stand, what appears to you as an apple on a child’s desk, is an old man standing on a mountain holding his heart in his hand. But the child sees only the apple. An apple tree — to you a bounty of round, vibrant fruits — is to me a hundred old men, on a hundred mountains, holding their hundred hearts in their hands. From where you stand, a string that is plucked on the violin plays one simple note. From where I stand, a million souls vibrate in unison with it and just as many cover their ears and turn away.
From where I wait, what appears on earth as a man tragically beating a small child to death, our protagonist, in this case — what rightly turns the stomachs of the virtuous — is the fastidiously orchestrated attempt by two souls to harness what they have learned and to preserve it — to become strong enough and clear enough to carry their own sounds and play in the great orchestra.
I can cry for the child. I can despair at the murderer, but these are not my jobs. I cry only when they do not come to realize how carefully their souls practice their notes, how desperately their souls need to be recognized by them. I would cry, for instance, if the child did not realize that the blood on his face is not the evidence of the terrible—not any more than an apple is merely an apple. Rather, it is his soul’s gift to itself.
I see the child’s soul, which not the soul of a child at all, but that of a woman* who has been striving for lifetimes to remember what she once knew. I see the soul of the murderer, who is not a murderer, nor even fully a “man” yet, and who has only now, upon this killing, become aware of himself as a soul that will keep spinning and collecting itself.
But it is not the soul, the one who orchestrated the event for itself that I get to talk to. That is for those higher than I. No, I am charged with speaking to the impression, the spirit of the child who believes he was murdered by one who was supposed to take care of him. It is through me that his anger must run. It is I who must weather and dispose of the discordant racket of injustice, betrayal and fear. It is I who must convince the spirit that his soul knows better than his embodied self does, is more real than he is, despite the pain that makes him so real to himself. I must tell him what I am telling you, that his death is a memory his soul created so that it would remember itself.
But one cannot tell a child this, not even a dead child. So, when the children come, I tell them a story. And really, most, when they come to me, they are “children” in one way or another. So, there are many versions of the story. But, to be honest, they are all the same story.
I will tell you one now, the same one I told this child– one I have told you before. My time is almost up, and if I do not tell the story now, then no one would ever believe there was such a position as mine, or a time such as ours, and then, this part of the melody would disappear. I tell it for that purpose only, for soon, the conductor will have found all the sounds for the orchestra to play, and the souls will not need the spirits to recognize them in order to go on their way, and then, I will be on my way.
I began by telling the child that this is a grown-up story–because it is. It is the story of his soul, which is far more grown up than he is. But it will not be bad.
“There is a funny man,” I say, stepping closer to the boy, “he sits by the river with a tuning fork turning it this way and that. That is what he is always doing. The children, more right than they know, call him ‘the tuning man.’ When the boys and girls become heady and brave on each other’s dares and run up to him, asking him, ‘Old man, what are you doing?’ He always has the same answer: ‘I am listening.’
“You might have seen him too, since his river is the same one that is in your town.Older brothers and sisters dare the younger ones to ask a follow-up question: ‘Go ask him what he is listening to!’ They say, though they themselves are too old for such games. The younger ones, after much approaching and retreating, finally gather the nerve to ask the man what he is listening to. When they do, he turns, and to some he smiles, but to others he does not, and he says, ‘Why, what there is to hear, of course.’ And that is all of his answer.
These days, with so much happening and so many coming and going and so much to do, he, the ‘tuning man’, is very busy. But if he had time to discuss his business, he would tell you this as he one time told me:
“Most people walk about the world as a simple sound. The lucky and the joyful ones find other sounds that amplify or harmonize with their own. The seekers find the sounds that follow from theirs like notes on a relative scale. The obsessive or distraught as one crash against themselves and chase their echoes. The miserable ones have sounding boards too rigid to ever reverberate to their sounds. The lost ones do not recognize their own sounds. This is why the howl of the wolf turns some cold, makes others want to crawl with them into their dens, and means nothing at all to still others. It is why to some, Beethoven is God, and to others, the sound of the wind is more than deep enough to hold and rock them.
Some, like you, know their sounds but do not yet know how they can hear them, and so they knock about the world wondering where they are, until at last, they learn to listen.”
You, reader, may wonder here if the child knew who Beethoven was, but I assure you that his soul did, and more importantly, that children, especially dead ones violently killed, are rarely stumped for too long by what they do not understand, since there is so much of it. To continue on with the ‘tuning man’s’ words:
“At the moment the human embryo becomes physically sophisticated enough to be a sounding board, the thunder claps against the earth making all sounds at once. One sound hits the sounding board, and like a branding iron, marks it and shapes its surface. The body houses this sound, grows around this sound, becomes the live manifestation of its shape. When we believe we have come to know someone else, we have become familiar with his or her sound. We think that we have heard their souls. Often, though we believe in our hearts that each person has his own particular soul, we may find others who are remarkably like ourselves or like someone we know. We smile then, because we do not understand the likeness, though it is unmistakable, if one is paying attention.”
Perhaps you had a friend or two, like this? I cautiously ask you.
“Many sounding boards are struck and branded by the same sounds—the thunder does not take any chances, for there is a symphony that must be played, but it can only be played by those instruments that will resonate clearly in and with the whole orchestra. So many people may carry the same notes–but some of them become lost, or distracted, or warped, or full of their own delight in their own sounds, for the sounds can be lovely. Some of them are simply too fragile to played as long and hard as the symphony requires. When it is time for the final performance, they will all disappear into the waves of music. Not all bodies are used in the symphony, but all sounds are. By choice or not. To worry about it too much is to mistake the player for the piece.”
“He shook his head and told me,”
‘It is the piece that matters. It is the piece for which we all came. That is All. Remember that when you see the commers. Try to make them understand that. You are playing harmonies with the world’
“And you,” I say, looking at the boy with all the intensity of the truth, “you have been played before. You were played before you became a little boy, before now. You know how to make the sound reverberate and harmonize” and then I continue on with the story.
“The tuning man left off there in his explanation to me, for it was, at that moment, time for the orchestra to begin tuning the vessels through which the symphony would sound. He stood with his turning fork, turned this way and then that way. He tapped the fork lightly to his forehead and raised the trembling instrument to the sky.
The clouds whispered between themselves, the low ones dissipating and condensing flirtatiously against the horizon. The wind parted itself, making space around the man; the thunder quieted itself so the tuning man could hear, and the lakes held their surfaces as still as glass. The crickets shushed one another, their antennae trembling in sympathy with the tuning fork, and then each quietly turned to follow the individual ripples of sound, like bees to flowers. Some crickets found themselves in the corners of darkened houses, some atop trees, some in hospital wards–where an insect must be especially vigilant to avoid being noticed–and some found themselves right back at the edge of the lake, by the tuning man’s feet, waiting for next time.
One particularly special cricket followed the waves of sound to the apartment of a young woman who looked very much like your mother. He shifted silently in the dust under the bookshelf and waited for the proper to time to show himself. Patience is half of timing. The woman, who had felt quite fulfilled up until then, was walking about her house trying to clear her head. As you have a pocket in which you keep your hopes of what will be when you grow up, she had kept for herself a pocket in which her childhood fantasies of who she might become still elbowed about.
She mused, every now again, about them: she still fantasized about being able to do magic for instance, or playing Chopin or Beethoven on the piano; commanding the songs of birds like an orchestra conductor, or talking, really communicating, with the stray dogs who had, up until now, been unwilling to trust her good intentions.
She stomped her feet on the floor, as if to settle her spirit back into her body. She poured another cup of coffee. She picked up the paper and thought, perhaps, she should try to read something of her world to find her way.
She was feeling a bit light, a bit transparent, so much so that the little fantasies in her little childhood pocket grew nearly as weighted as the mug in her hand. The pocket itself seemed to have expanded, nearly to the size of her real self and she was afraid, just then, that she, herself, might fall into it. She put down the paper and paced through her house, not sure what she was looking for. As she passed by each room, she saw the evidence of each of those fantasies as if they were, indeed, reminding her that she had meant, at some point, for them to become real…the books on herbal medicine, the keyboard in the corner that she had never really learned to play, the collection of crystals and rocks on her shelf. Each one echoed in her, though she could not quite hear what they said.
“But don’t worry,” I say to the boy who has arrived with his bashed in body and inexpressible pain, “the cricket was there to speak with her as I am here to speak with you. From where he sat, what appeared to her to be confusion, was the complexity of clarity beginning to cleanse her spirit. The cricket’s job, like mine, is like that of the magician’s assistant: to reveal to you that by a simple trick, you have taken to be real that which is merely a shadow. But, of course, the slight of hand here is tragically double: you are the illusion–and you are also the magician. And our job is deceptively difficult: for we must show you both.
If the cricket had not shown himself in short time to the woman and explained what was happening, the young woman might have thought she were merely experiencing some kind of identity crisis. But this was not the case at all: she was about, in fact, to experience herself, all the pieces in which her sound had played–for the first time. It had played in many: pieces that destroy, those that seduce into existence that which had merely been a thought, those that harmonize one thing with another, and those that are played for the mere joy of playing at all.
“That,” and I say this quietly, “Is the reason you are here now.”
You have so much to remember, my friend!
Then the story continues.
“The young woman looked at the keyboard in the corner of her room. She had never really learned to play, though she had a keen ear and a deep desire. ‘I have known,’ she thought to herself with the defiant certainty, ‘how to play. I have known how to link the notes one to another and fill the pocks and dents of a person’s soul. I have known how to do many things. I have felt the intentions of clover and cardamom and eucalyptus and have woven them together to create a force that drives away fear or disease or coaxes into existence vivid dreams. I have known how to offer the frightened dog a picture that will comfort him and lead him home. So why,’ she continued, ‘when I reach for the spices now do find nothing but their scent?’
She, of course, is not alone in this sort of thought: many people walk through the world finding that an astounding number of things they don’t know how to do, nonetheless, feel familiar. Perhaps, like you, they gingerly finger this and that and quietly smile, though they are not sure why. Perhaps, like you, they believe that they can will their mother’s hands to protect them from another’s anger—yours may not have. They quietly wish they could sing, or practice medicine, or talk to the dead. Even more quietly, they believe that they can and should–that when push comes to shove, they will. They are not wrong: when the sounding board is clear enough, one can hear the notes it all the pieces it has played in.
The young woman picked up the keyboard and brought it to her lap, turned it on, and, though she knew that she did not really know how to play, she placed her fingers on the keys and plucked the first few notes of the Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. If she stilled herself, so that only her chest moved with her breath, she could hear the music and feel the timing in her fingertips. She could see them sinking in to the first chords and effortlessly seeking out the right notes.
The reality of the discordant sounds she made hurt her heart more than her ears and were the cricket’s cue to crawl from beneath the shelf where he had been hiding and present himself. The woman sat, stunned and motionless, between the residual discord she had made and the echo of the true sound that, somehow, she could also hear. She pinched her brow and saw, there, in the in between, each strand of herself waving about, as though it were the filament of a spider’s web come undone, hanging before her, and lighter than air. The old man, who I told you about in the beginning of the story, he stood with his eyes closed, tuning fork raised to the sky, concentrating with his whole being on holding the worlds open for the moments it would take for the true sounds to find their vessels.
The cricket stood before the young woman, his antennae waving about to get her attention, but in time with the Conductor’s gestures. The cricket’s job was difficult, indeed. He wondered if he were well suited for it. He was small, and green, and not terribly well constructed for subtlety. But he was able to cross into where others could not and could, therefore, strike an alarm in those to whom he seemed to appear as if from nowhere. In that sense, he had to admit, he was, actually, well suited. Besides, as he comforted himself, he, too, was the sort of creature who must nourish himself by killing himself. He knew the melancholy melody line so well that he could not–and did not need to — speak of it.
When he appeared to the young woman, he asked, ratcheting his head a to one side:
‘Why, my dear, do you want to play the Moonlight Sonata so badly?’
The young woman looked down at him. He swiveled his head the other way and stared quite earnestly back up at her. Crickets are very straightforward fellows. It was such a simple question that she could not help but answer it honestly,
‘My soul wants to hear it. I want to play it for my soul.’
She said and blinked slowly, not at all surprised to be interrogated by a large green cricket–in fact, in her current state, she was happy for the company.
‘Well, my friend, your soul already knows how to play it. It is you, who, as of yet, who does not.’
This struck the woman, just at that moment, as utterly obvious and unhelpful.
‘That is all well and good,’ she said, feeling a bit of panic set in, ‘But I want to play it for my soul! What good is it if somewhere my soul knows it, but here, now, I do not!’
The cricket hopped a bit to the side to avoid being directly face to face with her fierce desire and said, ‘To be able to play for one’s own soul? Hmm, that my friend, is a luxury of the wizards and those who have mastered the art of passing both directions between the gate. For, the soul…’
He trailed off, not wanting to pre-empt what she was about to experience with the indelicacy of words. She leaned forward and looked at him more closely, waiting for him to finish. ‘The soul,’ he continued, trying to be clear, but gentle, for it is impossible to explain the inexplicable, ‘is very, very big…. and you, you are but its echo. The way a sounding board in a cello holds the echo of the sounds it broadcasts. The sound does not belong to you–if the sound chooses you–as it has–then you belong to it.’
As the cricket spoke, he began to slide one wing against the other until the perfect vibration quivered through the room–crickets do that for the same reason that I tell the dead stories.
The young woman gasped and shivered, feeling a tug deep inside as if her heart were being pulled through her gut.
As her heart spilled out, she felt the air around her grow lighter, almost as if there were nothing between anything, as if there were no distance between her eyes and the cardinal in the garden, no distance between one note on the keyboard and another, no time delay between wanting to play a note and the sounding of that note in the room. She felt the sounds of the Moonlight Sonata rush into her fingers. No space between the beginning of the sonata and the last chords. She tried to understand how the song could be heard, where the notes went if one did not follow from another, if there was no time between the first and the last. But it was all there, streaming through her hands, or from her hands to her ears, or…she was not certain.
‘It is time,’ said the cricket. ‘You are filling with your original sounds. They are much bigger, much grander than the echo you have mistaken for yourself.’
Though the time it takes for the echo to be filled by a soul itself is nearly nothing, it can feel like an eternity, if you aren’t listening. And so, rather than feeling full, the young woman began to feel the details of her life retreat, as though she were flattening out into two dimensions. She began to cry and the weight of her tears hit her hands as heavily as anvils. In the unavoidable moment when the echo has left, but the true sound has not yet arrived, the young woman trembled, feeling as though her own spirit had abandoned her. She opened her mouth in a scream, but no sound emerged. That is how you, my young boy, feel now.
Just as you did when I first saw you. But the story continues. They always do.
The woman knelt down awkwardly. The cricket watched in silence. The young woman was not accustomed to praying and so she was, initially, unstable on her knees and her hands came uncertainly together. ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death,’ “she began and broke off.
She did not know any one full prayer, but she did the best she could.
‘I will fear no evil: for thou art with me’ she repeated pressing her palms together until they became slick with sweat.
‘…May the lord protect and defend me…blessed oh lord…May you protect and guide me…be my staff, my Shepard…angels who watch over us… I do not know what I am doing. Forgive us; for we know not what we do…forgive me my trespasses, and lead me not into temptation; deliver me from evil. Thou hast dove’s eyes.’
The cricket shifted his hind legs and adjusted his antennae–for this moment would not pass quickly enough for either of them. It was really a shame, he thought, that there was no better way to prepare people for the loss of who they had grown accustomed to being. It is so difficult to understand that one does not lose the familiar; one becomes the familiar. It is not something that can be told, but rather practiced and experienced. This part was always the most difficult to see, and he was never quite sure what he should do with himself while he waited. Watching seemed improper, as a person, when they are coming to realize that they have only been the echoes of themselves and that they are about to become what they truly are is awfully brittle. One doesn’t want to look too intently, for fear of them breaking.
At last, she wore out her fragmented prayers and her head fell to her hands with the weight of her tears. The cricket stepped closer to her and brushed against her arm.
‘It will not be bad,’ he said, in the most comforting voice a cricket can muster. ‘In fact, the only thing you will miss is the tiny wonder about whether you would have been different, or if you could have been more…. though in your case, the second is less prominent…. but it is a silly wonder. At this point at least… There will be no more wonder about what you are, or what you will be. Time, it is true, will stop for you, or rather, will become meaningless.’
He stopped himself here, realizing that perhaps, this was not right the line to take. The woman sank on her heals, looking fearfully at the window, as if it would be from there that the fullness of the soul would sweep in and fill her, obscuring forever the small crispness of self she had grown accustomed to being.
Though I, came to her as I am here with you, and I waited, ready to help her when the cricket’s job was done, she did not choose to go with me. She wavered and blinked like a light bulb that is not certain that it is all the way tightened. And I worried then, for one is so fragile at these moments. But she said that she had to return for just one more thing, and that she would make sure that she did not stay too long, and that she would remember the moment her sound came to her by the feeling of betrayal that accompanied it–for her sound, it should be known, was a melancholy one.
And I asked her, ‘is that a gamble you are willing to take? Because betrayal is a feeling so heavy that it can take lifetimes for the blood to evaporate and allow the spirit to see what you have chosen for it. You must be able to remind yourself of what you have become, because the cricket will not come again. It will just be me.’
I stopped my story here and looked at the battered and silently screaming boy straight on: “Do you remember?” I asked him. “Do you remember speaking to me here, promising yourself to remember the moment you left who you had been so that you could be full of what you were to be? For it is just us, now. The two of us. This feeling you have you of having been left by the one who should have cared for you, it is not because you have been left: it because you have returned for yourself. And this is the feeling by which you chose to remember that you are greater than the life you just left.”
The boy, he was brave. He looked back into the life that he just was. He was overcome as he saw that his eyes had opened each morning on hope alone, and that each day his hope was consumed by a terrible anger in those around him which was so bright he was not even visible to himself. And he looked at me–that anger refracting in all directions and still in his eyes–and I said the only thing I could: “Do not mistake the cause of the feeling for its purpose. You chose this feeling to remember the moment you last left this life. You chose to remember who you had become, and who you will become, by the feeling of having left who you were. That is all. The rest is neither here nor there, once you see that.”
The boy closed his mouth, and said nothing. So I continued, speaking faster and faster hoping the momentum would out-pace his confusion:
“The young woman we spoke of–you—it was you who looked at the keyboard in front of you, and it struck you then as terribly silly, so sadly hollow. You waved your hand through the air and your note sounded gently. The cricket watched. You could see as you moved, how the sound made ripples through the world. You began to walk, listening as your note sounded with each step. You ran; moved your arms about, and delighted in making the sounds now loud, now soft, now syncopated. When you sat utterly quiet, each note expanded, as though it were infinite, and inside of it, depending on where you turned, you could hear all the symphonies it had been a part of.”
And I will tell you, my friend, that the boy smiled then, through his tears. He followed the story, the woman in the story; he heard the first note of the Moonlight Sonata and his face relaxed, the blood falling away and the mouth relaxing. He heard the second note–and saw the delicate thread between the two of them—of who he had been, who he might be— glistening with the deepest melancholy–and in that symphony of colors, he saw himself reflected as a young woman who played, now, for her own soul, just as she had wanted. And I, I breathed the deepest sigh.
I wait now, on the other side of world. I hear the orchestra tuning itself as people become accustomed to their original sounds. I peek in, sometimes, watch them twirl and stomp, looking about in bewildered delight and bursting with their own sounds. I am waiting, now, for the first chord of the symphony to be struck, for then, I will be able to ride the notes home.
* Souls are not, strictly speaking, either men or women. Nor are they adults or children. These are temporal terms and I make mercenary use of them for clarity’s sake. Some souls have been women more than men, or simply contain more feminine energy than masculine energy. Those, for ease of sense, I have called “women.”