A bit of a story

Something I wrote a while ago. Part-practice, part-impulse. It’s a side thing to a bigger story I’m working on. Still working on. On hold, at the moment, but, still being worked on. This bit is just really meant to flesh out the character. It has also passed the rough draft period and has been edited down somewhat. Do call out if there’s anything wrong or amiss with it.

Also, I have, like, only a little idea of how music work. And I enjoy music in a mostly irregular way. And the story is set in the real world but on a whole different continent than the one I live in. So, yeah. Do call me out if something is off.

Ever since Jim left, Kane’s life had been reduced to dull echoes on everybody else’s. His life was doing fine, steady, with no hitches or bumps or trouble even far in the horizon. He was doing fine in school. His grades were okay. The professors hardly knew his face because he had never have problems enough to see them. On weekends he took walks in the park and spent some time in the library. Sometimes he would be asked out to parties or dinners, and he would come, and he would eat and chat about nothing in particular. And he would go home, and some people might remember him as that nice polite guy, but never more, because he never put attention to himself, never needed attention to himself.

Kane’s room looked empty now. He couldn’t quite get used to that. When he still shared the flat with Jim, there were posters put up on the wall, drawings and CDs strewn on the table, notes filled with sheets music and lyrics. The books in the shelf would be a mess, because sometimes Jim forgot to put them back where they should be. There was a small keyboard, a harmonica, and a guitar Jim never quite prop up properly. He played the thing day and night, and often he would just put it down on any part of the floor that was the closest.

With Jim gone, so were his posters and CDs and the music that sometimes helped Kane sleep. The books on his shelf were back to being neatly organized, because he couldn’t quite do what Jim did, returning the books in a seemingly random order. The only things on the desk now was his thick textbooks and his notes on chemical reactions and radioactive decay. No more random scribbles of music notations, no more pieces and bits of poetry Jim was weaving into his songs. Everything was clean, rigid, orderly. Exactly how Kane had set them up before Jim entered his life, and now he hated it.

The only trace left of him–after the one day when Jim told Kane, abruptly and without previous announcements, that he was leaving, after he had cleaned up every other trace of his existence in the room–was sitting on the far side of the room, under the desk, now already obscured behind the plate of periodic table. Kane could still look at it when he was sitting on the desk, and every time he did so he would consider, and then he would swallow his thoughts, and on the worst of days he might reach in for it, but at the last minute he would return to his work. Now that Jim was gone there was no longer a reason to consider anything but organic compounds and their exotic names as important.

Kane had never considered himself musical. Not until Jim told him he was, until he told him it was worth pursuing. The violin only ended up in his room because his mother had send it to him, was convinced that he had accidentally left it behind even though it was quite the opposite. Aside from fulfilling lessons when he was younger, he had never find a need for it. The instrument sat in his trunk for months, hidden from sight. Until Jim came along, was looking for something to organize his things, and found it stashed in there.

Jim went into the flat carrying nothing but a guitar on his back, a keyboard in his arm, and a suitcase half filled with clothes and the rest with CDs, flutes, harmonicas. It wasn’t difficult to tell that he was a music person, and later Kane also found out that he could sing, that he could make up songs and improvise, but it was only much later, when Jim found the abandoned violin and was subsequently fascinated by it, that Kane learned he could, was determined to, play any instrument imaginable.

“I didn’t know you play,” was what Jim had said, when he found it.

“I don’t, actually,” Kane had said. “I didn’t even remember it was there.”

“But you have it! That’s good enough. Can you play?”

Kane had nodded.

“Show me.”

Kane had no particular attachment to the violin, or its music. It was a relief for him to go to college and leave all his lessons and compulsory recitals behind. But something in Jim’s eyes sparked something inside him. He picked up the violin, he played a note, the note turned into a song. In his mind he was only playing the same classic piece he had played over and over again when he was younger, just a part of his lessons. But Jim was transfixed. He closed his eyes, he listened with his heart. And then he watched the movements of Kane’s fingers as if reading from a book.

When it was over, Jim asked Kane to play some more. And he did. And then again, and again. They spent a whole night with the violin, one player and one avid listener. Kane was surprised at Jim’s enthusiasm, had never met anyone quite so impressed by anything he ever did, much less a skill he didn’t much care for.

When he was too tired to play any more pieces, Jim took the violin from him. “Let me try.”

Jim couldn’t land a single note properly at first, but his enthusiasm was hardcore. Kane taught him what he could, and Jim picked the skill up like a man starving for food. One day when Kane left for school, he returned to find Jim smiling, his guitar and keyboards on the floor but with the violin propped on his shoulder.

“Hey, Kane.” He had said, grinning. “Watch me.”

It was the first time Kane was ever fascinated by the instrument he had hitherto played but never cared for. He was never much for music, not even since Jim moved in and sang his songs. But hearing him playing his violin lit a fire in his heart. Suddenly it was like the clouds had parted from his dull, grey life.

But now Jim was gone, along with the sparks he brought with him. He didn’t say where he was going, what he going to be doing out there. Jim was a man open about the things he did, but never why he did them. He didn’t as much as left an address or even a number. Nothing to contact by. The clouds had returned to Kane’s life, except now he recognized how dull it was, how dark and boring and quiet. The only thing left of the fire his friend had lit was the violin, stashed under the desk, at the far end of the room, behind rows of chemistry textbooks and a plate showing the periodic tables of elements.

He survived a week without touching it, a week of focusing on his studies and his errands and little else. He had a reason for avoiding it, a small problem that arouse the day Jim told him he was leaving: the only time he had ever liked playing the violin was when they were both doing its music together.

“You were too stiff, when you play,” Jim had said.

“That’s the proper way to play it.”

“What? Nah. You’re good enough. Maybe you have to be stiff, but not too stiff. As long as you can make it, and then the sound will make itself.”

And it did make itself. Jim taught him how to improvise, and eventually Kane stopped playing the same pieces over and over again, he stopped following the rigid rules of his old lessons. Jim taught him songs, songs that sometimes doesn’t even need to be memorized or put down into writing. But the only way he could pull it off was when they were together, a multi instrumental duet that followed after each other.

Without his friend, he had also forgotten how to play anything but his old boring pieces.

Two weeks after Jim left, someone knocked on Kane’s door at the stroke of midnight.

Kane opened the door a peek and called out, “Who’s there?”

The man outside the door looked unfamiliar. “You Kane? Jim Harris’s friend?”

“Yes, I am. Who are you?”

“Friend of a friend of a friend. So to speak. Said he forget to leave something for you.”

The man handed him a packet. Inside was a book, a sheet music collection of classical pieces for the violin, almost identical to the one Kane had left back home, under the bed, under piles of papers he never wanted to look at again. It was puzzling, and Kane almost feel insulted. Almost, until he opened it, and pages of handwritten notes spilled out of it. All of them were sheet music, lyrics, songs, arrangements. The songs the two of them made together but never bothered to write down. Apparently Jim did write them down, had only forgotten to leave them for him.

There was one page without a single musical note, a letter. From Jim. Apologies, gratitude. You were my best friend.

“Never did tell you where I’m going. I thought I shouldn’t, just to keep us both safe. But I’ve been thinking, and, I really shouldn’t leave you in the dark. I’m going back to my hometown–I can’t really say where it is–and then, hopefully to Birmingham. Don’t follow me. You’re doing great there.”

But then the letter ended with a note, “I hope we can see each other again. But, I hope it would be in a better time. ”

Kane put the letter down, and the book. He picked up all the scattered papers, put them down neatly on his desk. He looked about his room, thought it through, considered.

The next thing he did, he looked up for the train schedule to Birmingham.


2 thoughts on “A bit of a story

  1. Leaves a lot to the reader, eh? Pretty good as a scene, and a successful practice for characterization if that’s what you’re aiming, I daresay. However, to say something is amiss is a bit difficult given how much of this scene depends on this ‘Jim’. What the heck actually happens between them and what kind of person this Jim really is, that’d shape things up differently. Without the bigger picture, the Kane here is but a vague shadow. Any English teacher might chew me, saying it’s possible to draw conclusions from this fragment alone, but I’d argue he could still be interpreted in a multitude different ways, with no markers to narrow the guess down.

    1. Well, Kane is a vague shadow. I was trying to solidify Jim’s personality, really, for a story that doesn’t have Kane in it at all. Kane ends up pretty well though, I might make something more about him.

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