Or, An Ocean Full of Fishbowls (Shake off all that selfhood, get up and greet the noösphere!)”
There were eight of us, the woman, her child, the two boys, and the old man with the violin, the young man, the old man who was blind, and myself. None of us knew each other. We were standing around the way people do when they’re waiting at a bus stop, but I don’t think that’s where this was. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter.
The young woman was so fixedly turned away that it was like no one would ever see her face again. Her baby, genderless in infancy, looked around at everything with blank amazement and no recognition. Mother and child so indivisible that both seemed like the other’s defective shadow.
In repose rare for their restless age, the two boys were very young to be standing unchaperoned amongst grown strangers. One looked slightly right, the other, left, content enough with the other’s presence, like lookouts upon a mirador who didn't even know the castle to their backs had been long abandoned and stood now empty and useless. Indeed, it seemed like the only thing either boy could notice was the other’s absence.
Partially aloof, the young man looked unwilling to stay and equally unwilling to leave. The flat brim of his mint condition baseball cap cast a sinister shadow over his otherwise innocent face. His pants and shirt and coat were decidedly worn out in comparison. The mean shade hung on his visage like a challenge to the world, daring it to point out his spotless, flashy cap against the rest of his thrift store wardrobe. The challenge gave away his age more than his face did—those who make it to old age have typically learned the folly of challenging the world to anything at all.
The blind man’s skin was bone white. His face was all jagged points, especially the tip of his long beard. He stood eerily on the scene’s outskirt, as if only half-visible, shrouded in black clothing, the lenses of his glasses dark and glimmering in the day like a beetle’s posterior. Loosely, he held his cane like a preserved cadaver propped up on display, the long metal stick slid by greedy intentions into his gaunt, posed grip.
Six faces set like the eyes of goldfish, coronating themselves masters of the eternities they mistook their fishbowls for. This is why we’ll always be so scared, I thought, so helpless and alone. We see the world and give it names and rules, but the world does not see us back. Reality is blind. We live and die under the curse of sight.
Rolling my eyes from the futile scene, I found the old violinist absenting himself from the little throng to regard a nearby tree with an intensity that demanded madness. The details of his méin and his attire elude me now. All I remember is his instrument, and then, when he felt me watching him and turned, the smile upon his lips amplified by his mangy beard, pepper colored, clement sunshine offered from his grey eyes, a luminescing reminder of how great a treasure sunshine is.
That smile. I could not return it but I could not ignore it either. Who did he think he was, smiling at me like all things were well in this world? He waved me over like he’d known me all his life.
I looked down at the ground to pretend I hadn’t seen him but could not do so for long. When I looked back up, he waved me thither a second time, and as his congenial face stayed undented by my rudeness, I quickly found myself at his side before the tree.
“See?” he asked.
The violinist had a spry voice. Shrill and clodhopper, yet harmonized with patience and astute poignance, his voice seemed as old and giving as the ground upon which we both stood.
I squinted, sneering a bit as I inquired the seemingly unremarkable tree. I began glancing back and forth between ours and the surrounding trees, looking for some peculiarity or malformation. The violinist put his hand on my shoulder, smiling still, and said,
“It’s alright, son, it’s alright.”
The old violinist began to address the tree.
“He can’t see you in there, tree. Don't worry. It isn’t personal. I can still see you, friend. I know that you are there. I’m still here, tree. Don't worry. You’re not alone.”
The violinist rested two fingertips of his free hand upon the up and down ridges of the tree trunk’s bark.
“I like your bark,” he said. “Soft and rough at the same time. Like Gramma fingers when you're a kid, and she’d wrap those old witch digits around your hand and you’d want to run off because they were old and witchy but you couldn’t stand to let go off her because you could tell Gramma liked you more than anyone else did.”
The violinist’s eyes ventured up the towering tree trunk, then leapt from branch to branch as the limbs dispersed across the sky.
“I like how you try to stand up straight, but still end up a little crooked anyway, so you have to stretch out your arms like this –” The violinist put his arms out. “–to keep your balance. I’m a little crooked too, see?”
The violinist closed his eyes, and the helixes of his ears began to twitch slightly with the groans of the tree.
“I like the way the wind makes you creak. Its like how stairs creak when someone’s walking up them to open your door and say hello after they’ve been gone for a long long time.”
Hushing himself, the violinist bowed his head to dark invention. He listened through the white noise for the ageless chorus that with an honest “Yes” smelts time and memory off of truth. I thought that he might start to cry, or maybe laugh, or keep his eyes shut forever. In fact, I had no idea what the violinist was about to do. Had he disappeared into thin air, I wouldn’t have been any more jarred than I was when he brought up his head, opened his eyes, and said, “I’ve got a song for ya, tree. Listen up.”
He started with a trill. In one descending bow stroke, it spurred from whole notes to halves to quarters to eighths. Having thus alerted the universe to its presence, the song rose and curled dewy blue around the static our little eyes had laid upon the day, before melodiously chippering into an upbeat, majestic, hopeful cerulean.
Pendulating the navy troughs and aquamarine crests, the music saturated the empty space that had turned the rest of us into fragments, and brought to concord the scene’s disparate players who had quarantined their souls from life with succuban delusion that they were each the lead in their own separate story, the most important story ever told. We were, for a moment, free from our own selves, and in perfect harmony with each other, like the survivors of a shipwreck, entropy shrugged.
I remembered my thesaurus’s definition of music: ‘organized sound.’ Organized by whom?
Because he looked at the tree.
So did I.
But you were not looking for yourself. When he saw the tree, he saw it speaking to him with his own voice.
Are you speaking to me now, tree?
You are speaking to yourself.
Yes. Yes. “One.”
A widening occurred, a vital and inherent substance beneath the face of all things revealed itself. Somehow, I remembered the others – the mother, the baby, the boys, the man, and the blind man – without having really forgotten them. There they stood, looking not much different than they had before, but now I had such an outpouring of gratitude for everything about them that I nearly wept, for myself and for them, for how lucky we all were for everything that had ever lead us to this moment, our fishbowls fractured and the world beyond dark with endless discovery, like the nightly heavens that lead us to telescopes, to red shifts, and to the theories of life itself: the tree that commissioned the song so that the singer could show me the tree: one life.
And for a moment, it seemed like everyone was about to start dancing and let the whole world fall apart.
“So what is that?” the musician asked me when he had finished playing.
“It’s a miracle,” I answered.
“No,” he told me. “It’s a tree. You made it a miracle.”