"Tragedy is more important than love. Out of all human events, it is tragedy alone that brings people out of their own petty desires and into awareness of other humans' suffering. Tragedy occurs in human lives so that we will learn to reach out and comfort others."
-C. S. Lewis
In the thrumming heart of the Emerald City, a young man of indeterminable age sits at the edge of the world and plays what he quaintly calls his "music maker."
Those who happen to walk by when he's not making music, when his swollen, gnarled hands are at rest and he gazes into something only he can see—they do not really see him. They see old sneakers with holes in the toes and a threadbare jacket and neglected hair hanging limply in empty eyes. They see that he's sitting far from the hub of the Fish Market, far from the prime location where they would go to hear real music.
Those who happen to walk by when his fingers are still, they keep walking. They feel passing pity or idle amusement or nothing at all. They walk on, not knowing that they are going to miss music that couldn't be more real—the magic that happens the moment his fingers start to dance.
But there are others.
These others come for his magic. They travel from remote corners of the city and the country and the world, across land and sea, to hear this person perform. Most don't know his name, they don't know him, but they know his story. They know the tale of the Seattle street musician who plays a forever lullaby for the one he loved and lost.
They arrive, hearts and lungs racing, ready to be dazzled by a living legend.
They arrive at twilight.
For he begins to play only when the sun is gone, that time that is not quite dark yet not quite light. His twilight serenade is fitting because he himself is in limbo, locked forever as more than he was but less than he could have been.
He could have been smart.
He could have been famous.
He could have been king of the world.
But he isn't. He isn't because, the day after he'd walked away from an alley, he'd walked away from his life. He hadn't been able to save her, so he couldn't bear to save himself.
He allowed himself to regress. Yet unlike Alice, he did not lose everything that he had found. Unlike Alice, he did not die within a year of receiving the treatment. Science cannot explain why he lived while she did not. Of course, scientists had tried. They argued that his pre-existing condition was a mental disorder rather than an emotional one. They theorized that his second dose may have somehow stemmed the tide. Eventually, they concluded—as had many before them—that his life is nothing short of a miracle.
To him, his life will never feel like a miracle.
Although he retains his music, he also retains faint inklings of his former intelligence—like stray meteors across his mind's night sky—that allow him to glimpse some of what he has lost. Some things, he does not regret losing. He does not miss hearing words better left unsaid. He does not miss doctors and needles and white. He does not miss Alice.
But there is something—someone—he does miss.
It has been one year since the alley, the place where people go to die. He's alive, but he hasn't felt alive. Time has blended days together in his mind like foliage in a passing forest. During the day, he shelves books he'll never read. On a beach, he searches for treasure he'll never find. Days repeat, repeat, and repeat again until they are all but forgotten.
But there are days that he will always remember—days filled with music and laughter and a simple girl with expressive eyes and an expansive soul. He will never forget those days. He will never forget that girl.
When she had been alive, she had been his sun, a beacon of hope in his pervasive darkness—bright and warm and life.
But all suns set.
Now that his sun is gone, he raises his face to the darkness and finds the brightest, most beautiful star sitting up above the world so high. His diamond in the midnight sky. He plays for her, his little star. He plays his best for her.
As he plays, he faces the water, his back to the world. He does not accept song requests or tips. He is rarely aware of his audience because he does not play for them. He plays for someone whom he may never see again.
Sometimes, he's visited by people he would recognize, were he to ever look past the stars in his eyes. Most often, it's a grizzly bear of a man in a stained apron, a man whose help had arrived too late.
Sometimes, a woman stands in the crowd, a toddler in her grip. Sometimes, the cook is also there, and he notices the striking resemblance between the Patrician profiles of the woman and the pianist. They share the same aquiline nose, the same strong jaw, the same sad eyes. Yet she never approaches her brother, never speaks to him, never requests that he acknowledge her presence.
She merely watches. She merely listens.
"I'm sorry," she whispers as she walks away, her words carried off by the wind.
Today, a day that is exactly one year after a young life was snuffed out in an alley, a new man stands alone at the edge of the crowd. His mustache gone gray with grief, a father stands with bowed head and moist eyes and waits for the young pianist play his daughter's life. Although the pianist doesn't see this man, doesn't know why he's come, he does know what day it is.
Her lullaby is his grand finale, the reason why travelers set out on their pilgrimage to Seattle, the performance for which they wait with bated breath. Yet because the lullaby's muse is gone, because her own living, breathing lullaby never came to its natural conclusion, Edward never plays farther than a certain point in her song. It always cuts short—just like Bella's life.
Those who are fortunate enough to have heard the lullaby played fully—the only day it ever was—still remembered it.
"It was poetry, it was purity, it was the most beautiful thing this world has ever heard," they would say. "Such a pity that the world will never hear it again." Those lucky few will always remember hearing his music. They will always remember seeing his smile, that soft, shy smile that implied a secret shared.
He still smiles, but he smiles sorrow. His eyes when he smiles are like sagging windows on an abandoned house. He smiles his sadness when his fingers drift away from the final keys.
The haunting melody ends on an unresolved note that lingers in the air, forever hapless and homeless. His captive audience sits, rapt, hoping that the song has not ended, that the note will be resolved at last.
Yet they know in their hearts that the song is finished, that they will never hear the glorious finale to the love story that the young pianist has played. That they will never get their happily ever after.
When they sense that the music is over, they don't applaud, they don't cheer, they don't crowd around him to reach out and touch this person who has reached out and touched them. They remain quiet and lost and alone.
They came to be dazzled; they are instead destroyed.
Yet even in their despondency, even though the pianist has dragged them to the depths of despair, he has not abandoned them, has not cast them completely to the demons. For in the silence, there is not only destitution; there is redemption.
Redemption in the understanding that the lullabies of their lives remain unwritten. Their lullabies linger on, their melody ebbs and flows and grows. So they go home to their husbands and wives and children and touch them and kiss them and love them.
Through his music, he has forever immortalized his love. Through his music, he touches lives in ways that he will never see, in ways that he can no longer understand. Pulsing as slowly and steadily as blood in the vein, his sound ripples through people he will never meet, rejuvenating life after life, leaving small miracles in its wake.
But the young man knows nothing of these miracles. He knows nothing of life beyond his small sphere, his eighty-eight monochromatic keys, and his twinkling little star. He doesn't play for anyone else. The pulse of his music does not beat for them. His heart beats for Bella.
He plays only for Bella.
As he has always done.
Each night, Jasper collects him and shepherds him back to the place they now call home. When Edward no longer had his smarts, when Edward no longer had Bella, Edward needed a friend, one who wasn't impaired by booze and drugs. Jasper gave him that friend. He cleaned himself up, purchased a dilapidated yet roomy house on the outskirts of the city with the last of their King of the Hill tips, and began the painstaking process of shaping it into a home.
Each night, when Jasper clasps Edward's shoulder in a silent signal that it's time to go, Edward lowers his hands, raises his face to the stars peeking through the cracks in the heavens, and asks a single question.
"Will Miss Bella hear this music?"
Each night, Jasper answers honestly, "I think she will, kid. I think she will."
And somehow, somewhere, she does.
- Fin -
Five publishers initially rejected Flowers for Algernon in 1965 because of its unhappy ending (in which, by the way, Charlie does not die). Editors wanted Charlie to maintain his intelligence, marry Miss Kinnian, and live happily ever after. Believing in his vision, author Daniel Keyes refused to change the ending, even going so far as to return a cash advance that he'd been given.
Today, the work has sold over 5 million copies and has become a tale that school children everywhere often read and remember well into their adult years. Many who reviewed this fic told me that they remember Flowers for Algernon because it made them cry. Many who reviewed also told me that they couldn't continue reading past Chapter 3 (the chapter in which this story's inspiration is revealed) for that very reason. Therefore, if you've read to this point, thank you so much for taking the journey despite your fear of the destination. This was the hardest thing I've ever written; it's so rewarding knowing that it was actually read.
Thanks to moonlightdreamer333, CapriciousC, WouldYouLookAtThat, wickedcicada, and my real life ninja, Shannon, for pre-reading/editing. You each contributed your own invaluable nuances that helped make this fic the best it could be.
Stay awesome, Twific readers.