So today’s task/topic was to write for 40 minutes, with a little bit of prep time. So of course, my mind treated this just like a word war opportunity…
Ashley tossed his bag in the locker before scrambling to put his shoes on. He was late. Again. If he had been a freshman in high school or starting out in middle school, he might have gotten away with it.
But in this day and time at his age, trying to start anew in college…
He loved Professor Gates, adored her. She challenged him during lectures, and he could answer without fear. Whether he was right or wrong, he found his voice and used it.
In this setting, however, because of a lost bet with Chanel in chemistry lab, here he was, tripping over his two left feet.
Struggling to catch his breath, he made it to the auditorium, expecting to play catch up somehow. It took him a moment to realize the only footsteps he heard were his own.
“Mr. Emery, it isn’t like you to be this late. Especially on your fourth day.”
Professor Gates stood with her back to the mirrors in a classical at-rest position, just like a ballerina, poised, polished porcelain yet relaxed.
Once upon a time, Ashley held the same pose, scare steel determined not to flinch at the slightest threat. It was all he could do not to revert to that well-learned behavior of youth.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll understand, third strike and all-.”
Gates smiled. “Relax. Breathe. I’m not that cruel. Besides, there’s a particular challenge I have for you that works best one-on-one.”
She pressed ‘play’ on the CD player beside her. As the melody rose and their stretching exercises began, she asked, “What colors do you hear?”
Ashley was confused.
“Don’t think, just answer. What colors do you hear?”
“I’ve already failed a test,” he muttered under his breath.
After the first set of exercises were finished, Gates turned the music off. “Let’s reverse that. Follow me.”
She showed him a landscape painting with a myriad of autumn colors. “What notes do you see?”
Ashley opened and closed his mouth a few times. Rather than answer about the painting before him, he stepped towards the corner to a different landscape, this one depicting a river. “Around C,” he said, after a while. “Small voice in volume, short in length, like a bubbling brook. Eighth notes that grow longer eventually.”
“And,” Gates asked.
“This is just the start of a journey, so the tempo’s bound to change. The shift in chords, the…the ebb and crescendo. I can see it, I just can’t say it.”
Gates nodded as she led the way back to the auditorium. “Take your shoes off,” she told him as she sought a different CD from her bag. “We’ll ignore the tap.”
The moment the first notes played, Ashley felt awash in safety, in a time and place where love was plentiful and conversations, questions encouraged.
“Do you know the name,” she asked.
His smile grew as it dawned on him why he was drawn to the painting. “The Moldau, by Smetana.”
She smiled back. “Now can you tell me the colors that you hear?”
He did; he could, comfortably, eagerly.”
As the music ended, she pressed on. “What’s happened to you since then? What has broken and bruised you so – emotionally and physically – that you are hoping to fail out of this dance, this life?”
His heart raced as the images of a winding river morphed into a soon-to-be crushing waterfall.