Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Redemption Songs, Part 3

We walked the dark city streets. The party was still going on somewhere behind us, but after dancing for what seemed like an eternity she'd said, "Come on, let's go talk for a while."

She amazed me, this woman who fearlessly walked the streets of her city in the wee hours of the morning. I jumped at shadows, gripped her waist tight and tried to hurry her past yawning alleyways, keeping ever vigilant for attentive outsiders. She just walked and smiled and laughed.

"How do you do it?" I finally asked.

"Do what?"

"Act like you don't have a care in the world."

She turned and looked at me, then smiled. "It's not an act."

"I don't understand."

"I know."

"I mean, there's so much shit out there, so much going on. So much to be scared of."

She stopped suddenly, cocked her head ever so slightly to the right. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"Listen. Just close your eyes and listen."

I did as I was told. The street we were on was nearly silent, but off in the distance I could hear traffic rumbling on a highway, an ambulance siren. I gradually began to take note of the slight breeze as it wound its way down the street, ruffling papers, rattling against a creaky iron fence.

I opened my eyes, looked at her. "I don't know..." I started.

She put her finger to her lips. "Listen."

Again I closed my eyes. I took note of the traffic, the distant siren, the wind. The...violins?

"Adagio for Strings," I murmered.

Her hand found mine. She squeezed it. "You heard it."

I took a course on the humanities once. Part of it was music appreciation, something I'd never really gotten around to doing before. I grew up on rock and pop and had never had the time for the history of music. Most of the time when the teacher had brought in some classical piece or some old choral work I'd tuned it out, left it alone.

One day he'd started talking about modern composers and begun playing Samuel Barber. I was captivated from the very beginning and couldn't begin to understand why. There was something in the music, some infinite, unrequited longing in the song that touched me, painted a picture in my mind, opened my heart to a world I'd never seen before.

I'd never been to San Francisco, but for some reason I always imagined the Golden Gate Bridge when I heard Adagio for Strings. It was covered in an early morning fog and I was waiting for it to dissipate, watching from somewhere above, expecting something amazing. But whatever I was waiting for never happened.

The song always broke my heart. It rose ever upward, until hitting that single note, that ethereal point where joy and wonder meet expectation. That point where god reaches down, touches the Earth.

And then...


That morning in that humanities class I heard more in that moment of silence than I'd ever heard before in hours of music. The fog lifted, my heart rose. Then it broke. The fog rolled back in. The moment was gone.

Even with my eyes closed I knew Sophie was watching me as I felt the music rise. I clung to that tiny stream of music as it came to me from the ether. I forgot about the dark alleys, the dangerous people, the shadows in the alleyways. I just hoped against hope that this time the music would rise, rise, rise, and stay forever. It began, that moment I loved and dreaded, when the music climbed the mountain and the sun broke free to burn the fog away.

I held my breath. I felt the goosebumps run up and down my spine. The music rose, the note held.



It only lasts a moment before the song picks up again, but it's always lower. It never builds back to those great heights. It's never the same after the silence.

"You're crying." Sophie whispered. Her right arm snaked around my waist. Her left hand cupped my right cheek and she pulled my head down, kissed away the tear that was working its way toward my chin.

"I, uh," I croaked out through a gravel throat, "I love that song."

"I could tell."

"It's just so sad to me," I said. "The silence always breaks my heart."

"But the music starts again afterward."

"It's not the same."

She smiled up at me for a moment, then wrapped her arms tightly around me and buried her face in my chest. I returned the embrace, holding her as close as I dared. After an eternal moment her grip slowly relaxed. She looked at me again.

"Um, do you want to go back to my place?" she asked.

"More than anything in the world."

She took my hand and we walked down the street with a purpose.

Her apartment was only a few blocks away. We glided toward it with purpose.

"It's not much," she said as she opened the door, "But I call it home."

The scene before me was, for a moment, confusing. Every inch of the walls was covered with color. She'd painted a pastoral scene of impossible blues and vibrant greens across her walls, turning a tiny one-room space in to the whole of the outdoors.

"Wow," was all I could manage to say.

"You like it?"

"It's amazing."

I put my hand behind her head and pulled her close. Our lips met.

She pulled away after long, lingering moments, took my hand, lead me around the corner.

Her bed was a twin mattress pushed up against a corner, sitting atop a box spring but no frame.

I dropped on to that narrow mattress, pulling her with me. Our lips met, parted. Her tongue flicked across my teeth.

She pulled away, grabbed her shirt, lifted it over her head.

My hands found their way to her waist. They traced a path up her body, gripped her shoulder blades, pulled her back down. My lips found hers again, our tongues danced.

Somewhere back in the deepest recesses of my mind I heard the high note from Adagio for Strings. This time, unlike any other, it held.

I gave in to the moment.

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