Your first attempt at dividing the days into multiple breaths is an abject failure. Any semblance of control is cruelly lost in billows of fog. When you regain presence, days have elapsed. In terror, like someone drowning, you latch onto the only life preserver you know: one day, one breath. All is well again. With this marvelous mantra you feel as if you could go on forever marking the days as singles breaths, hovering in the wake of lavender and smoke.
“Heisenberg and Schrödinger, and others in the early 20th century introduced something new but old, a slap in the face of our belief in our power to control outcomes by wielding initial conditions: the Uncertainty Principle basically takes away our ability to predict future events, at least in quantum world where a particle can be everywhere at once, where it is impossible to predict the future other than as a probability. But people need something definite; it’s a matter of survival. Physics is saying we can’t know, but we have to force the situation.
“Free will is more like insurance, Maria, my Maria. You have it but there’s lots of exceptions and deductibles. In the end, it’s the insurance companies that make out.”
“So you’re proposing a kind of mutual insurance with equal benefits on both sides? No fine print? No deductibles?”
“Yes, all cards on the table.”
“There you go mixing metaphors again,” she smiles. You notice that her smiles are coming more frequently.
“Mixing is the word, not metaphor. Those don’t interest me at all.”
Your universe is expanding in spite of all your attempts to maintain intimacy. It calls out to you in the form of music.
“Glass! Of course I know him,” Maria exclaims; “He is my favorite composer, always has been ever since I can remember. His music speaks to me with the voice of life. It intertwines with being instead of demanding attention or imposing its will on the listener.”
Yes, how pleasant it is to simply listen, you say, like listening to the rhythm of time . . . of rhythm, of time: Rhythm! That has to be the answer. You try it out, a very simple rhythm to begin with. There is failure in the first measures, loss of hours, of days, who can tell, but you persist until: Success! The present and the future are no longer identical; now each day is composed of many breaths, each one unique in its mixture of lavender and smoke, each one to be savored.
Your world is irretrievably altered by this new rhythm. The past has become humdrum as consciousness expands allowing you to sense a battle being waged being the two: At times, lavender dominates, stretching from horizon to horizon filling every nook and cranny of your mind, dancing on your tongue only to be replaced with a sweet, smoky flavor, slightly piquant, to be enjoyed in the coolness of evening; even so, in spite of all this pleasantness, you still crave that for which you have no name.
“We always think of free will in the context of the larger world; what you suggest makes it more intimate, a proposal that one can have free will within one’s own self.”
You are so swollen with the wisdom of your discovery that you think yourself competent to donate advice: “Hey, free will,” you call out, “I know how to do it; it’s all about the rhythm,” as if they could hear you.
“That idea has already been submitted by philosophers thousands of years ago. I took it out of the closet, brushed off the cobwebs and added a little something of myself—a slight expansion.”
“Is it really possible,” Maria asks, “for two people to make such a contract? Isn’t the idea in the end overly romantic?”
“Maybe, but haven’t you noticed that everything becomes so much easier when your will and my will are the same?”
Sounds like wedding vows, you think, imagining yourself standing witness at their wedding. Somehow, you must stick around until the inevitable conclusion.
“We must experiment to find out,” he continues.
You have fallen into a pit of profound arrogance in believing that you are now in control when in fact the pedantic, artless rhythm is the taskmaster. How many hours and days and weeks will you continue like this approaching no nearer to the ultimate objective—the exotic perfume? But even a naive, ignorant boor who probably doesn’t know what the word boor means is gradually, breath by breath, penetrated by life, is awakened to the truth that there is more to life than rhythm. Indeed, many a time you’ve looked on while Ethan mixed paints to create colors of his own choosing. Could you not do the same? Could you not mix their scents in differing proportions through alterations of perspective? Could you not combine the idea of rhythm with the idea of position? Could you not mix the length of your breaths with their frequency? These are your tools.
Conversations no longer surf the forefront of consciousness. Days measure out in a complex choreography of scents as you draw near Maria and then recede, draw near Ethan, recede. You begin with a hypothesis: equal concentrations of lavender, equal concentrations of smoke. This leads you to stand at a proposed midpoint between the couple while taking long, deep draughts on their essence: 1250 tinctures of lavender, 1250 tinctures of smoke, but where is the midpoint, you wonder, that spot where mixing is in equal proportions? Many attempts pass by without success because no matter where you stand, there are inequalities, worse still, there are impurities. Gone is the first day, and you sleep bathed in cool, moist fog.
Comes a third day, a new hypothesis: You call it investigating extremes, and take up a position close to Maria, so close that you can feel the lavender rising from her skin filling your lungs with an entire field of lavender, a full 2500 tinctures, and you move towards Ethan exhaling slowly to make room for 2500 tinctures of smoke. Over and over again you shift between them becoming ever more fluid and smooth, legato, holding each one close only to release it from inside you.
Comes a thirteenth day: Staccato, a reaction to smooth failure, panting, you twist and turn about them: 55 tinctures of Maria, exhale, 25 tinctures of Ethan exhale; 212 tinctures of Maria, exhale, 319 tinctures of Ethan. Panting makes you light headed and you swoon into the embrace of forgetfulness.
Comes a twenty-first day: A more complex beat: A short intake of lavender, a short intake of smoke, a long draught of lavender, begin again: a short intake of smoke, a short intake of lavender, a long draught of smoke. You are a poet now, and you intermix rhythms only to tumble again and again into failure.
Comes a twenty-ninth day, a day of horsehair scraping on gut strings, faster and faster, the music drives you about the room; sticks beating on skins, membranes vibrating; they seem to be at war with their horrifying cacophony of sounds. Who is in charge of this mad symphony? You forget about lavender and smoke; you forget about Ethan and Maria, for you must concentrate on resolving the conflict; you must concentrate on creating harmony out of the many voices swelling inside you: childlike bells tinkling in breezes, grandpa voices speaking from deepest within, mothers and fathers attempting to mediate. Who is in charge; who is the conductor of this madness, and you collapse and rest, comes another day; comes another collapse with you falling into the arms of the whiteness sleeping for unknown passages of time.
Comes a day, a night when your return is late, very late; Maria has long since left; only Ethan remains still occupying the chair before the painting.
“Where have you been?” Ethan looks even more crumpled than usual, tossing back shots and smoking while looking directly at you. It’s unsettling, but of course he can’t really see you; you’re but a proposal. To make sure, you move away from his line of sight. His eyes remain riveted to the spot you formerly occupied. “Why are you standing over there? Pull up a chair, bring a glass. A celebration is in order!” He indicates with a tilt of his head the direction you’re supposed to go in. For the first time, you understand that the room you’ve been standing around in breath after breath after breath, is much larger than a man, a woman, and a canvas. An entire kitchen spreads out across the end of the room. You grab a chair from the bar, it’s a low bar, and a glass and join Ethan. He hands you the bottle.
“What are we celebrating,” you ask.
“The triumph of free will; the completion of the portrait.”
“What? That can’t be, much too soon. The time has flown by.”
“I see you are like me; you don’t want it to ever come to an end: nine months in heaven. What do you say, let’s not tell her. She doesn’t want to be told anyway.”
“Yes, let’s not. We’ll remain here forever, bathed in lavender and smoke. It is enough. We don’t need that other perfume. We could be a triplet of free will,” you suggest.
Ethan smiles sagely, his lips forming a straight line, his eyes sparkling with tiny rays of wisdom in the meager lighting: “Would you like to see it?”
“It’s all I’ve ever wished for.”
He stands, somewhat wobbly under the effects of the liquor: “Please, take my seat. I think maybe you’ll need it.” He falls. You rush to help him, but he waves you away. “This is where I belong, right here on the floor where I can’t fall any further.”
You are in his seat now, a seat you’ve almost never seen him leave. It’s a special kind of honor to sit there. That’s what you’re feeling—honored. Your eyes alight, roaming across the canvas. The effect is immediate: Shock waves convulse through your body. You feel as if you’re suffocating; where is the moist, cool whiteness to cushion the sharpness of life: gone all gone; germination is complete. You grab at life, drawing in deeply. It’s there, in your lungs, in your bloodstream, in every heartbeat, a wildfire in your brain: The exotic perfume fills you up like a glass that was empty and now is brimming with the intoxicating liquor of life. And what of the portrait? What can be said of it:
“It is familiar, too familiar; not at all what I expected: It is I.”