Angel in the Maze
Author: 3jane

Chapter 7
Cadenza

‘There, you see. I just make it up,’ Syrus says, putting down the harp. He is perched on a table and the sunlight is streaming through the broken windows onto the back of his head, turning his hair into a wonderful blaze. There are about fifteen people gathered round him, some with instruments, some without. This is where he is at home, so totally part of the situation that Theorny finds it hard to imagine what it was like before they found him.

‘Free yourselves. That’s the point of a cadenza; it’s the musical equivalent of freefall. Whatever you want to say in music, however the rest of the piece makes you feel, just let it all out. Everyone’s is going to be different.’

‘But what if it’s no good?’ asks Kila the purple-haired singer. Syrus smiles at her, trying desperately to reach out and pull down the blocks she has in her mind about improvising, about ‘what if’.

There is no what if. There’s only is, or isn’t.

‘There’s no such thing as good or not good. The notes, the technique and stuff like that: all completely irrelevant. What matters is that you express yourself. Tell us what the music makes you think, by responding in kind. I can’t really say any more than that. Trust yourself to create something, because it’s there inside you, Kila, I can see it.’

He stops.

Have no fear. Just give, and love, and be loved in return.

‘How are you so free?’ wonders Theorny quietly. ‘You’re just fifteen, how can you know all this when we don’t and we’re adults with years and years of training?’

‘I don’t know it. I just feel it.’

‘So you’re teaching us things you don’t know yourself?’ Negellan says, a twist to his mouth. Syrus sighs.

Why has Negellan always got something wrong with what I say?

Cause you’re you, Syrus. He’s jealous, he wants to have the abilities you’ve got.

I’d give them to him, gladly. He’s a good harpist. He just needs confidence.

‘Negellan, I’m not teaching anyone. I’m just talking and you happen to be listening. You all know this anyway, I’m just voicing our collective opinions.’

‘Oh for God’s sake, let’s not argue over all this, it’s stupid. Sy, have you got time to go through the aria for Thursday with me?’ Kila asks, jerking her head at the empty practice room behind them. Syrus nods.

‘Sure. The Puzanelli, you mean? Come on then. But,’ he holds up his hands to the people round him, ‘even if this is the only thing you remember all day, that’s what matters to me. There’s no such thing as rules. Just enjoy the moment.’

A sunny smile breaks on his face at the mere thought of it.

Freedom. I’ve been free all my life, I’ll never know what it feels like to become free. It must be incredible.

‘God, what’s wrong with Negellan these days?’ hisses Kila as she kicks the door of the practice room shut. It used to be an office, but now it’s got a horrible old piano in it and it’s one of the only rooms where the door shuts properly. ‘He’s really mad about something but he won’t tell us what it is.’

‘It’s me,’ says Syrus gloomily, perching on the edge of the table. ‘I don’t know what I’ve done, but every time I talk to him he thinks I’m trying to patronise him or something and he gets all prickly. How can I make him see? The only way he’s going to get better is by learning patience and gentleness and all that stuff, that, you know, that for most of us is the only way we’ve ever been. Maybe he thinks I’ve usurped him.’

She touches his hand.

God, he’s only fifteen and he’s already got all this inside him, when most people spend their entire lives learning it. Amazing.

‘Don’t worry about it, Sy. You’re too tolerant, that’s your problem. Come on, let’s get on with this bloody aria before I lose my concentration.’

‘Right. From the top?’

He plucks an A on the harp for her, then plays the opening bars. He’s here this time, at least, he’s still semi-aware of what’s going on, but her voice is so beautiful that he barely thinks, he’s swept along and it goes by like a dream, until she hits a duff note and stops, laughing. He blinks, his anaesthetic gone. It’s like being woken up from sleep-walking and he hates it every time, that sudden break in the flow of music.

‘God, sorry, that was gross.’

She’s gone a bit red, she knows it was an easy note she should have got no problem. Syrus shakes his head; it’s nothing. She half-sighs, half-screams.

‘Grr! I need to practise so much before Thursday, I don’t know when I’m going to fit it all in. Ah well, let’s go from, er… bar 30?’

And it goes on. Soon they have gathered a small audience who hang round the door and listen, and at the end they clap appreciatively. All apart from Negellan, who is watching Syrus with a sort of jealous awe on his face. Syrus absently does a few scales.

‘Kila, that was amazing. How can you sing like that?’ he wonders. It strikes him every time just what a lovely voice she has. Very clear, not operatic, but at the same time so warm and natural, like it’s born to come out at those impossible pitches. She flushes with pleasure, twining a strand of her purple hair round a finger shyly.

‘Thanks. Shall we do another run on Thursday when I’ve made it better?’

‘Okay. Thursday it is.’

And that is much the pattern of his days, spent with people who think the same as him, they’re all driven by the undeniable glory of making music, of the coming together when everyone is on exactly the same wavelength and the sound just pours out in a perfect torrent, and he knows, ah, this is what people are made for, and nothing else matters. They have no interest in politics, in business, in the squabbles of the workers and the Industrial Front and the devious machinations of the Seneschal’s Court. Who would choose all that over the simple joy of creating? He loves every second of his existence, and there’s not many fifteen-year-old boys in Northbridge who could say that. Living by instinct; life can’t get much more rewarding. He discovers the organ and he’s absolutely blown away, and he leaves his first lesson – with an old bloke called Wecar who plays at the Cathedral sometimes when his arthritis isn’t too bad – in a daze, practically deafened by the wealth of sound that one instrument can make and his ears ringing with that solo Wecar played him. He’s obsessed. He even forsakes his harp for a few days and practically lives in a tiny cold little church in Third Ward, St Everard’s – where no one cares who uses the organ so long as they don’t break it – so as not to spoil his newly-found understanding of keyboards, and making his fingers press rather than pluck, not to mention controlling his feet as well. All these crazy new concepts, that he never knew he knew, like counterpoint and figured-bass and homophony, polyphony, imitation, millions of other names he can’t remember, all there to help explain why he understands music the way he does. He was talking to Theorny about it the other day.

‘It’s strange, Sy,’ Theorny was saying, waving his hand with a cigarette in it and dropping ash all over Syrus’s bed, ‘that lot at the Institute, they have to study all the rules before they even put notes to paper, and you can just write and sound so free. But you’re instinctively using all these things it takes normal people years to understand; you actually join music and rules and not make it sound boring. How the hell do you do it?’

Syrus shrugs.

‘Before I came here, I didn’t even know there were rules about writing music. It seems a bit weird, though: we don’t have rules about talking, like ‘you can say that there but it has to be followed by this, and ooh no you can’t use that’ – how is music any different to speech? It’s just a way of showing people what your world is like; if you choose to show your world in a certain way no one can correct you – cause it’s yours, right?’

Theorny smiles, shaking his head. Syrus looks so sweet with his intense little face asking such a question with no trace of anything but pure curiosity. Like a kid – but then, he is, in terms of theory, he’s a complete beginner.

‘Sy, you’re the exception to the rules, so I can’t imagine this will make a lot of sense to you. But I know that if I tried to compose totally freely I’d go crazy, I’d barely know where to start. It kind of helps to have a framework.’

Syrus is silent, considering.

Hear that, angel? There are rules that I never even knew about.

You’re born to those rules, Syrus. They’re part of you, and you just do them as second nature, because you know what works in music and what doesn’t – why it works, well, that never mattered to you. Who cares why things work, if they sound good?

How come I know what to do?

You just know. Because you’re you, and you’ve got a musical instinct that no one else has even a hope of understanding. And like I said: who cares why, when you could simply enjoy it? Teaching you the theory of music is like teaching someone how to see. You don’t learn how, you just do it because you’ve never not been able to do it.

Why is no one else like this?

No one really knows. It happens to you alone, and you should love the fact it’s so easy for you to express all these crazy emotions you get. You have so much to give.

‘Sy? You alright?’ asks Theorny. He’s a bit worried at Syrus’s face looking so blank. ‘Not hearing voices or something, are you?’

Syrus jumps, guilty like an animal caught in a torch beam.

‘How did you know?’

‘You had that look on your face. That one you get when you’re really focused on playing and your eyes kind of... I dunno, they change. Where – ’ Theorny shakes his head hopelessly, desperately trying to understand, ‘where do you go?’

Tell him about me.

You’re sure? I don’t even know your name.

Why do I need a name?

‘Well,’ Syrus says slowly, flicking the ash off his mattress, avoiding Theorny’s eyes. He feels exposed, like he’s not wearing any pants and everybody knows.

‘Ever since my dad died, in fact about a minute after he died, there’s been someone sharing my head. An angel, I think, this kind of asexual thing with wings. It won’t tell me its name, but it talks to me sometimes, and when I play I can be in the same place that it is. It tells me stuff, explains things. Its emotions are where the moods in the music I write come from. It’s a bit weird, I know, but it helps me understand the world in the only way I know, which is music. Don’t tell Negellan, he’ll do something bad, put me in a loony bin or something, knowing him,’ he gabbles at the end, seeing Theorny’s face. Sort of horrified and amazed both at the same time.

‘Syrus, you… God, you’re amazing. We’ve found you. I don’t even believe in this stupid leader thing that everyone’s so het up about, but I can’t deny that you’re the one we’ve needed for so long. Thank you,’ he says fervently, ‘thank you.’

The moment stretches between them, Theorny’s face alive with emotions Syrus can’t quite read; he’s on the brink of understanding completely, then it all slips away again.

Thank you for what? All I’ve done is be me.

Pride swells in Syrus’s pigeon chest, and before he can stop himself he’s flung his arms round Theorny, grinning like a nutter. Theorny ruffles Syrus’s long hair.

‘Argh, get off, I can’t breathe,’ he says, pretending to asphyxiate, and they both fall about laughing because it’s so stupid. There’s something easier about them now, the sense of a boundary being broken. And it inspires them to write new music, amazing, soaring tunes that only a violin can do true justice to, with gorgeous perpetual motion from the harp underneath. When they play it at a free concert at the Cathedral, supporting an Institute piano quintet who’re a bit more free-thinking than the rest of them, it’s so rapturously received that Syrus and Theorny can barely get off the stage through the gaggle of journalists and music critics, the most amazing experience of Syrus’s life. He’s awake when he plays that; at least, he can see the transported audience through half-shut eyes. Needless to say the quintet, although they’re perfectly good, are skimmed over entirely by the audience, and as the main event of the evening they’re pretty pissed off, and walk right out without stopping to exchange pleasantries with Syrus and Theorny, let alone go for a drink afterwards, as is the custom. Syrus remembers the face of the lead violinist, a severe-looking woman with long brown hair.

Of course she’s good, she’s from the Institute, but where’s her soul? he keeps wondering. Where’s that sheer loveliness that all musicians share, when they’re out on the stage and they’re incandescent with the very sound of what they’re playing? It’s missing.

Theorny agrees, sitting in the back row of the audience and trying to ignore all the eyes still watching him, even though the others are on stage. So do the papers; in the arts section of the Northbridge Post there was more on Syrus and Theorny than there was on the quintet, complete with fuzzy lithographs that made Syrus look like a starved girl and Theorny a sort of goblin. A revolutionary new sound from the elusive Musilists, the review says. One to watch. But they’re ecstatic. What they’ve done out there is something beautiful, something new and exciting and Syrus can still hear the way their notes pinged off the ceiling of the church and fizzed through the air like electricity. That feeling, it’s unmistakeable, creative sublimation. That’s what he lives for.

This kind of thing happens to Syrus so much over the next few months that he forgets everything, forgets Yorel and Pasani and all the people he used to know when Lumen was alive. The only thorn in his deliriously happy side is Negellan and his persistent antagonism, which he continually quizzes his angel about and neither of them can understand it.

It’s like he came here by accident, Syrus tells his angel one day, cause he’s not like the rest of us, he’s really frustrated of something and he just won’t let it go.

It’s cause he’s angry at the world, Syrus, replies the angel, its beautiful face pensive. He’s angry at you for being everything he’s not, and he’s angry at the Institute for rejecting him. He came here to hide from the world that he wasn’t allowed into, but he knows he doesn’t fit in here, not really.

Syrus thinks about this. For some reason it makes him very sad.

Poor Negellan. All I do is try and help him and he just shouts at me. I wish I could make him see that no one’s judging him. It doesn’t matter that he’s not a fantastic musician, we’d accept him anyway, if he’d only believe it.

But he won’t. And that’s the fundamental difference between us and him, Syrus. If even you can’t help him, then he’s beyond help: and that means you should watch out for him, because his resentment could be very dangerous to us here.

Syrus remembers this conversation for a long time afterwards, and it preys on his mind, to the extent that Theorny, who by now is Syrus’s adopted big brother, asks him what the hell’s happened to his music one evening after a rehearsal of Syrus’s new sonata.

‘It’s gone all dark and brooding, even the major stuff. It’s actually really scary, Sy, I mean it’s amazing and everything, but… what’s wrong with you?’

Syrus shrugs. Anyone can tell he’s got a lot on his mind. His skin has gone dull and his face is sort of pinched, and he hasn’t eaten properly in days.

‘Theorny, I’m worried about Negellan. He’s so… well, angry about things. I’ve got this horrible feeling that he’s going to do something really stupid, or I am, and all this amazing existence we’ve got here will disappear cause there’s so much dissonance around. I can’t compose properly, I’m too scared.’

Theorny shakes his head. He’s looking similarly fraught, but that might be because he’s got three recitals in the next week and Ithan the pianist has broken his finger so he can’t play in any of them; Syrus is frantically trying to learn the parts, but it’s not going well, he's no pianist.

‘I know, Sy, he’s being a right idiot. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, though. What can he do to us?’

‘I dunno, but… Oh God, I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s driving me mad! He’ll get the press in and no one’ll be able to concentrate and everything's gonna go wrong. Why can’t he just be happy? He’s in the most amazing place in the whole world, with all of you to make this wonderful music with, and all he can do is be angry. I don’t understand it.’

Theorny shrugs.

‘There’s not much to understand. He’ll get over it, he’s, ah, I dunno, probably not getting enough sleep at the moment or something. You know, sometimes people are pissed off at everything for no reason, and then they stop and just get on with it. Come on, come and help me compose my suite; forget about him, he’ll sort himself out.’

‘Well, okay. I hope you’re right.’

It’s the end of choir practice, and they’ve just finished singing through a chorale that Syrus and Kila have written for the dedication of a new church in Fourth Ward, St Helena’s. They’re all in the main room, the Musilists, holding their score-sheets, and Kila is conducting. Syrus is thinking up an organ part just in case it needs one. Everyone is happy with the rehearsal, it’s really starting to come together now. But suddenly Negellan, who has been oddly quiet all evening, screws up his copy and throws it away, barging out from between Ithan and Arfe in the basses.

‘What the hell’s the point?’ he shouts. ‘We’re wasting our time!’

‘Negellan? What’s the matter with you?’ Theorny calls back from the tenors. Syrus looks up from his manuscript, where Negellan’s shout startled him into making a big smudge across his imperfect cadence.

Oh God. I knew it. Here we go, it’s all going to crash down round my ears.

Why did it have to be so soon?

‘There’s no future in this and we all know it; I’m sick of pretending everything’s great. There’s never enough food, no heating, no water, no anything and it’s driving me mad! Why the hell are we living like this? We could be earning so much from all these concerts and recitals and stuff, but instead we’re living like tramps in this dump. Why?’

Negellan is really worked up by now. His hair, usually combed back neatly over his forehead, has fallen over his face and his eyes are slightly poppy.

‘I say we change, Musilists. We can do so much better than this shit, but for some reason we let every opportunity to earn a bit of cash just slide past without doing anything, and it’s really pissing me off!’ he spits, rounding on Syrus.

‘And shall I tell you why? It’s you, Syrus. You with your stupid spiel about oh, just let go, let it happen, man, everything’s great – for God’s sake is there no way to get you going? It’s ridiculous! Are you catatonic or something? All of you! Why can’t you see that there’s no future in skulking out here in this filthy hole when we could be making big money entertaining at top venues?’

‘Who said music has to be for money? That’s the Institute way,’ says Theorny calmly. ‘Music’s for sharing, Negellan, it’s not for being bought and sold. If you don’t like the way things are going here, we won’t force you to stay, though it’s a shame you feel like this.’

‘Well I’m bloody well not staying here! You God damn airheads, do you not give a shit about anything apart from your poor stupid little escapism rubbish? Oh, yeah, man, just let go – well here we are, I’ve let go, and if you don’t want to die on the streets without a penny to your name then you’ll let go as well!’

Negellan shoots one last crazed glance at Syrus, then tears the door open and flees down the corridor. Syrus’s heart is hammering.

Quick, go after him. Don’t let him get away and do something stupid, cries the angel. Syrus throws himself after Negellan who he finds in the sleeping room, stuffing random piles of clothes and things into a bag.

STOP HIM

‘Negellan! Calm down, for God’s sake, you’re crazy!’ Syrus exclaims, running over to him. Negellan looks thoroughly deranged by now, sweating and red-faced and furious.

‘No! I’m sick of it, Syrus, I’ve been cold and hungry and poor in the name of Art for far too long and I’ve just had enough! I don’t care how wonderful you are or how brilliant all this music is, I can’t be bothered with it any more, alright? Now fuck off!’

‘Negellan,’ Syrus begins, grabbing his arm, but he gets no further because Negellan hits him in the mouth with the other hand and shoves him hard in the ribs. Syrus falls across a mattress, dizzy with surprise, and whacks his head against the frame of another bed. Negellan has already gone. Syrus tastes blood and his head is smarting like mad. The angel is screeching at such treatment, beating its wings in impotent anger. Syrus forces it out of his aching skull and sits up. Negellan’s punch split his lip and it’s bleeding in a horrible wide-open way. Theorny and Cassel come running in.

‘He’s dead meat when I find him! Where’d he go?’ growls Cassel, looking round the room, then going outside and prowling the street. Theorny is next to Syrus, passing him a hanky made out of a bit of sheet which he presses against his bloody mouth. Theorny squeezes his shoulder.

‘You alright? He hit you hard?’

Syrus shakes his head and it hurts a lot.

‘No, not hard,’ he manages through his swollen mouth. ‘I tried to stop him, really I did.’

‘It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing you could’ve done.’

Cassel comes back in, shrugging.

‘Well, he really pegged it out of here. I can’t see him anywhere. Never mind, there’s always another screwball where he came from. You OK, Syrus?’

Syrus, nothing’s ever going to be the same again. It’s started to happen and there’s absolutely no way to stop it. Be careful, Syrus, says the angel, be so careful. Its eyes are awful like bottomless pits of despair, and it has the same split lip as Syrus, an ugly thick bruise with clotted blood.

‘I drove him away, Cass,’ Syrus says quietly. ‘It’s all my fault.’

Cassel shrugs, still looking out into the hall as if he expects Negellan to come back.

‘Nah, that’s rubbish,’ says Theorny, although he does not sound convinced. Syrus can’t bear it, this perfect existence that he’s just started to really enjoy, without the sneaking paranoia that it’s all some daydream and he’ll actually wake up on that street corner having just failed his Institute audition; this beauty is going to vanish, and all because he put Negellan’s nose out of joint without realising. His eyes begin to leak as well, and soon he’s sitting there with his face covered in blood and snot and tears, like some mucky little half-wit kid who can’t control himself. That’s what he feels like too, a stupid kid; he’s not been here five minutes and he’s already screwed everything up for all the people who’ve been here way longer than him.

And I still don’t even know what I’ve done. What have I started that I can’t stop, and why the hell is it so bad?

Syrus, I can’t tell you that. All I can tell you is that you’ll have to use everything you’ve got to come through it.

 

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