The Cleaners Part 35: The Dream

The light was so bright. I raised a hand to my eyes, but I still couldn’t stand to open them for all the blinding brilliance. “Diane” said my husband, taking my hand in his, “It’s all right.” I tried opening my eyes again. It didn’t hurt anymore, but there wasn’t much more to see. White extended in all directions. Walter and I seemed to be the alone in the world, not even an inanimate object to keep us company. “Oh Walter,” I sobbed suddenly, “Is this heaven?”

“It is so wonderful to see you again Diane,” smiled Walter, taking my face in his warm hands.

My question forgotten, I suppressed a giggle, then I threw my arms around him. Nothing mattered but Walter’s embrace. “Shall we go for a walk?”

Walter and my walk was surreal to say the least. With nothing anywhere for reference it was difficult to know if we walked for minutes or days, for yards or miles. It was comfortable though. It felt like a summer morning when the dew was still on the grass and my shoes would get wet just walking to get the mail. I could walk through nothing for the rest of eternity with Walter. That would be heaven enough for me.

There was more though. Somehow without me noticing it we came upon a piano. Despite the infinite space, it was a compact piano. Made from medium quality wood painted a fading black, it produced a haunting melody, one I recognized as Tchaikovsky.

“It’s ‘Lake in the moonlight’” said Walter. Then I saw who was playing it. With expert, silvery fingers a Helper flawlessly re-created Tchaikovsky’s work from the sheet music in front of him. His back stiff, he wasted no motion, playing the music with efficiency and perfection just like a Helper would.

“May I have a turn, Walter?” Asked Walter.

“Certainly, Walter,” replied the Helper, possibly Walter Caretaker, although it was hard to tell one from another, stopping abruptly in the middle of a note and standing to offer his bench.

I noticed there was a chair behind me and I sat. My husband took the bench and turned back the sheet music to the beginning of the song. His first note was wrong. Then he tried again and he hit the keys too hard, rendering Tchaikovsky’s subtleties into a cacophonous mess. He recoiled from his own music and grimaced sheepishly at me “heh, it’s been a while.” The Helper stood to the side, showing no evidence of impatience or irritation in its ingratiating :).  Walter cracked his fingers, took a deep breath and tried again. Starting off below tempo, he continued through a series of off-keys and double-keys until he started to get comfortable. Soon he was playing “Lake in the moonlight” with the best of them. I had heard a lot of Walter’s music, and I could notice the occasional small mistake that most people would miss, I enjoyed listening to him more than I had the Helper.

When I watched my husband play, he played like a human. He wasted effort and energy lifting his hands off the keys to bring them further down in more dramatic portions, his whole body would sink and rise, dip and slide with Tchaikovsky’s melodies. Unlike the Helper, who may have well cared about his music as much as a CD player, I could tell my husband was feeling the same things that I was.

Then I felt a glimmer of understanding. “What if you play together?” I blurted.

My husband was consumed by his music. The Helper walked to me. “How should we do that, Diane?”

“I-well, can you, can you simulate instruments? Y’know, like using your speaker.” Walter’s music played on behind us.

“Yes I can,” said the Helper, “but it will not sound as good as live.”

“Okay. Why don’t you be the rest of the orchestra?”

The Helper considered it. Finally, he said “Maybe I have some friends who can help.”

It was then that I noticed we were surrounded by a company of Helpers. Each had an instrument. An orchestra. As Walter continued playing, the orchestra found his position and accompanied him. “Conduct us Diane!” shouted the previously piano-playing Helper, now seated behind a cello. I started to wave my arms in time with the music, but realized quickly that the Helper orchestra didn’t actually need someone who had never conducted anything in her life to conduct them now. I felt a little patronized, but it passed.

I sat down in my chair and listened to the Tchaikovsky flooding the infinite emptiness. I closed my eyes and separated out each instrument in my head. Everything was flawless. Without mistake, and elegant in its efficiency.  Everything except the piano. Walter played very well, but not with robotic precision. He made up for it though, I realized. Not just by enjoying it, but because he could enjoy it, he played differently. There was an extra indefinable feeling in the music from the piano. All of the instruments were beautiful, more so together, but the piano made the piece come alive.

I stopped analyzing. I sat in my chair and let the music wash over me. In time, I felt the light become blinding again, but now I was ready. If I was going back to rejoin humanity once more, somehow I knew this time I’d be able to save it. I could save everyone. Really, I could.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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