Sherlock woke up disorientated. He was lying on the couch in the living room. It was dark. One of the windows was open. The room was heavy with the summer heat. Light scatter from the street illuminated the room dimly. In the background the noise of the city, a ceaseless, neverending roar. Cars, subway trains, people, the Thames, fate. An undifferentiated veil, far and distant. In the foreground the leisurely ticking of the old clock. It counted out the time, no hurry, divided the present into manageable bits. Inexorable. Second by second. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Sherlock ran his hand down his face. He must have fallen asleep. Exhaustion. Maybe it had been exhaustion. He hadn't slept in quite a while. And now he felt tired and drained. Empty. A couple of hours anyway, that was something. He got up and went to the window. The night reigned humid outside. A church clock sounded out three-quarters of the hour somewhere. He didn't want to know which hour. Irrelevant.
Sherlock closed the window, shutting out the city, and reached for his violin case. It had been a while. Tightened the bow. Rosin. The instrument felt warm and familiar in his hand. A above middle C. The string vibrated at a frequency of 442 hertz. Two hertz too high. His perfect pitch was both a blessing and a curse. Generally it was torture. Actually, it was always torture. Sometimes he cursed it. But there was also something comforting in being so certain in his perception. In enjoying the beauty, the beauty of a pure A440, the foundation of all of music, the note which his instrument responded to.
Sherlock loosened the string, tuned it to 440 from below. A revelation. Rounded. Precise. Familiar. An anchor, an absolute zero of music, the point at which physics, intellect, technology, handcraft, and the senses converged, from which everything originated, all the beauty of western musical culture.
Sherlock tuned the other strings to the standard pitch. A perfect fifth. What a pleasure a perfect fifth was! The clarity when the quavering caused by the slight difference in frequency between the two tones suddenly faded, merging into the overtones, resolved into one, exact and true. Reduced to that breathtaking serenity and power. Sherlock closed his eyes. He tuned the instrument slowly and deliberately. An extremely sensual experience. A highly intellectual process. The vibrations. Synchronising them, hearing the purity, seeing it, feeling it, taking pleasure in it. The resonance of the instrument, a masterpiece of art, of science, of sensuality. The violin. His violin.
Somewhere, somewhen, a master of his craft had built this instrument, given it a unique depth, an astonishingly warm voice, one that was hidden, that only revealed itself to someone who opened themselves to it. Opened themselves completely. Opened their ear to the material, the wood, the vibration, the strings, the finger positions, the pressure of the bow. Who gave up everything. For it. His violin. Sherlock loved it more than anything. He shuddered at the thought that it was a work of man.
Now play! He let his fingers feel their way across the violin, over the strings, left the bow to the equilibrium of the material, to his ear, his intuition. He let his hands play. They played around with the fingerings, surprising him by landing on Auld Lang Syne. Sherlock didn't know why the choice had fallen on that old song. It ensnared his ear, his heart, his head, his fingers, the strings, the wood, the bow. He played the melody, carefully following its trail. The tentative first verse was succeeded by a clear, confident second. A gentle third. The traditional tune touched something deep inside him. The straightforwardness of the melody, its clarity and strength, with that profound melancholy in the background. The feeling of warmth and familiarity, the longing, the sadness and the loneliness.
Sherlock started to play around with the melody, played turns and slides, embellished it, improvised over it, carefully, without harming it, without disturbing the emotions behind it. Memories. Sadness. Homesickness. Sherlock abruptly removed the bow from the strings. The song reminded him of John.
John had been gone for four days. Four days and nights in which Sherlock hadn't slept. John was at his sister's. That was all. Visiting. He'd be back. Sherlock stared through the pane at the street lamp in front of the window.
And there's a hand, my trusty fiere, and gie's a hand o'thine.
The song was stuck in his head. He set down the violin and bow, flung open the window, breathed in the hot, used summer air that immediately came in. It smelt of exhaust, crude oil, chlorine, stagnant water, sweat and sun block. Sherlock inhaled it greedily into this lungs. A strange, bewildering world.
Then he paced around the living room. Back and forth. Restless. Directionless. Back and forth. Back and forth. As he had all the other nights. Unsettled. This couldn't be. Couldn't be. He wasn't able to sleep when John wasn't there. Couldn't settle down, couldn't relax. John was missing. Wasn't sitting in his chair, wasn't mucking about in the kitchen, wasn't sleeping upstairs in his room. That would have been enough. It would have been enough to know: John is here. But he wasn't.
Dozens of text messages every day. Bearing witness to the fact that John was thinking of him. Thinking of him constantly. All day. Just like Sherlock thought of him. Constantly. During the day. John slept at night. Sherlock didn't. His smart phone lay on the table. Sherlock picked it up. No new messages. He kept pacing. The song was still stuck in his head.
Sherlock stopped. He closed the window, picked up the violin and bow again, drew a long series of fast, vehement arpeggios across the strings until his bow hand hurt and the song was gone. Then he re-tuned the instrument. He didn't allow any dissonance, no matter how small, no imperfections in the purity, no deviations.
The G string. He drew the bow across it, gently, let it vibrate. A sonorous tone, soft and full. The sound was astonishing for such a low note, even with an open string, surprising, every time, extraordinary. What a miraculous instrument! Sherlock played on the G string, ran through the finger positions, added the D string, listened to the change through the fingerings, the change in strings, tried to overcome the technical bumps with broad, agogic accents. The jump up a sixth, mellow but also creating an opening. A motif.
Sherlock played with it, looked for more notes. The start of a theme. It opened up right away with the sixth, only to withdraw again, approaching the sixth again, light, hesitant, finally hit it after several playful tries, only to back away again, slowly, staggering drunkenly to the ground. As if everything had been fulfilled.
It wasn't until Sherlock reached the tonic by playing up a whole tone that he realised he was playing in a minor key, and that the poles of his melody were the subtonic and the dominant, dancing around each other in a completely different context than he'd initially assumed. And that they met in a common key note that lay between them.
Sherlock paused, surprised. He had let his fingers play, not analysing the sequence of notes until now. It was a fascinating theme. Actually two, an ascending one and a second, descending one. One that breathed in, another that breathed out. Sherlock knew immediately that he was going to compose something with it. A piece. Maybe even variations. Maybe for John. That seemed to be a task he could occupy himself with over the upcoming days and nights to fill the time.
Author's note: For those who know something about music and want to play around with Sherlock's melody: C A F G A / F G B♭ A G F E C D