By Anica Boulanger-Mashberg
There are so many ways a thing can make you shiver. A cello in a crowd. A chorus in a stairwell. A story about a child who didn’t stand up for another child. The fury of chilli and the honest, expected loyalty of a potato. A single note. The memory, a moment later, of that same note.
Morning. In the sun.
Conversations about heels.
Elizabeth wears them because Kirsha told her she should. And then because she discovered she loved them.
Angela doesn’t. She feels like a politician.
I always fall over. Lizzy thinks that’s a myth. Maybe it is.
Inside. The Void.
The first thing that I love:
Pulls my guts out through my lungs and, coated in tears, drags them up my throat in a gasp and there’s everything I once thought I’d have and then thought I’d never need and now here it all is.
I want to drink the cello forever and already I’m sick of my own linguistic synaesthesing. But I do want to drink the cello.
At the beginning of this thing, and longing for the saturated, sleepy exhaustion of midnight.
And then a man in a black t-shirt, new for the day, towards me against the salmon-tide:
‘And so it goes’.
I find a room full of the throbbing, hypnotic reassurances of Philip Glass. Rhythmic certainties interrupted by uncertain pauses, and a mobile phone announcing some urgent communiqué from the world outside. The electronically generated xylophonic trill weaves itself easily into the milky notes of Glass’s intent, and I enjoy the absurdity of it.
Between Glass dances, the organist frantically shakes his wrists and fingers out, and the plants grow quietly in their wall-pockets at the other end of the room.
Five synaesthetes walk into a bar.
I’m not sure what comes next. But I think the joke is possibly arcane and probably offensive, and I decide not to pursue its invention.
I think of a flautist I once knew, who had given up a professional career because her synaesthesia made performance (and especially rehearsal) too unbearable for her.
I wonder if this performance – in front of the busy Nolan snake, and splashed with cycling coloured light – is unpleasant for a synaesthete?
The subjectivity of humanity begins to preoccupy and mildly terrify me. I start scribbling incomprehensibly into my medium brown notebook. I write pages and pages and pages during the Mussorgsky, and it is so boring even I can’t bear to read it over afterwards.
Late evening. The Organ Room.
Kate Miller-Heidke is a glistening-polished jelly dessert with familiar and never-before-tasted tropical fruit. More saccharine at first than you think you wanted but then you discover you’re in love and, in all the sugar, what you taste is the whole world: the rind and the tang, the moon and the seas, the loss and the first times, poisons and wild animals.
She has a voice that doesn’t make sense coming from her small body. She sings about the past and about herself and about nothing sometimes, and she tells stories like she wants us to rise up and respond, or laugh at her, or be shocked, or maybe buy her a drink. She fills the already crowded room. She is bigger than herself. She becomes a way into the world.
I’ve started to forget what I know about things. Or what I’ve heard. Started to think I’m making them up. Is there a story, for example, about David discussing the logo design, and saying ‘fuck it, let’s use fluoro pink: no-one uses fluoro pink’, and that’s how it came about? No? Well. It sounds plausible though, doesn’t it.
I saw a ghost and an angel while the chorus were painting the stairwell in Bowman and green and in blue light and in open vowels and in blood pooling softly across my chest.
He was magnificent and ordinary and dressed in white and in need of a haircut and the shape of a man and with eyes filled in sorrow and the everyday. He stood at the top of the stairwell and we made no contact and I stood near the bottom and by the Sanctus he was gone. I didn’t see him leave but I know he walked, down those back stairs, slipping quietly or with an excuse me, and the knowledge of him comforts me in no way you can imagine.
She was a sketch and a shadow and almost invisible amongst the resonance of the chorus. That chorus, haunting through the museum: cobwebs and sheets adrift in a hot, airless house. She slipped amongst them and was a shiver across their shoulders as they sang for us, sang for themselves, never once sang for her, sang for their childhoods and their immortality and their impossibilities.
And you didn’t see either of them.
I create restore points in time. I click something, somewhere, and I imagine that one day I’ll look back to this moment and I’ll try to re-feel all of it – someone I love sitting beside me, the air slightly cooler than my skin, the relentlessly gorgeous same-and-changing Glass patterns, the contented memory of kimchi, chilli, wasabi.
I wonder how long it would take me, in this space, to lose everything and become a throbbing, visceral echo of myself. Not long, I think. And what stops me? What holds me here? What holds you? What holds the ones you love? Is it the same thing that binds us all?
If this is the rabbit hole, I am already here. I’ve forgotten what I was following.
And the longer I’m here, the more uncomfortably mundane it all becomes. I see through the cracks and around the corners.
You can only eat so much, you know. It says a lot about a person, how they eat at a dessert buffet.
I met Alexandria at a dessert buffet. We were both standing beside the mousse, agonising. It said a lot about her, to me. And I suppose it said a lot about me. To her. I’ve never asked her, actually. I should. Should have.
See, if you know you love – and I mean love — the chocolate gateau, why would you go back, when you’re almost full and the party’s almost over, to try the passionfruit gelato? Just on the off chance that you’ll love it. Love it more than the chocolate gateau. Which you can never have again, by the way, because you’re full and the party was catered by a retiring pastry chef.
After a while, I start to wonder whether it matters at all.
The Messiaen is beautiful. So what if he saw golden Fmaj chords when he wrote it, and I don’t see them now?
I’m holding your breath.
What if each time someone said your name, my mouth was filled with the idea of strawberries? What then? Or what if it wasn’t strawberries? What if it was the bitter disappointment of a lettuce leaf left too long before picking? A small, dark leaf perfectly formed, but carrying only ugly in its flavour? A tightening, lingering, wild-chicory of a bite. What if that metallic taste of regret was what accompanied you? Could I still love you?
Every touch of you is somehow unbelievable. Every brush of your tannin-tainted tongue is something I once longed for and now has no meaning. Where do such hauntings come from? Who turned us into this? I think there was a moment when I could have stopped it. This brakeless tumble towards loss. I remember. It was a winter morning but the sun was cruel against the tight cotton of my jeans. Your children were asleep – both of them, what a wonder. We sat together in their treehouse with a teapot full of sand, and we talked about politics and linguistics and the weather patterns of the antipodes. Something. I remember you opening the toy teapot and sliding one finger through the sand – I didn’t even know the children had a sandpit. I had only visited you in your house twice before, and both times in the unmooned darkness. This day, there was quiet in the air and the sound of the sand against your dry knuckles was remarkable. I listened as you warped that finger in and out, down through that multitude of crushed and infinitesimal fragments of things that once were, between the specks of abstraction.
And, you see, I knew then that I could love you more than you loved me. I don’t know why, but that’s when it was. That moment, your finger in a teapot full of sand, your children asleep, your words meaningless, your pulse at your throat contorting your profile, your treehouse around us and above us and below us, and the astringent taste of something familiar in my mouth – that moment. It was when I made the decision that swept me to where I am now. That moment was when I kissed you and you touched the side of my cheek with your finger sugared in sand, and the breath of you filled me up and emptied you. That moment. That was when I could have chosen no and I chose yes.
But this wasn’t supposed to be a story about love. They’re never supposed to be stories about love. What would I know?
‘What colour is silence?’ a woman asks the synaesthete.
A long pause.
‘I’ve never seen true silence,’ he finally says.
The museum has absorbed all the synaesthetes and the nonaesthetes and the syn-curious into its skin like rain into an anonymous, quiet earth.