This piece has been inspired by an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote from one of my all time favourite books, 'The Great Gatsby'. The quote comes from the section of the book where Nick is at Tom's hidden flat with Myrtle and he looks out onto the city and writes "I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of human life".
(All words in this have been written by me, and if someone happens across it, please ask for my permission before placing it anywhere)
The melody came as it did every night, soft notes floating out of the window of the neighbouring apartment to rise up into the night sky and play amongst the stars high above the lamp-lit streets below, barely audible above the sounds of the illuminated city, but present nonetheless.
They come as clockwork every night, just after the chime of the hour that connects night and day, singing sweet songs of love and loss, happiness and sorrow. The melody seems to pierce the frozen night air, like shockwaves of sounds sending cracks across the crystal sky.
Minutes before the stroke of the hour I have taken to unlatching the window in my room and sliding up the glass ever so slightly, just enough to allow the sounds and smells of the city to ebb through the miniscule gap between window and ledge and envelope my senses, but not enough to wake the other occupants of the flat.
The city is a magical place at night I have discovered, filled with endless secrets and opportunities to witness something extraordinary, although few have the patience to wait. Even though many may hate the idea of living in the centre of a world that never sleeps, surrounded by the living at all times, I see it as magical – a version of Wonderland that few have discovered. There is too much to witness, too much to see thank if you lived away from the bustle and noise.
The piano has played every night for as long as I can remember. I have listened to it as often as I can, having memories of myself as a young child creeping out of bed in the dead of night and leaning against the frame of the window, pressing my ear to the cool glass in an attempt to catch every sound, every wisp of fairy-tale that the melody carried off into the night.
However sometimes it can be difficult to discern the tinkling of the piano keys over the cacophony of noise that blends together on the streets below. The blare of sirens and screech of car tyres have become almost natural to my ears, so much so that without them I fear I may never sleep peacefully again.
Along with the chorus of traffic sailing past some seven floors below, crowds of late night commuters weave their way amongst one another, as loud and as full of life as if they were travelling by daylight. They dance their way around one another, effortlessly avoiding the touch of their fellows of they can. Their angelic movements can lead one to believe, if witnessing their movements for the first time that it had be choreographed.
The ‘click click click’ of hundreds of heeled shoes cascading along the pavement out of sync, and the shrill laughter and drunken slurs of the passers-by mixed with the chorus of car engines and electro music escaping from the doors of drinking dens in the world below collide in an almost musical din – the night time anthem of the city.
But that’s below. They are the sounds of the people who walk the earth. I have grown to love the sounds that float closer to home. The gentle whisperings of lovers reassuring one another that they will be forever, more sophisticated music than that which proclaims from the streets below, finding a way to escape the room which it is contained and rising towards the heavens. And of course; the piano.
I do not know who plays the music I have grown so accustomed to hearing over the years, still decidedly unaware from which section of the building we share it is coming. It’s quite sad really, to be unable to greet and thank the creator of such beauty, but alas, it is one of the few downfalls of the city. You are unlikely to meet all of whom you wish to meet purely for the vastness of it all.
The sounds aren’t the only thing that draw attention to the window every night, the sights are equally as breath-taking, equally as mesmerising. The colours below blend together into an almost uncontrollable spectrum of lights, a kaleidoscope of such fluorescent beauty it’s almost blinding, yet you cannot look away.
Once again however, I am drawn not to the enveloping brightness below, but to the lesser, more golden lights that outline the city’s tall buildings and that stretch above the ruckus below.
These are the lights that hold secrets.
Being in possession of an ever thirsty curiosity I came to own a set of binoculars that may have once belonged to a great grandfather, or a long lost uncle, or may have simply always been there when needed by someone completely ordinary. These binoculars were always an accompanying friend when I journeyed to the window each night.
The butterflies filling my stomach as I press the cold rims of the device to my face are as constant a companion as the binoculars themselves. It may seem peculiar to those who do not understand, but I have no morbid intrusiveness into the lives of my opposing neighbours, I am instead filled with inquisitiveness and wonderings into the lives of those whom I know I will never meet. The comparison of human lives and interactions are forever able to fill my imagination with never-ceasing perhapses and deliver me into unachievable dreams that I know I can achieve because I have witnessed them.
With the music of the pianist guiding my thoughts, I peer through the glass of the binoculars and begin my nightly search for something to dream about.
The first window I happen upon is one I have seen many times before. The room behind could be a living room or a bedroom, but it is hard to tell as it has been plastered from top to tail with papers of all sizes and colours. There is no discerning order to the pages littering the walls and furniture in the room, but it is clear they make sense to their owner.
Many a night I have seen her tracing the walls, her fingers dancing lightly across the words and sketches that are inked onto the paper. Sometimes, I pretend I can hear the slight rustle of the pages as her fingers skim over them, and convince myself that it’s not just my imagination. On other occasions however, I have simply watched as she sat on the floor and stared up at her masterpiece.
I drag my binoculars away from her beauty to another familiar window. In this room stands a solitary chair, upon which a balding man sits, head bowed low over the cello resting against his leg. I am mesmerised as I watch him gently stroke the strings with the delicate bow, pretending I can hear the deep rumbling notes echo through his apartment. His fingers rhythmically press the stings against the strong wooden frame. This man sits in his own world, allowing nought but the music to wash over him and sweep him into bliss.
Sometimes I have hours to watch him at his work, sometimes only minutes. I have as long as the piano plays.
I don’t mind being led so intensely by the piano’s melody, but I believe that, it being the reason that I rise from my bed each night, it must too be the reason I return to it or I fear I may still be awake to hear the sun paint its first rosy strokes across the sky.
As the melody begins to draw to an end, I too draw myself back to reality, a reality that I cannot escape so much as a musician can escape the urge to play.
But I am not sad, for there is nothing to be unhappy about. I will return again tomorrow, and the next night, and the night after that as sure as a beating heart, to resume my journey of wonderings.
With the final note pressed and held upon the piano, I shut my window and return to silence.