Encounters

for Jlse

I. Lines

I see a mess of lines on the table. These lines, worm-like in their fineness and curves, lay stacked over each other, like needles dropped from a sewing kit, except that they are jet black, and are moving. They squirm like pick-up-sticks on a shaking table.

One changes. It slithers over the others, reaches the top of the vibrating pile of lines. Lines? The crosshatched pattern on the floor wobbles, shivers, like worms waiting to be baited and used… The one on top slowly unfurls itself, standing tall and straight, swaying slightly as I breathe, watching this surreal spectacle unfold in front of my eyes. It changes colour, slowly, gradually, fading from a deep black to a lustful blood red, then a bright orange, and finally a golden yellow, like the sun’s rays at nine-thirty in the morning when you look through a pair of sunglasses at its huge shining face.

Another line creeps up, undulating its one-dimensional body as it climbs to the top of the pile. This line starts coiling itself around the first, changing colour as it does so, blackpurplegreenbluewhite, looking like a hair fallen from the wrinkled flower-seller on the street. It lengthens as it twines around the first one, still sedately glowing its agitated yellow.

I start to feel afraid. Perhaps it is this unnatural occurrence, or perhaps it is just that the lines are alive. I gingerly move my hand closer. The nearest of the pile skitter away from me, as if they were little dipoles repelled by a magnet. I move closer, the lines shift noticeably, curling, slinking in their attempt to avoid my touch. This moving of the pile disturbs the two changed lines, and they fall with a soft clatter onto the shifting disturbance of lines and activity, still furiously copulated in their twining, complexed like rope, unwilling to let go. And the first still shines yellow, the second pale next to its brighter counterpart.

I lift my approaching hand. The skittering stops, the pile reforms into a haystack, and three other black lines move to hoist the yellow-white flagpole back to its position, like a threatening finger pointing to the sky. There is a significant sound coming from these lines, these worms, sounding like the chitter of mice in a maze with too much reverberation and combined with the distortion filter of a telephone receiver. Soft, yet audible, it gradually crescendoes into an ugly panoply of dissonance and irritation.

I continue watching this spectacle, watching as the black lines start to pulse with a tangible darkening, a glowing of black and dark, deep grey. A few of them flash red, and black, and red, and black, red, black, redblackredblack. The red is as red a red as the poppies in full flower, the black as black as a night so dark that a person would be as good as blind. The flashing speeds up, drumming on my eyes, until all I see is a blur of colour, whorls and afterimages conflicting, fighting for my vision—

I cannot tolerate that sound any longer. I clench my fist, feeling my fingernails dig into my skin: I slam it down on the tabletop, right in the centre of the pile of squiggling material, with that yellow needle and the thread of white coiled around it…

My fist goes straight through the lines.

They merely wobble slightly, and it looks sickening, with that yellow thing sticking out of the side of my fist, through that piece of skin between my thumb and my bent index finger. I shudder. One of the lines from the bottom wriggles out, and coils curiously around my thumb. I expect it to go through, too, but it tightens, solid as a knife blade and sharper.

My senses explode in a paroxysm of pain. And in that instant, the lines disappear.

What does that mean?

My thumb bleeds, unsure at whether to say anything. The little circle of red, near the base of my nail, stares back at me, apologetic in its cleanness of incision.


II. Letters

 

The papers lie on the table. Peaceful, glaring white, stilled by the calming presence of the black curves disgorged by the haemorrhaging pen that I put down somewhat earlier. The nib, fine and silvery, glints in the bright light of the table lamp, giving the whole tableau a washed-out look, like that of an overexposed photograph.


The wind blows in through the open window, and I shiver. The chill of the night never escapes me. But the night is beautiful, as always; alluring and beautiful, every twenty-four hours, again and again. I look out the window, stretching away from my cramped position in front of the table. The light-mauve clouds are tattooed against the dark purple-grey of the night sky. Underneath me, the lights in the windows flicker on and off at irregular intervals, a changing pattern against the steady glow of the streetlamps. Cars fly past, indulging in the empty roads at this late hour.


My papers shift slightly on the table, disturbed by the breeze. I take off my spectacles and throw them onto the restless rectangles of black-splotched white.


The papers still. Lying there, I suddenly start when I see that my letters have collected at a corner of the topmost page, like marbles in one of those boxes where you shake about to make them fall into a pattern. I pick up that piece of paper, and notice on the one underneath that the letters have been jiggled around, too.


I stare at the one in my hand. The letters shake mischievously, black e’s tumbling over a pile of vowels and consonants and punctuation. I grasp the corner where the letters are collecting, hard. The black shapes are forced upward like water in a plastic bag; with one swift motion I invert the paper. And watch the letters slowly slide downwards, viscous and sticky, toward the opposite corner of the paper, like snow in one of those glass-bowl landscapes.


The wind gusts again. My papers shift tentatively, like restless girls in a concert hall. The red-rimmed glasses press down, unsure as of whether to continue to obey gravity’s call, or to fly with the breeze, to spread its hooks like wings.


The sheet on top flips its corners viciously at the wind, as if daring it to catch and take it away. And the wind accepts that challenge; the paper flies into the air, pulling my glasses with it. My glasses suddenly decide to follow gravity, after all, and fall to the floor. The paper takes a longer time—when it finally hits the floor after taking an aerial tour of my room, it is empty.


Blank. Untarnished.


The letters scurry about, flat along the floor, a crowd interspersed with the punctuation looking like dust mites. I stare. It is impossible that this is happening, I think.


As if in response, the letters rearrange about. Most still run stochastically around the edges. Some, though, decide to stop.


Do not disbelieve.


I get angry. I do now know what to do, except throw a fit. I have just lost two hours’ worth of writing. My letters, the black curved lines, lie on the floor telling me to accept it. It is just too much for me. I clench my fist.


We do not usually behave like this.


Sounding apologetic? Impertinent? I do not care; I want them back on my papers. Yet I cannot do anything to them. In a sudden jerky motion, I stomp on the floor where that statement lies. The remaining letters scurry away like frightened mice, while those that I have managed to pin down lie unmoving. We do not u


I chase after the rest, shaking two empty pieces of paper. I do not even know what I will do when I reach them. They are fast movers, flowing in some space beyond the usual three, manifesting them as the output from my mind, my pen…


They disappear into the crack between the door-frame and the wall. Some stragglers are left behind. Stragglers? They spell out one very stark sentence:


You think too much.


I stop. Is there anything I can do?


After a while, I laugh. I do know the answer to that question. I laugh.


…I think too much.


III. Spheres

 

I am in front of my computer again, with a cup of tea sitting sedately beside the keyboard with its unfeeling rows of QWERTY, ASDF, and ZXC. My fingers are dancing furiously over the keyboard, making percussive clackings and incessant tappings. The space bar rattles each time I press it down.

 

Outside my window a hard, lashing rain falls. The pitter-patter of raindrops in already-formed puddles is pleasingly musical, plangent in the aural effects of thundercracks and windcalls.

 

The rain is like silk falling in sheets, turbulent in the air and graceful. The staccato rhythm of the rain beating upon my windowsill forms a very wet contrast to the dry sounds coming out of my computer speakers.

 

Strong winds coax the rain into my room, and the spray from the windows is astonishing in the power and fineness. Each little droplet I can see, reflecting the coarse white of the ceiling’s fluorescent lamp; each rise and fall of the wind is paralleled in the rise and fall of the spray, the internal flows and catchings like oil rising through water—

 

I am in an élan of creation, revelling in the flow of words, of thoughts. The vehemence of this flow, the strength, is intense and unstoppable. The keyboard continues clacking, and the words spill from my fingers.

 

The screen flickers. I tap it twice impatiently, and save my work to prevent any further mishaps. And it breaks up into silver globs of liquid crystal, floating away from the demurely grey containing box. I duck instinctively as they break away from the electric influence of the power line. Not thinking, I pull the plug to the monitor, dislodging the wire from its power jack. And more of these silver liquid flows out of the power line…

 

I roll on the floor away from the silver globes. They coagulate and float in the air, like planets around an invisible star, orbiting a point slightly below the ceiling. Within them they hold the colours, the light from the screen, and I can see the atrophied forms of my words in the reflective surfaces of the crystal globes.

 

Looking like mercury spheres on a wax floor, they hang suspended in the air as from a wire-frame mobile, silently reflecting the room around them in their concave surfaces. They remind me of stars, strangely, in their soft glowing light and their size—they look like those outside the windows, in the night.

 

I look back at the computer. The keyboard lies there, flat and rectangular, stark in its angles and dull grey colour. The tea sits there, too, undisturbed, unperturbed, with the small curve of light in the cup off the smooth milky-brown surface. The static view I see hangs in the air, too, reflected off a dozen curved mirrors, mercurial in their movements and stochastic as anything, and the rain from the outside continues spilling in, somehow never getting my floor wet.

 

The globes move. Little planets of colour, of electrons and light, of whorls of music and words, they travel to move around my head, blocking my vision as they whirl around, leaving little ghosting trails, flashes of light.

 

The rain continues pattering as I walk toward the window, unsure of everything and anything, and with the spheres ringing silently as they orbit my head like flies around a rotten apple. My mind is empty, and I cannot think clearly; I just stare at the little globes of silvery liquid crystal as they fly by, again, again, and again.

 

The globes present fleeting images to me. I catch glimpses of myself, of familiar faces. They do just that for a while, always giving me tantalising sneaks of visions arabesque and grotesque, as they pass quickly in front of my eyes.

 

I shake my head as if to clear the visions, and also to clear my mind. I want to think, I want to think for myself, and the constant irritation of the flying spheres does not help. I swat at one, connect, and find that they are really just liquid, after all, and not some manifestation of consciousness…

 

They fly out of the window, slowly, much more slowly than they were going about my head. And as they leave, I feel drained from inside, as if the spheres are taking away bits of my life—as they leave, they merge and flow into each other, like the neumes of a Gregorian plainchant, singing sadly, plaintively to themselves…


IV. Sheets

 

The curtains flap like angels’ wings as the wind beats hard against them. Curling and uncurling, the dirty-white sheets go pop and poof in little pockets of air. The wind is in a blasphemous temper, hurling leaves and twigs in through my window in swirling eddies of litter.

 

The papers on my desk shift uncomfortably, but are held in place by the stately thesaurus with all its thick gravity. The glossy cover of the nearby copy of Time diffuses the light into coloured patches, and I lean back in my chair, stretching after an hour’s hard thinking.

 

Clouds cover the sky as I look up, out of the window. I walk over to the yawning gap in the wall, bearing against small leaves in my face, and lean on the faux-wooden windowsill.

 

Coldly moist, the wind buffets my face, throwing against it all its strong fury, abusing the eyes in particular with its vulgar strength. I shut my eyes tightly, feeling the wind rush past my ears, howling in the curves and crevices; feeling the quick, stinging bites of the sharp twigs as they fly into my mouth, my cheeks, my nose.

 

The thesaurus suddenly yields to the urgent flipping of the papers’ corners and slides off the pile. And the sheets of paper rise up almost in unison, flapping just as the curtains do, looking for all the world like black-spotted white birds in flight.

 

I lunge back to my desk and try to grab the papers out of the air, but only manage to hang on to one in each hand. And they do not come to rest, even when I put all my body weight behind my pulling; they lift me off the ground, strong and unbending in flight, and I join the whirling of whites and little spots of blacks in the air, feet somewhat above my ground, vision totally drawn into the maelström of paper and wind.

 

I let go of the papers and fall the short distance to the floor, but forward motion takes me some distance from where I projected to land, and I hit the wall. Tumbling painfully into the middle, I decide to lie down and watch the papers fly around dizzily just below the ceiling, flapping their paper-wings and coasting on the flow of the disturbed winds.

 

The papers continue flying around, unperturbed by my closing the window. Flitting giddily below the stark white light from the fluorescent lamp, they cast moving shadows on the floor, on my face; and the shadows keep striking against me like they want to tell me something…

 

I stand up, taking a deep breath to calm myself. The papers still flutter merrily above my head, but now, when I take hold of one of the errant pieces, it stays still in my hand. Limpid and somehow intangible in my hand, it slumps, suddenly lacking its own energy in flying like it did.

 

I let go of the piece of paper I clutch, and it falls to the ground, slowed by the uplifting air; it does not attempt to fly again, and it lies flat on the floor, unmoving, untwitching.

 

Another piece of paper starts floating slowly downwards. Near my head it suddenly succumbs to gravity and goes the same way as the first piece of paper: the sheet that I grasped. It lands beside the first.

 

And another, and another.

 

The sheets float downward in a snowstorm of white, somehow leaving a wide berth around me as they descend chaotically in a shower of woodpulp and ink. Silent and still, they lie in neat tessellations on the floor, each sheet never overlapping another, always four corners at a point…

 

I pick them up, slowly, shaken. The black speckles are still steady on the page, keeping the writhing white in my eyes steady under their docile influence. My letters stare back at me from the depths of the thin white papers and I suddenly feel that they no longer belong to me, like they came from nothing, and that they might return to nothing…


V. Threads

 

I place my fingers on the neat columns of ebony and ivory, take a deep breath, and plunge in. I imagine the music coming from within me, flowing in the harmonies and in the melodies…

 

The shimmering ostinato tremolando yields to the sultry, seductive strains of the first subject, and the image floats unbidden before my mind, of a watery spirit singing her soft subterfuges—and the shimmering continues unabated.

 

The water flows on a bed of harmony and colours, jade-like in the misty moods of music. And the songs continue—a slow, soothing wailing through the rainbow-hued spray.

 

I breathe deeply at the end of each phrase, fingers striking the keys like they are air, yielding readily under each light tough. The watery music creates an envelope of colour around me, pulling at my heartstrings…

 

I weave threads of melody as if the piano were a loom, and I can see these threads rise into the air, twining, coiling and joining, forming a tableau of imagery and colour.

 

I channel my emotions into the plaintive melody, this melody subtly covered by the shimmering, trilling harmonies; the waterfalls of arpeggios slide in and out of focus, and the naiad’s song of yearning and desire coyly allowing itself to be heard, like birdsong at a riverbank.

 

My hands work to execute the sweeping arpeggios of water and spray, while the sad siren song continues unperturbed, calm and tranquil. And the tapestries of harmony continue weaving into impressionistic legends and tales of ghosts and spirits…

 

The music has my emotions gripped in it; I have made myself a part of this melody, made this melody part of me—and now the threads come from me too; I can see strands of white stuff emerging as from my chest, twisting and winding around each other, being blown about by an intangible wind like smoke from a chimney.

 

It pains me to make the threads beautiful. Yet I pour myself out, rolling in this music, revelling in the intensity of the pain and the beauty. The melodies continue, pulling the threads from the piano and from me, flowing among the harmonies and colours, resilient in storms of water and wind.

 

My hands fly up and down the compass of the keyboard, caressing the white-black contrasts and drawing the notes delicately out of the hammers and the strings. Each tone, each note, I draw deliberately out of the loom of this music; each thread, each strand, comes out of the colourful harmonies and melodies.

 

The music splashes in a sudden gust of wind, spilling in a crystalline spray of falling figures, while the plangent melody still continues, a low groaning as agitated as the geysers of glittering water—

 

The tapestry shakes. A low rumble sounds; the threads weave themselves into each other, frantically waving about in the turbulent air, twirling about as if lost in a viscous fluid, roiling in imagery and myth—

 

The storm unleashes its furious climax in loud flares of sound, in angry arpeggios and glaring colours, while in between, the tapestry’s threads lie like a dormant volcano, descending under the sky-high crests and the hell-deep troughs of notes. This world of water is a whirlpool, all-encompassing and immensely powerful; alluring in its danger and sheer beauty, it calls to me like the haunting swish, swish, swish of the silent waves…

 

The deep red sun lies low in the horizon, glinting shyly behind the clouds, as if shamed by the utter power of the water over its faraway fire. The ocean stills; ringing with a wistful sadness, it beats in flowing glissandi, while I, lost in wondrous worlds of thought, let my hands roam the keys on their own, and the threads still come, come, from the loom of the strings and the flax of my heart.

 

Still singing peacefully over the continued shimmer of the river’s ostinato, the plaintive melody shines like a golden thread in the middle of the musical tableau, awash with colours…

 

I let the beating ostinato rise in a cloud of sustained haze, and it glistens to nothing.

 

The pause is deafening—

 

and here is my melody for you. Will you take it? Will you take what I offer?

 

The music bursts forth again as I weep at the answer, yet I know that these tears are but nothing to the tumult of water and water-sprites’ laughter, as they rejoice in the languishing spray on my heart’s cold windows, and the tapestry dissociates into a wash of music and several glistening, spinning singularities…

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