(Thursday, October 28)
The world waited anxiously for Jacob to speak; he had no words.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, this is all new to me. I don’t know where to begin.”
“What brought you here, Jacob?”
“Music? What kind of music?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, where did you here it?”
“Please, Doctor, don’t get the wrong idea. I guess I should just start at the beginning. Fourteen months, twenty-seven days and…about two hours ago my wife and daughter were killed in a car crash.”
“So am I, but not as sorry as I used to be…since hearing the music.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, but maybe you can make more out of it than I can. I guess that was what brought me here. I need understanding.”
“I’ll do what I can, Jacob. Why don’t you tell me the whole story?”
“Yeah. Well, like I said, my wife and daughter…I was at work one morning, it was a great summer day, I was outside working on one of the trucks – I’m a mechanic – and the phone rings. Everything stopped. It was like the whole world started moving in slow motion and the ringing got louder, it was the only thing I could hear, and it changed. It sounded like music. The ringing stopped and the world jumped back to life. I was scared. I had no idea why, but I was scared. As scared as I’ve ever been. When I picked up the phone I was already starting to cry, and once the doctor told me…when he told me I lost it. I started screaming, throwing tools around, trashing the place. It took all three of the other mechanics to stop me. They pinned me on the ground and held me down til I stopped fighting. They called my brother to come get me – he lives the next town over – but he was already on the way. He got a call right after me.
“I was a mess. I sold the condo, everything about the place reminded me of Eve and Laurel. I moved in with my brother. I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping, I stopped going to work; for three months I hardly left the house and the only one I spoke to was my brother, and that was only when he forced me to talk to him. When I finally did leave the house I didn’t want to go back. My boss was good enough to hire me back and I never went home. I literally lived at the garage. I would work until my hands went numb and I couldn’t hold my head up. I’d pass out in whatever car I was working on, but I never slept for more than an hour at a time. I know I had nightmares – I always woke up screaming – but I never remembered them. I’m sure my boss appreciated the amount of work I was doing, but he started to worry that I was losing my mind. If he had known just how bad off I was he would have been more than worried. The whole world scared me, and it was only after my boss told me I was going on a mandatory vacation, as long as I needed to get myself together, that I realized the fear I felt when the phone rang the morning of the accident, the fear instilled in me by the haunting tone of that slow motion ring, had never gone away. It was in every song, every sound, every voice I heard. My world slowed down just before it fell apart, and it never caught back up.”
“Try to relax, Jacob, your hands are shaking. Just take your time.”
“Sorry, Doctor, it’s just so strange to be saying this all outloud.”
“After talking things over with my brother, I decided I needed to get away from everything. I took the money I had from selling the condo and bought myself a cabin in the middle of nowhere up in Maine. It was a great place. The driveway was a mile long, and God only knows how far I’d have to go to find the closest neighbor. I bought a month’s worth of supplies at a time; I had to drive four hours to the nearest real store, but I loved the place. The woods were peaceful and there was a river that ran near the cabin, it was the first thing I heard in the morning and the last thing I heard at night, even during the winter you could hear the water bubbling under the ice. I tried not to think about the world I ran from, I just lost myself in nature. I was out there alone for a long time. I had to leave everything I had ever known, learn a whole new way of life, a solitary life, to escape my fear; but it worked. I became a whole new person, a true man of the wilderness actually. I felt at peace, but I knew that I could never go back. I knew that my fear would return if I ever returned to the world.”
“But you’re here now, Jacob. You came back.”
“Yeah, that’s what this is really all about.
“I was out there alone, but time was meaningless to me. I hunted and chopped wood and such when the sun was up, slept when the sun was down. I never thought about Eve and Laurel. I didn’t think about anything. I was no more than an animal really. I did what I needed to do to survive, everything else was meaningless. I thought I’d spend the rest of my life alone in the wilderness. But things never seem to last too long.
“One night I woke with a start, which wasn’t uncommon. I still didn’t sleep well and the night creatures could make some good loud noise, but this time it was no animal. It was music. I didn’t even notice it at first, it blended so well with the sound of the river, but it slowly came to the forefront, and the more I noticed it the more I could hear it. It was the most beautiful music I’d ever heard, and it was somehow familiar. It pulled me out of bed and out into the dark woods. I made my way toward the river, the music was coming from down by the water’s edge. I had never really gone out at night before, and it was tough going. I tripped on a lot of roots and scraped my face against branches, but I eventually made it to the clearing by the river. I cleared the trees and I could see a small shape perched on a boulder that sat in the river – I had sat on that boulder many times, it sat like an island in the water but was only six inches from shore. For a second I tried to focus on the figure, but I suddenly collapsed. I realized why the music was familiar – it was the ringing, the slow-motion, seven-tone ring of the worst phone call I could ever get, but it had grown. It was like a symphony – the river and what sounded like a flute…or a recorder. I couldn’t stand, so I crawled to the water’s edge, reaching out for the rock and walking my hands up the side so I could look at the shadow that played the music, but they were gone. All that was left was the…the recorder.
“I guess I need to tell you – Laurel took a liking to the recorder when she was very young, only just two, and Eve took it up to try and encourage her interest. They used to play together all the time – Laurel blowing wildly into the thing making a racket, Eve playing rhythms to try and give Laurel’s effort some structure. It worked, too. Laurel was getting very good. She was starting to really understand music.
“I found a recorder on the boulder. I picked it up and fell on my back in the dirt. I cried until I passed out. The sunrise woke me up. My clothes were soggy from the dew and my face and hands were freezing.
“The recorder was gone. I picked myself up thinking it must’ve been a dream, a hallucination or something. But as I walked back to the cabin I felt…I guess you’d call it a catharsis. My fear was gone. I could here the music in my head and it didn’t scare me anymore. When I got back to the cabin I shaved, it took a while, my beard was really long and tangled; then I got the car started, which also took a while since I hadn’t touched it for so long. I drove all day, back to my brother’s place in Londonderry. It was so strange being back in civilization, around all those people, so much going on. It was definitely overwhelming, but I felt OK. I was ready to start over again.
“When I got to Dave’s he couldn’t believe his eyes. I said ‘hi’ and he just stood there staring at me, then he hugged me and wouldn’t let go. I appreciated the gesture, but it was stifling. I hadn’t been touched in so long.
“Turned out that was the year anniversary of Eve and Laurel’s death.”