Musical Hands and an Introduction

Standard

Some developmental psychologists say that pre-speech, babies don’t think in a way that we would qualify as “thinking.” That may be true, but Olivia learned listening early.

She could see stories the way sailors can eye the sea and the wind and know without hesitating where one wave will crash and another will rise. Olivia could see stories as if they were maps laid before her in a second world that existed physically only because she was aware of it.

That is, in fact, how I came to exist. Like so many other beings, she imagined me out of vibrating air.

Her parents told magnificent stories. They sent her mind arching and diving through lands made of food and lands where animals spoke, lands under ground and lands where the small was big, the big was small and even one that had only a single tree, a single glorious tree in all the world. And they read to her.

She grew so practiced at imagining that when she began to speak, certain characters she had created, characters like me, never left her side. We trailed along, existing because she had thought of us, because she imagined with such power that we went on existing even after we were forgotten.

In the beginning, I could not understand the rules of the real world. I did not know that the food I ate was imagined, or that when I climbed a tree and fell, I would only be hurt if she thought it so. Sometimes I was a mermaid and it became very difficult to move about. Sometimes I was a dog or a bear and I felt inexplicably happy or hungry or clumsy because I could not always see my own form.

Later, her mind tamed and I began to understand my own world better. I became more static – at least in shape. She made me into a little girl like herself, but older and wiser so that I might advise her. I was always very tall.

There was a moment, though, when I realized how different Olivia and I were from one another.

It was late at night and we were awake. She was lying in bed, not more than six years old, I think, and I was wandering the house, waiting for a dream. Her dreams were like standing on a waterfall, then: gorgeous so long as they weren’t terrifying.

I went to the basement, thinking I might ward off the terrors of the deepest dark, that I could be brave for her while she dozed. But down in the basement, a band was playing. I stared, wondering if a dream had begun, if my girl upstairs had drifted off and joined me here. But, no, these were not the characters of her type, and I could feel her still awake upstairs.

A tall woman, in sharp profile, played the piano. She wore jeans and cowboy boots and her hair was shiny brown and long over her shoulders. There were two men seated facing me. One beat a box turned drum and the other played an old guitar. And there, in the middle of the room, was a campfire.

It dawned on me that the scene was imagined. It was in my world. Somehow it was shocking. I had a world. It was separate. Olivia was not here.

The men spotted me and stopped playing. The woman stopped, too, and glanced over her shoulder,

“Why, hello.”

I must have looked horribly surprised. She smiled and turned, drawing her legs over the piano bench to face the fire and me.

“You must be Olivia’s friend,” she said. “You’ve grown.”

I nodded.

“Come sit with us.” She smiled and gestured to a stump sitting on the basement floor in front of the fire.

I couldn’t believe it. I could feel Olivia drifting into sleep – it made me dizzy – and I knew this was not hers. It would be a few minutes before she whisked me away to her dream.

Even though the band was watching me and had stopped playing entirely, I could hear the echo of music, almost as if the notes were escaping from the woman’s big hands clasped and still on her lap.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Can’t you tell?”

I examined these three adults. I looked at their faces and their eyes. They were so relaxed.

“Oh,” I said, “you’re her mom’s friends.”

It was the first time I collided with another person’s imagination.

The One Glorious Tree

This piece was inspired by bekindrewrite‘s Inspiration Monday, which has very few rules but very lovely prompts.

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23 responses »

      • Do you plan to develop it further? Not sure if I could make a whole novel from it, but a short story seems completely do-able. And a movie, even, lol. Something along the lines of Toy Story… Have you been submitting your stories to be published? If so, you’ll want to be careful of posting much of anything you’re working on to the blog. I lost a sale once like that.

        • Thanks for the warning! I do think I would like to develop it further. I haven’t submitted anything to be published at this point, although I’ve been considering it. Fortunately, I’ve mostly been holding back on putting any of my longer pieces online — and will continue to do so with your advisement (seriously, it’s nice to have pointers on things like that). If I work with this particular idea, I think I could get into it pretty deeply because I have some complicated ideas about how it could move forward — I’m glad you think it might go as a short story or movie! Lol — that would be something.

          Most of what I write for the blog is edited once-over at most, although I’m thinking about really editing “Anonymous” into a slightly bigger piece that I might submit somewhere. But it will need quite a lot of rewriting.

          So… yeah. Thank you again.

    • Yeah, I think there are a lot of interesting theories and science that explore how the mind works. I didn’t necessarily mean to draw a line in the sand about that — just throwing out a tidbit that I find interesting (the idea that thinking as a mental process changes fundamentally over time whether it be due to brain development more generally or language acquisition and whether it has a limiting or expanding impact) to get the story going.

      It might not be interesting to you, but if you are into this stuff — words and language in the brain — there’s a really compelling episode of Radiolab that deals with some of this (http://www.radiolab.org/2010/aug/09/) and there’s a book, “Prehistory of the Mind,” which deals with theories of language development in humans over time in ways that I just find absolutely intriguing.

  1. I adore this. Completely. And I’ll echo what Madison says above: it has enough legs to be longer. Posted on a blog does technically count as “published,” but if you lengthen this piece (and don’t post the longer version) you can submit it to sell first serial rights again.

    • Fantastic — thank you! I’ll definitely look into some extensive editing and see whether I can submit somewhere appropriate.

      And thanks for hosting an inspirational linkup!

  2. Pingback: Inspiration Monday: the echo before the cry « BeKindRewrite

  3. Dear Lime,

    As they say here in Hawaii, “Hana Hou!”

    This door you’ve opened leads many places. I love the idea, but agree with Madison. Guard it jealously, develop it, then publish to accolades.

    Aloha,

    Doug

    • Thanks, Doug :) I had to look up Hana Hou… which was fun, so thanks for that, too. I think the developing might be the hardest part of your wise instructions (I’m definitely a hoarder so guarding jealously comes naturally), although publishing is pretty tough.

      We’ll see. In any case, I’m glad you like it. Definitely a good sign.

  4. Great prequel to that other piece. A fantastic world you’ve created.The only thing I could suggest at maybe looking over, is that last sentence. I’m not sure if it’s really necessary.

    but anyway, well done!

    • I think you’re right — although some people don’t seem to be totally “getting” the premise, so maybe it’s not that line that I need, but some other clarifying bit.

      In any case, it looks like I’ll be working on this one for awhile, so I appreciate the thought — thank you!

  5. 1. I loved this piece (although to be honest, I think I liked your piece about imaginary friends more. I’m not saying anything bad about this piece, I just really liked the other.

    2. You mention the world with one glorious tree…is this a known story? Have I heard it? It just tickles on my memory like I should know what you’re talking about, but I don’t.

    • 1. Thank you and I’m glad you liked the other piece so much — I’m not about to be ungrateful for kind words!

      2. I wasn’t thinking of a particular story when I wrote that. It just occurred to me that it would be interesting. The only stories that I can think of that relate are The Lorax and The Giving Tree… but the premise doesn’t fit exactly, so I’m not sure. Sorry that wasn’t very helpful!

  6. Hey Ry-one of your more clever pieces. I agree with the caution of others. Develop it and claim it before someone else does. It is a great idea and I don’t think I’ve seen an twist like this before. A bit of “through the looking glass” perhaps. thanks.

    • Thanks, Scott! I think it might be the idea for me. I should probably start writing like crazy because I just keep getting swarmed with scenes. And it works, conceptually, in a really smooth way once I get going.

      Woo hoo! Exciting.

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