The Music Lesson
A Tale Of Mutant Disability by Dannell Lites
But I was surprised to see my visitor, nonetheless. I expected that it might be Theresa, come for my weekly lesson in Sign, or perhaps Samuel or Danielle. These days they are my most frequent guests here in my Antarctic huddling place. Charles and his protégé Ororo Monroe are infrequent visitors, true, but here was quite literally the very last person I had expected to see. I should have suspected, though. All that metal you see ... He has a very deep, distinctive voice if memory serves and it usually does. There was a time when I heard it often, raised in fury against me. I smiled and in my mind I heard it again. I really must be getting better at reading lips.
"Hiya Maggsie!" said Wolverine lighting one of his foul-smelling cheroots. He dropped the charred match at his feet and inhaled deeply.
He is still the only one I know who has the temerity to smoke in my presence. But, then he still calls Charles "Chuck", does he not? At the moment I did not feel very privileged by his left-handed mark of affection. I wrinkled my nose and Signed carefully, "No smoking!" with a great scowl on my face. Such an irritating man! He made no move to obey me; quite the opposite. His grin mocked me. I have a violent temper and it has grown no sweeter in these days of being treated as a simpleton by virtue of my disability. I am deaf not stupid. I have never been stupid; never.
"Love you, too!" Signed Logan slowly.
"And *I* have lost my hearing," I Signed emphatically back, "NOT my sense of smell! To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this visit?" Even in Sign I can still be quite pompous when I set my mind to it. The arrogance comes naturally now, I fear, after so many years of diligent practice.
"Got a present for ya," my former enemy Signed and tossed a thin flat disc in my direction. At first I thought it a CD-ROM, but then I saw the colorful label of the thing and was vastly annoyed. His confidence in my ability to catch the thing was a compliment in it's own backward fashion. Somehow I did not feel flattered.
And then when I truly saw the garish label, lying in wait for my unsuspecting eyes, I gasped. Logan is expert at reading an opponents body language and mine must have been all too apparent but he did not resist. Reflexively I lashed out. He is quick as I have good reason to know but for me he is no real challenge. The man was wearing so much metal he should have clanked when he walked. And I ... I am *still* the Master of Magnetism. I am still Magneto. I have not yet learned to see myself as less than I am simply because I cannot hear. Not ... quite ...
Brutally, I slammed him time and again against the walls of my sanctuary, enraged. We had never been friends he and I, but this ... this was beyond mockery. We had been allies of a sort for a time and to be so viscously ridiculed by someone I had trusted, if not liked, was not in me. His healing factor is a truly wondrous thing is it not? Not once did he lose consciousness. Nor did he cry out. Not even once. I fear that I was the one who did that. I could feel the muscles of my throat work, the painful stretch of my increasingly unused vocal chords. I must have been roaring.
I could not, of course, hear myself.
Deliberately he wiped the blood from his mouth and nose, smiling at me still yet. But he said nothing. He is a strange man, Logan. I let the disc fall to the carpeted floor. Even before Thesesa stripped me of my dignity, plunging me into this thunderous silence I should not have heard it strike, I think. But I could still *see* it.
SYMPHONY #9 by LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN, the label proudly declared.
A music CD ...
A *music* CD ...
I used my power to shake him like a rat in the mouth of a terrier. I laid hands on him and Signed my fury against his naked flesh. I was not gentle.
"Damn you, little man," I slapped at him, "Damn you!" My jaws ached from the set of my teeth. "Why?" I demanded flesh to flesh, "Why?" With a great heave he pushed me away and I expected to see his claws emerge even as I went careening across the room. I was almost looking forward to it, in fact ... But they did not. Pain is instructive, it is said. Indeed it is. Logan and I have given one another a great deal of instruction over the years it must be admitted. For long moments we simply stared, eyes locked in silent combat. He was the first to look away. Why was I so absurdly proud of that? Had I fallen so far that even so inconsequential and meaningless a victory brought such joy?
With a visible grimace Logan climbed to his feet. His advance was slow but steady, utterly free of unexpected, threatening moves and alien to his nature. Wordlessly he crouched beside me. I saw his eyes then. I'm not sure what I thought to find there in those earthy depths. Anger perhaps? Pity, almost certainly. But neither of these slumbered there. What I did find devastated me. Understanding. His broken lip had healed but the salty metallic scent of blood lingered.
Blood ... so much blood ...
He took both my hands in his, carefully, almost reverently and studied them as a diamond cutter regards an uncut stone of great value. I resisted the urge to flinch and pull away from him. How could he know? I have always disliked to be touched against my will. It brings too much unpleasantness slithering in the wake of all it's pleasures. I have been ... touched ... too often, I fear.
"You got great hands, Magnus," my fellow mutant said. His eyes were hooded and unreadable. "Your hands 're made fer a musician."
I close my eyes. My hands ... People have always praised my hands ...
<"You have the hands of a great musician or a great lover." I hear my mother sigh. "Cherish them." She kisses my knuckles one by one. "Don't worry Eric! No one ever does 'Ode to Joy' proper justice, I'm afraid, " she informs me. "Now ran and play you naughty boy! You're heart isn't in the music today!" It never was.>
I remember the feel of these hands upon Magda's eager body; I hear again the soft sounds of her pleasure at their caress. "Such hands!" she exclaims and lifts her breasts to meet them. She covers my palms and the length of each finger with tiny, butterfly kisses. "See how slender and elegant!" my Gypsy Star murmurs, "Feel how strong!" she marvels and smiles like the sun. "Ah!" she cries when I ghost them down her body, "Ah!"
<"You have clever hands, Jew-swine," the SS Gruppenfurher says pleasantly to me. "You come highly recommended by the Einsatzgruppen." I have not not yet forgotten the sound of his laugh. "Did you really repair their stalled truck? No wonder they didn't shoot you ..." When I make no reply he slaps me to the floor and then kicks me. I cover my head and make myself very small. But he does not strike me again. Not yet. "No matter," he says and his voice is still pleasant as if he were congratulating his dog on a job well done. He grasps my hands and pulls me brutally to my knees. "Such clever, pretty hands ... " He yanks my hair and forces me to look up at him. He is smiling like the sun. "Can you use them to keep machinery running, Jew-swine?" Still I say nothing until he pulls his gun from it's polished holster and rests the cold metal barrel against my head. "Answer me, Jew-filth. Will you use those clever hands to help me wipe the stench of you from the earth?" He cocks the trigger. "Beg me politely to let you help kill others like you and you will live." I do not hesitate. "Please let me help you wipe the stench of me from the earth," I beg him politely and tears run down my cheeks. But my voice is steady. It must be. "Good!" says the SS Gruppenfurher. "In the meantime we really must find another use for those talented hands ... " And, gun still to my head, he unbuttons his trousers.>
Logan watched me closely. When he released me he offered up his own short blunt hands upon the alter of my inspection. Surprisingly, the nails are smooth and clean, not ragged as you might imagine. But the knuckles are gnarled and many times broken. This close I can see them clearly. They are not the hands of a gentle man. Criss-crossed with endless tiny scars, they are mute testaments to great pain and hard labor. Their touch is not soft. The calluses are deep and ragged raising up like soaring mountains. For a moment he stared at his hands as if he did not recognize them; almost as if they had somehow betrayed him.
"I've got ugly hands," he says. "Damn things're only good for one thing." I can see the quick flare of his broad nostrils and it is no great trick to imagine his snort of derision. I looked up, watching his lips carefully for his reply.
"Only thing I was ever good at." he says. He has fallen back upon his knowledge of Sign now. My eyes narrow. It is a small courtesy but a mysterious one. Logan is not a courteous man. Suspicion blossoms like a Spring flower but I beat it into submission as I would any other enemy.
I hold my silence for many moments. But in the end I must know.
"Why the Ninth Symphony?" I question him with agile fingers. What instinct led him to choose that particular composition with which to taunt me? If that is what he was doing. I am no longer sure of that. Why The Chorale Symphony? After all, he cannot know that it was the only one of all my Mother's gifts of music that I cherished, can he? He does not answer me right away. Instead he looks away seemingly lost in the labyrinth of a deep reverie. It takes him many moments to find his way out and I can only wonder what ghostly Minotaurs have pursued him. Finally, with a deep intake of breath he emerged triumphant.
"Didja know Beethoven never heard it?" he Signs, a pleasant look straining the muscles of his face and my credulity. "The Ninth Symphony, I mean. Not a single note."
<"Never heard it?" I'd been dumfounded. "What do you mean?" She is trying to kindle my waning interest in music. She wishes to share the joy she finds in music with me. I am young and don't understand the nature of her gift to me. My mother again stirs on the padded comfort of her velvet piano bench and looks at me strangely before she answers my childish question..>
"Lots of people think that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony's the most beautiful and perfect piece o' music ever. Better'n Mozart even." Logan said. Perplexed, I nodded in agreement, reigning in my rapidly spiraling ire. I do not suffer fools willingly. Or lightly. What could be the purpose of his tactless "present" if not to hurt me?
"And when he composed it," Logan continued, his lips moving softly, "Ol' Ludwig was deaf as a post ..."
<"But *how*" I gasp at my mother, "*how* could anyone write such music if they couldn't hear it, Mama? I don't understand ... " Mama smiles and caresses the keys of the Steinway as if they could answer the question. And perhaps they can. For *her*.>
It must be that my traitorous fingers gave me away echoing my thoughts. I am sure that I did not speak aloud. I rarely do that anymore. But there was Logan's answer, flowing like water through his hands.
"I asked him that once, bub," the Canadian said as if to himself. "Know what he told me? He said, 'I'll hear it in Heaven ... '"
"You *knew* him?" I Signed after a moment and then fell silent. "How old *are* you?" I Signed when the full implications of his simple statement struck me.
"Don't rightly know, Mags," he replied. The grin that split his weathered face was delightful and almost genuine. "Can't remember anymore. Old enough, I guess." Logan seemed to be transported and, briefly, I wondered where in the labyrinth of his past the former killer had fled this time. It wasn't until he spoke that I knew.
"Only meet him once," the X-Man said, lost in the mist of his reminiscence, "in Vienna, May 7, 1824. I remember the date exactly, cuz it was at the openin' o' that very Symphony." He pointed to the discarded CD laying forlorn in it's forgotten corner. The Canadian moved himself then, across the room and took a seat before the Steinway Concert Grande piano sprawling in splendor by the door. Astonished, I watched as his broad fingers began to move with authority over thekeyboard. I am not usually sentimental, but I had not the heart to dispose of it. After a moment's concentration, seeing his hands command the keys, recalling the sounds of the notes he struck I realized he was playing the most famous movement of Beethoven's Ninth, the "Ode To Joy" as he talked. I let the music unfold from it's hiding place nestled deep within me. I moved closer so that I might see his face better and watch his lips move. He must have seen my consternation then for his answering smile was broad indeed.
"Wanna know something funny?" I nodded, still listening to the memory of music fountaining inside my mind. I couldn't hear him but I could see that he was laughing. I very much doubt that it was a pleasant sound.
"It's the only thing I can play," he confessed, mirth spilling from the perpetually guarded sanctum of his earth brown eyes. "Took me ten years o' practice but I finally learned it. Can't play a single note o' nothin' else. Told ya these hands ain't good for much but killin' ..." He played on while I contemplated a man who could spend a decade learning to play a single piece of music with no interest in attempting any other composition. With more than my usual store of patience these days, I waited for him to continue. After a lifetime of rhetoric, I have, at last learned the daunting nature of silence. It's where I live now.