November 24, 2008
By Brad Wallace, Shelby Township, MI

I didn’t know if it was right. I didn’t know if I should do it. I didn’t even know if it was allowed, or if it would work, or if it was anything at all. Still, I didn’t slow as I twisted and turned my tie, eventually pulling the knot snug against my neck and readjusting it against my shirt. I didn’t know if I should think more or less or just abandon the very idea. So I pretended I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, looking in the mirror at myself, dressed in my black shirt, black tie, black pants, and shining black shoes. I walked out of my room easily, fluidly, despite feeling like maybe I should be a little more burdened.

“Mom!” I called out from the front door, already slightly ajar. “I’m going out for a few hours. See you in a bit.”

“Where to?” she asked from deep within the house. For a moment, I hesitated, once again wondering if maybe I shouldn’t.

“Uh, over to a friends. We’re headed to the library, work on a project.”

Now was her turn to be quiet for a moment. I wondered if maybe I was too hesitant, making her suspicious. Finally, she asked, “Do you want a ride? It’s a little chilly tonight…”

Again, I was quiet. I could stop here, tell her I’d changed my mind, due to the weather or some equivalently asinine excuse.

“Thanks, but no, it isn’t too far and I can always use the exercise.”

“Well, take care of yourself. Be back before too late.”

I found that she was right when I got onto the street. It was a cold, color drained evening. The city streets seemed to be in black and white, and people and cars alike seemed to travel about as if time itself was slowed down. It was altogether pretty dreary, except for the trees along the road every few yards, seemingly supernovas of warm colors in their crisp autumn oranges and reds. I shivered a bit, hunching in on myself for warmth. It seemed to be more than the breeze that cooled me, more than the time of year that stole the color from the air. I remained cold.

My walk was a trudging progression along several city blocks. People seemed wrapped in their own worlds even as they brushed past me, not one looking up. My eyes looked into each of their faces, then shifted sadly back to the ground. I was oddly, ridiculously expectant to find something in each passing individual, but it went unseen. There was little for me to enjoy as I went, hands in pockets and eyes stuck on the concrete beneath my feet, all alone with my hopes and fears.

Thankfully, it wasn’t much more than half an hour until I came to a part of town much less traveled by the general populace. My destination. Storefronts were abandoned, streets were empty, everywhere even more devoid of life than even those gray streets I’d walked with the gray people and their gray faces. The monochrome here might as well have been one of just deepest black. There was nothing to see here, a veritable ghost town in the middle of a city that should’ve been bustling with life. I shivered again, deeper this time. The suns light was just a pink stain barely visible down alleyways and above small buildings, and the chill had deepened, but the sight of the purpose of my trip was the origin of the quick tremble.

I looked upon a decrepit old theater; not the kind with big screens and speakers, but the kind with a huge stage and great acoustics, meant for plays and symphonies and any number of great arts that seemed lost to most kids my age. Unlike the other buildings, it wasn’t boarded up, and seemed to be in better upkeep. Still, it looked long abandoned, and no signs or posters or billboards heralded upcoming shows.

That didn’t stop me from approaching the door and entering the dust-covered lobby. But my own apprehension, and the knot pulled tighter in my stomach than the one in my tie, almost did.

Despite being broken down and apparently empty from the outside, the inside was dimly lit by a beautiful chandelier hanging low from the vaulted ceiling. Double oak doors stood wide open, leading into the theater proper, equally well lit. Like everything else in the city, it had a gray cast, a dull, lifeless cover of murk and gloom. The place had an ethereal feeling, like something beyond what humans were meant to know, a depth so far beyond my ability to perceive it was completely unknowable. I looked around, wondering anew about a place I’d frequented weekly before. I almost felt as if this place, so dead, yet so full with such an abstract feeling of ephemeral life, was the bridge between my own world and another.

My wonderment ceased abruptly as I remembered why I came, and I cast a nervous glance left and right. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was here. Smoothing and straightening my clothes absentmindedly, I walked through the great oak doors, with waves of dust kicked up behind me.

Every seat in the whole place was empty, from the very bottom to the top, and the boxes on either side of the stage. Webs and soot covered almost all the seats, except for one just a little ways above the door. I ventured up to it, and seated myself nervously. For the last time, I wondered if I should be here, thought that maybe I’d upset her. I dispelled the thoughts, leaving my last uncertainties as butterflies in my stomach.

I sat there for a few minutes, alone with my thoughts, most of which turned to the theater and its odd atmosphere, so still yet flowing. I looked down at a stage devoid of anything but the layout of an orchestra, chairs and music stands, but no instruments and no performers. Except, as I watched, I almost felt as if there was a whole symphony, sitting stiff and at the ready. In time, the lights far above dimmed, and the ones cast on the empty stage brightened.

Then she came in. I hadn’t seen her like this in a while, looking professional and standing without her characteristic hunch, dark dress rustling about her knees. I couldn’t see her face, but I could imagine the kind but determined look on it, the determined line of a mouth with a hint of a smile at either end. And her eyes, beautiful blue, sparkling with anticipation and apprehension. A conductor’s baton swung loosely between her fingers, like a pendulum slowly counting off seconds with its mesmerizing sway. My stomach did flips at the site of her.

She stepped up onto the stage, onto a little raised platform with a music stand of its own. I could imagine her smile as she rapped sharply on the stand, creating a sound that rang through the place. My stomach calmed itself, settling again into a painful knot.

Her arms spread apart in a slow, graceful motion, and then set into a quick pattern of conduction. For a moment, there was only silence, and she appeared to be flailing her arms wildly. But then, faintly at first, the sound of violins emanated from where they’d have been positioned upon the stage, though still there were no players. Only empty seats and a decades worth of grime were visible on the stage.

But this was virtually unnoticed by me as cello, viola, and bass joined the violin, and behind that a rhythmic pulse of drums, gust of woodwinds, and so much more. A picture was painted for me by the precise, flowing notes, a grand tapestry of images words can’t even begin to describe. Past, present, and future flew by me as if time was nothing, and I watched lifetimes roll before my eyes. Color exploded from the stage and into the world around me, swirling about like a remarkable wind carried on the shoulders of the music. The world, so neutral before, was suddenly overflowing with color, with hues that couldn’t be described and with such clarity that it was unbelievable. The orchestra played on and on, lifting me from my sea and into realms of insurmountable beauty.
I felt as if I was beyond anything anyone had ever know. I watched, awestruck, as stars streamed past me and into darkness, illuminating a sea of faces, millions and millions, all those that had ever existed, some I knew and many I didn’t. Entire universes soared by, the miracle of life was before my eyes like some sort of blueprint for anyone to see. I was launched farther by a violin solo, thrown beyond any limits as the rest of the string section rejoined the single instrument, and the entire orchestra reached a crescendo. I felt things words couldn’t ever, ever describe. I felt like rising from my seat and flying into things unknown, ready to go beyond it all and discover every answer.
But just before I did, just before I was moved right from my body and into a world of soul, emotion, and abstract things I could never otherwise see, the music tapered to a beautiful end, dying with a powerful union of every instrument that I was certain would linger in my ears forever.
Applause erupted from all the empty seats around me. Dust turned to flecks of gold spiraling through the air and it seemed that everything was known to me, all of it had a name and a place in the world, I understood it perfectly. I was everything. She was everything.
The thunderous roar faded until it was just my two hands slapping together until they hurt, and with the applause went the color. Everything settled back into the way it was. I was left in a drab world with nothing but a memory of something so much more grand, totally inconceivable. Left alone.
Except for her.
Obviously surprised to still hear applause, she turned and looked at me with an odd expression on her face. I slowly stopped clapping, and beamed at her. She hesitated a moment, then gave her brightest, most beautiful smile right back. I thought I could see her eyes twinkling even from here. I thought about walking to her, but then I stopped. I smiled again at her as I left, though it faltered a bit. I waved goodbye.

Without her, there wasn’t color in my world. Her arms waving in time, directing it all, letting the music spill forth, gave it all the color, all of its worth. I loved her, with all my heart, and when she wasn’t there, everything seemed a bit darker. It was her that first showed me this place, and it was us that decided to come here every week. We dressed our best, and I listened as she directed, and fell away into a place I could never reach with anyone else.
We had been together for some time. But then, like all good things, it came to an end. I thought it was early, thought there was more, hoped it would be, but I wasn’t going to say so. I wasn’t going to risk losing the color in my world forever. I wouldn’t risk scaring her away and living in something cold and gray for all my life, no matter how in love with her I felt I was.
My hand was on the door, and I was just about to pull it open and take my leave when everything changed. I didn’t know why; maybe the cold color of the lobby, or the street beyond the film of dust on the doors, or maybe because everything that felt sick in my stomach was gone. I think, though, that it was just a fear that the color wouldn’t be waiting here for me next week. That if I didn’t tell her how it was, the color would be gone forever and no one would be the wiser for it.
I walked quickly, almost ran, back into the stage chamber, hoping on everything that she was still there.
I thought that maybe I’d ask for an encore.

The author's comments:
I loved her. And she inspired me to write this. She never conducted an orchestra for me, but she put the color in my world, and took me to places beyond the stars.

Since this, I've asked for my encore in reality, and I've gotten it. It has yet to end.

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