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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

 

 


Proud to Be a Pig

Bob Ritchie

 

Yes, I am proud to be a pig. And I think I will tell June, my wife, just that. When I see her again. If.

Perhaps you sleep with the TV on. It works that way sometimes.

#

About two years ago, I began to doze in front of the television. A comment on the state of American TV or my attention span. That is not for me to decide.

Look: The sofa felt soft and warm on a chill winter’s night. The cushions gave and sighed with my every move. A lovely sofa, it held me in its relaxed embrace like an overweight lover. The rich taste of hot chocolate floated on the back of my tongue. What pleasure my nose felt; that piquant scent of cinnamon does it every time.

I didn’t hear June open the door to our spare bedroom/TV Room. I didn’t hear her light tread on the wood floor. Sleep had claimed me.

She woke me with a tap on my balding pate. As the world swam into focus around me, she said in her playful kitty voice, “No sex if you fall asleep before ten.”

Mmph! I’d been dreaming of breakfast, my favorite meal: Sizzling strips of lean bacon, light, fluffy eggs sending tendrils of delicious-smelling steam into the clear morning air.

“Okay,” I answered, closing my eyes again against the flicker and flash of the muted TV.

She bit off my ear. The left one.

The pain flared like a roman candle. My hand shot out, reaching for something to stop the flow of blood. It encountered an open bag of pork rinds. Good enough. I fished out one of the tasty treats and shoved it up against the side of my head. The flow of blood stanched, I turned back to the TV to enjoy the latest video treats.

 

June wanted her Masters. Following this desire, she’d enrolled at Crafton Hills College. A Physical Education Major, she spent her evenings running and shouting and sweating. Yucch.

I used to greet her with a kiss and a hug when she came home. Then this falling asleep thing had become a regular habit. A problem with an easy solution: I set an alarm clock to wake me a few minutes before she was due to arrive.

Almost foolproof, except when the teacher canceled her 20th Century Exercise Habits class for the night.

Had I been awake:

The front door opened with its usual groan. Laugh tracks and other features of Prime Time TV probably masked the sound of her books thudding to the floor. Had I been awake.…

As a little aside, my Mom was an avid National Geographic fanatic. Her fanaticism ruined my school years. Oh yeah, what’s in a name, right? A lot!

“Jacques,” she called, “I’m home.”

Her heels probably clicked on the parquet entryway, turning to a faint thump when she moved onto the carpeted hallway. Had I been awake.…

“Jacques?”

Kissing lips moved softly down my jaw and throat. A darting tongue licked and teased the curling hairs of my chest.

Mmph. I simultaneously farted and snorted; a drop of saliva spattered her nose.

She bit off my right nipple. Not from anger, she later assured me. The combined shock of slime and scent.

Blood slicked my belly and spattered the hall carpet as I ran toward the kitchen. No biggie, I knew that rust-color would come in handy one day. The linoleum chilled my bare feet. I had run out of my slippers, in my haste. On the refrigerator, I found a tiny suction cup. From its bent metal hook dangled a gaily-patterned potholder. I read the word “Hormel” on the plastic deelie.

From promotional item in a package of bacon to replacement body part. I licked the cup and stuck it in place.

June called from the bathroom, “Honey, we’re out of mouthwash.”

“Okay.”

The blood stopped and I opened the refrigerator door. Grazing time in the Simptie household.

Her voice got louder as she walked from the master bath to the kitchen. “Can you pick some up on the way home from the studio tomorrow?”

“Eh?”

“Mouthwash, Jacques, mouthwash.” She had her hands on her hips, a favorite what-an-exasperating-man-you-are stance. Blonde bangs curtained her blue eyes.

I had a couple slices of bologna in my mouth, so my answer was a little garbled. “Okay.”

 

With the touch of the “Perform” button on my computer editor, I finished my documentary on the early Warner Bros. cartoons.

My chair’s wheels squeaked in protest as I backed away from my desk. Have to take care of that; I couldn’t even hear the final “Th-th-that’s all folks”.

I’d gained a lot of weight recently. A combination of June’s night school and my own laziness/lack of imagination. Franks ‘n’ beans played a large part in my night-time routine. As did chili, stew, and ravioli. My wrist was looking quite buff from working out on the can-opener.

I slid off my chair and onto my couch. Every office should have one. Remote in one hand and a can of Vienna Sausages in the other, I zapped the TV into colorful life. Idly, I opened my zipper and pulled out my penis. Fondling myself, I daydreamed of tall, naked, Latin beauties. One in particular caught my attention. She carried a tray, overflowing with bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. With no lettuce or tomato. Before me, the opening shots of the movie “Babe” filled the screen. Sometime around the little pig’s introduction to the animals on the farm—his new home—my eyes fell to a close. My erection remained intact.

I know the air whooshed out my door when June opened it. It always does. I know her heels clicked on the marble tiles as she approached my recumbent form. They always do.

I know the fire leapt from her eyes, hot sparks of rage that burnt all in their path. She has a temper. She always does.

“I’m leaving you Jacques, you bastard son-of-a-bitch.”

Mmph. Right in the middle of a helluva dream.

She towered over me. One hand waved a sheet of company stationery. I recognized the blue logo at the top. I recognized, too, the illegible scrawl that filled the front and half the back. Not so illegible that I could not have deciphered the “Dearest Maryann” and the “much love, J” written at the top and bottom respectively.

Dick in hand, I stared but made no sound.

“I said I’m leaving you, goddamn it, don’t you have anything to say about that?”

I shrugged. “Okay.”

“Pig.”

Quicker than thought, she bent at the waist, pushed my hand away and bit.

          I wish I had been eating a hot dog instead of Vienna Sausages.

“Proud to Be a Pig” originally appeared in Unlikely 2.0 (April 1, 2011).]

Hailing from California, Bob Ritchie now lives on the lovely island of Puerto Rico, where he discovered, among other things, that wet heat is better than dry. He and his fantastic wife have released five adult children into the wild. He does some editing, yeah, some teaching, sure, some translating, claro. Ritchie (as his wife calls him) is a musician who is fortunate enough to have collaborated with Jon Anderson, a favorite of many. Bob (as he calls himself) is also a writer of stories and has penned several things that he believes are good. His work has appeared in Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, Small Print Magazine, Triangle Writers Magazine, and others; two of his stories were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Neither won. Oh well.



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