Woman in Chains Ch. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
One week after her awakening, Tracy Tomlinson was discharged from the hospital. Todd Wakeman and the two medical students visited with Tracy that morning, rode down with her in the elevator and walked with her to her mother's car. It might have been an emotional parting but for one simple fact: Tracy Tomlinson now appeared devoid of any and all emotion.
For the past week the physicians attending her, as well as the medical students on rotation through neurology, had struggled to explain the intricate workings of the brain to Tracy's mother and twin sister, but in truth they were as much in the dark as anyone. They simply couldn't explain the profound absence of emotion with any degree of certainty. In other respects Tracy was neurologically intact: her motor skills were unimpaired, her reasoning ability seemed, if anything, to have improved. She was, for all intents and purposes, unchanged but for two things.
The first, the barren emotional landscape Tracy now inhabited, had become apparent when she didn't react to the news of her family's death. Her response was limited to a few rapid blinks of her eyes. Wakeman was watching and he thought it was almost as though she was preoccupied with something else as the news washed over her; Wakeman felt her reaction was like a computer busily churning through an advanced computation and was suddenly interrupted and called upon to process something entirely new, and manifestly different. The computer ignored the request and returned to processing whatever it was that had preoccupied it, and while Tracy was functionally intact -- she could talk, she could relate and react to those around her -- all her interest and conversation was focused now on something unexpected, and startlingly new.
Tracy Tomlinson was now completely consumed with music.
She had never played an instrument before in her life, had never evinced any interest in music whatsoever beyond listening to The Captain and Tenille or the BeeGees, and that had been thirty years ago. Music had never been, according to her mother and sister, a part of her life in any way. Not ever.
Now she was completely obsessed with music.
On the day after her awakening - early in the morning, in fact - she had demanded to be taken to a piano. Wakeman and Judy Somerfield had been alone with Tracy in her room and had looked at her when she spoke because, as Wakeman would later recall, there was something odd and -- he felt -- desperate in her demand. There was something inside her mind that wanted to come out, needed be given a voice, an expression, and Wakeman had called Terry Skinner, the clinical art therapist, to ask for advice; Skinner had come to the room, listened to Tracy, and acted.
They got a wheelchair and wheeled her to the art therapy room; there was a little upright piano against the back wall and Tracy brightened when she saw it. Wakeman wheeled her to the instrument that morning, thinking she must have been a pianist at one time, but when she approached the instrument it was readily apparent she had never played before.
But Judy Somerfield had, and it turned out Somerfield was something a naturally gifted teacher, as well.
Tracy hit a few keys, asked what notes they were, and Somerfield sat beside her on the bench and played simple scales for her, showed her how to move her fingers from note to note, chord to chord. After a few minutes Wakeman left Somerfield and Skinner and called for someone with a video camera to come to the room. He called Tracy's mother at home, told her what was happening, went back to the therapy room and pulled up a chair and watched. He'd heard of some instances of musicophilia occurring after prefrontal trauma; generally these cases occurred after electrical events like a lightning strike - and very little personality distortion was observed in these cases beyond lapses in memory.
But this was different. He moved closer to the piano and watched. Tracy asked questions; logical, focused questions, not the questions of a damaged brain. Within a half hour she was playing simple ditties, nothing complex, but she was playing them precisely and without any errors. Then:
"How do you write down these notes?" she asked Somerfield.
Judith began by verbally sketching out the structure of musical notation, then illustrated the concepts on paper.
"You were just playing 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star'; this is how you write it out in notes..." Somerfield placed the notes on the paper, then played them one finger at a time while she pointed at the notes on the paper. "See? Easy!"
"What about chords?"
"You really want to get into this?"
Somerfield turned to Wakeman; he nodded his encouragement and Judith took the paper and wrote out a couple of chords and showed how individual notes were grouped structurally to form them. "Here, I'll play a chord and you try to write it out."
She played a basic C major and Tracy wrote it out accurately and Somerfield looked up at Wakeman, her eyes wide, unbelieving.
"That's good, Tracy," Somerfield said. "Why don't you play some on your own for a while? Try to write down the chord. I'll be right back." She nodded at Wakeman, indicated he should meet her outside in the corridor.
"What is it?" he said when they were out of the room.
"You're kidding, right?"
"No? What are y..."
"Dr Wakeman, she's like done four or five weeks worth of steady piano lessons in a half hour, but that's only the half of it. She understands music implicitly. I think this is... I don't know... I think she's a savant of some sort. Now. But why now? We need to get a real instructor in here. Have an instructor evaluate her... I don't know? Understanding? We need to understand this change before we can figure out what caused it, right?"
Wakeman thought about what Somerfield was saying. Some instances of a priori music skills had been talked about in research derived from hallucinogenic studies, but researchers generally felt the idea was little more than some sort of bogus New Age hooey. If in fact Tomlinson had not had any musical training -- of any sort -- this might represent some kind of . . . what? Metaphysical event? Spiritual? What kind of reawakening was this? And where had Tomlinson "been" while she was "out"?
"I'm going to call Julliard. Balinski. And I want you to stay with Tomlinson; as soon as she tires let's get an encephalogram. I'll put it in the chart; you just be ready to move."
"What if she doesn't get tired?"
Wakeman hadn't thought it possible, but Tracy had been playing the piano almost non-stop for a week when he walked her down to the car. She'd exhausted three instructors from Julliard over three days; each concluded before they left they had never seen anything like this before. The last one, a temperamental Russian with a reputation for brilliance had been overwhelmed:
"At this rate, inside a month," Podgolskiv said, "she will be the best in the world. This is impossible, I know, but this will be even so." The babbling, flustered man had retreated and vowed to never return.
Now she was going home. Balinski had arranged for students and instructors from Julliard to be with her as often as possible, and the students -- who all seemed incredibly interested in her progress -- wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. They had heard the stories Podgolskiv told and they all wanted to be a part of this -- this awakening.
And through it all, through all the week's lessons, through all the week's revelations, Tracy had remained as emotionally isolated as a human being could be. It was, Wakeman once said to himself, as if she had grown a heart of ice.
Now he helped her into her mother's car, reached across and buckled her seat belt. He brushed against her, almost jumped back when he touched her skin.
It was icy cold. So cold it almost hurt to touch.
He swallowed hard, blinked, and wondered just who or what Tomlinson was... or what she had become.
"Good bye, Tracy. And good luck."
She turned toward him, or to his voice, and he shivered when he saw her eyes. They too were cold -- foreign -- and he hardly recognized them as human.
Her eyes were, he felt, focused on infinity. She seemed very comfortable out there.
By her third week at home, Tomlinson's playing was barely human, no longer explainable. Her mastery of the keyboard was complete, total. Students and instructors left the house each evening with looks of bewildered awe etched on their faces. They told their classmates each day of some new milestone or accomplishment reached, and Podgolskiv nodded knowingly at each new recounting. He was frightened of her.
When he could stand it no more, he called Wakeman. He had an idea. Podgolskiv went to see Tomlinson that night; he brought Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with him; Wakeman and Somerfield arrived a few moments the teacher, and Tracy's mother retreated to make coffee.
The old Russian talked with her for a while about the nature of music, about the depth of human understanding conveyed inside the very structure of the notes, and Tomlinson arched an eyebrow, as if she wondered what he meant.
"Music is about love, about life, Tracy. The joy and the sorrow of living as we must, as we are constrained to, within this fragile window between our birth and death. Music alone can convey these ideas to any human being regardless of where they come from, regardless of what language they speak. Music is the truest universal language. Emotion is the very soul of music, as emotion is at the very core of what it means to be human."
When she did not react to this, he gave her the score.
She read the notes for a while, looked at one passage for a while, then looked up at the teacher.
"This passage? What does this passage mean?"
He had been watching her, he had seen her eyes follow the music to this one crucial point. "It is the apotheosis of heaven, Tracy. It is the soul's ascension. Do you understand?"
"Would you like me to turn the pages for you? Would you like to try to play it now?"
"I do not need the music."
She turned and attacked the piano; music of such unbelievable power and majesty poured forth from the piano that it rendered Podgolskiv speechless. He had seen Van Cliburn in Moscow and he had known even then he had been in the presense of immortal genius; but now even that performance seemed hollow and impure compared to what he was hearing. He was for a time caught up in the rapturous beauty of the music until he looked at her; when he saw the truth of Tomlinson's genius in that moment -- when he saw her as she really was -- his awe in an instant turned to sorrow. She was as cold and as empty as space itself. Such technical mastery, such apparent understanding, but in the end her display was simply an illusion. There was no joy in her understanding of the structure, no human emotion connected to her mastery.
She was an enigma, certainly, but a hollow one.
When she finished she turned to Podgolskiv and looked at him, or at least his way, and he felt the coldness of pure vacuum in her gaze.
"You played well, Tracy," Wakeman said.
"What does the music say to you, Tracy?" said the teacher. "What does it mean?"
"Yes, Tracy. How do you feel when you play?"
"What was I supposed to feel?"
"It is, perhaps, different for every pianist, Tracy, but when you give yourself over to the music, when you become as one with the notes on the page, many artists feel themselves in the midst of a grand metamorphosis. They feel changed by the experience. Do you feel the same now? The same as you did before you played the piece?"
"Yes." Her voice was flat, a vast monotonous plain devoid of what Podgolskiv wanted to call the human. He felt alone, isolated, as he sat next to her.
Wakeman leaned forward now: "If you could think of just one word to describe what you felt when you played the music, Tracy, what do you think that word would be?"
"Do you remember any other feelings, Tracy? Since you came back?", he asked.
"I feel cold."
'And so do I,' the old man wanted very much to say, but he held himself back.
"Cold?" Somerfield asked. "How so? Like the temperature?"
"Have you felt happy since you came home?" she asked. "Or sadness?"
"Have you felt happiness since you came back? Or sadness?"
"I don't know."
The old teacher shook inside at the tragedy in her words. He was at a loss. His worldview could not comprehend such genius arising from the void she described, and the sorrow he felt left him shaking inside and feeble-minded, inadequate to the need before him. He wondered what the physicians felt. Would they feel as lost as he did?
"Can you tell me what you feel, Tracy?" Wakeman asked. "Physically? Not while playing the music, but right now?"
"I feel chains around my legs. I can't get them off."
"Chains?" Somerfield said.
"Where did these chains come from?"
"I don't know."
"Did someone put them on you?"
"I don't know."
"Tracy? Does anyone know?"
She seemed to hover over plains of indecision when she heard the question. She looked down at the keyboard and played a simple note, then a chord.
"Tracy? Who knows?"
"Your sister? Your sister knows?"
"Can she take them off? Tracy? Can she help you?"
"No. But she will try."
"She'll try? What do you mean?"
"She will try to take them off."
"And? What will happen if she does, Tracy?"
"She will die."
Wakeman felt a sudden deep chill in the room; he looked at Podgolskiv and Somerfield. They were wide-eyed, staring at Tracy, lost in her words.
"Why, Tracy? Why will she die?"
Again she looked away, looked inside that place she still held inside.
"Tracy? Where are you?"
She turned, looked at Wakeman, then Somerfield.
"She must not try. She will not be allowed."
"Allowed? Tracy? By whom?"
"She must not. She must not come."
"Tracy... you're not making sense to me? Who will not allow this?"
"Only he can take them off."
"He... who, Tracy?"
"Only the man on the boat."
"Did the man put the chains on you? Tracy? Who is the man?"
"I don't know."
"What has he told you? What has he done to you?"
"He was a puppet."
"Is someone watching him too?"
"Is someone controlling the puppet now, Tracy?"
"Did this other person put the chains on you, Tracy?"
"I don't know."
"Can you feel the chains right now, Tracy?"
"Yes. And I can hear them."
"What do they sound like, Tracy? The chains; what do they sound like?"
She bent to the piano and began playing. Simple notes, but a pure melancholy filled the room with each new stroke.
"This... the music?" the old Russian said. "These are your chains?"
"Oh my God..." Podgolskiv said.
"No. Not God."
She looked away then, looked away as if listening to something, or someone.
"Tracy?" Wakeman said.
"Tracy," Somerfield said now, "what about the man on the boat? What does he do?"
"He was playing the piano, but he stopped."
"Because it is time. We must write now."
"Yes. A sonata."
"A sonata?" Podgolskiv seemed stunned.
He looked at her again and he recognized something in her. He knew the answer, but he had to ask.
"The name of the sonata, Tracy? What is it?"
"Starlight. The Starlight Sonata."
The old man suddenly felt very tired, very old.
"Yes," he said softly. "It must be."
Everyone turned and looked at the old man.
He was shaking now, and very pale, as if suddenly he was very cold.
He had, in fact, never felt so cold... not in all his life.
"It has to be," he said slowly, softly. "But why now? Why you?"
"Because he is waiting for you," Tracy said as she stood and walked out of the room.