Sunday, August 25, 2013

John Cage: 4'33"

(Bleu III, by Joan MirĂ³)

The man and woman walked the auditorium's halls during intermission, opening a series of doors until they came across a large closet, stocked with costumes and abandoned props. The pair slipped inside and shut the door.

After an hour of Stravinsky, the rest of the audience sank mercifully into their watered-down drinks and conversation. Nobody saw the couple's smiles drop the moment she took his neck in her hand. Searching his eyes for the match he'd struck. A shade of color half deeper than her own. Breaths thick with carbon as she pulled him near and nearer, but still--and still--too desperately far.

Slowly, he backed her against the wall. She arched her back against its chill, breasts nearly brushing his black lapel. The epaulet from a naval uniform tickled her shoulder, and the thin strap of her dress slid down.

Her head glanced to the side. His eyes held. The lights flashed on, then off, then on again, as his lips sank to her neck and the heat coursed through her like a socket's scream.

Intermission was up. 

The older couple seated in orchestra left hadn't cared for Stravinsky. Season tickets or not, the man wasn't keen on coming out this evening. His hip ached when he sat in one position for too long, and now he had Cage's silence-as-art to suffer through. He liked Bach and Beethoven. Mozart and Schumann. If that made him plebeian, so be it. He'd been called worse in life. 

The conductor strode onto the stage. The audience clapped. At least modernity was an impatient affair. All of 4 minutes and 33 seconds, from the start to what, he assumed, would pass for an ending. He glanced at his watch. The second hand sighed past six and swept back up.

The piece began. Piece, being generous. The orchestra was made into a mockery of itself. He sniffed, rather too loudly, and his wife gave him a look. Shrugging, he stretched his leg into the aisle. 

Coughs sounded like gunshots in the cavernous space. Someone's cell phone vibrated. At least his ears were still sharp. He looked over at his wife's profile. A study of indifference. As mute as the pearls hanging off her ears.

Her hearing was going. A bit irritating for him lately. The number of times one had to say something in order to be understood. Not her fault, and yet . . .  

A sort of scratching came from over his left shoulder. Rhythmic. Repetitive. An eyelash tickling the pillowcase. Something of that magnitude. 

He leaned back and found the noise persisted, beneath the gustier hum of the building's electrics. Glancing over his shoulder, he detected nothing untoward. A wall. The sconce. A set of double doors. The brightly lit exit sign, in case of a fire. 

All these docile people, rushing for their lives. He tried to imagine it. Their force, crushing him.

The conductor raised and lowered his baton to indicate the start of the second movement. The performers turned blank sheets of music, breaking the tension in the room momentarily. Several people readjusted themselves. A few chuckled or cleared their throats. He did none of these things.

Instead, he leaned back further, into the pocket of bewitching static. It was a mouse in the attic, this scraping and knocking. A scurrying of electrons, some rapture of friction. 

An abandoned cell block of his memory lit up. His chest tightened.  

The pulse of life, with its charge and shock and sometimes spasm, bolted through. He drew his leg in and sat up in his seat, fully erect. Aware. Alert. He looked around himself, blinkingly. 

His wife, with her eyes closed. Lost in memories, perhaps. Regrets, possibly. How many of those included him? Had he told her she looked pretty tonight? He couldn't say. Where was she wandering to?

Where had she walked that he'd never touched? 

Woman sounds now. Sharp cries of mounting pleasure, haloed by a pressing need. He shook his head, but the breathlessness blossomed. Muffled, like a conscience. But as deeply acute. All his heat rushed his cheeks and center. His breaths were shallow. 

He was a man yet. A diminished man, but a man. Reaching over, he took hold of his wife's hand, resting limply on her knee.

Her eyes opened. She looked at him. 

Third movement. Final movement. One minute, in all its rapid movement.   

The tempo of the friction--the rhythm of the cries--grew faster and pitched higher.  She was tipping. Perilously close to the fracturing point. Taking his wife's hand, he placed it between his legs. Her eyes widened, staring at what her fingers touched as the woman in the wall split open, as her cries dove off their plaintive peak, swept into the surge of her lover's tide, out of time's rotating door, where a hall of silence received them.  

From behind them rose a giggle. 

The woman he loved looked into his eyes. Her hand closed around him as the audience began to clap and cheer.

The conductor bowed. Their foreheads touched.