Thursday, November 22, 2007

His Master's Voice

When the soldiers left, he moved in. The house was a ruin, gutted by shelling, rubble everywhere. Still, a few of the rooms were more or less intact and three walls are better than none. There was food left over in the pantry and potatoes in the garden behind the house. There was even a well in the backyard - a little brackish, but it would do. There was no electricity, of course. He used the furniture for firewood, breaking it up with an axe he found in the basement, and when that ran out he hacked down the doors. He would have gone to the forest but he wasn't sure he had the strength. Besides, there were wolves out there - he heard them howling in the night, had even seen their dark shapes moving on the edge of the wood. It was a long, bitter winter, and they were hungry.

When fuel for the fire ran out they came for him, as he had known they would. He took all that he needed - water, blankets, some food - and shut himself up in a room upstairs, one that still had a door. They came at night. He could hear their claws clattering up the staircase, the snuffling of their breath under the door. They knew he was in there. It was only a matter of time before they attacked, before they broke through to him. It was a flimsy door, it would give way easily enough. He would have pushed some furniture against it, but he had already burnt it all. For three days they came and went, while he cowered in his room. They seemed afraid of the day. They would come a little after dusk and head back to the forest at dawn.

On the third night, overcome with despair, he decided to play the gramophone. It was an old wind-up set, and there was a fine collection of recordings to go with it. Whoever lived here before had clearly been a music enthusiast. He had avoided using it till now - afraid that someone might hear, afraid of drawing attention to the house. But it hardly mattered now and besides, it had been weeks since the front moved on. There probably wasn't another human being for miles.

So, on the third night, using a few minutes of his precious candlelight, he put a record on the gramophone. Dvorak's Cello Concerto. The 1937 Casals recording. The music both heroic and ruined, flooding the night with its savage cry. Half way through the second movement he realized he could no longer hear the wolves. He went over to the door, pressed his ear against it. No sound. Carefully, summoning all his strength, he pulled himself up to the ventilator, looked down. No sign of them. What had happened? Where had they gone? Then he realized. It was the music. It must be. It was scaring them off. Listening to the opening strains of the third movement he felt a lightness starting to sing in his heart.

After that, he sat up every night, playing records. All the masters of his youth. Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Sibelius, Brahms. Even some Wagner - why not? The Germans would approve. He played symphonies mostly, some of the grander concertos, keeping Chopin for the daytime, afraid it may be too tender to keep the wolves at bay. Sleepless and starving, he listened to these masterpieces over and over, the tears running down his eyes, while outside the wind raged and, far away, a wolf howled.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah too tame! Also the plot seems familiar though cannot immediately place it.

Anonymous said...

does the ending mean the wolves have now got used to this gramophone music and hence, are prepared to brave themselves against his door ?

howling and announcing their return, which is why he is crying?

Ah, open to interpretations?

Anonymous said...

A lot of bleakness, but strangely** positive. Nice.

[** Or should I say, "unusually"? :)]

~N.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! This would also make a nice 15-min short!

AakASH!!! said...

Really good to read.

And when he starves in the end, hass he finished all the potatoes and the food? How long does this tale last?

Supremus said...

Dunno why, but this tale reminds me of The Pianist :)

Anonymous said...

Oooh, another dissertation-related metaphysical conceit. The wolves howling for a regression while our luckless seventh-year protagonist plays Casals and weeps..

n!

Lost-In-Symbols said...

Poignant and beautifully metaphorical. Ignore the cynics - their souls are wolves too -