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Away From Tragedy
Author's note: I didn't know much about what i was doing, but once it got started it was much like the snowball effect. i loved writing this piece.
When I was little, I remember going to work with my mother. When she could, my mother took me to work with her. I remember being carted into one of a million yellow cabs, and staring out the window to look outside. The buildings were towering, and metallic--at that age I had almost thought them to be giants. The hustle and bustle of the city had awed me as well; dozens of handfuls of people walked the streets and sidewalks, some in crisp black suits and others in everyday clothes. A strong smell of tense action and car exhaust filled the air.
My mother’s building was even more fantastic than any other, I had thought. It was tall, and perfect, with windows going up and down. Even better, the building was a twin, with an identical building right next to it. Inside the structure were dozens of people going about their everyday business. My mother had always nudged my back once we got inside, to hurry me towards the elevator. I remember the sheen of the elevator panel showing near 100 buttons, and the pant legs of the people before me.
My mother’s office was high up, and while everyone else was clearing out the elevator at lower levels, still, my mother and I journeyed upwards. The actual room was larger than my entire bedroom and was modernly styled.
The view was spectacular. You could see the entire cityscape, from the water to the rest of the city—a mass of gray against a clear light blue sky. Sometimes I would sit there, putting my little fingers on the glass, creating smudges on the previous immaculate windows.
Today is like those days.
Only, near 10 years have passed since my mother last took me to work with her, and the circumstances are very different. Today, I am bored, rather than awed. My mother’s building feels more like a prison, than a castle. I feel like I have invisible chains around my hands and feet, and my mother calmly nudges my back like she always used to do, to get me to walk towards the elevator.
I look back only to scowl at my mother, angry for more reasons than I can bear. As we walk into the elevator, so do another horde of people, and this time I can see more than pant legs. I cross my hands over my chest as my mother gently reaches over and punches the floor number. I look away. Then the sensation of vertigo lifts my body up, up, up, and I take a deep breath.
Corny elevator music fills the small, cramped space as ding! one by one people start to exit. Soon enough, my mother and I are nearly alone, and I hear a satisfying ding! as the elevator announces our level. My mother walks out, striding confidently forward; and I file behind. I just can’t shake the feeling of a prison warden directing me to my cell. She opens the door, and I walk in, seeing that not much has changed since my last visit.
On my mother’s desk is a picture of dad and I—the most recent family picture. I stand in the middle, beaming, while my father and mother both look like they’d rather be somewhere else. We don’t usually have normal family dynamics—ours are strained and tense.
“Stop frowning like that, Anna. Could you not look happy for once?” my mother says, settling down at the desk, not even taking a glance at me.
“Stop worrying, mother. You’re going to give yourself an ulcer.” I respond.
At this, she peeks a look at me behind her computer, her expression stern and reprimanding.
“Anna, I swear I will—“ she trails off, puffing out steam. I roll my eyes, unconcerned with my mother’s empty threats.
I walk towards the window, content that the view hasn’t changed a bit. I can see almost a 360 view; with my mother’s office being a corner. It is a bright, clear blue day, the sun not quite overhead. A handful of boats dot the water, and I if I squint, I can spot the Statue of Liberty.
I take a glance at a new addition: a bookcase. Most of the titles look dull and informative-the exact opposite of what I wanted. I glance over at one book, The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis. I look back at my mom, my hand grasping the book.
“Really?” I ask, wondering why she would have a children’s novel in a collection of non-fiction and ultimately boring books.
“I had one of my coworkers get it for me. I thought you should do something other than stare at the wall.” She answered. She was touchy today, her mood not much better than my own. She refused to look at me, her fingers typing furiously at the keyboard. I scowled.
Reluctantly I sat down by the wall, neglecting the comfortable chairs at what I hoped, was another act of spite. My mother didn’t even notice.
I flipped open the book, settling on the first page.
“Is the book o.k.?” my mother asked me.
“Whatever.” I replied, still reading.
“Well, what would you like for lunch? It’s about that time.”
“I don’t care.” I said.
I see my mother staring at me from the corner of her eye. A muscle in her jaw twitches. The T.V. drones on in the background—the news is on—my mother had adamantly said no to any other station. I absolutely despised the news.
I take one look at her, her eyes threatening to bulge out of her skull, her mouth pursed in a fine line, her knuckles turning white from gripping the table too hard—and I decide that it isn’t enough. I decide that I want her completely off the edge, that one more act out of my whole entire life will finally push her off the deep end.
“Why are you looking at me like that?!” I spit out, my words dripping with malice. Her eyes bulge. I judged right.
“That’s IT!” she says, her hands lifting up and slamming the glass desktop. She abruptly stands up, and for a second I think that I have gone too far, that this is not what I wanted. But I let that feeling pass.
“You will get rid of this attitude problem of yours, before I get rid of it for you.” She hisses, her finger pointing angrily at me.
Not far enough, I think.
My hands are still posed around the book, ready to flip the other page. We are both fuming, fury bubbling up inside us both, like an electrical current that if about to rage out of control. I set down the book carefully and stand up too.
“And what pray tell, are you gonna do?” I hiss, narrowing my eyes, unbelieving my mother.
“I do and do for you! Yet you continue to act ungrateful! You always have an attitude, and I’ve had enough of it, Anna!”
I had heard it all before. I felt like my mother was reading off a script. I don’t answer, content to let my mother brew and steam right on.
“Why must you be so ill all the time?”
“Ill?! How would you know? You’re never there! You’re never home! You and dad, it’s always work, work, work, with you two!” I blurt out, unsatisfied.
“I work for you!” she says. “So you can have everything you want. So you can have a good life!”
“Oh, you can just—“ I start to say. I was just about to tell her where she could stuff her “good life”.
In the corner of my eye I can see the outline of a plane getting bigger fast. It’s aiming right towards us, with no intention of stopping. I scream, a shrill sound that pours my mouth in a terrified shriek. I lift my hand up, and point towards the window. The plane is angled towards a couple levels below us.
It seems like everything goes in slow motion.
My mother whips around, slowly, ever so slowly, towards the window. I can see her eyes widen and her mouth opening for a scream. I start to hear the screams of others below and above us, a collective sound of fright.
I watch the plane plummet towards us.
It’s not going to stop, I think.
My mother’s head whips back to me, and her mouth opens and she says something indistinct. Yet I can’t hear her, I can’t hear anything except millions of screams.
The plane crashes below us, the impact sweeping me off my feet. The room shakes and appliances crash and break. Clouds of smoke and fire envelope outside the windows. We both fall down, my head hits hard on the floor.
My vision starts to fade away, the edges diminish to black, and soon enough I am under, my entire body going slack and my mind far away from this place. I am falling away from this disaster. The last things I see are the windows, breaking and cracking into millions of little pieces, and fluttering down to the floor, like little glass birds, flying away from tragedy.
I slammed the door to my old car in fury. It groans in complaint. My father had wanted me to get a nice little BMW, or perhaps a Mercedes. I had shocked them both when I refused, and bought this piece of crap car just in malevolence. If they thought they were going to bribe me into submission with fancy cars, they would find they were mistaken.
Today had not gone well for me—to put it mildly.
I opened the door with the key, hearing a satisfying click as the tumbler unlocked. I put the key by the table next to the door, and set my things down. The first thing I notice is the overwhelming sense of déjà-vu. I once heard that déjà-vu is caused by one half of your brain processing things quicker than your other half. But it doesn’t feel like that. I feel like I already know the outcome of the day.
Sure enough, just as I expected, I can hear the lilting sounds of the piano echoing in the background. It’s a beautiful, sad memory and I can’t help but be entranced as I walk towards the piano room.
When I was little, my parents had forced me to take piano. I loved it—loved the acoustics, loved the way the chords jammed together in harmony or dissonance, and the way I could play loud or soft by just the pronunciation of my fingertips. Of course, I gave it up. My mother had wanted me to play in concerts, recitals, and competitions that only God knows where she found. I vehemently told her that if she forced me to do so, I would give it up. She didn’t believe me, and so I did.
The piano room itself was an airy room, with a skylight and glass sliding doors that overlooked the pool and the gardens. The piano was a slick, black grand piano, with the top open and music bursting out.
I knew who was playing without even looking. And I knew how, in an earlier and alternate situation, I had handled it—which is to say badly. I had kicked the player out in fury, causing my parents to get even more angry than usual. The player had been there to mow the lawn, and clean the pool.
But now, thinking calmly, I really didn’t see much wrong with the playing. The music was lovely, with a unique rhythm and a sense of longing and overwhelming sadness embedded in the notes.
The boy who was playing wasn’t much older than I was, probably around seventeen. He had curling auburn hair, and long, slim fingers that glided over the keyboard. His face was an open, honest kind of face. His nose was straight, and had prominent bone structure. He wasn’t very extraordinary. Just plain. His eyes were closed, feeling the music in the tips of his fingers. His foot moved the pedal in perfect, rhythmical cadence to the song. He seemed unaware of my presence.
“A-hem.” I said, my voice calm. “What do you think you’re doing?”
He ended the beautiful, heart-wrenching note abruptly. I almost wish I had let him go on.
“Oh!” he looked startled. “I-I’m sorry. Today’s my first day—I’m here to mow the lawn—and I saw no one was home—and the door was unlocked—and then I saw this,” he gestured towards the piano. “And I just thought I could play and---“
His words came out in a jumbled mess.
“Ya, I get it.” I said.
He nodded. Suddenly I saw his eyes. They were a startling grey, almost electric. They reminded me of lightning bolts in a storm, how the light illuminated the entire sky, and made the clouds glow with tension.
“Please, keep playing.” I replied. His expression was surprised. I think, though, that I was more surprised at my response than he was.
“Are you sure? I had better start to work anyway….”
“No. Keep playing. Finish the song.” My tone was final.
He looked wistfully at the lawn mower, half pulled out on the lawn. Then he turned back towards the music, his hands resting on the piano, and then moving in a rapid procession to create the most beautiful song I had ever heard.
The notes, clear as a bell, and utterly legato spoke to me. They told me of pain, and loss and sorrow, and even death. He ended the piece, in one sad, and final note, the note quiet and full of desire.
“What was that called?” I asked, my voice filled with awe and peace.
“I don’t know.” He said, still hesitant he wasn’t going to get reprimanded for slacking on the job. “It doesn’t have a name on it.”
He handed me the sheet music. It was just a page of notes, no words or anything on them. It was done in old, crumpled paper, the notes scrawled in by hand.
“I should get going on the work.” He said, getting up from the piano.
“Wait, what’s your name?”
“Jameson.” He said, a corner of lips lifting up to form a slight smile.
“And you?” he asked.
“Anna.” He turned my name around in his mouth, like he was trying to get a feel of it. “Do you play?”
“The piano?” I asked.
He chuckled, “Ya, the piano.”
“I used to.” I stepped in closer, my hand stroked the black finish of the piano.
“And you don’t anymore?”
“Oh.” He sounded disappointed.
“It was my mother.” I blurted.
“It’s because she wanted me to get in to competitions she found on the Internet, and concerts, and recitals—“ my voice climbs higher and higher. “If I had kept it up, she would’ve wanted me to go to Julliard or something, or major in music, or apply for a job opening in an orchestra.
“Er, I don’t know what she would’ve done. She would’ve pushed me over the edge, and I had to get her to stop.”
There was a minute of silence.
“So you quit.” He said, making it a phrase instead of a question.
“Ya. I gave it up.”
“Was it easy?”
“No, nothing’s ever easy. I had loved the piano. I wanted to keep it that way, because if she had kept on it, then I would have ended up hating it, and that’s something I couldn’t bear.”
There was another silence, but, thankfully, it wasn’t awkward.
“Will you play?”
I looked at him, absolutely flabbergasted.
“I haven’t played in almost five years!”
“If it was something you really loved, then it will come back to you.”
I looked wistfully at the instrument. He was looking at me with those gray eyes, his expression unreadable.
“Play for yourself. Not for me, or your mom, or anyone else. Play because you love the piano, because you love what you do.”
His voice was convincing enough that I slid down next to him—the bench was very long. I rested my hands white keys, and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath. I knew exactly what I wanted to play.
My fingers had a life of their own, and they were dancing. They were skating along the keys, knowing exactly which one to play and when. My foot, even had a mind of it’s own, and I was tapping the pedal every now and then.
The song was haunting and beautiful. The notes reverberated to the top of the ceiling, then floated back down. I played loud, and then soft, the next moment I was pounding out the keys. I was content, and for the first time in a while, I was happy. I played for myself, because I had missed the piano. I poured my heart and soul in the music, letting it take me where it willed. When I finished, my hands rested reluctantly on the keys, not anxious to let them go.
“That was beautiful.” He said. All this time I had forgotten he was there. The afternoon sunlight poured in through the skylight, bathing everything in a golden tint.
“Thank you.” I said, meaning every word.
That’s when he got up, and left me, my heart pounding gently in my chest like the notes on the piano.
I wake up, and see my mother shaking me frantically. Her mouth is in an O, and her suit is drenched in ash and soot. Her forehead and cheek are cut and bleeding, probably from the glass, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“Anna,” she cries. “Anna, get up! We have to go!”
She is absolutely hysterical. Her dark brown eyes are wide with fear, and tears are running down her cheek, mixing with blood.
“Anna!” she says and takes my hand. She pulls me up, and my muscles groan. Besides that, I am unharmed. It seems like a miracle, in all of this devastation. The floor is hot, and I can hear the screams of the people below us in the city, and in the building. The wail of sirens would’ve been predominant, if not for the screams.
“Please, get us out of here!” they wailed, a chorus of cries and sobs.
I can see the T.V. on the wall, still untouched by the plane’s impact. A woman is on the screen. Then, they switch to a video clip of a plane slamming brutally into a building.
That’s where my mother works. I think hollowly. Then I realize: that is us. The woman comes back on, her voice stricken and sunken.
“Breaking news,” she said. “A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Abruptly the T.V. turns off in a spark of electrical failing.
“Anna, Anna, we have to go!” my mother says, pulling my arms toward the door. I stumble with her, my mind empty, my heart weighed down by crushing sadness. It was the kind of sadness that fills your heart like water does a cup, filling every little crevice completely. I felt like I was waiting for my heart to burst.
Nothing made sense. I didn’t seem right. Maybe it was all part of a horrifying nightmare, rather than an even worse reality. There were people dying, and people who have died; just in the floor below me. Even worse was my own impending death if I couldn’t manage to get out in time. My mother was frantic. She pulled at the door, and ran down the hall, tugging me behind her. My heart was racing. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. I could hear the people in this level too, struggling to get down the stairs.
I heard the moans of the people below, in the streets too. It was a cacophony of misery, some people shouted for God to help us, the people inside. The whine of sirens was overpowering, and I could tell that the fire department and the police and the ambulances were here. It was just a matter of getting to them.
The building was absolutely ruined, chairs and tables and shelves alike overturned and in a morass of destruction. The people weren’t much better. My mother and I coughed, the smoke filling our lungs and gripping them tight, like a clawed hand squeezing, clenching my lungs with angry fervor.
My mother and I, along with the other handful of people on this level, rushed down the stairs, coughing and shielding our eyes from the smoke. I hurried past the wreckage, content not to scar my brain with tear jerking memories.
The fire was licking the walls, forcing us to crawl on ours knees. That’s when I heard the most glorious voice.
“Please, this way!” it was a fireman in a neon yellow suit. He grabs some of the people in front of me, taking them and courting them to safety. I can feel trembles in the stairway, it’s about to collapse.
It comes down to my mother and I, we are the only ones left. All of a sudden I feel my mother’s slim, hands grip my sides. Slight tremors rack her body. She offers me to the fireman like a sacrifice.
“Take my daughter!” she pleads. “Please!”
To me, she whispers: "I love you, Anna."
"I love you too, mom."
The stairway jerks again, as the fireman hurriedly takes hold of me and carries me like a baby.
“Come on, ma’ m.” he yells over the breaking of the building, his voice is deep. The Twin Tower shrieks and whines in protest, seeming to say: If I’m going down, then I’m taking you down with me.
“You can jump.” He says, his voice expressing the sole emotion of all of us—fear.
My mother shakes her head; she was never the athletic type. The stairway starts to give way.
“Jump!” he says.
My world seems to go in slow motion. My vision starts to fade to black, and as it does, I can feel my body begin to go slack. With the little peephole of vision I see my mother, preparing her body, lifting her arms and legs and leaping, making a conscious effort as the stairway begins to collapse under her. A concentrated expression is on her slight features. I hear the screech of the stairway as it falls.
But I can’t hold it any longer. My sight fades away, leaving with nothing but blackness.