All That Is Solid Melts into Air
He comes to her daily, slipping into her mind between breaths. She draws him in as she draws in air, pedaling along the Quai de Valmy, as she draws in her new surroundings; the glow of a Paris summer, the jigsaw of shadows thrown across her forearms when she sweeps beneath a canopy of poplars.
She can never say what it is that triggers a recollection, they come into being in such stealthy ways. Perhaps there was something of Grigory in the man with the cigarette at the lock just passed, a familiarity in the way this stranger brought a flaring match to his face. But then the breadth of their marriage contains a corresponding moment for any of the thousands of minute actions that surround her.
His image is lost to her now, belonging solely to the photographs he inhabits. She can no longer see him in resemblance, but only in the motions of others, so that when she chains her bicycle to the railings by the canal and steps toward the café terrace, he is echoed in the man who looks toward her: not through the dark Gallic features, but in the nod of the head, the opening of the long, deft fingers, the downturn of the eyes.
These are the small consolations that death offers. Her husband still turning the key to an undiscovered chamber of her heart.
When Yevgeni closes his eyes, the world comes in.
The world rattling and banging, whispers and footfalls, the hiss of trains, the bleep and slide of doors, announcements on the P.A. system cracked and frail and distant, people saying "Excuse me," or, less polite, "Out of my way," "Move in." Sound in tides. The train comes, the crowd boards, the train goes, nearer silence now, new people striding down the platform, the train arriving again. Escalators relentlessly creaking, jumping in pitch, constant in rhythm.
A clasp unhooks on a bag, resonating timidly.
He can make out all the individual noises, this is the easy part, a recognition game. But Yevgeni can also block out all associations, can bathe only in pure sound, the patterns it weaves down here. This is the child's special gift, although he doesn't know it yethow can he, nine years old.
Yevgeni's head is tilted back, he's standing ramrod straight, arms by his side, an unlikely statue in the centre of the concourse.
He opens his eyes to see a parachute jumper shooting towards him face first, his chute rippling behind him, caught in the last few seconds before the cloth would unfurl hard and taut and the man would be yanked by his shoulders right way up and float silently in the clouds, abandoned to the whims of the wind. Yevgeni can hear this too, block out all the noise around him and listen to the bulging drone of the passing plane, to the darting air currents, the sound of the man's fall, sound stretched in time and air and speed.
He is in Mayakovskaya station, gazing at the oval mosaics overhead, each one forming a part of the overarching theme: "A Day of the Soviet Sky." Yevgeni doesn't know the scenes have a title and it doesn't matter. He can just stand and look and let imagination fill in the rest. Down here there is no music, only noise, pure sound, the passing plane has no orchestral sweep, the man has no sonata accompanying him to his destiny. Down here Yevgeni is free to put together melodies from all that surrounds him, the tumbling effluvia of daily life. There are no crotchets and quavers down here. There are no staff lines and indicators of volume: forte, pianissimo. There is just sound, in the fullness of its natural expression.
A raw stinging in his ear. A shrill industrial note, the same one the TV makes when programming is finished for the evening.
Yevgeni knows what to expect before he even looks.
Excerpted from All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon. Copyright © 2014 by Darragh McKeon. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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