ii. It has something to do with music.
Kate looked out her window at the wide city, its streets lined with tenements, inside of which, she imagined, stood solitary people, like her, gazing out their windows onto the long avenues.
Maybe this was an entire city of solitaries, isolated in that way peculiar to the 21st Century.
If so, was it a city, then, without Christmas?
It appeared to be. The leaves were late-falling this year–climate change, no doubt–and they speckled the square with orange and red.
The loft-house on the bay, a converted cannery, usually decked with wreaths, lights, and a two-story tree before its tall windows, squatted nude on the corner without trace of festivity.
Kate watched the cars trail across the bridge and imagined families heading someplace more cheerful, someplace where Christmas resided, the mountains, maybe, though they had yet to receive winter snowfall.
She thought of her mom in Hawaii, her boyfriend in Antarctica, studying receding ice. All who remained, here in the city, were pretending or forlorn.
Down in the courtyard square, a musician played a violin, without an audience.
Kate wondered how the music sounded, with no one but the musician to hear. She could listen, at least, and then the tones traveling through the air would have something to receive them, something to quiver in return.
The violinist gave herself over to the carols she played, improvising complex variations and interweaving a dozen tunes into a single fabric of sound. She seemed not to care if she played for herself or for an audience, for it was clear she played for the music.
Kate didn’t feel alone, at that moment. She felt… she wasn’t sure what she felt. Something opened inside of her, and she felt her five-year grief for her father, her missing-her-boyfriend, her annoyance at her mom, and she felt… what was it? Happiness. Excitement. A little joy, even. She felt all of this, and all of it was carried on the interwoven carols, played by a solitary woman on a single violin.
“That was incredible,” she told the violinist when, at last, she set down her instrument and smiled quietly towards Kate.
“Do you have tears in your eyes?” the woman asked.
“I–yes,” said Kate. “I don’t know why. I’m just…. It’s so much.”
“Oh, was it the music, then?” the violinist asked. “It has that effect sometimes. I’m not sorry, though maybe I should be, but I’m not, for it’s what it’s for, after all.”
“How do you do it?” asked Kate, who had never been moved that profoundly by music before, and who still, even in that moment, felt bare in her vulnerability before the woman whose engagement had stirred her so.
“Through turning towards,” she said.
“Turning towards? Towards what?”
“Whatever is there,” replied the woman. “It hurts worse when you turn away, you see. But when you turn towards, everything softens. And that’s where music is made.”
She began to play again, and Kate looked up at the great sky, spotted with clouds that had blown in while they had talked, clouds that threatened rain on a wind that brought whispers of frost from the north. Even if it were late, winter would come, was on its way right then. And Kate turned towards it. The wind, the clouds, the spotted sun, the speckled leaves, the haunting notes of a lullaby for a child who grew into a man who knew only to turn towards, towards it all, the solitude, the companionship, the betrayal and forsakenness, and a man who had met this all with the open heart of being human. Kate closed her eyes to the music, and she wasn’t alone anymore.