Fur Elise. His hands obeyed his heart deafly, unconsciously, and fluidly. They slowly and methodically flowed through the notes, dwelling swiftly upon the chords, and cascaded over, down, and up the once white, now yellowed keys. His old piano vibrated quietly and sang softly with the new life he had breathed into it, yet despite this warmth of character and life, there was not a warmth of pleasure. The hollow tones devoid of joy floated through the room of old books, old papers, and old feelings. They floated through the window into the cloudy neighborhood, over the houses, under the bare branches, and between the sidings and shutters of peeling paint. A bus arrived, he left his piano and his books; his house and his papers, but he could not leave his heart. It still floated up in the damp air with his music, his promises, and his memories; it still lived but as a ghost, a skeleton of its former self, unable to be killed but long since murdered.
It was Monday, and he arrived home at four. It was a bad day. He did not want to think about it, talk about it, or live it. Storming through the door he saw the piano, but he did not play it. He did not want to return to his memories—to the ghosts that were once realities. Besides, he had homework to do. It was four, so he still had an hour to himself. An hour to be free from the stress of school and family, a hour free from the stress of conversation and the labor of a smile.
He forced himself down to work on a cluttered kitchen table. The house was eerily silent, so he began talking to himself both to steady his nerves and elucidate a plan of action. His voice was surprisingly loud for something so secret, but he spoke nonetheless.
"Okay. I could do that." He winced at the thought of that, and continued to speak to an invisible audience. "No. I shouldn't do that. I did it yesterday and even though it is a stress reliever, it doesn't make me happy. No. It doesn't do anything. We're not doing that.
"Now, there is the piano, but it's just the same way. It is a stress reliever, but it doesn't make me happy. It never makes me happy because it makes me think; it makes me feel. I have to ignore feelings, ignore thoughts, ignore life. No, we are not doing that or the piano.
"That leaves homework or relaxation—social studies or videos and video games. Hmm, I know that homework may make me happy in the long run, but frankly, I just don't care. I want to forget and ignore, and video games are the best way to do that."
And so, he played his X-box. It was a fun game, rife with violence, action, and pleasure. It was so appealing that it did make him forget for an hour—his hour. Then he got tired of it just as he was tired of the empty place in his hear which nothing could fill—nothing but her. His joy was sapped away by her; every other excuse that he gave was nothing compared to her. What was Global Starvation to the starving of his heart? Or Global Warming to his flaming feelings? They were just some things that should be worried about and fixed, some things which were sad and wrong. He was just not the man to solve them, worry about them, or even hear about them. His heart screamed to help the world and succeed through kindness; the screaming for her was louder and more relevant. He once had hope for a hopeless future. He now had hope for a hopeless past. Throwing the controller on the dingy ground, he gave up the game with disgust, left the room, and entered the kitchen.
"How was your day, Devlin?" his dad asked suddenly with a weary smile. His dad was always so foolish, so optimistic, so happy. Devlin frowned with a latent hate, opened the fridge and tried to ignore him. "Well?" His dad continued.
"It was okay."
"So your day was okay." His father chuckled at his rhyme and Devlin forced a smile.
"Yeah, you could say that."
"Well, I suppose that that's good."
"Okay." The conversation dissolved into an awkward silence. Devlin took a cheese stick from the fridge, removed a book from his backpack, and began eating the food without relish or reason at the kitchen table. He was neither hungry nor happy, only depressed. His dad, meanwhile, had taken of his dusty coat, set down his packed briefcase and had begun making dinner. It would be chicken—again. Devlin winced. His dad smiled.
. . .
After the bland dinner, which everyone complained about, Devlin was still poring over his books. His mom had arrived earlier in the evening in her usual way. "Mom the bomb," he sometimes called her. She was once caring, compassionate, and loving; time had torn this away and ravaged her heart. There was no love left in her, only loss and a horrible temper. Devlin felt bad for her, but hate is always stronger than pity—always.
"It's something of a storm out there," she had said. "I nearly got killed the traffic was so bad, but it's not like anyone would care—honey!"
"How was your day at work, dear?"
"It was better than yesterday. What's for dinner?"
Devlin always winced at her cursing; tonight he laughed. He looked up from his books for a moment to check the time. It was six, and his parents were watching the news, his mother drinking glass after glass of wine and his father listening to her horrible day. As the wine flowed down her tired, slightly parted lips, the monotonous, worthless, depressing tales of her corrupt colleagues continued. She said that she wanted to change her job—his parents always fought about it. Yet, she never did; she just endured another lonesome, awful day and drank herself to sleep. And, her husband, good old Dad, just listened.
His father would be leaving soon, he had tennis on Mondays. Devlin knew the drill: he would finish up the dishes and complete his homework, while his mom sat on the couch and watched some depressing show. Devlin decided to do his homework first and sat at the table writing, trying to concentrate. The televison continued loudly and his dad left.
An hour or so passed and Devlin was still trying to work. He rarely listened to the anything from the other room, for it was simply an annoyance. Today he did listen. It was something about a bad crash in Ithaca—that's where she had gone.
"...And they will be missed. Causes of the tragic accident this morning are not yet known, and the fate of the victims are still uncertain. Elmira Road has been reopened and business, for the most part, has gone on unabated.. Thank you..."
Devlin stopped listening because is said nothing about her. His mother was drunk so he did not bother asking her if she knew anything, and his father was out of the house. He went back to his books, but like the video game, his productivity did not fill up the gap in his heart: only she could. He could not help thinking about her; she kept returning. He listened briefly to the melancholy menace of the rain and thought of her. She loved the rain. The chime of the clock reminded him of the bells which she used to wear in her hair. She loved bells. The color of the table, as gold as honey, became the sickly-sweet hue of her hair, and the red, pink wallpaper became the color of her lips. He loved her, her hair, and her lips.
The pale light over the stove cast a glimmer as faint and pale as her luminous skin. His hear beat; the rain pattered, again and again with maddening regularity. He bent over his books; the pale light shined. The pale light shined—like her. His heart beat louder, and he could feel something rise. He could feel the tension choking him and light up the room with a hellish hue. The sounds got louder, the temperature rose. He was dying in that sprightly clangor of the bells and the silken softness of the pale light—the pale skin, the bells! The clock pealed; the bells jingled like fairies in his head. The cheep, false chimes tolled and he screamed.
"WHY IS IT ALWAYS RAINING!?"
"Wha?" His drunk mother asked, but he did not hear her. He flew to the second floor and logged on to his computer. The rain fell, and he typed. Logging into his IM account, he saw her screen name lit up—she was on. He smiled, laughed, and frowned—she was on.
He stared at the name. How often had he done this: run up the stairs with a heart of deliberation only to stare, flounder, and sleep? The name was no longer a name. He had it memorized by heart and head, had stared and glared, but had done nothing more. Would she remember him? Would she ever wish to talk to him? Did she mis him like he did her? The questions always repeated, unanswered. They were friends once; could they be friends again? She had moved away, he mused, but that did not make her inaccessible. They were barely friends before, but that did not make her unfriendly. They could be lovers some day, couldn't they?
Finally, he threw cation to the wind and began typing.
"Hi," he quickly entered. It was done. He had spoken to her again with the minute tapping of keys, and there was no turning back now. It was done.
There was a pause, all silent except for the monotonous rain. He nearly gave the idea up for dead and hopeless. She did not remember him. She did not want to talk to him. She was gone forever, and he could do nothing about it. It was as solid as death.
"Yes?" the reply sounded in. Devlin jumped.
"It's me, Devlin," he slowly added. He waited for the reply with white knuckles.
He sighed, relieved.
. . .
Devlin was happy again. He smiled without labor and ate with relish—even chicken. His past self was just a foolish teenager; last Monday was merely a nightmare. How could he ever be so depressed? It was just stupid, he mused. And all of those questions were just distractions—false and foolish. She did miss him, and they talked for hours that first night. They still could be friends despite distance, and now they were closer than ever. He hold told her his feelings on Saturday, and by Tuesday she had reciprocated. It was like a dream freed from a nightmare. Even the weather had seemed to improve since then. But yet, he still wanted to see her. He had typed to her and found that enjoyable, almost exuberant, but he wanted something more. He was human, he argued. Humans cannot love a machine even if there is a person behind it; they need a face. He needed a face, and so on Friday night, after a wonderful day, he asked her for a picture.
"Why?" she typed.
"Because I want to see you again. I miss you."
"But we can still talk online."
"First of all, it's not talking; it's typing. Second of all, it's just not the same. People love people, not computers.
"But I love you."
"And I love you too, but I still want a picture."
"But what if I can't"
"Why wouldn't you be able to? You were always so pretty—that couldn't be the problem. Not ever."
"No it's not. It's just that I don't know if we're ready yet."
"Ready? But we knew each other before this false communication. I'm always ready to see your face. It was lovely, and I miss it—it's only a picture, nothing else. I can send you my picture if you want."
"Hmm, how about another week?"
Devlin thought for a moment and realized that he was being selfish. It was her decision, and so he agreed.
. . .
Next Friday Devlin could barely pay attention in school. He gazed at the pure white snow and thought of her face—pale and beautiful. He imagined it again, but the image was incomplete: foggy and dying like a decaying visage. It was missing pieces. Her eyes were so deep and empty that he could never forget them or their cold brilliance, and her smile always made him smile. It was so ready and contagious that one could not help catching her joy. It troubled him that he could think of nothing more, but at least he would see her for himself that evening—a picture at least.
That evening was a quiet one. His mother and father were both out, and Devlin was left alone in the cold, aged house. In was a new moon, and the outside swirled about in an inky nighttime fog of dour and ominous black. An icy wind blew though the trees and made them rattle like clattering teeth and bones, cracking and crashing. Nevertheless, Devlin maintained the joy inside with a lively, upbeat song on the piano. The lights were on, and he had just eaten a hearty meal from McDonalds. The trees were loud and dreary beneath the howling the wind, but he did not notice the noise above the beating of his heart or the twinkling of the keys. Suddenly, at the crescendo of the piece, the clock tolled for seven. He ceased playing and ascended the stairs into his pitch-black room. It was chill, and he could not help but shiver as he entered and turned on the light.
"Why is it so cold? Is a window open?" He looked for an open window. There were none.
He picked up a grey blanket and pulled it toward him from the edge of his bed. Suddenly something fell to the ground with a large crash. Devlin released the blanket instantly and stood up. He dashed over to the other side of the bed, and saw a book of poems, somberly bound in black on the floor by the foot of the bed; it had nearly fallen underneath, into the darkness.
"Must have fallen off of the blanket," he murmured. "I need to chill out, it's only a book."
While picking it up, he saw some loose papers on the floor, under the bed. They were sketches he had mad of her.
"Wow I forgot about these. They're pretty good, or maybe it's just the subject." He paused for a moment. "So that's what she looked like. She was beautiful."
He gazed at the stolid face of the portrait for a moment; it's eyes did not blink. All it did was smile a calm, toothless smile of bleary grey pencil. Putting them in the book, he set them back on his bed and sat down in front of the computer with his musty grey blanket. He shivered and somewhere a tree rattled. Then he signed on to IM. She arrived, and they began talking—or rather typing. The conversation instantly made the room warm to him. He forgot the weather, the fog, or the night; it was only he and her. Soon he would see her face, but there was no reason to rush it. As teenagers, time was on their side. Besides, he loved talking to her. They had the best conversations, he thought. She was so insightful, so wise beyond her years—wisdom beyond the grave, it seemed. He thought little of it. She always did well at school.
Then after a few hours the time came, she began uploading the picture.
"It's a pretty bad picture," she warned, "so don't say anything. I warned you, remember."
Devlin laughed. "You're so modest."
"Okay, but I warned you."
The picture finished it's upload, and Devlin began searching for it. She kept typing.
He opened my documents.
He looked at her file.
He opened her file.
He saw her picture.
The eyes were still deep and empty, as gaping eye sockets. The smile was still toothy and shining, but now it was almost mocking without skin to conceal the full jaw. The hair was wispy and golden as it lingered on the decaying scalp. The face was still pale with gray, decaying flesh and the gleaming white skull shined with a brilliant white as bare as the moon. It was a rotting, putrid face staring back. His love was dead, probably in that accident on the news. His love was a corps.
Devlin ran away from the face, away from her.
"Devlin?" she continued.
He dropped he musty, gray blanket, as cold as leather and tripped down the stars.
He sprinted out the door into the creaky trees and inky fog, screaming, screaming, and screaming into the night.
"Devlin, do you still love me?"