The Song

“I remember this song,” said Eleanor in a quiet, surprised voice as a commercial came on the television and music began playing behind the announcer. “It was such a beautiful one. You know, I think I even remember the first time I heard it.”

Alvin looked at her curiously. “This must have come out sixty years ago.”

“Yes,” said Eleanor, her voice remaining quiet. “I remember though. It was ninth grade. I was sitting in Pete’s Malt Shop with Margery Silver.”

“That was a great old shop,” said Alvin, though Eleanor didn’t seem to hear.

“We were in there talking one afternoon, and then this song came on the jukebox. I stopped all at once, and Margery did too. And we just listened. For the whole song we just listened. And at that part where it gets real climactic I started moving my finger around my soda glass, drawing something in the condensation, like I was inspired. When the song ended I looked at Margery and I said ‘this song is going to describe my life.’ I had said things like that before, but I think I meant it even more that time. Must have sounded ridiculous, saying I was gonna do all these great things. Go on all these adventures. But it was all I wanted back then.”

Eleanor lowered her eyes and looked at the faded carpet. She could see her footprints in it, one on top of the other like the grains of sand in an hourglass. Alvin looked at her and for a moment squinted his eyes, as if she had gone very far away. He opened his mouth and then closed it.

“It was all I wanted,” she said again. “You know, it must have been thirty years since I heard this song.”

“What did you draw on your glass when the song was playing?” Alvin asked finally. His voice sounded very weak.

“I’m not sure actually. It’s like it was something so important I wasn’t allowed to see. And then it melted away.”

“That was before we met.”

“Yes. You know, I don’t think I ever told you this story.”

“No.” Alvin watched Eleanor stare sadly at the floor. Eventually he slowly stood up and shuffled to the kitchen, leaning a little extra on his cane as he walked. When he got there he opened the top cabinet and lifted a glass. Then he reached for the dulled metal handle of the sink and filled the glass with cold water. He carefully held it by its bottom as he returned it to Eleanor.

“What’s this?” said Eleanor when he reached her. Her eyes shifted slightly from the worn and dented rug.

Alvin handed her the glass by its bottom and slowly lowered himself to the couch. Then he started to hesitantly sing the song from the commercial. He watched her closely as he did, examining and looking inside every movement she made. And the deeper he looked, the more he had the impression he was trying to see the past as well as the present.

Eleanor held the cup gently and listened to him sing, and the old familiar notes sounded odd and wrong in his raspy voice, as if the voice were turning the song around and inside out. Soon though, the notes began to find a shape, and it sounded more as it should. He always had a good voice – she had always thought so. There was something so honest in it. Something so true. And the kids had it too, whatever it was. And the grandkids. Eleanor looked again at the cup and the condensation that covered it like a shroud. Then she put her hand around half of it, and she pressed the other half against Alvin’s hand, and Alvin began to sing quieter.

Then Eleanor looked at their hands, and she looked at the wear and the wrinkles and the years and the things lost and found that had become part of them. After a few moments she moved the glass and placed it on the table and looked at the clear, imperfect circle that showed where their hands had been. She saw that Alvin was staring at it too.

“This must have been what I drew,” she said.

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