Friday 13 April 2018

Perceived Together

By Paul Stansbury

café noisette

Jaron walked at a brisk pace through the park. Fat snow flakes drifted all around him on their gentle journey. There was just enough early morning light and landmarks protruding from the thick blanket of snow to guide him. He hoped to have an hour or two before the children finished their oatmeal and cartoons. After that, they would arrive to fill the day with their kaleidoscope of sound and color.
   He worked his way along the flat ridge. A hundred yards to his right, the ground dropped away sharply like a waterfall until it spilled out into a wide valley. For the adventurous, a number of switchback hiking trails twisted their way down through scrub vegetation to the valley floor. A rough hewn log bench sat at each trailhead.
   To the left, the slope was much more gradual, forming the perfect sledding venue for snowy days. Soon, parks and rec would set up their kerosene salamanders. Since this was a snow day for the local schools, the youthful sledders would be that much more enthusiastic in their celebration of good fortune. More enthusiasm meant more noise and its resultant firework displays.
   Jaron had nothing against the panoply of colors produced by the ordinary sounds of life. On the contrary, for the most part he found them a pleasant experience, even though he was quite used to it. He started seeing the colors during childhood and developed his gift, as he had come to consider it, at the same time he learned to harness his other senses. Now it was as much of his regular life as any other aspect. Like a sailor who learns to walk with the roll and pitch of his ship, it became second nature. Even so, he kept his gift a well hidden secret, learning as a child such gifts often garnered ridicule.
   A quiet, snow-laden morning in the park provided a rare opportunity for Jaron to enjoy his gift in a different way. Few, if any, people would be there. Fewer people meant fewer sounds. It allowed Jaron to hear the small sounds, to see the delicate and fine-grained colors so often overwhelmed by the stifling noise of humans. Each step he took produced a scrunch which sent an almost imperceptible orange puff rolling across the white. It existed only in the moment of the sound before dissolving as quickly as it originated. Even the snow flakes falling on the dead leaves in the pin oaks produced a sound which in turn gave birth to faint halos of fuchsia, barely larger that the flakes themselves. In these situations, Jaron most appreciated his hidden sense. He could experience each color in its entirety without encroachment from all the other sounds.  
   Jaron stopped at the rotting sign post which marked the side trail to his favorite spot. A vertical “MOCKINGBIRD TRAIL” was carved into its side. Tiny drifts of snow rested in cavities at the bottom of each letter. He was not going hiking, only to the bench where he could sit and enjoy the snow and the relative quiet it brought.
   Hearing a yelp as a red flash whisked past, he turned. About 20 yards back, someone was in the snow, rolling onto their back. Peeved that his quiet, snowy morning had been interrupted, he watched, waiting to see what happened. The person did not get up, but Jaron thought he detected some movement. He quickly retraced his steps to get a closer look, his footsteps scrunching out orange puffs in profusion as he approached. Arms and legs were flailing in the snow, kicking up green swirls. Fearing the person could be injured, he picked up the pace, sending out more bright orange plumes. Soon, he was close enough to see the iridescent blue globs popping like bubbles, while he heard a woman giggling. Upon closer examination, he saw she was making a snow angel.
   Jaron hesitated, not moving, not saying a word, taking it all in. Iridescent colors were a rare commodity. He stood awestruck as the colors danced against the white pallet of falling snow. The blobs dissolved as the woman stopped mid-giggle, realizing a stranger was standing over her. “Oops,” she said, hot pink sparks flashing.
   “I didn’t mean to startle you, thought you might have fallen and hurt yourself,” said Jaron.
   The woman felt a soft, comforting melody roll over her. Caught off guard, she said dreamily, “Your music is beautiful,”
   Suddenly aware of what she had said, she replied amidst more hot pink, “Oh, nothing. It was nothing. I slipped and not wanting to let all this magnificent snow go to waste, decided to make a snow angel. I guess a grown woman looks pretty silly making a snow angel.”
   “I heard you say ’your music’ as plain as day,” said Jaron, a woodwind quintet carrying his voice.
   “I did?”
   “Of course I did,” she admitted, sending amber shimmers floating by Jaron. “I’m sorry, it’s not often I hear such wonderful music when someone speaks to me. People don’t understand about the music. They think I’m a kook when I talk about it. That’s why I try to keep it hidden. I’m Iris. Help me up?” she asked, extending a mittened hand through the whirling colors. “Careful, we don’t want to mess up my angel.”
Jaron took her hand, pulling her straight up to her feet. Iris stepped out of the snow angel, careful not to disturb the snowbound engraving. “Well done!” said Jaron, accompanied by a brass ensemble. The sound sent shivers through Iris. “I’m Jaron by the way. Now tell me about this music.”
   “I’m too embarrassed.”
   “Don’t be.”
   She did not say anything. Her eyes searched his face, looking for how he might react if she told him about the music. In that moment, they were just two people standing in the falling snow, surrounded by silence and white. “For me, sounds create music. I call it music, though it’s not really music like a tune on the radio. Just tone colors. Most of the time, only a single timbre, but on occasion more. When that happens, sometimes they blend - sometimes they don’t. But every sound creates its own tone color. It’s only there when the sound is present. Your music, however, is altogether different. It has rhythm, harmony, and melody - a true voice the likes of which I haven’t heard before.” Jaron watched a gossamer veil of teal, tinged with gold and magenta, undulate around them. He had never experienced anything like that until now. She continued, “You see, as a very young child, I had no idea this experience was unusual until I realized others did not hear music like I did. My parents dismissed it, likening it to an ‘imaginary friend.’ Playmates teased me until I learned to keep my gift to myself. You can imagine how boyfriends reacted once I told them.” The teal morphed into a deep purple. She fell silent and the world turned white.
   “At least you had the courage to try.”
   “Easy for you to say.”
   “Not as easy as you would imagine,” he said, accompanied by the baritone voices of a trombone and cello. “I think it would be a great burden to keep such a gift hidden as a relationship grew – so much so, it would be doomed to failure. And if the prospect of bearing such a burden prevented one from even trying, surely that would be even worse.”
   “So now it’s patronize the kooky woman, in hopes she won’t pull out her axe and start hacking away?”
   “On the contrary. At least you tried to connect. Me, I could never muster the courage.” He spoke in a plaintive whisper, carried on a caprice of woodwinds. “I never thought I would find someone who could comprehend my gift.”
   “Now, you’re just having fun at my expense,” Iris said, amidst a whorl of crimson tinged with indigo. “So you can hear the music?”
   “No. I don’t hear the music, but I see the colors.”
   “Yes, the colors. They’re my gift. Much the same as sounds create your music, sounds create my colors. Perhaps we’re both genetic anomalies, or maybe the gods just thought to play a prank on us. Who knows? I might even be in a padded room and this is all just a hallucination. It makes no difference to me. All I know is the here and now. You hear music, I see colors. I see your colors. More beautiful and thrilling than any I have ever experienced. Like you, they’re too good to pass up.” 
The music was reaching full orchestration.
 “Come,” said Jaron, extending his hand. “There is a fine spot up ahead, just off the beaten path. It has a passably comfortable bench and a magnificent view. If my music lives up to your colors, as I pray it does, sit with me before the sounds of the world catch up with us. We will talk. I will experience your aurora borealis and you, my symphony."

About the author

Paul Stansbury is the author of Inversion -Not Your Ordinary Stories and Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections as well as a novelette: Little Green Men? His stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as online publications.


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