Beware of Music
by J. B. Pick
Perhaps you will not understand what I am writing but I cannot help it because I do not understand what I am describing. I was doing nothing that is forbidden or that is in the category of unclassified behaviour. I had been at work for the correct number of hours and was returning along the tunnel to the underground station towards the place from which I am entitled to walk by an available ramp onto the elevated track which leads me to Cubicle 36 in Building 704 in Block 9762. There were as many other people doing this as there always are at this time of day. There was the normal amount of shuffling and scraping and the brushing of clothes against clothes.
I was tired because the speed of the line had increased. The Gangman denied this but wore that wooden face which means he is lying. We knew that the speed had increased for another reason. The man they called 'Old Measure' collapsed. His face began to twist and he got frozen in a stiff position and then fell on the concrete. OId Measure has grown so used to the set speed that if it changes he gets cramp. He is called OId Measure because we can measure the speed of the line by the severity of the Cramp. He often gets cramp because they often try to cheat but this time the cramp was so bad that he collapsed. I don't expect we shall see him again but since he never spoke we shan't miss him except that we can't so easily measure the speed of the line without him.
The Gangman looked frightened when Old Measure collapsed because it is a black mark against him in the office if anyone drops out. we were pleased to think about the black mark.
I was not listening or wondering or doing anything except moving with the other people who were moving at the same pace as me. I could not be said to see them or feel them or know they were there except that I should have known if they were not there and the tunnel was empty. But of course I have never seen the tunnel empty and they are always there.
Then I heard the sounds.
They were not the sounds of people shuffling or pushing or even talking, but sounds made from something which twanged or whined or stretched or wavered sweetly in a way that it is not possible to describe, as if some animal were suffering a peculiar, persistent, irregular pain which caused a swaying of the heart.
There was something terrible about these sounds. I did not hear them with my ears so much as with an organ inside me which was tortured by the sounds in the way that a cloth would be tortured if it could feel your hands wringing moisture from it, or the way you would be tortured if you were being choked by sweetness. One single sound every so often recurred and then ran away among other sounds and each time it came I expected it to come and yet was surprised by it and dreaded its return with such intensity that I could not walk any more nor could I turn back nor could I make any decision about what else to do and so I stood helpless, leaning against the wall and looking down at the floor so that no one should see that I was weeping.
Other people barged and pushed and brushed against me and went on shuffling along at the speed to which they were accustomed, but some were wavering as if they too heard the sounds and I heard one man say aloud not to anyone else but to himself "It's music" as if he knew this thing he was hearing, and when I heard him use that word I knew the word from long ago and could call that torment 'music.'
When I could see what produced these sounds through the persistent moving and wavering of the bodies of all these people I saw there was young man standing with his back against the wall holding in his arms an object with a strangely curved shape and a long neck and was making the sounds by moving his fingers on certain strings which ran down from the neck to the belly of this object.
He was thin and white-faced and looked as if he were thinking of nothing but the sounds he was making. He had placed an old hat beside his feet and people were dropping coins into the hat. I do not know if they felt what I felt or knew why they were dropping coins into the hat or how they knew that this was what the young man wanted, but what I felt was that all the patterns in my body were dissolving and that soon I would be in a whirling darkness where I would recognise nothing but this extraordinary pain.
I could hear myself gasping as if that would make him go away and after awhile I could hear myself saying "Go away! " in a loud voice which of course the young man could not hear because of all the other people shuffling between him and the place where I stood leaning against the wall with tears running down my cheeks.
At first I hardly realised that he had stopped making the sounds and was sliding away among the people with that object under his arm. Perhaps he had enough coins, I thought, or perhaps he is tired and cannot stand the pain any more. For surely he must share the pain he was inflicting upon me. But soon I saw the two policemen and so I knew that it was because of the policemen that he was sliding away and I remembered then that I had heard long ago about this thing that the man had called music being forbidden.
I knew why it was forbidden. It was forbidden to prevent people from having to suffer that excruciating agony which I was suffering and I was very grateful to whoever had ordered it to be forbidden, and I felt great bitterness towards this pale young man who had broken the law and so affected me that I was short of breath all the way to my cubicle and didn't feel like food even after a day's work in which the speed of the line had been increased.
That night I could not sleep and my cubicle seemed like the place where they put the dead before they are burned, so that I would have gone into the air if I could have walked anywhere except along the elevated track where I would wake the sleepers and they would shout and drive me back inside. I looked into the blackness which is never black enough, and when I fell asleep I dreamed that I stood in a wide open space surrounded by the sounds of little animals in the trees that were uttering sweetness like water trickling from a tap or like air rushing gentry in eddies among pools of air or like a form of silence arranged in patterns, and I believed in my dream that this must be the place where we go when we are dead, if we go anywhere, and I longed to die in my dream and not wake up to leave it.
But of course I woke and knew that it was time to get up and go to work and that everyone else was waking and knowing that it was time to get up and go to work and soon the queues would begin. I got up but I have not gone to work and have been wandering along the dusty ramps blowing with grit and paper which run along the deserted blocks that are to be pulled down to make way for larger blocks because there are too many people in this area now and more and more cubicles are needed all the time.
The strange thing is that the terrible pain I suffered yesterday in that tunnel is now the only experience that I can bear to remember, and it has come to me that there is no possibility of my ever understanding the meaning of what it said or why it said it to me, so I am writing this before I climb up the ramps and the elevated tracks to the top of this empty block and then I will jump, which is not anything unusual, as many people do that every year. I am writing this down so that anyone could know that someone heard the music, if it matters.
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