Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
“Name?” the man sitting across from my asked.
My mind had been wandering again. The man looked at me patiently.
“Name?” he repeated again.
“Edwin,” I replied. “Edwin Stroud.”
The man pursed his lips slightly as he checked the papers in front of him.
“Occupation?” He asked.
“Musician,” I replied.
His eyes looked up from the papers.
“S-sorry?” he said.
“Musician,” I repeated, smiling innocently.
“Hmmm, musician.” the man replied. Patronizing? Maybe just a bit. I was finding it a bit difficult to concentrate.
“Well, Mr. Stroud, why don’t you tell me about your ‘music’.”
The man was definitely patronizing me now. I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t even sure who he was.
I struggled to focus my thoughts back as far as I could.
“It’s kinda strange. When I was a child, I suffered from extreme melophobia. You know what that is?”
The man nodded. He was looking at me very intently, not looking at me so much as looking into me.
“Well, all through my childhood, I had this fear. I would freak out if I heard music. Any kind of music. Do you know how difficult that is? How hard it is for your family? T.V. with the sound off. We used subtitles. No kids parties or days out, I was homeschooled, because I would just go berserk at any tune. I had panic attacks; music sounded like dragging nails down a blackboard. It had a physical presence, stifling me, battering me with its rhythm. I guess my home life was pretty stressful; My parents started drinking a lot. I can’t blame them, who would want a child to ruin their life. A child that, by one way or another, you love unconditionally. Yeah, I guess it was tough. Anyway, as I said my parents used to drink quite a bit, and I’d hear them shouting as I would go to sleep. That became normal. No lullabies, just tension and anger and fear.
One night, I remember, we did our usual bedtime routine. Trying to give my father a hug, him not being able to look at me, and me hugging his leg, his whole body tensed as though it took all his willpower not to lash out at me. My mother, smelling of raw alcohol, smothering me with sarcastic cooing and forced affection. I went to bed, and the usual nocturnal arguments began. They soothed me. Then I heard something, I guess it was music. I was half asleep, but the music seemed beautiful. I soon fell asleep, and the music was just a memory.
The next day, I asked my father about the music he was playing last night. He said that he and my mother had decided to split up, because it was a ‘self-destructive’ situation, that her drinking was way out of hand, and that he had put some music on after she’d gone, I guess it was a kind of parting ‘fuck you’. He never played that song again.
I figured I was over this phobia, but after never hearing music as long as I could remember it took a huge amount of willpower to actively seek it out, do go against everything that my brain was telling me not to do, like skydiving or bungee jumping. I remember I must have been about twelve, my dad was out and I turned the TV on. I turned the volume up slowly, tentatively. The saccharine advert jingle shot like electricity down my spine, it sounded discordant, metallic, it was jarring in its ferocity. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t over it. I started to panic, I collapsed on the floor. My father found me about an hour later, in the fetal position, rigid with fear and covered with sweat. We got rid of the TV.”
I blinked, the memories fading fast, and I was back in the room. The man was still staring intently at me, the fluorescent lights reflecting in his glasses. He pushed them up the bridge of his nose slightly and leaned forward, almost imperceptibly.
“Then what?” he said.
As he finished the sentence, his mouth curled in the corner as if he was somehow humoring me by listening to this story.
“By the time I was fifteen, my dad was hardly around. He would be out drinking all the time, and doing whatever else he did now that my mom had left. I found I could go out at night, There was less of a chance of idiots with loud car stereos, or TV noise, even people singing used to make me feel weird. So my dad would be out, and so would I. I was pretty much nocturnal, I would sleep in the day, and used earplugs in case the local ice cream van came round and sent me over the edge with its tinny, feedback-like howl. I would casually observe people from the safety of the darkness, Not like a peeping tom, I’m not a pervert or anything, I’m nothing. No-thing.
I should say at this point, that where we lived was not far from the edge of town. About half an hours walk away, and I used to head out on my own, in the dark (doesn’t that sound crazy nowadays?) and just listen to the night sounds. One night I was out laying on my back, looking at the stars when a car drove past and stopped. It was about a quarter of a mile away, I would guess. A man got out, and I could hear the music again. It was sublime. I wept, the melodies were incredible. The car drove off, but the singing remained. I walked towards where the car seemed to have been, but the music had stopped. I was alone in the silence again.
I decided to carry a tape recorder with me, just in case I heard it again. I mean, I couldn’t listen to most music, but this was somehow different. It didn’t terrify or smother. It comforted, it soared, I had to find it again. It was a few months later, I was heading out on my usual night time walk when I heard it again, it was somehow different than before, quieter too, but still good. I took out my tape recorder and hit the record button, hoping it wasn’t too low to register on the rubbish built-in mic. I wandered around, trying to find where it was coming from, but it just seemed to hover on the air. I looked around, but my only other witness in this search was an old dog resting under a bush. But before I could trace it, it was gone. Over the next few years, I managed to record some more tunes, but they were so rare and fleeting that I started to treasure each cassette, and hid them away from my father in case he smashed them like he smashed all the records when I was young. This was my music.”
“So you hid this music from your father? Why was that?” The man didn’t even seem to be blinking now. He was completely emotionless.
“Yes,” I replied.
“He wouldn’t have understood. All these years of not having music in the house, then finding my cassettes with beautiful music, it would have been too much for him. He got angry when he was drunk, and he was usually drunk.”
“I don’t think that’s the reason,” said the man. “Is it?”
These last two words were very deliberate. ‘Is. It’. Maybe he thought I was lying about my father. Maybe he thought I didn’t have these wondrous tapes hidden away.
“We found your tapes,” he said. “There were lots of them.”
I knew I wasn’t lying.
“When did you start making your own music?”
Again, the sarcastic tone. I didn’t understand why he was patronizing me.
“You know, it took a long time to figure it out. I was having to make do with finding these songs just floating on the air. They didn’t happen very often, but I would treasure them when they did. Then I found out how to make this music myself. It was not as hard as you’d think. The tricky part was finding musicians up to the job. Like they say about stories, everybody has one good one in them. Some have more than one. The trick is to get them to make music for as long as possible. That was where I needed to study, to tease these songs out of the chaos of thought, to write longer songs. At first, like any musician, I was clumsy, hours of work might only produce a few chords, maybe the beginnings of a melody. I did learn, though, and became more productive. The songs started to flow, and I began to fall in love with music. Because of my condition, I could only work with one musician at a time. I would record what they had to offer, then move on. I would mix the separate recordings together to make whole songs. I had to travel around to find people to work with, and I found talent everywhere.”
The expression on the man’s face seemed to change for the first time. He still looked ‘into’ me, but now he didn’t like what he saw. He was done humoring me now.
“You know, we also found your recording studio….”
The statement seemed to hang there, unfinished. Was he waiting for me to add something?
“Really? Impressive, isn’t it?” I replied, and smiled again, hoping to diffuse the tension that was quickly rising in the atmosphere.
“You were certainly busy,” the man replied through gritted teeth, directly to me, before turning to speak into a tape recorder. “For the record, I am showing Mr. Stroud the photos we took at his recording studio.” His tape recorder was just like mine.
He placed one photo after another on the table in front of me, all taken in a darkened filthy room. In the middle of the room was a sturdy wooden chair with leather straps hanging from the arms and legs. There was a dark patch on the floor. A microphone hung at about head height in front of the chair. One photo of a small tin containing teeth of various sizes. One photo of a severed finger. One of a metal table with various tools. One of a tape recorder.
“And now, the musicians,” he said.
The photos were falling faster on to the table now, as though the man didn’t want to even touch them in case he was somehow tainted by them. Photos of bloodied bodies, people of all ages, brutalized beyond recognition.
“This poor bastard,” he said as he threw the last photo down. “This poor soul lasted for three days after we found him. He died the day we got to you.”
“Ah, yes. He was very resilient,” I replied. “I had a week’s worth of music from him.”
I smiled again. The man looked at me and I could see his jaw tense.
“Take him away,” he said.
Two large men walked in through the door and hoisted me to my feet.
“It’s such wonderful music,” I said. “Beautiful, beautiful music.”
I was dragged down the corridor back to my room. I fell asleep to the sound of music drifting down the corridors.
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