A World Without Music Excerpt—J. Conrad Guest

Sarah hung, naked, bound to a gibbet by iron spikes through her hands and feet. Beneath her a woman knelt, her face streaked by tears. She knew this woman as Mother. Sarah called down to her in Hebrew, her voice masculine, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then, to John, her favorite, who stood near to her, she said, “Behold your mother.”

J. Conrad Guest

J. Conrad Guest

Beside this woman knelt her sister – Mary, wife of Clopas. Behind them another woman wept; at one time she sold her body for money. Sarah thought it strange that she had at one time desired this woman’s flesh. But Sarah knew that she’d never take that which the woman would freely have given. Her face upturned, the woman seemed intent on experiencing Sarah’s agony through her eyes. Sarah had witnessed such pain reflected in the eyes of only one other person – Reagan. But she’d never known the source of his ache, and that pained her.

To her right, where a criminal also hung from a gibbet, Sarah heard words of rebuke directed to another criminal, hanging from a gibbet to her left.

Sarah spoke: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” The words and the voice belonged to another.

Nearby, a group of Roman centurions with spears made sport of her shriveled nakedness. The earth rumbled and shook, and they at once lost their humor.

Sarah’s arms, outstretched to either side of her, bore most of her weight. It was becoming more and more difficult for her to exhale. Each breath she took filled her lungs a little more. They were, as her sixth hour on the gibbet neared, filled all but to capacity with carbon dioxide; she was slowly suffocating.

She looked to the darkened sky, where lightning flashed; a clap of thunder echoed, and a moment later large drops of rain began pelting the earth, kicking up dust.

The rain moistened her lips and she whispered, “I thirst.”

A sponge was thrust in front of her face, from which she sucked vinegar.

Her vision dimmed. After long minutes, she felt a searing pain in her side: one of the centurions had thrust his spear into her, to speed her death. She cried out, “My Power, my Power, thou hast forsaken me!”

As she felt the last vestiges of her strength abandoning her, she gasped, “It is finished.”

Then, in a loud voice, she spoke: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

But Sarah did not die. She withdrew into herself, to call upon the healing Power.

She was dimly conscious of being lowered to the ground, and then wrapped in cloth. Although the hands treated her broken and bleeding body with care, its wounds screamed their outrage. She slowed her breathing, so shallow as to be undetectable; she ignored the pain.

She was moved and, after a time, felt her body laid on a bed of rock.

For more than a day and a half Sarah endeavored to heal herself, summoning the influence of the One Power.

First, the gaping wound in her right side; the spear had perforated a lung. She felt the tissue knitting slowly, over a period of many hours. When the healing was complete, the scar was pale but visible.

Sarah rested for a time, before tending to the wounds in her hands and feet, closing each one, also leaving the scars as a reminder.

Then she turned the Power to the bruises and deep lacerations on her back and chest; finally, to those on her head and face.

On the third day Sarah emerged from the cloth that swaddled her. She stood, calling on the great strength of the Power, and moved the rock that shielded her from the morning light. Terrified by her emergence, the two centurions charged with guarding her tomb fled in haste.

Forty days later, Sarah left this body. Those in attendance saw her essence step forth and rise from the flesh it wore. She turned to look at the host body she had inhabited for three years, wondering if he would take Magdalene for his wife.

Then she stepped forward, and …

***

As Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, she converted to Christianity in AD 387 and influenced the development of Western Christianity. She developed her own approach to philosophy and theology, writing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom.

When the Western Roman Empire began to crumble, Sarah originated the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God, separate from the material Earthly City.

Before leaving Augustinus, who would one day be elevated to sainthood, Sarah had the satisfaction of persuading the medieval worldview of God, while her book, City of God, became closely identified with the Church.

***

Next, she found herself in the body of Johann Sebastian Bach. Aged ten years, Johann Sebastian lived with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph, who was the organist at the Michaeliskirche in Ohrdruf, Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. They studied and performed music, Sebastian and Sarah, receiving valuable teaching from Christoph, who instructed them on the clavichord and exposed them to the works of the great composers of the day, including South German composers Johann Pachelbel and Johann Jakob Froberger, Frenchmen Jean-Baptiste Lully, Lewis Marchand, and Marin Marais, and the Italian clavierist, Girolamo Frescobaldi. Sarah became obsessed with music, and the power it held in influencing, inspiring, others.

At age fourteen, they were awarded a choral scholarship to study at the prestigious St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg, where they enjoyed European culture. In addition to singing in the choir, they played the School’s three-manual organ and harpsichords.

Sarah left Johann Sebastian Bach as he came of age …

***

The Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, to vote for independence from England. The Congress selected a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence. The four other members of the committee – John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman – instructed Sarah to pen the treatise.

She commenced her task on June 11 and wrote several drafts, presenting her final to the committee; the committee made several revisions to the document before submitting it to the Continental Congress on June 28. Four days later, the Congress voted for independence, and refined Sarah’s Declaration of Independence before releasing it to the public on July 4, 1776.

Several days later, as her host body lay sleeping, she stepped out – her host, who regarded music as “a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life,” was devoted to the violin (they practiced three hours a day), would live another fifty years, and have no recollection of Sarah whatsoever, that her presence was in part responsible for the birth of a nation and his presidency, the nation’s third – and forward, and …

***

As Jazz composer and pianist, Thelonious Monk, Sarah sat in on the 1956 recording session for the album, Brilliant Corners. The title track, which featured tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, was so difficult to play that the final version was edited together from multiple takes. She experienced Monk’s six-month gig at the Five Spot Cafe in New York, beginning in June 1957, leading a quartet composed of John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Wilbur Ware on bass, and Shadow Wilson on drums.

But Monk’s mental health left her unable to ascertain the answer to the question that plagued her, just beneath her awareness of the lives of those she’d shared. So she stepped forward again, and …

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00026]

18 Comments

Filed under Excerpts, writing

18 responses to “A World Without Music Excerpt—J. Conrad Guest

  1. dellanioakes

    Now that’s a cool cover!

  2. I like the idea, I think, but I got confused at the first “death.” Maybe it’s because I’m not a Christian but I didn’t get the Mary Magdalene thing. She was inhabiting Christ’s body? But then if she leaves the body is Christ dead and if so, how could he marry anyone? Otherwise, it’s a very intriguing idea.

    • Hi, Mickey, and thanks for your comment.

      I don’t want to spoil it, but yes, in a sense Sarah was inhabiting the bodies of a number of people throughout our history, Christ included. She heals him after the crucifixion and “resurrects” out of his body when she steps out of him; he lives and she wonders if he will marry Magdalene, who was, in the bible, a prostitute that Christ “saved”, once she (Sarah) is gone.

  3. dellanioakes

    I read it! Very cool. This is quite different from your other work. I like! Unique concept!

  4. I don’t know where this excerpt comes in the total work so I have no frame of reference. The writing is good, but it lacks context. At first, I thought this was the Christian story written from a feminist prospective. Then it jumps to a short piece on Augustine, then Bach, then Jefferson presumably, then Theo Monk.
    The story about Christ on the cross is long and detailed, obviously taken from the Bible narrative, but the next three are short and lacking of details. If the accounts are to have equal weight and meaning for the story, you need to research more details to flesh out the individuals as you did with the Christ on the cross.

    Without the context, it reads like a series of stories about famous people. Interesting, but…?

    • Thanks, Shelby, for reading and for your comments.

      Yes, it’s difficult to judge this short excerpt without an understanding of where it fits into the total story. All should make sense after reading all that comes before.

  5. It’s interesting, thought-provoking, and definitely something I’d want to continue reading. I almost wish she’d spent longer with each character, but I really want to know where she’s going and who she’s been.

    • Thanks, Sheila, for your comments.

      Reading is a such a subjective pleasure. There wasn’t a whole lot out there on some of those real life people, and in my first draft those moments Sarah spends in their bodies were a little longer, but I pared each back because I felt they read too text book and that many readers would skim over them. To say much more would require, perhaps, a spoiler alert. However, I can say that these “snapshots” of previous lives Sarah experiences are during her coma, akin to dreams. She certainly puzzles over them, as she (and the reader) should, and the reason for them is shortly thereafter made clear, to both Sarah and the reader.

      I will only add that those snapshots play a role in the overall text, but in a small way. Not sure that makes sense since you have yet to read the text in its entirety, but there it is.

  6. Nice twist. On Mary Magdalene, the early Church condemned her as a prostitute and some still hold this view despite it being revealed as a false accusation, probably invented because of the Gnostic view that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. Not that this affects the story and probably adds justification to her moving forward, occupying different bodies through time. Great!

    • Thanks, bookmanpete, for stopping by and for your comments.

      Yes, there are many theories about Magdalene and her role in Christ’s life. Some say she appears as the thirteenth diner at the last supper. We likely will never know the truth while we live. Many questions we have, about God and Jesus and the gospels. So few will be answered prior to death. Hopefully our pursuit of knowledge doesn’t end with our final breath.

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