771 words by Stanley Lieber
Mary lit candles while I made some adjustments to the sound levels and then paced off the markers on the stage. The trees were turning up their leaves and the cold breeze against my face indicated that the sooner we got started, the better. The weather was in transition again. I noticed that in the diminished light, the curtain seemed to be reflecting the green from all around us. I looked down at my arms and the same effect was showing against my skin. Mary smiled acknowledgement from her corner of the stage.
I faced toward the swaying grass. The movement of the hillside caught hold of me immediately -- I felt it pull against my stomach -- but once the playback started I had little trouble falling into the correct rhythm. Insects in the trees began to organize their shrieks around the activity on stage. Presently, our surroundings had settled into smooth synchronization with the machines. The shift between recognition and acceptance was instantaneous, complete.
I noticed after a while that this had all transpired without incident, and so with the usual assistance from Mary I began the second phase of the rite. Intonation. One voice, then two, joining with the electronic pulses, slipping into the fold, setting down a canopy atop the invisible scaffolding which was still emerging from the loudspeakers. We erected a shelter of sound, continuing with the program until almost all movement within sight had come to a stop. Even the grass had ceased its inverted pendulum swing. A single drop of water splashed against my face and I winced almost imperceptibly, but did not waver in my vocalizations. We both turned to face the hillside.
Then silence, from the both of us, and all at once it was over.
After an indeterminate period, Mary began to extinguish the candles. I worked my way around the stage, detaching speakers and re-coiling cords and plugs. The hillside below remained resolutely still throughout this secondary performance, our movements a sort of encore begging the mute appreciation of spring foliage. This silent effect would persist for weeks before finally returning to normal. Mary and I would fall back into our own familiar patterns. Clanging about. We would complain that we missed the children, or that the government had evolved beyond all recognition. It was comfortable, for the most part. But the trees on the hillside were more thoughtful. They would hold still for a few more days, perhaps as a reminder of what had already passed. While I might climb back up to the stage some afternoon, planning to relax with a book, my consciousness of the synchronicity would have already expended itself. The resonance would be completely drained. I was sure it would be the same for Mary.
I slept better that night than I had in a long time. A decade. The temptation was always to think that if we'd take time out for this observance just a little more often, if we'd simply make an effort to keep these sentiments in our daily thoughts... Well, you know how these things tend to work out. The truth is -- and this is as important as any other detail you'd care to focus on -- the rite was only to be performed once a year. That's how it had always been. And the tradition, I think, was correct. Well-founded. The empty spaces were in fact as significant as those caressed by the resonance of conscious observance. The transition from one state to another could only be measured along this sort of blunt, descending staircase. Dividing awareness from its counterpart, one state from its successor, empty to all filled up. How else could we perceive change at all?
As the rains started, I scooped up the last of the cables and snapped shut the plastic container where they were stored when they were not being used. A thoughtful crease appeared along the ridge of my eyebrows, and Mary quickly rolled out the awning over the stage, just as the downpour really began to break loose. We locked hands and wandered the stone pathway back to the house, a silent song on our lips as the rain beat clumps of our hair down against our ears. It felt as if we were aging in reverse.
Rainwater spread over the green fallen leaves, sticking them to the concrete, bulletin boarding them from the edge of the woods all the way up to the house. We kicked them along as we made our way through the spring shower, splashing forward to the doorway and its steady, house-shaped warmth.
Until next year.