Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black
Begun and Completed on 31 July, 2013
Adrianne was a poet at heart, a dreamer who decided to take a chance, despite the odds, and submit songs to artists. Even when there was nothing to encourage continuing, Adrianne wrote melodies and words into cunning compositions, clever and playful. Every day, she sat on a cedar “hope chest” given to her by her grandmother and positioned in a bay window in her bedroom, staring out into the clouds, searching for inspiration.
After years of daily artistic exploration, she sent a couple of queries out, songs polished into their best, dressed up on cotton-bond paper with a professional cover letter introducing song and artist to a musician. Wonderfully, two of her songs were made into singles by successful singers. This encouragement spurred Adrianne into a creative frenzy, her zeal overwhelming.
While at her day job, Adrianne was distracted, tapping out new rhythms or working out a melodic twist. Notes danced through her mind, annoyed by other intrusions such as completing work tasks, but Adrianne pushed herself, punched her time clock, and rushed home to her composing.
The words, though, for musical pieces of increasing complexity, needed new depth. Looking through an old box of photographs produced a muse, a fading black and white of a girl about eight years old dressed in a pinafore among lilacs. The picture was so damaged that Adrianne felt that completing a song about the child would preserve her story. Perplexed, Adrianne’s parents did not know any who were photographically depicted in the old box Adrianne found in the attic in a smelly steamer trunk, so Adrianne stared into the dark eyes of the charmingly captured child and imagined her story.
The resulting song was an immense success, both artistically and financially for Adrianne and for the musical group that released it. Adrianne became obsessed with the box of photographs, people important enough to be captured for posterity in a process that was at turns time consuming and expensive, yet were barely identified and certainly forgotten.
She fingered through the brittle prints until she felt a presence from one, and that was the print that became the inspiration for the latest song. Adrianne Wilhelm became sought out as a songwriter and composer, able to quit her day job and focus on the craft of composition, against her parents’ recommendations.
She did not sleep well, consumed with telling the stories that she could glean from the photographs in the rescued cardboard box decorated with floral stickers. Sometimes, her attention was torn, as though two people stood at each shoulder, whispering their story urgently into her receptive ears. Once, while in the middle of composing a gentle country tune about a quaint farmer’s wife whose hair was as grey as her faded image, Adrianne imagined a loud, impatient man standing before her, immense arms folded across a barrel-wide chest, demanding attention. She did write his song, but it was not to his liking, she imagined, and had to re-do it, portraying him in a more positive light. Until she finished this piece, Adrianne could not concentrate on the others, the phantoms who seemed more patient.
“Angry Man” was purchased, and although the music was altered, the performing group did not change the words at all. Generational rock had a new anthem in the song, proudly and loudly sung. The burly fellow at last left Adrianne to her other song pursuits.
With his absence, Adrianne focused on the others in the photo box, but found that the voices were overwhelming. Their varied stories and the musical approach that she imagined for each stretched her in new emotional and artistic directions, leaving her physically worn, mentally frail. She stopped socializing, though the invitations to outings had never been so abundant. There were musical awards shows and presentations and dinner parties. Her parents worried about her, but Adrianne minimized their concerns with shrugs and solitude.
Her head ached and she slept fitfully, if at all, assailed by insistent specters wishing their stories captured and performed, that they could pass more peacefully into their eternal sleep believing they were at last remembered. Meals became less of an enjoyment and more of an intrusion. She took to drinking, since the bottles when used to dispense pain medicine, stilled the voices for a little while.
Within three months, Adrianne’s fertile imagination and fervent listening to ghostly voices gave birth to one hundred fifty seven excellent songs. She sent them all off to potential musical acts, many who clamored for her latest pieces. Two more months and another eighty songs were put to paper.
Within the cardboard box, only two photographs remained, a tin-type of a black man staring unsmilingly from behind a fence, and a Polaroid of three children whose family resemblance could not be mistaken, two boys leaning toward a third sitting in a push wheel chair, all grinning with mischief.
Adrianne sighed, weary. She closed her blood-shot eyes and listened for the voices, but none came. She held the tin type and gazed into his soulful eyes, imagining his voice, willing his story into her mind, but nothing came. She then picked up the Polaroid and did the same, but there were no stories that entered her mind, no foreign voices enthusiastically imparting tales to be placed within the framework of the bars, shepherded by the treble clef. A tear rolled down her sunken cheek, because Adrianne wanted to tell the stories of these two photographs most of all, yet she could not hear the song.
She put her head against the white-painted window sill and dozed. Perhaps those represented within these two photographs did not care if their stories were immortalized, she imagined when she woke, refreshed, several hours later. She smiled at the tin type and sat at her keyboard to compose her very best song, one of complexity and strength, one entirely of her own creation, uninfluenced by imagined spirit voices. Adrianne felt lighter with its completion, recognizing its excellence. She went to the kitchen to boil water for a cup of tea and search out some crackers and peanut butter, hungry for the first time in months.
She took her small plate and Lady Grey to her room and her bay window, where she curled around the snack and contemplated the Polaroid. Her stomach lurched, and Adrianne wondered when she last enjoyed her last real meal. The crackers did not seem to agree with her, so she set them aside and made her way to her keyboard. She turned on the microphone, which was not her custom, and sang a surprisingly pop-like tune about the friendship of brothers, enthusiastic in their support for each other. The microphone captured her song, a song that would be performed by a British boy band and propelled to platinum status. The microphone also captured the silence that followed, because once Adrianne completed this song, she was overtaken and with a satisfied smile, died.