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'Requiem' by Brian John Feehan

LISP 22 Short Story LISP Finalist 'Requiem' by Brian John Feehan


REQUIEM


The title of the tune is on the tip of her tongue. She can taste it, the lingering aftermath of something ingested but whose provenance she can no longer recall. She can hum along to it, though. Almost. A note or two. Enough to convince herself that she knows the song, that she’s heard it before. Maybe even danced to it. Perhaps they had danced to it? He and She? Maybe the aftertaste she acknowledges is his, like an aroma born in one of the other apartments, wafting unbidden into hers. Cabbage. Sauerkraut. Curry. Something left too long in the fridge.

She takes another sip of her drink to wash away the lingering tang of him and, despite herself, moves to the bubbles of memory as they float past. On most Saturdays, they would go dancing at one of two joints they liked. Her favorite club was one downtown; his was a place up. She couldn’t understand why he preferred his spot and often insisted on downtown even though they had decided to take turns: one week his preference, the next week hers.

She marries the sweating glass to her temple, hoping to quell the fever.

The weekdays could pass without a thought of him. But as the weekend approached, she found herself swaying in anticipation while waiting for a bus or in line at the automat. He wasn't very capable on his feet, but he compensated with enthusiasm what he lacked in skill. After dancing, they would walk all the way home, exhausted from their endeavors but enthused by adrenaline. He, exhilarated by their expanding affection, and she, mildly apprehensive about the same.

Something Moon?’ That’s it, isn’t it? Or ‘Love Something?’ The chorus, ‘We’ll meet again under the something moon…’ Like all occurrences associated with him, the memory is fading. It wasn’t ‘their’ song, though; they did not have one, never acquired it – or perhaps, as in so much of their time together, they hadn’t been able to agree on one. She would hear X and say, ‘this is it.' But he would shake his head. Another time he would present her with his choice, to which she always objected. Over time, they understood they would not have custody of a melody they could claim as their own.

She can’t divine from where the music is coming. Down the hall? A couple recently moved in. Newly married, most likely. The missus, if indeed she is one, gazed upon the man with something bordering on reverence, even though he stands several inches shorter than she. So much so that the wife has to be able to see the premature bald spot that’s already dug in its flag and staked its claim, but of which she’s presumably decided to remain mum. He, the husband, if indeed he is one, admires her the same way that she does him, though she sports a Rorschach of raven hair that is more sculpture than style. It’s as if they’ve chosen not to amplify each other’s imperfections but embrace them. Perhaps the tune is their song, and they are even now enveloped by its melody?

Her man has a lovely smile. That was the first thing she noticed. Not all of his teeth were perfect, far from it. And she doubted that she would have looked twice if she’d passed him on the street. But when he approached her to dance and unveiled that smile, something unlocked inside.

Though that has, once again, been sealed.

Perhaps the music is coming from below. The old woman who sometimes tapped her ceiling with a stick if she heard them dancing above on the kitchen’s yoke-colored linoleum, but who employs her radio as a companion. Will She become like that woman? Caressing her radio’s dial with remembered longing?

The music might be transported from down the block. August is more ardent than usual, and her bedroom window – the only one that isn't stuck closed, painted shut, or bloated from humidity – is open, inviting in the melodic hums and thrums and reverberations from the city. The song can be drifting in from anywhere.

The bottom of her glass looks neglected. It’s time for another.

*

He hears the notes before he turns the corner. Then he sees the rag-tag quartette on the sidewalk. A few people have gathered to watch the group, playing a tune he half-remembers – distant yet familiar. Something about 'Paris’ or ‘autumn’ or a ‘sliver of moon?’ He’s sworn off music and dancing. Eating. Joy. Has foregone summer breezes and shooting stars: anything and everything that reminds him of her.

But this could not be avoided. He’d walked up to this tune on the street and shaken its hand; the music commanding him to ‘sit down and listen to what it has to say.’ Across from him, a couple shifts, the man enveloping the woman from behind, an expression on both as if they believe the composition was created solely for them.

Had they ever stood that way? She and He? Their ardor as armor, unapologetically enrapt? Two souls adrift together and preferring it to the alternative. He can’t remember that ever happening.

Except when they were dancing.

In the thrall of it, they agreed on everything, including where to go. She preferred the place downtown, as did he, but he told her the opposite to let her feel as though she had won a little victory every time he acquiesced.

But they never claimed a song. Those that she suggested did not feel right to him – they didn’t carry the weight (or the burden) of what he felt for her. They seemed trifling or hollow, as hollow as he is now. He spends his days cognizant of their missing coda now that she has changed her tune.

Theirs had always been a contrapuntal courtship, a competition between the contrasting and complimentary. The night she ended, it had been a devastation for him. Perhaps if he had been prepared for it, had anticipated the change in intervals, the modulation of her key, he could have protected himself from the blow. But instead, it withered him. He tries to turn his back on the lonely hours, but they keep close, teasing with a two-step while remaining a step or two behind.

This melody could have been their song. This seems neither vainglorious nor banal. Nimble but not aloof. The tune carries a heft. It’s a cornerstone onto which a foundation could be built. If only they had heard this one. On anniversaries he would have asked the band to play it, and they would have danced while the rest of the patrons smiled in nostalgia and a dollop of envy. Or when the song would come on the radio, and He or She would remark to their children, "did we ever tell you…," and they would roll their collective eyes, having heard the old chestnut before. But there will be no children, no anniversaries for them. She will never again lean her chestnut locks onto his chest and hum the bridge.

Despite the pavement’s pervasive heat, he gathers his arms about himself.

*

She finds herself compelled towards the bedroom window, sitting on the sill, adrift in the draught. His present of an umbrella on Valentine’s Day surely had been a harbinger of storms to come. Intellectually, she understood that his heart had been in the right place. He said it was to remind her of the first song they danced to on the night they had met. Something about ‘hearts and showers?’ Or ‘amour après le deluge?’ She can no longer recall. Perhaps that was the song over which they had ownership?

It's somewhere in the apartment. The umbrella. She will never use it. Couldn’t. The metaphor of him protecting her from the rain would be too painfully poetic. Instead, she’ll let the spray pour down upon her; the consequences be damned.

This should have been their song, the one wafting from below. She would have sung it into his ear whenever he needed reassuring. Or they would have looked up together in a synchronous smile whenever they heard it out of the blue. A shared reminiscence. Secret. Exquisite.

But instead, her memories of them will be forever discordant. Inharmonious.

If only they’d heard this one.

*

No longer able to endure the sorrow of his reverie, he abandons the impromptu concert as one vanquished, retreating in defeat. He’ll walk as long as it takes him to no longer discern the tune. He drifts with no apparent destination for blocks towards the river, remembering her hand in his, as far from the music as possible.

But it’s still there.

*

She closes her window on the night, sealing her tomb, silencing the song.

But it’s still there.

The rise and fall. The beguiling verse. The captivating chorus.

Both remain that way, surrounded by the remnants of other Saturday nights, trapped in the infinite loop of their song, seemingly to be haunted forever by its refrain.


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