What Melody Williams could have been. ~madis
Oh quickly disappearing photograph
in my more slowly disappearing hand.
They want to make buttons out of my bones, she tells the man standing next to her in the elevator. He doesn't reply, but that's quite alright. This is something she is used to.
People never see her anymore. All they see is a shadow.
At home, Dad drinks ashes, the dust falling from his eyes. He can't look at her, because she looks like her mother. Really Melody thinks she looks mostly like him. She's seen a picture of her mother on her and Dad's wedding day: smiling so bright, with little purple flowers in a small diadem on top of her head, and her hair falling in graceful red curls about her face. Long, pale arms; in the pictures Dad's hands run up them smooth, resting lightly on her collarbones as they blaze into the camera lens. They're so happy.
Dad doesn't know she has the picture. She keeps it with her everywhere. On the train to work, on the train ride home, in the store, and when she's home she keeps it in Dicken's Expectations, which is buried underneath a dozen other books that she really must read someday next to her bed. Somehow Expectations always makes it to the bottom. She suspects because it's so heavy.
In the morning she always gets up an hour earlier than she has to. She sits on the floor, cross-legged, and slips the books one by one from their pile. They slide through her fingers, each one mysterious and jewel-like. Hamlet isalways on top, followed by the complete set of Tolkien's critical essays. She wants to read them because of the brief mentions of that world he'd created, the one that had never been published. She expects she would have loved that world.
Shakespeare, not just Hamlet, is next, and then Rilke, Kipling, Poe, and Dickinson.
Finally she reaches the bottom of the stack, and hauls Expectations into her lap, and opens the picture of Dad and Mum on their wedding day. The last picture of Mum anywhere and she sits and looks at it until she knows Dad will be getting up, a small island unto herself, with a sea of books surrounding her.
She makes herself and Dad breakfast, eggs and sausage for Dad. She has cereal, dry, because she's been a vegetarian ever since Biology during her First Year and the frogs. They eat in silence, and after they're done eating she puts the dishes in the sink to be washed later and Dad heads off to his armchair and the telly. By now it is seven-fifteen, and she heads off to the train station to work.
She likes the train. She likes it better than zeppelins, even though she probably wouldn't be taking a zeppelin to work anyways, because they were for the Rich People. But even if she was rich she would still take the train. She's never liked heights. And the train is definitely better than the bus. She likes to take the window seat, because you can look out the window into tiny slices of the world as it flies by.
At work they ask her bunches of questions: when did the dreams first start; did she notice anything peculiar in them, other than the man? What does he say to her? Sometimes she'll tell them what he says to her; sometimes she won't. The Doctor is special to Melody, so no, she doesn't tell them everything. She only took the job to help pay for college, and it's a bit pointless now, since she isn't going to college anymore, but it's something to do still.
They only found out that she knew the Doctor because she wrote about him in her essay, because the professor had asked them to. In this exercise I want you to write about who you care about the most. I want to know them as well as you do, but don't mention who they are, or what they do. I want to get to know this person through an object they carry with them.
Mum, she'd thought, but she'd never known her mother. Photographs don't count.
Dad, she'd thought, but no, that wasn't right either. All she could think about with Dad was the beer bottled he cradled against his lips, and she really didn't want the teacher knowing about that. She didn't want anybody to know about Dad.
The Doctor, and yes, that was the right one indeed.
The professor had been so impressed with her essay that he'd shown it to a friend of his, Ianto Jones, who worked for the Torchwood Institute. Everyone knew about the Institute, how it had kept them alive during the Cyber Revolution, how it had helped pick up the government's shattered pieces and forged the People's Republic. Mr. Tyler had been knighted for that.
Mr. Tyler is very nice. In her head Melody considers him and his daughter as the train takes her to the Hub, which had been known as Canary Wharf, once upon a time. But the Institute isn't a secret anymore. Everyone knows that Mr. Tyler is head of the Institute, and that his adopted step-daughter, Miss. Rose, is the heiress to the Tyler fortune. They are both very lovely people. They come and talk to Melody, and are the ones who are most interested in the Doctor.
Such nice people, Melody thinks, and leans her head against the window and closes her eyes. She listens to the train clicking its way out of the West End and into Central, where the Hub is located. Clack -clack-clack-clack. It is a strange sort of funny little song, but nice all the same.
Melody cards in and says hello to Owen Harper, the guard on duty. She tries to remember names because she likes it when people remember her own.
"Melody Williams!" Owen calls out as she makes her way over to the lift. "When are we going to go on that date you promised me?"
"I'm not, Mr. Harper. I never promised you anything," she tells him.
"Oh love, you wound my heart." He pantomimes getting shot with an arrow, clutching his chest and slumping in his chair.
She smiles at his antics, but she's still glad when the elevator dings open. Owen, as charming at he is, is embarrassing. He laughs at her as the doors slide shut.
She rides the lift down to the ground floor, and smiles at people as she walks to her cubicle, putting away her coat and starting up the computer. There weren't very many people here this early in the morning; everyone didn't normally get here till after ten. Her small cubicle isn't very large; if she isn't careful she'll bang her elbows into the wall when she stretches her arms out. But it's all hers, and she loves it for that.
She slings her coat onto the small two-coat coat rack she'd managed to squeeze in here, and turns on her computer, and goes and makes the coffee. Besides cataloguing what she knows of the Doctor (which, admittedly, isn't very much; they're dreams, he was her imaginary friend.) she makes the coffee for people. Not everyone in the Institute, but most of them. It takes a while, but she doesn't mind.
"I'm helpful. I help Ianto track aliens; I help catalogue artifacts. The oddities of our age. I bring the coffee. It's nice."
"Hold still. I can't sketch you if you move."
He lapsed into concentration for a while, sparks of charcoal falling from the sketchpad as he pressed it onto the page. They were sitting in the rooftop garden of the apartment building that he lived in. Melody enjoyed the way the sunlight felt on her skin.
"Don't apologize," he said, after a long, dragged pause. His red hair shone like a copper plate and his grey sky eyes flicked from her to the page to her again.
(The only one to ever truly see her.) He sketched her that day, in blackgrey lines and brief swift strokes of the pastels, colors like alizarin crimson, for her hair, and sunglow, for the sunflowers. Always, always the sunflowers.
The coffee pot glurts and spurgles, as it began filtering the grounds and water. After it's done brewing, Melody makes a cup, black, and takes it to Mr. Tyler on the top floor, who is always the first here. She moves through the dimly lit hallways; there are a few people here, their cubicles shining like glowworms in the dimmed pitch of morning. She takes the elevator; the music is burbling bright and happy. It makes her smile.
"Mr. Tyler?" She knocks on his door with a light tap of her knuckles. He's sitting hunched over his desk; the desk lamp is on, and his laptop is whirring, whirring, and there are papers scattered all the way to the floor.
He looks up, startled. His face is tired, and there are circle under his eyes. His suit jacket is slung over the back of his chair, and his sleeves are rolled up to the elbows and his tie has been loosened. "Oh, Miss. Williams. Thank you; come in, come in."
Melody places the coffee cup on his desk, clears up the three other mugs littering his desk. Mr. Tyler has an actual coffee pot in the corner of his room, and collection of coffee mugs beside it, and from the looks of things, he has been here all night. "Will you need anything else, Mr. Tyler?" she asks, just as she always asks.
"No thank you, Miss. Williams," he says, just as he always says. Balancing the three mugs in her hand by dangling the handles by her fingers, she goes to open the door. "Oh, and Miss. Williams?" She turns, holding the door half ajar. "Will you tell Ianto that I really need him to look into Class AB-19 right away. I need it catalogued, and the man I've put to it is taking far too long."
She'd often wondered, in the lulls of her day, why Mr. Tyler called her Miss. Williams, while Ianto and Miss. Tyler and Owen Harper all called her Melody. She'd asked Ianto, once, and he'd paused, pushing his goggles up onto his forehead to look at her. Ianto is a blue-collar worker who happened to land a lucky scholarship to Harvard down in the Omerica Province across the lake because he was as smart as a whip. "Nobody expected me to amount to anything," he'd told her once. "But I applied myself—stayed in when everyone went out. Didn't have time for dating, and I got straight A's, and when I applied for graduate school I got into that, too. Anthropology—who knew that I'd end up working for the Institute, of all places? Life's a bit barmy like that, though."
"I think," he'd said, in that thoughtful way of his, "that it's because he likes you. You're quiet, you get the job done, you bring him coffee. But he's also—he's not like us. He's not—not common. He's rich, he's used to not thinking of us all too much. So him calling you Miss. Williams . . . it's like he respects you enough to give you that honor? I dunno."
"So him calling you Ianto means that he doesn't respect you then?"
Ianto had mussed up her hair. "Bah. Get back to work kid." And she did.
Once she leaves the last bit of coffee on Miss. Tyler's desk for her to find when she comes in a little while (she always saves Miss. Tyler for last, because Miss. Tyler always comes in at ten and she leaves the coffee at nine fifty-five), Melody stops by her cubicle to pick up her paperwork and then heads down three floors to Artifacts, Unit: Classified. (She calls it Art for short, and it always makes her giggle inside because, well, archaeology and anthropology were sort of art forms, weren't they?)
Art is filled with all kinds of things, and they're all alien, and either very, very old or so new they haven't been invented yet. And everything is wonderful. Once, she'd catalogued a whole entire miniature space fleet that someone had collected somewhere in the future. The Time Agency is wonderful, bringing things for the Institute to catalogue. Well, really for Ianto to catalogue, and Melody, too, although Ianto never let her handle the weapons because she had asked him to. She didn't like them, guns. The rest of the cataloguers under Ianto were allowed to handle everything already designated not alien, or something Ianto has already gone through.
Melody had been thrilled, the first time he had allowed her to catalogue something by herself. It meant that he trusted her not to mess things up.
Not very many people did that anymore, not since Vincent.
"What happened, Melody?"
"I—I don't know. I just—I just came into his room. He had a painting for me to see, something about stars. And I—and I come in and—"
"Yes," the man says, and the look in his eyes is one of sympathy.
"Why was he sad?" she whispers. "Why was he sad enough to end?"
"In his note he says he leaves everything to you," the man says. "All his paintings, his paints, his flat. Everything. His paintings . . . they're very good."
"No," and she begins to crybegscream. "I don't want them. No thank you no thank you no no no—"
Broken record, skipping.
Hospitals are very white, sterile places, and the food is terrible. They give you drugs to calm you down, and they make sure that you are blanketed under peace and serenity. No dark thoughts here, please thank you. When she is there he comes to her, her imaginary friend. He hadn't done that since she was a little girl, after Mummy and Daddy's wedding anniversary and Daddy throwing things and yelling. He'd sat next to her, still and quiet as she hid in the darkdarkdark of the closet, the leather smell of the shoes and the must from the coats squeaking heavy throughout her hiding place. He'd smelled like something old and grand and farfar away. Wonderful. He smelled like wonderful.
The police had lifted her out of the closet after awhile, and she'd asked him, "Will you come with me?" The police officer said, "Little lady, I won't leave you. Don't worry." But she wasn't talking to him.
Her imaginary man had nodded at her, a small smile
the corners of his eyes and cheeks and lips. Yes. He came with her to that other family whom she had lived with for a while, and he came back with her to Daddy's, too. For five years he came with her everywhere, until she was ten.
Until she was twenty and he came back again.
Lying in that hospital bed, she can't stop thinking about Vincent, Vincent, Vincent. Why why why? And between one blink and a breath and another he is there, hands in pockets. It doesn't matter what he looks like, it doesn't matter that sometimes he is tall and skinny, and sometimes he is old with a recorder, and sometimes fair haired and blue eyed or young with-a-bow-tie. It really, really doesn't.
He looks at her for a minute, a full long minute, and then he sits down next to her on the bed. It dips under his weight. "Melody," he says to her, "I'm going to tell you something that I didn't when you were a little girl. I'm real, in another universe. This image is all of me, bouncing through the universe. Echoes upon echoes, finding their way to a lost little girl because they couldn't stand to see her cry. Do you understand?"
"No," she tells him.
"That's alright. Sometimes I don't either." And then he tells her stories about stars pin-wheeling through the sky, and empty reaches of space and whole planets made out of a single city connecting them all together and a blue box that ran through every bright and gleaming strand. At the last he kisses her on the forehead, says, "You be brave. Be brave, live well, and love. Bye-bye Melody."
He kisses her, and that is as real as anything. In the morning, when she wakes up, she is feeling much better and can she go home now please?
"Ianto?" Melody calls out as the elevator doors ding open, coffee mugs in hand for both him and her. Cream for him, sugar and cream for her. There's no reply, which would have been worrying if Melody hadn't known that both he and Yvonne were expecting the baby any minute now. It could have come last night. It makes Melody happy, thinking about Ianto as a dad. He'll make a great father. She's been over to his and Yvonne's house enough times to have seen evidence of that fact.
Just in case she sets his coffee down on the cup holders that he's provided for coffees to be set down on, and writes on a sticky note I'm cataloguing Class AB-19, so he'll know where to find her. Then she sets off from Ianto's office into the honeycombed hallways of Art, past all the locked doors with all the locked secrets, secrets whether they've been catalogued or not. Even Melody isn't sure what's behind some of the doors, but Ianto would know. Ianto knows every secret down here.
Nobody pays much attention to her. The Institute is starting to wake up, and it's busy, even here in the lower levels. She reaches AB-19, swipes open the door with her card key. The door opens; if it hadn't then that would have meant that it is classified far beyond Melody's clearance.
stars. But it has absolutely nothing to do with stars. It is everything and nothing: every shape, every experience, every single point in time. No spatial differentiation, no space to hold it to. It's just simply there. Melody breathes in, deep and quick and terrified with awe, and suddenly it is just a simply white cube, twenty by twenty feet, with a ladder to reach to the top. It's inside a large room, and there are monitors lining the walls, for the cataloguer to read every recorded focal twitch of this whatever-this-is.
But she knows what this is.
And it doesn't matter, whatever about this that she's supposed to catalogue. It doesn't matter. Her coffee, mostly empty, spills to the floor and shatters. She all but runs to the ladder; it is alive under her hands, humming, just as the whole entire thing is alive. She clambers up the living, living side, and falls against the gentle slope of its back, rolling into the middle. It's made out of a dense material, light and heavy all at once, and smooth, like the inside of a seashell. But it's not really like that at all.
Melody lies there, and she listens as a TARDIS sings. It's the most beautiful sound in the world.
"She's never done that before, eh?" Scottish accent, warm and burring. Vibrant. Melody opens her eyes to look at him, and it's him, but it's not him at all. But it is.
"Hello," she tells him. The song swoops in around her, draws her bones out of their shell and lovingly catalogues every single one. A tilted question, as it reaches—sorry, as she reaches the photo in Melody's pocket, and Melody thinks Mother Father golden-wedding-day, all in a rush, and there's a slight Ah, and then a continuance of the TARDIS assessing her new found friend.
"Hello," he says back at her. His hair is long, slightly floppish, sticky-uppy where it didn't flop, and it is brownish all over. The hook of his nose, the thin press of his mouth, with the lower lip a bit fuller than the upper: it's all there. All there. The lurking behind his eyes memory of having seen the ripped open of Time itself, in all of its horrible beauty. "She's never—never done that before, eh?" he repeats, but more to himself than anything, and he strokes the smooth surface of her with the very most tips of his fingers, the way you would a tiny bird.
He's lying next to Melody, stretched out on his back, head tilted to look at her curling on her side. Every bit of her is pressed down to hear more of the song. She isn't sure how long they've been there, but she assumes awhile, because her body is stiff and sore. But at the moment that hardly matters, because all three of them are here together, nestled against one another like Babushka dolls.
Melody whispers, "It sounds like sunflowers. She's singing sunflowers." He pauses for a moment, listening.
"Beautiful sunflowers," he agrees, and he's whispering, too.
And the moment strings out between them, thin and fine, a sure thing against the inevitable besiegement of the world.
They want to make buttons out of my bones, she tells the man standing next to her.
He asks her if the buttons are blue.