The organ fell silent


They remember, perhaps, those dreaded cuts and bruises

The voice on the clock it says there is no time:

Whatever, I’ll walk

I love this place for showing me who–

–or, at least, a little more of who I am

I thought of that

I think I did

What can I do to keep myself engaged?

What am I doing here?

How can some people love me

When some don’t

Why are we?

In; out.

Left at the church and I’ll walk confidently

To my surprise, they’re keeping me around

The hardest part is staying occupied:

And I am sure I heard one of those buttons come off

Where is she, where is it?

How beautifully warm we are in here tonight!

I am taken

I wonder whether

Silent.

Autumn 1893

It was at this time that the young doctor Lionan, having completed what he was sure was the most uncomfortable journey of his life and hoping with a certain impatience that he soon might rest, arrived at Cambridge railway station. He was amused to notice the reluctance of his fellow passengers to stand before the train had reached a complete stop (they remember, perhaps, those dreaded cuts and bruises), and left the handsome station building without paying any attention to his surroundings, but instead focusing on the nervous apprehension that at this moment commanded him. A large clock told him that it had just gone quarter past four (the voice on the clock it says there is no time:), meaning that if he paid for a cab and if the cab that he paid for was fast, it was likely that he would arrive to meet the fellow who he had been liaising with and who was to introduce him to Jesus College at the time that they had agreed (whatever, I’ll walk).

Five months later, after a bloody winter which for doctor Lionan (I love this place for showing me who–) was a campaign fought in a dense fog of expensive spirits and thoughts that he typically made an effort not to think, a flower grew in the tree-lined avenue that led to the cloister court. So when spring came, he walked blinking and half-naked out of the beerhouse into the city that he had been living in for half of the past year but hadn’t arrived in (–or, at least, a little more of who I am). For what he was sure was the first time in his life, doctor Lionan felt inspired, and he began to commit himself with unprecedented vitality to his research, to his teaching, and he spent the time that was left to him with his theories (I thought of that). He was prone, when he was sure that nobody was close enough to listen to his thoughts, to thank his theories for bringing him so far, and he prided himself on having conceived theories to explain everything (I think I did). He had a theory for what Philip Skippon was really doing during the Civil War (what can I do to keep myself engaged?); he had a theory for what might happen to Cavendish College (what am I doing here?); he had a theory for the reallocation of power that he was sure would sort out the human race (how can some people love me when some don’t?); he had a theory for what ants do when left unobserved (why are we?), and he made an effort to share his theories with everybody (in; out,

Left at the church and I’ll walk confidently into the marketplace; they can see I am walking confidently. I could kill that man right now. Maybe I will. His shouting and heckling and ‘buy my fruit! Buy this vegetable!’ and she’s over there watching him, I think, or is she watching me? Who’s that now and what do you want battering into my shoulder with your shoulder you might as well knock me over and won’t he stop shouting? I need to breathe. In; out. I didn’t always feel like this. Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers: the moving ever shall stay. So now I see that she is definitely looking at me or in my direction she’s looking straight through me, what can she see? Music is playing through my head and through the tented roofs over these useless peddlers and she is conducting it. Lucky me.)

Doctor Lionan left the marketplace again in the direction of King’s College and the river feeling the glow of the sun on his chest. He was torn to pieces by a coachman and then descended upon by a young undergraduate for whom he liked to think he’d assumed some degree of responsibility. The doctor’s oblivious charm, perception, and tendency to deliver his theories unprovoked and whenever it was not appropriate gained him (to my surprise, they’re keeping me around) a bizarre respect which pulsated through the numerous circles of the University. So, when in the late stages of the year he was called to houses, rooms and dining halls to go and drink to its demise, he took every invitation gracefully and with the mellow satisfaction of knowing that his presence was desired (the hardest part is staying occupied).

It was after one of these scarlet evenings that he stumbled home: his hat lost, his tie tumbling out of his front pocket, waistcoat unbuttoned (and I am sure I heard one of those buttons come off), floating over the dark old stones which held the heat of the day and held everything, falling down the neverending street which he hated so much. He was scraped under elaborately carved stone and bounced like a dusting cloth from pillar to pillar through the chapel door and pushed to the floor by the unrelenting hand of the organ.

The snake that wove its way around the door lay still as the rest of the chapel moved. For a moment, the choir sustained its final thought before falling, in unison, into a silence whose blow was only softened by the memories of their voices that floated higher and higher into the caverns of the chapel’s ceiling. The young doctor lay almost motionless (where is she), eyes fixed on the serpent, passively conscious of the undefined grey that was swirling inwards from the peripheries of his vision. Here, with the bold and rigid apprehension that sends an army into a battle it is bound to lose, the organ began to occupy the empty space. The doctor did not blink. Unrelenting bass notes coloured the room and carried the mist still further inwards, until all that was left was the wooden snake (where is it), clinging desperately to its island in the middle of the grey.

He was breathing slow, deliberate breaths (how beautifully warm we are in here tonight!); and as his breathing slowed, the organ began to breathe with him.

In; out, and the snake was pleased by the rhythm, and from the middle of the grey it too began to swim to new spaces in his vision. The doctor did not move: he could feel energy within him in the sense that he was acutely aware of the passage of his blood and the fullness of his rattling lungs, but he was perfectly content as he let this restlessness find its place in the blanketing power of the organ. The organ began to play on with new vitality, filling the emptiness in the highest and darkest corners of the chapel and carrying the doctor’s breaths with it, and as the sound grew louder, more intense, he was pressed inwards by the firm grasping drone. Yes, he came to be under it all now: the snake swam closer (I am taken,) and the choir was breathing with him too, and the grey had consumed his vision but the organ saw everything for him and the snake swam closer and the organ grew louder, angrier he felt; and the arpeggios cascaded, and the cacophony of the chords there and the breaths of the choir there and he was there somewhere, and the snake swam closer (I wonder whether) and the bass marched in again – and it was beautiful! He was the music; he was taken where the organ took him and went nowhere it would not, and his mind became distant as the life of the organ became his life and the organ fell

(silent.

Photography by Isra Kahn

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