Songbird

When I was a musical theatre major in college we had a gentleman who would come and play the most amazing songs on the piano. He wore a long brown trench coat. I remember creeping up to the practice rooms just to listen. One time I even sat in the room just listening to him play. We became friends of a sort. He was college age, but always on the look out when he played. I found out later that he was homeless. He was making his way through college while sleeping where ever he could. Playing the piano was his way of losing himself for a brief time. So, this story is for that long ago friend of music. He inspired me.

****************

“There will never be a day, when I won’t think of you…”

A sweet, lilting soprano voice filled with longing caressed the hallway as James walked through the front door of the theatre building on old North Campus. He could feel the notes wrap around him comforting the bitterness away, coating him in warmth even though the icy wind tried to whip the door open behind him. She was singing. She sang off and on in the marble stairwells where her voice soared, reaching for the angels, then disappeared as quickly as the notes evaporated into silence. Who she was, he hadn’t a clue, but like every other time he hustled to the stairwell hoping to catch a glimpse of his siren only to find it empty.

The school had dubbed her their little “Phantom”, but with her voice she was more “Christine” than “Phantom”. The banked emotion that she let soar made everyone stop what they were doing for just those moments to feel her voice.

No one had ever caught her. Some said she was a ghost but James knew better. One day when he silently crept to the stairwell, he thought he had her. For once he was going to lay eyes on the one who had haunted him for the last couple years, but the upstairs door closed behind her leaving only what drifted slowly down. She was gone. He caught that cobalt scarf as he raced up the stairs only to find the hallway empty. Looking down at his hand, he smiled. There in the folds were a few stragglers of long, silky mahogany hair. She was real.

“If I ever catch her…” Zac, the music director, paused beside him, “It’ll be Webber all the way.”

James nodded, knowing the feeling. Their little joint department hadn’t had a true crystal voice like that in a long time. Imagining what she could do for a show, he smiled. “We need to find her first. Too bad the university wouldn’t foot the bill for cameras. At least that way we would know what she looks like.”

As he walked across the lobby to his office, his fingers caressed the scarf that was folded in his coat pocket, always with him.
************
Panting, Josephine picked up her knapsack where she left it. Once again the lure of the stairwell had called out to her. When was she going to learn? Security had already warned her, told her that the school was no place for her. They even threatened to call the police the last time she was found. One day she would be caught and sent away, she knew it, but the way she felt when she sang, took away all the pain. Singing was her refuge, her respite, it allowed her to dream if only for a moment. On the bad days, the threat of getting caught was more than worth the moments of peace.
**************
Days passed without a sound from the one he sought. After a week went by, James began to wonder if maybe his special song bird left. His fingers just about rubbed a hole in the sheer scarf as he wondered where she might have gone. Surely she was a student at the very least? Perhaps, she was studying for spring midterms? It was a bit early for them but some were more studious than others. Without realizing what he was doing, he put on “Phantom” just to listen to the songs she loved to sing.

“Playing the music won’t bring her back. Give her time. She’ll sing again.” His secretary handed him the latest schedule of rehearsals for the play he was directing.

“How long has she been here? Haunting us all with her voice?”

“She showed up about a year before you did. At first she sang only classical songs that were being taught to the voice majors, so we all thought she was a student. Then she branched off into other genres. Theatre people thought she was a voice major. Music people thought she was theatre. So, no one knows. All I know is that the stairwell calls her. She’ll be back.”
***************
Two weeks later, the night was bitterly cold with sleet slamming its way through, piercing anything it hit. Not able to remain outside any longer, Josephine slipped through the loose door in the basement. Creeping slowly as she kept an eye out for the night watchman, she threaded her way through the scene shop and over to the prop and costume shops where she gathered blankets and a wool sweater. With soft feet she moved over to the main office where she knew a small heater was kept. There she huddled trying to warm herself.
***************
“Come feed the little ones. Show them you care… all it takes is tuppence from you”

The ice storm had convinced him to stay later than normal. He was glad he did when he heard her voice. As silently as he could, James walked to his office. The voice, her voice, was thin, yet still she sang almost too softly to be heard. There were pauses, jumps and dips that shouldn’t be there, but still … she sang. He eased through the door to his office. There she was huddled in ragged blankets, her hair a straggled mess, the marks of street life showing as she rocked herself.

Reaching behind his back, he closed the door. She jumped when the latch caught, but didn’t rise. Instead, she burrowed further in the blankets.

“Please, don’t call the cops. I was only trying to get warm.”

“I just want to meet you.”

“I’ll go.” She reached to turn off the heater.

“Stay.” Moving slowly to not scare her, James turned the heater back on before sinking to his heels beside her. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out her scarf. “I kept this for you.”
Despite her shivers, a smile bloomed across her face as she reached for it.

“Thank you. I’ll leave as soon as I get warm, promise.”

“No talk of leaving. You’re safe.”

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mark Baron
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 10:48:22

    I love it! Great story, and an interesting take on vocal dissonance – sometimes, the richest voice belongs to the poorest folk…and rightfully so.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Trope-Tastic Thursday #002 – “Never Was This Universe” – #WOEGTTT | Woegman's World of Witty Wonder

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