They help us. One yesterday inserted a tube into my arm to feed me. It also, I think, contains some sort of beautiful Huxley type Vitamin….”
by joel van noord
I play for the regime’s band. This is the best option. We play steady and loud as the bullets whiz off to the side. They’ve promised to leave us be as we sit here near this wall of obstinate shooting. We are obligated to sit nearby because there is no other place to sit. There is only the space here we are occupying and the space over there that they occupy. It is a small place, at least our corner of it. If there is more space beyond the wall of bullets, I don’t know. I’ve never ventured, nor will I ever venture, beyond that. It is impossible.
So we sit with absurd death on the side and play music wearing these silly costumes that are supposed to summon inner strength in our men behind the wall of bullets. But no sort of inner strength could ever come to terms with a small metal object moving faster than vision. I often picture what the effect must look like. Bodies piled as high as mountains. For that is the only reasonable truth. They may, however, be machines firing at each other. All for an image, an idea… to keep us playing… thoughts like that, however, shatter my resolve and I do not have the strength to think that.
I am a drummer and I love to drum. I find a bliss and a joy in it. I get high from it and lose myself. I hallucinate too, mostly in mathematical terms. The music forms an architectural canopy over my head. The lattice-work moves and responds to the music and I move behind it, over it, or leading it. I have four limbs and each is independent. My head is sort of a fifth limb as it dangles and flops about on my spine.
We’ve been playing for longer than I can tell, the four of us. The piano is a joy, the bass is clever, and the guitar is playful. I match each of them with a limb and with the fourth I play along and influence.
There are many here with us that are not skilled in any musical technology. They help us. One yesterday inserted a tube into my arm to feed me. It also, I think, contains some sort of beautiful Huxley type Vitamin. Regardless of this I may die soon, from exhaustion. It feels near the end.
Someone has put a microphone in front of my mouth and a piece in my ear. I don’t know whom I’m talking to but there is a voice. We have discussions which have become some inner component to the music. The words this blind voice uses create enormous pillars that rise from the musical architecture, adding a brilliant space inside the confines of the fractioning music. I enjoy the words. They are often bleak, these words, but… ultimately I believe they are true. And how can truth be bleak? I wonder…
My muscles have ceased to acknowledge feeling. Slowly I have come to this detached state I now inhabit. It’s almost as if there is nothing but my wobbling head here on its perch, thinking and observing the reactions of its thoughts and commands. I pause and wonder how far my power extends, but I have not yet dared to venture past the movements of my arms in the slapping and pounding of taught animal skin. What if I could control everyone in this room? What if I could control the forces behind the whizzing bullets? What if someone else is controlling me and I only perceive the control of the limbs that are attached to me?
Thoughts like this always beckon the voice to return to my head via the ear piece.
“The beat is the perfect tempo. Drive it home for a period. Hit it hard. You are tremendous.” The voice has changed. At first it was questions posed to me. Now it is mostly a single monologue of encouragement. It is not very participatory now.
It is very possible that my body parts will simply become unattached and float away. Where they would go I have no idea. Things also seem to be changing and I am losing memory of what they were like. This leads to a disorienting feeling of not knowing what to expect or what to desire.
This room, too, has developed a rift somewhere below my kit and is becoming bigger and what was once a four piece set has turned into a full blown orchestra. I cannot see the extent of it. The platoon of violins has taken the rhythm with their simple infectious melody. The myriad sized saxophones provide what I would with a periodic, laid-back pattern on the tom-drum.
I tell the right hand to slow its beat. To gauge a response and be pulled in that direction by an investigating line of trombones or timpani. This seems…to not be working and I hit off-set again. Smash a few cymbals in the center of a phrase. The violins merely respond with a more definite vibrato. I do not want to be left behind and that seems to be what is happening. The never-ending line of instruments has sprouted without memory and is cold and unforgiving in their precision. The endearing quality of free, sloppy music is gone and I am fading with it. But I strive to belong. To be heard. And with each striving it moves farther out of reach, as the chasm is expanding and I am threatened with obscurity.
The ear piece is blaring unintelligible things and I focus to ignore it. The tube in my arm is streaming a liquid and my body has refused it. Grey is oozing across my forearm. The busy helpers that once pampered me and wiped a cloth under my drooling mouth are gone.
My other arm seems to be growing ornery with my commands. It is slow in reaction and I struggle to call attention to myself with a crash of hideous cymbals. Their emphasis nearly pushes my head off its base and I’m off the beat completely. I still hit, though, and I push it faster. It is difficult and I slow. It’s all moving too fast and I’m struggling, becoming sluggish. This I do not like and I look around for help. The musical left seems to be ignoring me and the warring right is faceless in its chaotic firing. The jagged hole in the earth is opening and my head is further detaching from my heavy body. It is my hope that the two will separate and I will float away from the killing and the noise. But instead, everything spreads in a crawling manner and the music and whizzing fade. I lose sight and sound. There is only a grey void.
(illustrations: troy dockins)
Joel Van Noord was born in Costa Rica and now lives in Washington DC. He teaches Spanish and English at a city college. More from Joel can be found in the Vault of Smoke.