Issue 8, January 2011
How Beethoven Composed the Fifth: Listen to Robert Eccles read this story
How Beethoven Composed the Fifth
By Kyle Hemmings
Allegro con brio
In the small courtyard several floors beneath the ward, the boy claims he is slowly going deaf. The girl says it's a witch's brew, something that cannot be avoided. Like fate. They are both in their early twenties. At meetings, they listen to each other's tragedies. They pass notes. At times, one will cry and the other will act the parent. One might say "I told you so." At times, they hold hands, sneak a kiss when the floor counselors aren't looking.
When the boy tells her he is going deaf, the girl says she understands perfectly, that her eyes don't function the way instruments do in an orchestra. How so? asks the boy. Well, says the girl, one is turned outward and the other, inward. I can tell you how many drummers make up a heart's crescendo.
She points to her black eye patch.
You're funny, says the boy.
She stares past him and says the man with the silver eye is watching them.
She whispers to the boy: He thinks I'm beautiful.
Later, during visiting hours, the girl wanders into the boy's room. He's lying on the bed, his eyes interrogating the ceiling. She holds up the note he's written.
What does this mean? she says.
What does what mean?
She holds up the wrinkled paper containing the words written in large letters and bold swing: Unsterbliche Geliebte.
Is it the name of a witch?
No, says the boy. It was Beethoven's mysterious lover whom no one ever knew. It means Immortal Beloved.
I bet she gave him his first kiss.
The boy turns over.
I think she was a little yellow-hammer. A little yellow-hammer who flew like a sonata.
You mean "hummer."
The boy rolls over on his stomach and stares at the far wall.
No, she wasn't a witch.
Hey, even witches can smooch.
The boy begins to crack his knuckles. On his face, the imprint of a bird's outstretched wings, its flight from pain.
Andante con moto
It is the first 15 minute cigarette break. Late morning. Again they stand in the courtyard behind the Washington building, supervised like the others. She smokes a cigarette. The boy moves his fingers in the air as if striking piano keys.
You'll be my sacrifice, she announces. A sacrifice made from other offerings, from leftover parts and precious junkyards. I made you from steel, old condoms, my father's false teeth, the plastics and gels from a thousand worthless makeovers. Your head is square and your heart is oval. Oh. I also gave you some springs, just in case you have to jump. But I might push you out some day, from that window of Ward 9. You won't survive, but I'll save your heart and all its springs and pistons.
He stops playing tunes with his fingers.
Are witches all-powerful?
Yes. They have unseen power. It's humans who are mechanical and useless.
Then where were you when the boys broke my fingers? His eyes are small and intense.
I didn't know you back then.
It's how I came here. They tried to break my fingers after class and I freaked.
Freak, freak, freak, freak.
She chuckles. The boy stares at the ground, the burning stub that the girl just threw.
He keeps staring at me.
The man with the silver eye.
Whatever happened to yours?
My mother poked it out as a sacrifice to a Wiccan goddess of Night. She called her a goddess. She said from that point on, I will be protected. And I will protect all my friends.
She takes his hand.
Tell me my sacrifice. Can you feel?
No. The music feels through me. Just like the way Beethoven was losing his hearing, but he still heard the yellow-hammer in his brain. He heard everything much better after he went deaf.
Okay, says the man with the silver eye, everybody inside.
Was the eye really silver, thinks the boy, or a shade of yellow? He's in love with me, the girl says to the boy, winking at him. The boy loves how sometimes her one good eye twinkles as if her life is perfect and good.
In the activities room, the boy, at the girl's request, sits down at an old piano and plays. When he's finished, he bangs the piano keys with his fists. No, it didn't come out right, he says. His face is reddened. There's still a trace of baby fat around the cheeks.
No, she says, it was wonderful.
Some scattered applause from other patients.
She puts a hand on his shoulder and bends towards his ear. I want you to take your clothes off and play. Just to show them you're not afraid. It'll give me inspiration.
Afraid of what?
Of being watched by people with two eyes instead of one.
He studies her one blue eye.
Did a girl ever give you a wet kiss, she asks.
Like a candy wrapper?
I was my father's candy wrapper and my mother's sacrifice.
Break time is over, announces the man with the silver eye, back to your rooms, folks.
The girl follows the boy out.
I love you, she says. And I love how you play European style. My mother taught me a little about music. You have wonderful fingers.
They're just candy wrappers, he says.
That night, the man with the silver eye breaks into her room. She wants to scream but knows it will be no use, that he might be in collusion with the charge nurse and everyone would deny her story. He places a hand over her mouth and says it will be alright if she doesn't fight. He keeps repeating how beautiful she is. When he comes, she imagines a burst of silver liquid, burning, shooting upstream. He rises and zippers up.
I love you, he says.
A commotion at around 2 a.m. The patients and few staff members of the night shift run to the windows. The boy enters the girl's room. He does not ask why she's been ignoring him lately. They stand at the window, which is always locked, and look down. The body of the man with the silver eye. He's looking straight up.
I put a spell on him, she says softly,
What? he says.
She brushes past him and walks away.
No, I think he hears a yellow hummer, says the boy. He was following someone else's song.
Could be, she says. Her voice is distant.
At breakfast, under a long table, the girl passes a note to the boy. He opens it. It reads: Immortal beloved. My boy with the yellow hammer fingers. You will not be sacrificed. Never.
She turns and places her hand under the boy's chin. She swings his face around.
Look at me, she says.
Are you scared of me?
Because we're two branches of the same tree.
She removes the eye patch.
What do you see?
The boy swallows hard.
I see a darkness as endless as love itself. I see myself inside you, and what surrounds us is the silence that keeps giving birth to the music that is us. Always.
She lingers before his unfaltering stare. She smiles, then turns, picks up her spoon, digs into the pink grapefruit that tastes like the world between her ears.
image by Jack S. Rogers
BIO: Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has a new e-chapbook of poetry at Scars Publications, called Avenue C, and a new chapbook, titled Fuzzy Logic, out from Punkin Press.