Life Section; London Times Senoya Shines
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19th: Sydney Senoya, one of the finest concert violinists in the world, lit up the London stage last night with an eclectic mix of haunting music and theatrical bravado. Verging on cult status, the young virtuoso left a spellbound audience in Paris for a midnight flight to Heathrow Airport. After a short morning’s rest, she was on the move again, winding her way to a sold-out performance at the London Palladium. Hidden behind the tinted windows of a black hearse, she reportedly ignored the frenzied crowd, who followed her to the Palladium steps chanting “Sydney! Sydney! Sydney!” A dozen or so hooded monks waited at the base of the steps in silence.
The monks surrounded the hearse as it slowed. They held the passenger door open, forcing the crowd back with gently swaying incense burners. Miss Senoya emerged sporting a stunning maroon and black evening gown. The crowd erupted. She let her shimmering cloak fall back and smiled as the burly monks whisked her away. In one hand she held an odd, wooden staff. In the other, she cradled her precious Stradivarius.
Once inside the concert hall, the mood changed to one of intense anticipation. Sydney strode purposefully down the main aisle, her concentration riveted on the stage. Within inches of the orchestra pit, she spun, facing the packed house with eyes crackling. One thing was perfectly clear— this girl enjoys keeping her fans off balance. A hush fellover the audience. With calm, deliberate gestures, Sydney unclasped her cloak, pushed back her silver hood, and twirled the garment like a matador, letting it flutter to the floor. She shook loose her silken hair, raised the wooden staff high above her head, and slammed it down. The hall plunged into blackness. Drums rang out. Copper braziers to either side of the stage burst into flame. A ghostly, uneven light grew, finding Sydney poised, staring out from center stage. The whites of a dozen eyes flicked in the dimness around her. She stooped to place her staff on a low, polished pedestal, raised her Stradivarius, and cried in perfect Gaelic, “Sisters! We take the night!”
In a flurry of movement, her violin began to sing. The bow strings seemed almost possessed. Music, the likes of which this reviewer has never heard, crashed over the audience like a tidal wave. The violin cried like a bird, then called like a wolf, sending dancing sprites scattering like a cloud of locusts. Sydney commanded the stage, her shining hair a river of black amid the twitter of fluttering fairy wings. Pools of white light filtered like moonlight onto the meticulously crafted set. The dark forest was alive with creatures of night and beings of pure imagination. The young prodigy wove a melody that seemed to question the raw mystery of nature itself.
The audience barely breathed, stunned by the spectacle.
Outside, remnants of the earlier crowd jockeyed for position. They fought for glimpses inside the dark windows of Sydney’s hearse. Rumor has it that the tinted windows hide skeletal remains—human remains dating to the early 16th century. Two young hikers are said to have
located the bones in a cave near the township of Oban, Scotland. They brought them to the attention of the town mayor. No sooner had the find hit the press than Ms. Senoya was in contact with Oban. She bought the bones, along with an ancient wooden staff and a rusted gold chain, also found in the cave. The sum was purportedly large enough to set the town mayor dancing a Scottish jig.
What next, Ms. Senoya? Will gold doubloons mark the magic of your Dublin debut?
One: Frozen in Time
Winter trees, framed against cold glass, hold more than emptiness in their dark-fingered branches. They hold precise geometry—angles not always easy to calculate or to see. Willoughby Von Brahmer liked observing the trees, rooted in lonely clumps along the boulevard. Looking from each branch to its reflection in the wide-paned windows of local shops kept him thinking.
His interest was not in the branches. It was in the spaces between them. Empty spaces, you see, fascinated him. You can’t study empty space by just staring at it. You have to observe the details around the space. You observe the footprint of its reflection. You study the visible edges that frame it. Supposed emptiness has substance even if it can’t be seen clearly. It has weight, even if its heaviness is felt only within the depths of the soul. He sniffed, walking on more crisply. He did not accept the existence of real emptiness. Every supposedly empty space had to hold something. It was merely a matter of discovering what this something was.
Pursing his lips, he scanned the street. Something was different about the day. He couldn’t put his finger on it exactly. The closest he could come to describing his feeling was to say that something or someone was watching him. Watching him from where? The street was empty.
He stopped, turning slowly with a nervous eye.
Was something watching from the emptiness?
He began down the sidewalk again, almost at a run. The street he was following was known by the locals as the Sixteenth Street Corridor. It was an odd street, busy at some parts of the day and quiet at others.
Willoughby had interest in one particular shop. It rested on a corner. It had a single large window and an angled, green door, which these days stood resolute and quiet against the deepening blues of an October sky. Printed in gold letters across the large front window were the words, “Antonio’s Corner Barber.” He loved to hear the rhythm in the words as they rolled off the tongue.
The shop proprietor, one Antonio Santanos Eldoro Chavez, was no mere acquaintance. This tall, unusual man, who seemed so well suited to the Corridor, was Willoughby’s personal barber and friend. His voice was heavily accented and words flowed from him in a constant, almost unbroken stream, punctuated only by the snip, snip of his scissors.
“See how the shop anchors the intersection of Sixteenth Street and Gales?” he asked Willoughby when they had last met. “Sixteen is a lucky number, I tell you. Think, too, on the name Gales. Does it not remind you of the great sea winds ancient mariners would ride to discover adventure, love, and good fortune?” He had given Willoughby a sly wink. “You turn sixteen in only a few months, my friend. Perhaps it is time to think of unfurling your own sails. You are about to embark on the greatest adventure of all time—the discovery of who you are, and what is your place in this most humble world.”
What was his place in the world? Willoughby had no clue.
Willoughby crossed the intersection to Antonio’s shop. He stopped in front of the door, turning to look behind him. Once again, he had that feeling—that someone was watching. A tingle began at the back of his neck. It wasn’t uncommon for the corridor to have moments of quiet, but this quiet? It wasn’t even five o’clock and the sidewalks were vacant. There wasn’t a soul in sight in either direction. It felt like the world had become suddenly abandoned, and he, alone, had been left to watch the heartbeat of traffic lights as they pulsed in slow progression, first red, then green, then yellow.
He was about to turn back to the door when something caused him to stop. His eye had caught a brief glimmer. He stared. At the corner of Antonio’s large window, he could swear that he saw a glowing string of numbers. For the briefest of moments, it appeared as if the numbers were running along the upper edge of the shop window. Were they forming equations? One blink and the numbers were gone. Had they really been there at all— flaring in a ghostly glow out of mid-air? Had he imagined it? He stared at the large window for a long time. When the numbers did not reappear, he turned back to the door, spun the brass knob, and pushed the door open.
A brief wind scuttled dry leaves along the sidewalk. Before stepping into the shop, Willoughby let his eyes drift up to the flat stone that hung directly over the barbershop door. They locked on a sequence of markings across the stone. Antonio called it his “calling card.” He seemed quite proud of the symbol. Carved into a slab of rough limestone, it had been the first thing to attract Willoughby to the shop. Now, there was the glowing numbers at the edge of the window. Had they been a reflection from some other shop?
He shook his head and stepped into the shop, making sure to jangle the service bell. He always jangled the service bell, but his wiry barber friend seldom noticed. As usual, the man’s eyes were riveted to the pages of an old Architectural Digest magazine. Willoughby stood, twitching the bell in the doorway. His eyebrows projected impatience. When there was still no response, he cleared his throat. At this, the man looked up.
“Saints and Angels!” he declared, dropping the magazine to the floor. “You are a man who has come on time!” He swung up out of the barber chair and slapped its cracked leather. “Heavens forbid that I should impede the process of teen vanity—please!” He held out an arm as if to steady a teetering toddler.
Willoughby rolled his eyes, staying well clear of the arm. “Yeah, teen vanity that keeps you in business. By the way, I’m always on time. Not that it does me any good, because you usually have your nose in a magazine. If you glanced at that oh-so-fancy Rolex Mariner I bought you last year, you would see that, as usual, I’m exactly on time. It is precisely 4:45 pm. I pride myself on punctuality.”
“Ah,” Antonio shrugged, glancing at his watch. “It’s good you pride yourself on something!” He spoke in a heavy Hispanic accent. “This copy of a Rolex keeps very good time. A real Rolex, of course, would be far too generous a gift for so humble a barber as me! We have discussed this before.”
Willoughby sighed. “Whatever,” he mumbled. He bit back a frown and dropped his backpack. Antonio had been more than happy to take the watch when he had given it as a Christmas gift, but now, he seemed embarrassed by it. His friend knew that money was no issue. Why did he have to act this way? Glancing down at the magazine still on the floor, Willoughby decided to let the issue go. Understanding people was not a particular specialty of his.
“So where was the great barber-architect wandering tonight?”
Antonio followed his gaze to the magazine. His face lit up. “India! Tonight I was exploring the Coco Palace Resort in Rawai to be exact. Ah, you should have been there! It had beautiful curling tipped gables with distinctive Asian highlights. The guest rooms, adorned with fall foliage, elephant heads, and Bombay-style wood highlights are accented by the most unique triangular windows. The place is absolutely magnificent!”
“You’re sure of that?”
Antonio paused to take a breath. “No, of course not. I just said that to waste my breath.” He surveyed Willoughby’s wild hair. “You ask me to brave this Medusa of matted curls?” He turned Willoughby’s head this way, and then that. “You are a cruel man, Master Willoughby!” With a sudden spin, the tall barber stepped back and slapped the leather of his barber chair; “but, my friend, I am up to the challenge tonight! As Mr. Holmes would say, the game is not to cut a foot!”
“I don’t think that’s what Mr. Holmes said,” Willoughby countered, picking up the dropped magazine with a grin. He handed it to Antonio, who simply tossed it toward a small stack of similar magazines on the counter behind the chair.
“Well, he might have,” Antonio mused, “if he was a barber and the hair on your toes is as matted as the hair on your head.”
“You cut toe hairs?” Willoughby gave a mock gag.
“No,” Antonio sighed. “I do not cut toe hairs. I was only speaking hypothetically.”
“Okay, so, hypothetically, do you cut nose hairs?”
“Yes—hypothetically. It would depend on the state of the nose. And where is this leading?”
“Some old men even have long hairs sticking out of their ears—hypothetically, of course.”
“This may be true. You seem to know a lot about hypothetical hairs.”
Willoughby threw down his backpack and slid into the chair. “From now on,” he mumbled, “I think I want you using a new pair of scissors each time you cut my hair.”
Antonio barked a laugh. “And, hypothetically, you will pay for all these new scissors?” The barber twirled a crisp cloth around Willoughby’s neck with a flourish and clipped it.
Willoughby smiled. “Deal,” he mumbled, and then sank back into the chair, letting his barber turn the conversation back to the Coco Palace. Antonio was particularly fascinated with the use of bamboo in the works of Asian architects. As his bony fingers clipped merrily with the well-oiled scissors, Willoughby stared at the gleaming silver and the red of Antonio’s prized barber chair. Despite his friend’s up-beat mood, he couldn’t shake this feeling of unease. What had he seen outside? This wasn’t the first time he thought he had glimpsed numbers floating on air. He had witnessed a similar flash of equation once before—the morning after his dream about The Riemann Hypothesis. The dream had helped him solve the mathematical puzzle, one that had stumped mathematicians for hundreds of years. The dream changed his young life forever. Now, he had seen the floating numbers again. Would his life change yet again?
He fidgeted, looking away impatiently. Antonio turned his chatter to a recent soccer match. The local team he supported did, indeed, mount a valiant effort, but (he put great emphasis on the word but), in the end, they lost. Of course, it was the fault of a devastatingly incorrect call by the officials.
Had Antonio, too, sensed the unusual silence of the early evening? Perhaps it was why he jabbered on so desperately, without even taking a pause. When he finished the soccer game report, he was off to a bit of gossip about the Palm Reader. He had heard the woman would begin reading the paws of canine clients She had approached the butcher, trying to get him to combine forces. He could provide treat-sized doggie wieners for a paw-reading package. “They will call it, ‘Meat after de Feet!’” he snorted, trying to keep a serious face. “Yes, my friend, the neighborhood is indeed going to the dogs.”
Willoughby noted that the soft click of the scissors had fallen into a strange harmony with the drone of the barber’s deep voice. He turned his eyes toward the shop window to watch the darkening sky. The sun had set and the shadows had lengthened across the ghostly still street. He tried to calculate the subtle rate of this lengthening over the late afternoon.
He liked numbers and their ability to package wonder, to capture the world around him in defined expressions. It was his way of saving the moments of his life, of keeping them from slipping away. When a moment is measured, calculated, and catalogued, it becomes accessible. The sum of life is caught in its patterns, and its patterns are defined by the geometry of its moments. Without stepping back and analyzing these patterns, these moments, it was easy to miss things.
Take for instance Antonio’s shop. A quick look around would give one the impression that the building is old. When each bit of observation is analyzed, however, one discovers that green chips of paint hide new wood. Antique fittings have been carefully rusted. The pattern leads to a startling realization—this shop, which appears to be ancient, is actually new.
Willoughby eased forward in the barber chair, causing Antonio to grunt. Had that really been almost two years ago? He frowned as a clump of hair rolled off his left cheek. There was sometimes a musicality to the clip, clip, clip of Antonio’s scissors, a comfortable precision. Not tonight. Antonio paused for a breath. His friend had to be fast approaching thirty, but he had a vigor that made him seem perpetually young. His thin, bony frame was off-set by jet black hair and a broad moustache. Dark chocolate eyes and a chiseled chin enhanced his movie-star quality.
Sometimes, Antonio, too, would become thoughtful, staring out the grand window to comment on the changing light. Tonight, however, he seemed desperate for mindless conversation. Willoughby listened. There weren’t many people in his young life that he liked to talk to. This made Antonio unique.
The incessant buzzing of a fly had caught his attention. His eyes located the pest, flitting from the window and dropping low. He lost sight of it against the black and white checked floor, and then saw it again as it turned abruptly and angled back toward the dusty sill. It careened through a forest of old coffee cups and lit, at last, on the highest stack of wrinkled magazines. Willoughby had the strangest impression that the fly was trying to tell him something. He squinted, staring harder at the spot where the fly had landed. He was staring at a carefully cut- out bit of newsprint that had been angled over the edge of the stack as if to highlight the photograph in a particular article. The picture was of a girl, holding a violin and staring out from a medieval cloak. There was something purposely precarious about the placement of the article. It called to him, like a broken equation—like a shingle hanging to the edge of a rickety roof. He couldn’t help being riveted. He was hopelessly drawn to things out of sync—out of order or alignment.
Antonio blocked his gaze momentarily, moving slowly around the side of the barber chair. Willoughby strained, determined to discern some of the text of the article. The girl mesmerized him. She had captivating, dark eyes, and shimmering, black hair. Who was she?
Antonio twisted the chair around, but Willoughby was undeterred, continuing to strain toward the article. The glare from the shop’s overhead lights made it hard to even make out the title of the article, much less the fine print. The title was two words; he couldn’t make out the first, but the second was “Shines.” A tuft of dark hair dropped unceremoniously to his cheek. He puffed it away, distracted for a moment.
“I don’t usually see such big globs of hair. What are you doing up there?”
“Oh, you noticed! It feels as if I am trying to tame a restless bull, attempting to excavate wild tangles while my client twists like a monkey on a hot roof! On the bright side, I think you will have no problems getting into the Navy.” Antonio held scissors in one hand and a thin comb in the other. His words spilled out rapidly, laced with a lilting Spanish accent. “By the way, if you move just as I cut, the cut goes badly. The cut tonight is going very badly, my friend. At the moment, you have a hole the size of a walnut over your most illustrious ear. If you can stay still, perhaps I can fix it. If not, I take no responsibility. You may yet walk out of here as a genuine, hack-headed zombie.”
“Cool!” Willoughby grinned.
“Yeah—zombies are in.”
“In, you know—in! It’s as if zombies have taken the place of princes in the mind of modern females. Girls drool over hot vampires, roaring beasts, or kind-hearted zombies. The bloodthirsty alien with overactive hormones takes fourth place. As near as I can tell, girls today want to be frightened, bitten, and in some cases, possessed. It doesn’t matter what creepy thing is after them as long as they are the object of the chase.”
The barber shrugged. “Well, some things don’t change.”
Willoughby nodded. “I’m telling you, it’s not a world for the faint-hearted out there, Antonio. Maybe you should lock the shop door when I’m not around.”
“Ah. Yes, I’ll keep that in mind.”
Willoughby tried to cheat a glance over at the article again. “It could even be a niche for you, though. Think of all the potential customers on Capitol Hill alone. Much of the Press is brainless and operating on Espresso or Red Bull, and then you have the unending pool of bloodthirsty politicians...”
“I am awed at your insight,” Antonio said, narrowing his eyebrows. Willoughby tried again to angle his head to look at the newspaper clipping.
“So, what can you tell me about the girl?”
Antonio looked up. “What girl?”
“The article! You left it there for me, didn’t you?”Willoughby nodded toward the magazine stack. “We’ve already established that you’re the only one in here besides me, so there aren’t a lot of other choices.”
“Who said I left it for you?” Antonio fought a grin. “Forget about her. She’s out of your league.” He let Willoughby fume a moment before he continued. “All right, I will humor you. As you can tell from the article, her name is Ms. Senoya.”
“She is close to your age. Her father is Japanese and her mother is Polynesian.” His long fingers worked the well-oiled scissors, click, click, clicking them like dragon teeth. “She is actually a friend of mine. I like that picture. It captures her, how to say—haunting look, would you not say?” He sent another coil of dark hair cascading to the floor.
“You’re joking, right? You don’t really know her?”
“Oh, I know her very well. I am a great fan of her music.” The barber straightened. His dark eyes sparkled as he brushed back his own slightly damp black hair. “I am also a fan of her...style.”
“So, her name is Senoya? Is that her first name?” Willoughby pursed his lips.
Antonio cocked his head. “Is it my imagination, or is your interest slightly more than academic? Perhaps you want to know the numbers of her measurements?”
“Come on, Antonio—I asked for her name, not for the keys to her apartment.”
“So, now you want keys to her apartment?”
Willoughby groaned. “Okay,” he sighed, “just forget it.” Of course, his body language (especially the fact that kept twisting in the chair trying to get a better view of the article) made it obvious that he did not want to forget it.
Antonio chuckled softly. “Her name is Sydney, my friend—Sydney Senoya. Like you, she is, hmm, gifted. No one in the world plays the violin like Ms. Senoya. She can make the Stradivarius sing like the heavens in chorus! Ah, you should see her, with her shiny, black hair flying, and her deep, penetrating eyes...She is famous, you know. I clipped the article from the London Times.”
“You were in London?”
Antonio guffawed; “In London? No, I was not in London. This time, you are kidding, right? The London Times is read all over the world—”
“I don’t care about the publication!” Willoughby barked; “I want to know about the girl.”
Antonio savored the silence for a moment. “As I was saying, the London Times is read all over the world, which tells you, my friend, that the girl is known all over the world. Many say they hear music just by looking at her face.”
Willoughby turned away. “Okay, I can see that getting anything out of you is going to be hopeless tonight.” He turned back toward the photo. “She looks like a cross between Goth and anime.”
Antonio raised an eyebrow; “Goth and anime? I will have to tell—”
The barber’s voice was clipped off in mid-word. Willoughby’s senses immediately heightened. He felt more than saw a disturbance near the top left corner of the window. He thought of the glowing numbers he thought he had seen earlier. Something was happening—something that had to do with this place, with this night. Was the girl part of it? He spun, his senses seeking for the heart of the disturbance. Glowing numbers greeted him, highly visible this time, floating on nothing but air. The numbers strung together into equations, crawling slowly down from the top left corner of the window. The glowing strings were also reflected in a car window across the street. As Willoughby watched, he noted that the ghostly numbers seemed to be following an invisible line, spilling from the direction of the symbol to a point near the center of Antonio’s large window. The strings began to divide, seeming to spawn multiple smaller strings. They seemed to be growing brighter. He glanced up at Antonio.
“Hey? Are you seeing this?”
The barber stood frozen. His frame was perfectly still. His mouth hung open, poised in the act of forming a word. His eyes, his chest—nothing moved! It was as if he wasn’t even breathing. Willoughby felt a chill run down his spine. He jerked his eyes around the shop. Everything was frozen. There was no sense of sound, no buzz from the lights, nothing living in the room at all.
“Antonio?” he whispered again. No answer.