The Box (a dystopian story for musicians)

Here it is, in all its unedited glory — the most derivative thing I’ve ever written! Maybe I’ll just call it an “homage”… yeah, that should fix it. I just love dystopian stories like Farenheit 451.

I wrote it for the same class as the music sonnet.

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Mathematics was John’s favorite of the fine arts, though not for any of the reasons others liked it. Some of John’s colleagues liked math for its practicality — being an expert in math gave one many advantages in life. Businesses and politicans were always in need of people who knew statistics, for example. Others used their math skills to move into other areas such as banking and computers.

But John wasn’t like those people. He wasn’t particularly analytical, making statistics duller than the pair of safety scissors he used to use back in school, in visual art class. John never cared much for the ironically abbreviated “art” class, it never seemed very interesting. Cut and paste, cut and paste. That’s all they would do. The teacher would pass out the art books and safety scissors, and the students would make visual art. What do you want to make today? A horse? Cut the horse from the book and paste. A farm? Cut the farm from the book and paste.

Language arts was equally devoid of life to John. He found the logic techniques interesting enough, but again, John was not analytical enough to get into the grind of the business of writing. Others liked the consistency of these arts, getting into the mode of productivity and moving.

The difference was that while most people seemed to “like” it, John actually found pleasure in the art of mathematics. Not in the problem solving or statistical parts of it, but in the numbers themselves. John was fascinated by numbers — by the relationships between them, the way they added together and divided apart. The way he could count in fours or count in threes and find himself getting different feelings — he could almost picture the numbers. Almost. There was something missing, as if he was trying to see with his nose or hear with his eyes.

John remembered the first time he mentioned this to anyone. He was in his 10th grade math class. He remembered raising his hand…

“Mr. Faber?” he had asked.

“Yes John?”

And then he expressed his fascination, his joy, and his frustrations with the art of mathematics. He would never be able to remember exactly what he said — likely it was too disconnected, the thoughts only half-formed and the words even less so, to be worth remembering. What John did remember about that day was the key point he communicated to his teacher — that there was something he was missing. John saw something in the numbers, but was missing a key element, and could never figure out what it was.

There was one other thing from that day which John would never forget: Mr. Faber’s reaction.

The man, probably the oldest teacher John ever had, looked startled, unsettled even, by John’s questioning. He tried to ignore it and go on with the lesson over fractions. He could have, too. The other students didn’t think twice about John’s remarks. But the teacher’s trembling hand dropped the chalk while trying to write the example “3/4.” Mr. Faber’s voice became shaky and a gloss went over his eyes, as if he was no longer looking at the class, but looking at something long gone.

After escaping to the hallway for a minute, Mr. Faber returned and didn’t say another word about what happened. John tried mentioning this to other teachers over the years, but never got a reaction again.

John snapped out of his memory and stood up. He began walking towards the exit, passing through the maze of work stations. Everyone sat at his own station, solitarily jabbing away at the numbers. They all spent so much time with the numbers but never saw past the surface — never came close to the life that hid inside them.

John wished he could show them. He stopped trying a few years after the incident with Mr. Faber, but it didn’t matter anyways. John himself didn’t really know what he was looking for, he just knew there was something else. Maybe if someone would begin looking with him, maybe then they could find something together. But that was the problem — there was no one. No one interacted with each other beyond the necessaries for business, as little as that was. And why should they?

As John walked the city streets outside, he found the same thing. Everyone caught up in their own worlds, inhabiting the same physical space as their neighbors but nothing more.

John found himself walking a street he had never been to before, in an area of town unknown to him. The shops were all closed down, old buildings filled with dusty relics. The block was empty, save for John, though it did not feel any quieter than the rest of the city.

Then he heard it. A sound came from one of the supposedly abandoned buildings. John recognized the voice as being a child’s, though he couldn’t explain what it was. It had no words, just sounds — light, bouncing, sounds. He thought it similar to a quick, sustained series of hiccups, though he was sure that wasn’t it. This was not a problematic sound, there was life in it. It was unlike anything John had heard before. He entered the building.

“What’s going on in here?”

The two children inside looked up at him. Their mouths were curved upwards and slightly open in a way John had never seen before. One of them, a young girl, stretched her arm out towards John, offering up the object that had elicited such a sound.

John took the object in his hand. It was a wooden box, small enough to fit in one hand, though it took the girl two. Anxiously, John opened the box.

He found that it wasn’t a box for storing items, it was a machine. Inside it was a steel cylinder covered with small knobs. Next to that was a series of thin, metal flaps. He briefly wondered how these children could find such life in a small machine, the same life he had been looking for in the numbers, in the patterns he saw. The box fascinated him, and John noticed patterns in the knobs inside the box.

“Look,” the girl said, noticing his confusion. John followed her finger to where it pointed — the side of the box held a small crank.

As he began to turn the crank, something happened. John heard sound in a way he never had before. It was like a group of voices calling out to him in coordination, each voice of a different quality. The metallic sounds were like the clanging of pots in a kitchen, but instead of chaos he found clarity.

“What is this?”

The girl pointed to the label on the front of the box:

“A music box. It’s music.”

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About thomasbwhite
Writing, Photography, Jamming, Violin-ing, Hiking, Musing, Reading, Learning, Sketching, Frisbee-ing, Rambling... just a few of my favorite things.

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