By BR Belletryst
By Carl Rauscher
She appeared in my room after the nurse departed and sat on the edge of the bed, her slender fingers nervously stroking the thin cotton sheet draped over my feet. She hadn’t aged a day since I first saw her in that courtyard, playing a careless tune as she danced barefoot on the manicured lawn near the ancient tree in its center.
“Are you sleeping?” she whispered in a voice so soft that I barely heard the words over the constant beep and hiss of the monitors chronicling my remaining time on earth.
“No,” I whispered back. “I’m glad you came.” The morphine drip wrapped the world in a muffled haze and I struggled to stay focused on something, anything, just to make this moment last. My eyes settled on her short cinnamon hair adorned with firey red and orange feathers that reminded me of autumn foliage.
“Does it hurt?” she asked, gesturing toward the wires and tubes snaking out from my covers.
I tried to smile and shrug, but a tidal wave of pain crashed over me and I lay still for a moment before answering, “Not as much as before… the medicine helps.”
She crinkled her nose at the word ‘medicine’ before leaning over and gently patting my exposed arm. Instantly, I felt the tingling flush of warmth and calmness spreading through me like I was basking in the sun on a beautiful summer day. She smiled back at me as she let go of my arm and I pretended not to notice the way the feathers in her hair were less colorful and drooped a bit more than before.
“When you didn’t come to visit me yesterday, I got worried and decided to come look for you.” She cocked her head to one side and peered into my face. “It was yesterday, wasn’t it?”
I shook my head. I haven’t been well enough to leave my room for a month now, but what are a few weeks to her kind?
“No matter, I found you now. Would you like to hear about the empty nest I found, or perhaps what the gardener said when I made his string break on that smelly spinning thing.” She hid a giggle behind her fingers at the memory.
“I’ve got something… important to tell you,” I said as another wave of pain coursed through me. I squeezed the trigger in my hand, but the drug dispenser was already at its limit and to give me more so soon might silence my already weakened lungs. “Remember… when I told you about my disease… how it was making me sick?”
“Stop,” she said, shaking her head. I’d tried several times to explain, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t understand what it meant to die. The closest she ever came was that it was like when the sun set and everything grew dark.
I shut my eyes and nodded. “Okay. How about the courtyard… would you describe it for me? It has been so long… and I miss seeing it through your eyes.”
She clapped her hands, somber mood erased. “Oh, Matthew. The sunrise was breathtaking, although the grassy dew was chilly on my toes—.”
She pulled a violin out of the air and fitted it to her chin with a natural ease. It wasn’t possible, of course, but that is how her magic worked; she wanted something and it appeared for her. I closed my eyes and let the noise of the monitors fade against a gentle pure note that hovered for a moment before another arose to take its place as if the melody were painting the pale blues and billowy whites of morning. Fingers plucked at strings here and there like birds in search of their breakfast.
The notes grew in richness that suggested a lazy midday sun beating down upon my face like it did when the two of us would meet by the tree – me with my knowledge of things beyond the walled yard, and her eternal cheerfulness and amazing way of revealing wonder in the ordinary.
Her fingers confidently strode up and down the neck of the violin, teasing and pulling a cascade of pattering sounds not unlike an afternoon shower, with jagged notes breaking through the rhythmic downpour in streaks of purple and gray. I watched as memories and emotions colored her face as she played, unsure if any mortal could reproduce such beauty unassisted by magic. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the crashing subsided and a sense of calm returned to the music.
She was looking at me now as her song approached its end. Notes stretched and lingered a bit longer, finding fewer harmonies to tie together. “The sun isn’t coming back for you in the morning, is it?” she sighed.
“I don’t think so.” The pain was growing stronger and I couldn’t feel her warmth anymore.
A hint of sadness escaped from the strings she played and I could hear the trembling of her chin resonating on each new note.
“Who will I play for when you are gone?”
“There will be others… and they’ll find you… just like I found you.”
The song was nearly complete, its sun had set and the last precious sounds hung in the air between us. I could tell she was right and that this was likely my last sunset. With one last bit of strength, I raised my hands and clapped.
She blushed and turned away as my hands fell, but to our surprise the applause continued. Call it magic or the wish of a dying man, but I was not the only one moved by her recital as it echoed up and down the corridor– some cried, some cheered, but no one would deny that it was the finest performance they’d ever heard.
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