Today’s brief asked me to write a story to do with the senses. The concept of synaesthesia has always fascinated me and there are some excellent novels which deal with this, such as Sarah J Harris’s The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder in which the protagonist is a boy who sees colours when he hears sounds. Not wanting to attempt what Harris has already done so well, I decided to explore a different facet of synaesthesia and write about a girl who hears music when she sees people. For the full sensory experience, click on the link and play the music while you read the story:
Waiting For Rachmaninoff
Alyssa has always heard music when she looks at people. One of her earliest memories is of gazing up at her mother and hearing a vibrant, comforting melody that she would later identify as Grieg’s Morning. Her father sounds like Grieg too, although she always associates his more menacing presence with In The Hall Of The Mountain King.
Everyone has their own signature tune, but she seems to be the only one who can hear the music.
She’s sitting watching TV with her parents one Sunday afternoon when an old black and white film comes into view. They’ve already missed the beginning and her father changes the channel before the film is over, but fifteen-year-old Alyssa is mesmerised by the haunting music she hears playing in the background as the hero and heroine gaze into each other’s eyes. If only, she thinks dreamily, I could meet someone who sounds like that! She’s so used to being the only one who hears properly that she’s amazed when her father remarks casually, “That’s the Rach Two – Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.”
“You mean you can hear it too?” Alyssa blurts out.
Her parents exchange worried looks.
A few years later, she is off to university to pursue a music degree. Surely, she thinks, there must be someone else who’s aware of life’s rhythm the way that she herself is; but instead of the beautiful classical music she’s hoped for, the students she encounters resonate with the harsh discords of disappointment and despair.
It is several months before her ear finally detects a long-awaited melody. Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto drifts its way through the campus coffee bar, causing her to turn her head and follow the sound back to the floppy hair and high cheekbones of a beautiful, androgynous boy who smiles at her and beckons her over to his table.
She’s waited for him so long that when he asks her back to his room, she doesn’t say no. She’s often wondered what will happen when she meets the love of her life. Will their signature tunes blend and harmonise into a new piece of music; or will she find her own solfeggietto replaced with a variation on her lover’s theme? So powerful are the chords of Rachmaninoff when he kisses her that she thinks it may be the latter. She loses herself in the music as he removes her clothes and loses himself in her.
The following morning, he barely looks at her, seemingly embarrassed by her presence. How can he reject her like this when she still hears the Rach Two whenever she looks at him?
Weeping later on a friend’s shoulder, she finds herself telling Jenny about the black and white film and how deeply it affected her at the time.
“You mean Brief Encounter?” Jenny says. “Alyssa, you idiot! Rachmaninoff isn’t part of their love story – it’s the music playing in the background when they say goodbye forever.”