The House That Jack Built
Ultimately, it’s more of an inconsistent cry into the void than the conversation starter it could have been.
[Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.]
Ariel Gonzalez writes:
Mason wasn't sure if the fried lake perch and Apple Crumb Cake were doing a number on his stomach or Regan's theory about sentient molecules on Titan had gotten to him, but a dream about tsunami-sized tidal waves of magma crashing over him woke him with a start in the middle of the night. Surprisingly, Regan was still asleep. He briefly considered waking her to recount his dream and revisit her theory, but the angelic stillness of her face told him otherwise. Mason reached for his iPhone instead.
Sitting in darkness on the edge of his bed, Mason fumbled with the volume settings until he reached a balance allowing him to hear the Titan sound pattern and Regan's light snoring at the same time. He did not want to be startled from contemplation should she sneak up on him mid-listen.
There was no doubt about it: the sound pattern was as arrhythmic as a faulty heartbeat. He listened for music, but heard gurgling like water running down a drain. He started tapping the pattern on his forearm but stopped when Regan briefly stirred. He watched her as she fell back to sleep. Why couldn't he leave her side for a stretch and listen to the pattern in the living room where he wouldn't disturb her?
Mason considered trying to replicate the pattern on his practice cello, the one he had not unpacked from its lightweight carrying case since his trip to New York three weeks ago. He could finally unpack it and use it in the living room. Although it was audible, the practice cello was lighter and quieter than a regular cello. If he were gentle, the hushed sounds would not reach Regan. It was a completely viable idea, but he couldn't rouse himself to leave her side. And yet, the practice cello beckoned: play that pattern on my body.
Mason liked playing more by ear than by rote. He was an amateur cellist who knew his scales and etudes, but lacked focus and passion with the instrument. He could hardly remember why he'd taken up the instrument in the first place. It was probably some old ex-girlfriend's way of edifying him. For some reason he never abandoned the notion that he would one day master it if he could get past the drudgery of practice.
The thought of practice made Mason wonder exactly how much time and effort would be needed to excel at the cello. There was a popular theory that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice was the difference between good and great. Mason thought the 10,000-hour rule was a disservice to natural talent. He doubted 10,000 hours or more of dedicated practice would ever make him Yo-Yo Ma. But then again…
How could he ever know? Mason would have to practice 10,000 hours or more to ever determine if he could approach Yo-Yo Ma's level of proficiency. He thought about the amount of time, breaking it down into numbers of minutes a day and his age after the hours if he were to start tomorrow. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He looked at Regan, smiled, and walked toward the carrying case.
In a little under five minutes, Mason assembled the practice cello. He was sitting on a folding chair at the foot of the bed as he played the cello with abandon. As Mason's finger patterns filled the bedroom, Regan slowly awoke from her sleep. She stared at him heavy-lidded and visibly annoyed. Mason's left earphone dangled and swayed on his bare chest.
Regan said, "Are you serious playing that thing now, at this time of night?"
"Do you recognize it? You should," said Mason. Regan's annoyance turned to bemusement as she moved to the edge of the bed to get a closer listen. She put her red glasses on. Mason was in a kind of reverie as he played. He caught Regan smiling at him.
"You suck," said Regan. "But yes, I recognize it. It's the pattern from Titan."
"I couldn't stop thinking about your theory, and Claire's Mozart reference. Yes, I realize I suck. You're familiar with the ten-thousand hour rule?" asked Mason.
"The rule about dedicated practice. Ten thousand hours was a ball park figure, not an exact…"
"Right. I don't subscribe to the notion that 10,000 hours of practice will make anyone a genius, but it accounts for a certain amount of improvement. And that's the difference between the pattern of noise we've been listening to all along and what we heard yesterday—a slight improvement from the last time. An emergence due to…practice."
Regan said: "So we agree the molecules are creating a kind of music. You thought that was far-fetched last night at the Capital. What changed your mind, Mason?"
"A dream about a sea of magma and it's ebb and flow. By the end of the dream, I was awash in primordial soup. We're listening to the gradual chemical evolution of molecules, Regan. It sounds like noise now, but it could sound like a symphony."
"Hundreds of years of listening to Titan aspire to the genius of Mozart. And we'll never get to hear it's first recital."
Mason began disassembling the cello with purpose. Even though the room was dark, Regan could see the glimmer in Mason's eyes as he spoke these words: "Ah…but we will. That was the genius of your little story. The Thinking Molecules of Titan are an orchestra in search of a conductor. We don't have 10,000 hours to listen to it hone its skill, so we accelerate the evolutionary process."
In less than five minutes, the cello was back in its carrying case. Mason got back into bed. Regan cuddled up next to him, and asked: "And how do you propose to do that?"
"We launch Mozart into space, listen for variations in the patterns of Titan, sit back and wait for the origins of life."
Regan removed her glasses and said: "Are we playing God now, Mason?"
"I thought the Thinking Molecules of Titan could use a little inspiration—a vision of what they could be. If that's what God does for us, then, yes. From hereon in we aspire to Godliness."
They slept in silence as a minor change in sound pattern occurred on Titan. No one was awake to hear it.
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