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Bob Ritchie
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Love, in E Major

 

Bob Ritchie

 

 

 

She steps back, strings weeping. Falling light strikes her body; she shines black. An “E” rings, profound and as deep as the sun’s gravity well.

“Wear it well,” she calls; her voice fades and turns to traffic noise. A tiny harmonic hangs in the air, only to disappear as completely as a rabbit from a hat.

Wear it well.

In that ringing light—faint buzz of strings still supporting—in that ringing light—turning to black and night’s consuming dark—in that damping dark, I fall back against the thin mattress; bury my face in soft, yellow flannel. I cry out against inequities and pain of loss. Inarticulate agony rasps, dissonant as a tritone. Lyrics, no, only sounds and red/white haze and headless men spewing whooshing, liquid melodies of blood from ragged-cut necks.

Wear it well.

I look at what she left me: a single nylon guitar string, white as only dreams are white. White as the near-perfect absence of color. White like purity and blinding sadness. A string—like ribbon—tied ‘round my wrist. Reminder? Affectation? Decoration? No, no. Thrice times no.

Rather, a promise. A promise like “I do” and “I will”. The dazzling black blinds my eyes. But I don’t need to see; I know why she left it to me. I know the why of this string, loose around my bony wrist. What choice, then? What choice but to tighten and stretch her last gift to me, to pluck it, make it ring though to the last measure?

I raise myself on my elbows and call after her, “How did we get here?” There are no amplifiers to throw my song after her retreating form. Plain walls reverberate, throwing back an unwanted chorus.

#

Love at first sight it was, unplanned, unsought. The recent end of my matrimonial song cycle still had me shivering in and from the unaccustomed silence. My ears rang, as if I had just left a rock concert (amplifiers set on stun).

I saw her while idly inspecting my reflection in a fingerprint-covered store window. Look at me, thin, pale. My eyes shone—but dull—like tarnished quarters shoved deep, forgotten in lint-filled pockets. I saw her—random bolt of light on petite guitar body—while I window-shopped in downtown Tustin. I had no plans. No overt desires. No money. Filling the background: the slow traffic sounds of space-hungry, steel beasts cut through the ringing in my ears. I felt the sun, hot on shoulder and short-sleeved arm. It dazzled and gave glowing highlight to our meeting.

My eyes, caught by a bouncing ray, stared through my undernourished image. They traced the curvaceous black of her slender body; the firm, rosewood neck; the shining brass machinery of her tuning heads; the mother-of-pearl curls dancing on the edges of her body. The deep, mysterious warmth of her sound hole pulled at me, promising ecstasy. Love. Complete and yearning.

I saw her and gasped. My hand on window—eye level—still bore the too-tight golden band of promise. A remembrance of things past, it had no affect over the rushing, rising passion. It came from another she, the ring. Another life, already a day plus infinity in the past.

#

A day prior: that split up. A day before meeting her, that agonizing chisel in head and gut. A day of pain and numb and pain again, when her still meant that harpy woman, spawn of all anger. Death metal songstress.

Her song, strident and bitter: “You’re nothing! Nobody! A failure on the hoof! You sit around; drink apple juice acting all aloof! Your life you waste, mine as well! My life, asshole, has gone to hell!” Pause for breath, second verse. “You say you’re a musician! But you never play! You say that you’ll be famous some far and distant day! You tell me that you love me?! You’re full of shit, I say!”

Riff and fill, bridge to chorus. This woman loved exclamation marks; they seemed to hang above her golden-haired head like stop-motion sleet. Every time she spoke. Yeah. But I’d heard that song before. She sang it well, with feeling. Large throat and strong diaphragm working in unhappy harmony. I bopped my head to the familiar tune. One finger tapped the rhythm on the dirty-white cotton stuffing that used to be the arm of a couch until Fermata—my cat—dissected it like a Music Theory student studying “Tristan and Isolde”.

And though not my favorite tune, it had a good beat. A driving melody that jumped and jagged all over the place like Coltrane’s sax or Monk’s piano. She sang it with a convincing, red-lipped snarl. I thought of a time when we were happy to be husband and wife; wondered if we could ever Coda ourselves back to that simpler beginning.

On that day. That day, a short/forever day before. That parting day, she surprised me with a new verse. Improvised in anger and frustration.

Her change from 4/4 to 6/8 time shocked me into listening. “Son of a bitch, nodding and tapping. Forgetting it’s life and love that I’m rapping. Ignoring the pain and futility. I’ll be damned if I stay here. You’ll fucking see!”

And gone, on angry, dancing heels. Her unplanned choreography crucified my toes and soul on the downbeat. The wind whipped her butt-length blonde hair, lashing it like loose lengths of catgut.

#

So when I saw her—dark and beautiful in the window of Henry’s Music Store—I suppose you could say I was on the rebound.

But love at first sight is a soul-stirring chord. Love at first sight, an ear-filling roar.…  Fated, pre-destined, how could I know? It began then, a future I could not ignore.

I entered. We met. A salesman whose jeans and store-logoed t-shirt couldn’t cover the suit and tie of his soul made the formal introduction. We met, shy at first, but mutually interested. We hit nirvana on a slow-strummed Bmin7. We had both waited a long time for this moment. Who says you can’t buy love. Or, at least, put it on layaway.

#

Success. Yeah, all that jazz. To us, it was just making love.

At first, she objected to the sheer, blatant exhibitionism. She had a shy nature. Just contemplating it made her strings sweat. My fingers would slip and forget their place. Like a new lover touching for the first time.

But we did it. In front of one or two alone. Friends. People we trusted with the passion of our displays. I always got right into the rapture of it. Her, I had to tease and coax, until I had her running and joyous with climax after climax. Until I had her beyond caring that someone watched it all from outside the panting circle that was She and I.

Time passed. She moved beyond her fears, her shyness, and began to strut her stuff to those who watched. More and more often, by set’s end, I found myself breathless and sweating, trying to keep up.

And time passed. And the audiences grew. And some more. Until they stretched beyond our ability to count. To see. Dark, shadowy figures, they stood and shouted and spit tiny flames from the ends of their upthrust arms.

In some town, in some close hall, a new harmony: jealousy went for a ride, perched on my shoulder.

He, a front-row pervert—she flirted, coquettish trill and nasty/sexy bent note. I responded by swiveling my body to the left. But her Mixolydian mode run scaled around my torso and tickled his shiny, thrusting face. I improvised a violent passage and smiled over my shoulder when sweat face recoiled as if jabbed by a rocknroll elbow.

Her modulation to a soft relative minor stopped me short. “Oh, Dean, let’s not quarrel.”

I released my pentatonic breath and ran my left hand up her strong neck. “No. You’re right.”

No one knew it wasn’t just a part of the show; audiences love to be fooled, love to believe that it is mere brilliance they are witnessing.

Later, they came backstage to find us. She, standing straight and tall on her velvet-lined mahogany stand, hummed in contentment at their effusive praise but remained silent and cold to my look, word, or touch. My caresses fell on frigid neck and stiff body.

A watcher, young and with acne splashed across his forehead grinned at me, saying, “Dude, like, I saw tractor blades spinning and mowing wheat with tiny kernels of babies’ heads. The blood spurting and.… Christ! How do you?…” He shook his head, damp hair clinging to his cheeks.

A watcher, made ancient by smoke and powder. “It was like a thousand lasers sulfur-cooking, burning into my forehead.”

A watcher, red faced, “I … I felt, kinda like, a satin hand around my cock.” The guy in the front row.

And watcher, “The least menacing thing, like a Barbie Doll or a kitten or a plastic slip-cover, seemed to jump into a cold microwave blender and burst, tear in a shower of plastic and frothy brain-stuff.” Inarticulate. Not surprising. What are the images of music?

Those comments, occasioned by one of our infrequent spats. For the most part, hands and mouths and bumping shoulders were all, “crystals spinning and throwing rainbows” and “pulsating showers of bright pastels mixed and warm, black night” and “the heat of Heaven” and “new mown grass in spring” and “fresh, wet breezes on a tropic afternoon” and “smoother than satin or fine rum or clean hair … but hot, like fast breathing. Urgent.” Inarticulate. Not surprising. What are the sounds of love?

#

We toured Spain. The men there, players or luthiers all, couldn’t get enough of her. When I wouldn’t let the roadies touch her, she began to worry.

“Dean, what’s happening to you?”

“Don’t you feel how they fondle you? I can see it fer cryin’-out-loud! Stealing a squeeze here, rubbing a long, stray finger across your bridge there.” I trembled, struggling to contain my anger and jealousy.

“Dean, please! They’re just taking me out to the stage. Nothing more. You’re being crazy over nothing.”

But I heard the frantic denial in her 12th fret harmonic and knew. “Which one is it? You’re not.…” My words stopped short. Almost as if they couldn’t travel from mind to mouth. Physical impossibility. A tremendous, wide wedge of lyrics jammed at some narrow neurotransmitter. “You’re not … jamming with one of them are you? With somebody else?”

Because she feared for me. Because the “G”-eyed monster could roar through and damage all in passing, including my sanity. Because of her love, she started the denials. But of a kind I never expected.

“I’m a thing Dean. A thing, no more.” Strident and panicked, with an undertone of sorrow. An F# smack dab in the middle of a C Major chord. Tritone tension. “Just a thing.”

Shocked, of course. Like your lover insisting that no matter how firm the curve of breast, or warm the jutting hip, she is merely a doll. Science-Fiction, Horror-show. I forgot my jealousy, feeling the worry and guilt of shock. “Babe, don’t say that. I love you and you’re alive and you love me and we live and complete the circle of fifths and fourths and two, one with the other and yearn and.…” I babbled, the terror cutting and stabbing at my heart. Inarticulate. Not surprising. What is the sound of fear?

Time and time. Weeping, widening the gap of pain. A wall crumbling in slo-mo. Television style. A structure built of care and passion falling brick by brick. The gradual destruction of love. Thin-sliced ribbons of flesh peeling away from nacreous bone.

#

Her voice stopped by reason of insanity. My own, because of my jealousy, hot and without rationale. But.… If only.… I died from my jealousy. Died.

 

Bulb, lit and bare. Harsh watts, hot, merciless. Moths flutter and fall. Dry sounds their wings do make. Fast pitter-pats of death: a centipede’s feet on cold wood floor.

A mosquito buzzes my ears, quick melody. Narrow scales, like music in miniature. A quarter-tone symphony. But they have been struck blind, my ears, and cannot see the hum and rush of tiny, beating wings. Cannot see the music as before. Prick at my arm, and now I feel through numb acceptance, but the music, as if riding a quick current, eludes me. Hand slap and bloody-black squash.

The light falls like stretched nylon strings. Strings that recede into the distance (I move or she?). The light falls and plucks, but she is silent to my unseeing ears.

Except for the E. Her E string rings forEver. For EternitEEE. Never quite disappearing into the distance.

My room is dark. I have not seen a note since they took her away. Not since they brought me to this room where the only sound is the shish-click of the wandering breeze breaking through the leaves and eaves, patternless, formless. On days when the wind rises to the mournful harmonics of a moan, it moves into my blind spot. Goes the way of she and of all music.

I smell detergent all the time. Reminds me of a clean dressing room. It is antiseptic, this place. The thin mattress barely protects against the metal spring net that creaks with my unsyncopated and restless turnings.

I remember my last look at her, me crying brokenly because they had taken the string. Her string (“Wear it well.”). Her gift to me that I might join her in some other realm. What she had left for remembering only, would—should—have been my ticket to her side.

Wear it well.

I remember the last look. (struggling in brawny arms against rasping, white canvas) Mother-of-pearl and polished with all of my love; her rosewood, soft in the hollow light of the moon. A stray finger of light from her tuning pegs joined— co-mingled—with the salt of my tears. (sharp jab in shoulder … sleep) The lonely sound of her sobbing E string rose, even over the crunching of tires on gravel. I remember.

I thanked god for my blindness, my drowsiness: I could not see the rising tones of the siren or the musical wail of the racing engine.

#

My room is warm and soft, and the sun comes through the grill in delicately traced patterns of light and dark. Warm day and clicking heater, the temperature remains constant. The summer sun shines like a newly opened eye.

Yet, it is coldest winter without her. It is dark and fog and frost without her frets and strings and ringing harmonics.

I have a blanket that is very nice. It keeps me comfort on lonely night and day. It thaws the pain and cold of my heart.

Sometimes, as I rub the soft and velvet nap, I see the sound of a single E. Beautiful memory.

I feel guilty. I can’t help it. I feel guilty because it is so soon.… But her weave and warmth and pale yellow are such solace in cold, lonely shelter. She smells fresh and clean. Sunflowers on a rising breeze. Dryer-fresh laundry.

I feel guilty, but the butterflies just beyond the window scoot and chase; they whisper to me, “It’s okay.” And I want that to be the truth.

She, so still and quiet, enfolding. She pushes not, nor urges. Only accepts my caresses, hugs me tight in her Mothergrasp.

I feel guilty, but Ah, Love! Who am I to deny you?

 

The End

 

 

Bob Ritchie lives in Puerto Rico. He has a pretty fantastic wife and as many as five kids. Editing, yeah, teaching, sure, some translating. Ritchie (as his wife calls him) is a musician whose greatest claim to fame (so far) is that he has collaborated with Jon Anderson. Perhaps one should mention that Bob (as he calls himself) is also a writer of stories and that has written a novel that might even be good.

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