the dream he composed
Alisa Lu | Art by Allison Li
The child slaved away at the piano, sweat dripping from his forehead. He looked towards the crowd for comfort, for validation. He searched for the only face he knew, the only one that mattered, and a quiet gaze met his own. And after everybody stood up for applause, after he bowed and the clapping grew and faltered, he sighed and went home.
He changed into his pajamas, crawled into bed, and tucked himself in, surrounding himself in a familiar softness, relieved to be away from the stage. Then, he closed his eyes in one world, and opened them in another.
Blades of tall grass tickled his legs and cheeks as he smiled in response. He looked towards the dark sky in all its vastness, with hazy clouds shifting and changing from one form to another. Quietly, a moth landed on his cheek, and he let it rest there before it flew away.
As he watched the flutter of its wings disappear, a subtle note filled the air.
He winced. C sharp, but a quarter flat.
He walked towards the noise, eager to find out what it was, to fix it. His eyes traced the sound to a blinding light in the distance. It reflected a plethora of colors into the air, a contrast to the normally black and white landscape. He trudged towards the now increasingly pandemonic sounds, his eyes glued on his feet to avoid the stinging brightness of the light.
As he approached closer and closer, the dissonance faded beneath his footsteps, until finally he looked up and saw the gentle colors and light fluttering about a crystal piano.
He heard a whisper. Play.
* * *
The boy saw himself, several years younger, wailing and crying. He was clinging onto his father’s legs, attempting to pull him away from the music hall and towards home. His father gently lifted him up and carried him into the building, where children gathered in a well-lit, almost blinding room, each eager to get their hands on the keys. With dried tears on his face, the boy learned to curl his fingers, to keep his back straight, to clack out a rhythm with wooden sticks, and to always, always take a deep breath before starting to play. After the lesson, his teacher called him in and gave him a special sticker to award his diligence. To foster his light.
The boy watched as he went home, proudly displaying the sticker that he had plastered on the back of his hand. He smiled at his father, and his father smiled back.
The landscape around the boy began to fade. He stood alone in the darkness, with only the image of his smiling father left in his mind. Panicked, he jerked awake from his bed and looked around his dark room. Realizing he was safe, he laid back down into bed and closed his eyes once again.
This time, he was in the dark, empty desert. He heard the faint sounds of crickets, and the quiet rustling of leaves. His mind began to wander, and he, along with it, began to drift away.
He floated towards the familiar crystal glow, the same quarter-flat C-sharp that had bothered him so much before.
Once again, he stopped at the feet of the glittering piano. He held out his hand and watched curiously as the lighted colors danced about against his fingers. This time, they seemed dimmer, yet more forceful.
* * *
The boy saw himself smiling brightly at his father again. He had just finished a lesson, and his teacher was telling him about his good work. The three of them stood in the muted darkness outside the music school building. Moths gathered around the street lamps as the child placed another sticker on his hand. He and his father waved goodbye, and they went home.
The child, tired from a long lesson, put on his pajamas, crawled into his bed, and tucked himself in, surrounding himself in a familiar softness. He was about to close his eyes, when his father entered the room.
He crossed his arms firmly across his chest when he saw the child resting in bed. “What are you doing? I want you to be successful. You should be practicing.”
* * *
Several cracks began to rupture across the glass, fracturing the boy’s reflection within the surface. Fearful that the piano would soon shatter, the child forced himself awake.
Seeing that the sun outside his window had yet to rise, he closed his eyes, one last time.
This time, he awoke in a performance hall shrouded in a dense darkness. A deadly silence hung still in the air. He walked slowly towards the shining fragmented glass, his fingers brushing against the cracked surface of the keys. He sat down on the bench before the piano and hesitated, seeing the image of his father’s gentle smile, of his arms crossed firmly against his chest. His fingers placed gently on the keys, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Always, always, before you play.
The boy frowned. He stood up, stepped away from the piano, and walked the other direction. Away from the shining light of the crystal piano, away from the dancing colors.
He headed towards the familiar darkness. In a blur, through city lights, across deserts, past grass fields. He laid down onto a patch of weeds, his face to the dark night sky, looking toward the changing hazy clouds. He giggled softly, and as if in reaction to hearing his own voice, he stood up and took a big breath. And he began to caper and play.
A flurry of moths flew by and danced about the frolicking boy. In the darkness, in the chambers of his own world, he played within the dream that he composed. A moth landed on his cheek; he caught it in his hands, and let it go. And when the light flooded into his room once again, he opened his eyes for the first time.