My short story Song Spark Recovery Magic won first place for the 2021 LUNE SPARK Short Story World Contest and is part of the book A Few Drops of Hope.
Song Spark Recovery Magic synopsis:
Magical music comes to the aid of a young blind immigrant struggling to wake her adopted city, in order to secure a spark of real recovery and build back better lives in the aftermath of a global pandemic.
Song Spark Recovery Magic
By Nico Roman Cordonier Gehring (12)
“Something important is missing…” mused Song, as she helped her mother carry their battered chairs and worn rugs up the cold concrete stairwells to their council flat. Since they first saw the grim, looming halls of the housing estate, she had felt an icy absence – like a gap opening in her shattered world. It was a whispered warning, spoken over and over in the background, too soft for conscious grasp, but ominous in its subliminal impact. The omission haunted her: their new building had no song!
Where they had lived in the West, before a terrible global coronavirus pandemic had ripped her grandmother away from her tiny family, also taking her mother’s low-paying janitorial job, life had been different.
Although she had learned not to mention it to strangers, to Song each building hummed with its community’s unique spirit, celebrating their shared ideas, dreams and lives. Each edifice, each neighbourhood sang its own special tune, woven from the shared history and harmony of its people and place. Sightless since birth, Song relied on textures, tastes, scents and especially sound – music – to make sense of her world. Her service dog, Mozart, a small husky granted to her family by a local charity, helped her to navigate when her mother was away. But she used to revel in the quiet music, entering a home for a morning playdate, or tiptoeing past and listening, on a peaceful evening, could learn the purpose of an office-building or the courageous mission of a hospital.
Here in the East, even as vaccines slowly reached each generation and the pandemic slowly wound down, things were strange. Her new building sounded heavy, chill and empty, the long hallways echoing with dust and neglect, the inhabitants disconnected and alien. Not even the sad, tattered sparrows on the grimy windowsills were singing.
Song could not see the towering, imposing glass structures far above her, nor the flashing neon lights that attracted others to the city, even in days devastated by the disease, with its millions of losses, the fear, distrust and economic collapse. She only felt the disconnect, and suffered.
Song tried to settle into their flat. Her mother had to leave very early each morning to labour in the chemical sewers of a factory that had re-opened, making personal protective equipment for hospitals, and Song was left alone with Mozart. The winter was oppressive. Song sensed deeply the hopelessness and grief of the grim city, polluted and silent. The scents of iridescent diesel oil spills wafted from the puddles on the roads and discarded rubbish rotting uncollected on the curbs. Slimy discarded masks, gloves and other plastics clogged the drains, making Song and Mozart slip if they went out. Already, the constant horns of traffic again blared and roared along the highways beside their grimy flat, melding with the constant background wail of ambulances.
Song sat on the faded linoleum next to the open window in their tiny kitchen, taking tiny shallow breaths of the cold, polluted city air. She was sad and angry. She wondered how her world, so full of joyful tunes, had somehow –in the midst of the global pandemic and the disastrous move– turned so silent. She wanted to change things, but she couldn’t imagine how.
Her one cheerful thought, which she held close to warm her like a glowing golden ember, was her special flute. Once her grandfather could visit, bringing the ancient instrument that he had reserved just for her, Song hoped the crystal notes would form and dance around her as they always did when she played in his tiny cabin along the white cliffs and turquoise heather moors of the West.
Finally, after nearly two weeks of painful pause, the day arrived! Masked and cautious, Song and her mother travelled through the cluttered, noisy but somehow dead streets of their pandemic-struck city to the train station. When Song’s grandfather stepped smiling from the carriage, his wrinkled arms outstretched, Sybil barely needed the pressure of her mother’s light hand on her back to fly towards him. His answering laughter, and the pure notes of greeting that she heard from the precious instrument he carried carefully, made all the waiting worthwhile. On a bark of welcome from Mozart, as he too heard the notes leaking from the battered but beloved black case, a bit of her former confidence returned.
With her flute, Song’s grim life in the dead, silent, cluttered city of the East improved. Cold, lonely halls and silent sadness still formed a cage around her tiny soul, but her music surrounded her, clear and pure, the notes cascading through her days. Unfortunately, the only teacher available in the city was much more expensive. As she set out with Mozart for her first lesson, she had a spark. Rather than burden her tiny family, she could contribute to the cost herself, by playing her flute!
Song’s first clandestine concert took place in the centre of her new city, at the intersection two major alleyways, next to an abandoned street market. Her trusted Mozart guided her through the crowds. Secretly she hoped that they all had been vaccinated because she felt people gathering, and some seemed rather close.
Song unpacked her instrument and started to play. The indigo notes of the ancient, slender silver instrument flowed like a crystal river through the grey, silent city streets, touching the lives of each person, and planting seeds of hope in the crushed hearts of the homes, buildings and neighbourhoods themselves. As Song shared her very soul, the city around her slowly stopped. Pedestrians, cars, buses froze to hear the lovely music. The notes formed a warm waterfall of beauty and light. And as the people of the soundless, soulless, songless city learned to listen, many for the first time in their lives, they became inspired to build back better.
In the crowd, a boy on a skateboard with gleaming raven-wing hair and purple high-tops stopped, astonished, and then quickly pulled out his mobile. His light fingers sped across the keys, and an app glowed with indigo energy as Song’s music engraved electronically. After the performance, Song crumpled in exhaustion on the stone stairs beneath the arches of a stone doorway. Then Mozart barked in greeting. The boy approached, with awed eyes, and asked her permission to post her performance online. Scarcely recognising herself, Song agreed.
The music went viral, travelling everywhere through the city, and transformation travelled with it. A sad, pointless prison for the poor broke the chains of solitude and started rapping its rhythm out from the ground. A polluted petrol station and a greedy fast-food restaurant realised their destiny, and lifted an upbeat, jazzy saxophone duet number. A rubbish tip heard her music, waking from its methane-laden haze and throbbing with deep, happy, decomposing bass notes. The cut-rate pawnshop awakened from its uncaring mist of mangled memories, to pluck a guitar string. With Song’s music came a spark, and with the spark, recovery.
Millions of views and new listeners later, the entire city began to slowly awaken, as if from hibernation. Song and her new friend, Raven, composed new melodies directly online, activating his music apps and her flute talent, and more and more people tuned in to listen, and to transform themselves.
A visiting playwright teaching a story to a group of children in a sad, underfunded schoolroom with a special indigo ink pen paused to listen, as Song’s notes played through the public address speakers, and smiled softly to himself, as the building began to hum the notes back, and recovered into a handsome library brimming with books. A travelling street artist spray-painting an endangered orca and her calves onto a tall shipping company wall with shimmering indigo paints laughed in delight, as the high-rise responded with a soaring soprano solo, and transformed itself into an ocean-wise sustainable aquaculture co-operative.
As Song’s music washed through the city, relentlessly recovering, more and more buildings changed. The clawed pawnshop became a public museum, open to all and housing a tiny delicious bistro and an antiques hall. The dank prison became a community centre with rehabilitation programmes and a legal aid clinic. The petrol station and a fast-food restaurant became an electric vehicle charging station, with renewable solar panels on the roof, and a farmers market in a green corner nearby. The busy highways and rushing traffic calmed, replaced by bike paths and electric trams.
As Song’s mother explained, leaning over the counter of her new job in a tiny global coffee shop that had opened in the revived arts, crafts and organic foods market: “The children have almost invented a whole new form of music… and it’s changing our city, for the better.” Unheard by the adults, the little shop itself began to giggle, as its own lilting jig awoke in response to the flute’s magical notes. Song herself heard the music of her own building awaken and fill the air around her with joy, and stepped confidently with Mozart out into the warm sunshine of their new jade and olive green rooftop garden. She smelled the lavender bushes as returning bees buzzed softly around her and her friend, felt the balconies of their green flats bursting with new fruit and flowers below, and smiled in delight as once-grim halls echoed with children’s laughter, and with the music of a real recovery.