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“Stop the Music” by Ilmar Taska


“Make it stop!” he told himself. “Stop the music! Today I can control it. I just stop moving my fingers on the piano keys. I will count to three and then remove my hands. That’s how simple it is, isn’t it.” But it wasn’t. He stopped moving his fingers, put his hands on he knees, but the music continued. He sat on the piano bench not moving a finger, almost not daring to breathe, but the music played on. In scary moments like that, when the music viciously invaded him, he always fought back. At least, in the beginning. He tried to ignore it and when he could not ignore it he tried to interrupt it. He tried to speak out loud even scream, cover his head with mother’s scarf, stomp his feet, think about something scary like the story of the Queen of Spades, which mother read to him last night. But even the queen of spades started singing and lost her power. He tried to remember something funny like the little squirrel who frequently visited the oak tree on the front lawn, but the squirrel started dancing to the tunes of the music, jumping up and down while cracking a nut. Traitor! They all followed the music, lost their own free will. The music was very clever. It adapted it’s rhythm and melody to their liking. Seduced them totally. Them all but not Peter. He knew better. He hated it like his father. Father wanted Peter to study law and enrolled him in a specialty school. Music was not serious. Not the gentleman’s profession. He was right. But the moment Peter thought of father, the music started singing with father’s voice. It sang an angry song with his deep baritone. It sounded powerful and majestic like the Russian Czar. Peter held his breath with horror. The music had invaded even father, and who knows who else. Peter put his hands together in the prayer and asked for help in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Dear God, please stop the music,” he said with tears in eyes. Suddenly the squeaking door opens and mother appears. “Why did you stop playing?” she asked with a naive smile. Peter answered her and hid his head in her heavy folded skirt. “Help me, mother,” he whispers. “Stop it please!” It feels good to hide his head and push it hard against mother’s warm stomach. “Go on playing, darling. You were playing so well. Play it again for me.” Mother was goodness herself, but she didn’t realize the thing with music. She was not at war with it. She didn’t understand the music conspiracy. It did not invade her ears, interrupt her hearing, thinking, breathing. It worries Peter that mother adores music, but he forgives her because she’s the most beautiful woman on earth. In a way, it is good that mother was so naive. She did not suffer. She was overtaken by music long ago and she didn’t even realize it. You can’t fear what you don’t notice. It had not overtaken mother’s ears like Peter’s, only her mind. But her heart was good and Peter really hoped that her heart would never be invaded. But deep in his heart he knew that it was only a matter of time. Nobody was more powerful than music. When music comes there is nothing to be done. There is no silence, no mercy, no peace. Life as we know it stops.

Today Peter was happy. He found himself on the steps of his specialty school, which he had dreamed of for so many months. He saw all the proud teachers, the Cossacks, the wealthy merchants, high-ranking Czarist officials, standing next to their anxious sons. He was sorry that his father could not come. But his mother was standing behind him and he saw many gentlemen’s hidden and not so hidden glances on her. She was still the most beautiful woman on earth, even here in St. Petersburg, despite being lost to music. But today Peter should not think about it. Today reason had triumphed over the shadows of musical sickness.. What the doctor’s had called tinnitus in the ears. It was not such a common disease. And it had caused Peter a lot of grief. Today was the liberation day. His entrance to the healthy world. Mother was about to leave. The horse carriage was about to take her back to the provincial manor house, to the painful past never to be repeated in St. Petersburg. Suddenly Peter felt sorry for her. Sorry for the prisoner of musical anxieties. And even if his luck was about to change and he was about to enter the long-desired manly world, Peter felt strangely sad. He didn’t know why. There was no logical explanation. But suddenly he felt it to be unbearable to separate from mother, to lose her. “I will see you in summer. Be a good boy,” said mother, kissing him on his forehead. She was smiling but a tear was falling out of her right eye and landing on Peter’s cheek. Peter knew that he had to be strong and he hoped that mother would not see what he was doing. He was pinching his hand so that it hurt. Now he could hurt his hand. It was not needed for piano lessons anymore. No more endless hours spent in the music room. Peter felt his nails getting deeper into his flesh. He did not know why he was doing it. Maybe because he wanted to cry and had to distract the pain in the heart, like earlier he had distracted the music in the ears. Always unsuccessfully. He saw his mother stepping into the carriage. The coachman signaling to the horses. He saw the carriage starting to move. He knew that this was what he had wanted, and still it hurt so bad. For a moment, he saw the queen of spades sitting on the roof of the carriage. And then she was gone.. He felt his body jerking forward. His legs running after the carriage, his hands catching the back rail of the carriage, clinging to it. He could not let his mother leave. He ran after the carriage crying like a little wimpy boy, holding onto the back rail, being drawn through the muddy roads faster and faster and not letting it go. He could not part from the most beautiful woman on earth, even if God had given him the school in exchange. At this moment he did not know yet that the exchange was definite. That he would never see her again alive. He did not know yet how much he had loved her and what he had lost. He just kept holding onto the carriage and rolling in the mud through the potholes in the road until he lost consciousness and his hand lost its grip on the rail. The carriage rolled on and vanished in the dark forest where Prince Typhus was waiting for her.

A month later in the cold and dark dormitory the boys were making fun of him while he was sobbing in his bed. So what that they also loved their mothers and knew that his mother was dead, they still made fun of him, the crying boy. Peter realized that he didn’t want to be here anymore. Not that he hated the law or science, but if not for the school he could have stayed with his mother. He could have watched her dying, talked to her, played piano for her. This opportunity was gone forever and nothing could console him. And when all the boys had fallen asleep and he was still quietly on his hard Spartan mattress, he suddenly heard the music again. The Nutcracker jumped in from the window. Mother’s swans swam out from under his bed. And Romeo and Juliet opened the closet and stepped out to console him. At this moment he did not know yet that these musical friends would make him world famous. He did not hear yet the endless applause of Bolshoi, Covent Garden, La Scala, and Carnegie Hall. But at this moment, he decided not to stop the vicious music. As if it was filled the naïve happiness of his early departed mother. He decided to let it play, to call them back.

So frail was the wall between happiness and unhappiness.