January 3, 8:12 p.m.
The table is smooth, cool, almost sensual. I can rub my fingers on it and not feel the veins. They tell me it's green marble, but I know better. It's a piece of the belly of the beast. Right here. Stretched out as a conference table at BMI's office in Los Angeles.
Songwriters, or wanna-be's like me, battle the beast all the time. It tempts us to create, torments us when we don't. Sometimes we work out an uneasy peace, most times we don't. Me, I keep seeing myself as an old man in a rocking chair, looking back on me now as a 24-year old. Wondering what might have been, if only I’d tried harder.
But in the music licensing business, BMI's business, they don't deal with this at all. The songs come in from music publishers, then go out to radio stations and record stores. It doesn't matter what it took to create them.
It took a lot to create the song on the cassette in my hand. I've worked on it for weeks. It's my best, and tonight is the first time I'll find out if I'm finally on the right track.
Jean, our instructor, sits at the head of the table surrounded by us eager songsters, finishing up the last class of this songwriting workshop. She has the face of a schoolmarm, but the eyes of a revolutionary. Part tactician, part Zen master, part den mother, she has led us through eight intense weeks of instruction, practice, and self-discovery. "Okay, let's hear your demos." She turns to her left. "Kali, why don't you start?"
Kali Riegel swallows and hands over her cassette to the guy at the tape deck. If someone hadn't told me she's the lead singer for a hot local alternative rock band, I would have said she's a UCLA student. Her hair's brown and simple, no highlighting, no extensions. Her face soft and serious. She wears a plain denim jacket and jeans. She's the best singer around and that's saying a lot. Here in L.A., you can't swing a stick without hitting someone with a great voice. But in the end, singing rock music is about attitude and few singers really have it. Kali has it. You feel she believes every single word she sings, as though she just thought of it that very moment.
Kali's song starts strong then starts to wander. There's a great line of lyrics or musical motif, then it wanders off again.
After the song ends, Jean’s blunt about it. "Kali, we've talked about this before. The words have to flow with the melody. Rhythm, syncopation. Maybe this song would be better as a poem."
"No, I hear music too. Beautiful music." Kali drops her head and mumbles, "I really do hear it. I can't separate them." She looks Jean straight in the eyes. "It's all here," she says, pressing her finger hard against her forehead. "I just can't get it out right."
"But there's no hook in this song. Remember what we talked about before. It's the main line of the song, usually the title. What listeners are going to be humming when they go into the music store to buy the single."
"But I don't want people to hum it. I want them to feel it."
"They're not going to feel it if they don't hear it, and the radio stations won't play it if it doesn't follow the basic rules of songwriting. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. But if the song's just for yourself, that's okay too. Some of the most wonderful music is made by people you've never heard of. They just couldn't put up with the L.A. music scene, so now they're living in places like Montana with an acoustic guitar or piano, playing for themselves late in the night."
I kind of doubt this. To me, it's like the question about the tree falling in the forest making a sound. If you write the greatest song, how do you know it unless someone else hears it?
Under the table I reach over to Kali next to me and squeeze her hand for reassurance. I should. I'm her support partner. I first thought it was just some California thing that Jean did to make the workshop easier for us, by assigning us partners. Every night, I was supposed to call Kali and ask her how things were going. After she'd had a chance to vent, I was to ask whether she'd found time for songwriting. If so, find out how it went and be reassuring. After my first call, I didn't need all these rules, because I was doing them naturally and Kali was so easy to talk to. She seemed to enjoy having someone call her who wasn't fawning over her or trying to use her, in all senses of the word. Someone who just wanted to hear about her songs. She doesn't seem to have many friends, not the kind that hang around for years. Her sister lives nearby, but that's about it. She's too dedicated to her singing.
I know the feeling. I left my friends and a steady job in North Carolina. My day job out here, temping and schlepping sandwiches, barely pays for my rent-controlled bachelor apartment in Santa Monica. But it does give me time for songwriting. I have the three essential things Jean told us every songwriter needs: a car that runs, an answering machine, and a day organizer. But I'm constantly aware I live in a city where women turn to you in bars and ask, "So. What do you do and what do you drive?"
Jean turns to me. "Chris, lets hear your song now." I hand over the cassette and pass out the lyric sheets. The room fills with music. My music. It sounds so good coming out of those expensive JBL studio speakers, that I tap my foot to the slow ballad beat. I even quietly sing along with the chorus.
After she said goodbye
Black and white.
The colors all ran dry.
And my world faded to black and white

Some of the others move their heads with the rhythm, seeming to get into the groove. Yes, this could be one of those memorable moments Jean was just talking about. One I'll look back on as the very moment I knew I would really make it as a songwriter. The final chorus fades. There's silence. Jean opens her mouth. Please let it be now.
"Chris, you definitely have the mechanics down. Intro, verse, chorus, bridge, everything flows well. There's really nice keyboard playing too, which isn't surprising since I remember you telling us you play piano. But I just don't believe what the singer is telling me. You don't have to be melodramatic, just honest. Writing a great song isn't a puzzle to solve, it's an experience to share." The others nod in agreement. Everyone except Kali.
Neal pipes in from the far side of the table, "Chris, have you thought about pitching this song to one of those classic movie cable stations. It'd be great as a commercial for their old black and white films."
"No," I say roughly, before calming down. "Look, it's a good idea, but not for me. I kind of think of my songs almost like children. To have one end up hawking some doodad, well, it'd be like selling my own kid to the freak show. I'd feel awful about it."
Jean takes over, "What a colorful analogy, Chris. You ought to write a song about that. Okay, Rami, it's your turn now, let's hear your song."
I drop my head for a moment. I really thought this song was the one. Kali leans over to me and whispers, "Chris, even though the workshop's over, can you still be my support partner? You know, call me every now and then. Talk to me about my songs?"
"Great," she says, smiling, "I need all the support I can get."

August 6, 9:47 p.m.
The hard wood floor's rough under my toes, but I rub them back and forth anyway under the table. Here at Cafe Tempo, where I’ve secretly taken my shoes off and leaned back my chair, watching the trendy people come in from the darkened entrance hall.
It's been months since my songwriting class ended, and things are still the same for me. Sometimes, it seems like I’m on a treadmill. I haven't heard from Kali since then. I tried calling her at her old number, but it's been disconnected, and the new number's unlisted. I’m not surprised. Soon after the last class, her band’s first record was released, and everything changed. Now I’m reading about her in Spin magazine. Her band may be the next big thing.
Then tonight, I get a phone message. "This is Kali. Meet me at the cafe tonight at nine, okay? I need your help."
I don’t know what kind of help she needs and why she’d call me now, but if it's songwriting help, it'd be a real break. I guess I should be mad that she hasn't called me, but she's in the big leagues now and I'm sure she has other things to deal with. I wonder what it feels like to finally make it.
Ow! A sharp pain jabs me from my big toe. I lift my foot to my lap and find a splinter lodged inside. As I pull it out, a single drop of blood forms. From the corner of my eye, I see a figure coming out of the darkness towards me.
There she is. This is the first time I’ve seen her wear makeup, and her clothes seem too new. She looks like an actress playing the part of a celebrity. She takes off her sunglasses. I can tell from her eyes that she hasn't been sleeping well. It's the look I've often seen staring back at me from my own mirror in the morning.
We hug, then sit down at our favorite little round table. She fidgets for a moment. "I'm sorry I haven't told you my new phone number. I had to change it, I was getting these calls. But everything’s been so hectic, I never got around to it. I don't know why. I've been saying I'm sorry a lot lately. A lot."
"That’s okay. How are your songs going?"
"They're not. Our manager won't let me sing my own songs, and if he did, what would I sing anyway? I've only got ideas and pieces. I try, but I just can’t get them out of my head right."
"It takes time, I know. I always seem to be wrestling with them too. Maybe I could help you finish yours."
"Yeah, but every time I've tried collaborating it hasn't worked out. I can feel what I want to say, but I can't say it. The other person can say it but can't feel it. Still, we could give it a try... I wish I was more like you."
"Give me a break."
"No, really, I'm serious. You're the rock." She smiles, a real smile. "My support partner..."
"I haven't always been a rock. Far from it. You didn't know me before the workshop." 
"For me, so much has changed since the workshop, and so much has stayed the same. I get all this attention now, but inside, I know I’m not any better. I'm still the same singer I was when we played those crummy little clubs and nobody noticed us. It’s like the music business is one big ice cream shop, and we’re just the flavor of the month. And we never get to know when the month’s over, no matter how hard we look for a calendar. When I see my face on a magazine cover or on TV, it doesn’t seem real. It feels like some incredibly elaborate practical joke. That at any moment, some man in a tuxedo will step out with a microphone, give me a big smile, and say ‘Guess what, Kali...’"
Her head drops. “And I shouldn’t feel this way, ‘cause I've done everything I'm supposed to. But it's like I need this narrator’s voice to say 'and she lived happily ever after.'"
I reach under the table and hold her hand, "And you lived happily ever after."
She looks up, "It's not you, Chris."
"Who is it?"
She pauses, and then in a child's voice says, "Someone who can make it happen."
She pauses again, and I start to say something to console her, but she cuts me off. "For awhile now, I've been having this dream. I’m alone on a boat and I hear the Sirens singing to me from their island. Just like in Greek mythology, where the sailors would be so enchanted that they’d come too close and crash their boats and die. But I never could understand it. Why do the Sirens sing? Why do they want the sailors to die? No one who sings like that could be evil... But now I know it's not a dream."
"What do you mean?"
"I've been hearing their song in the back of my head when I’m awake, especially when I’m trying to write my own songs. I know now that the Sirens were once like me. I can tell it in their voices. And like lonely blues singers, they’ve been broken."
Kali looks me right in the eyes. "I think they want me to tell their story. They have so many things to say. So I close my eyes and try to let myself go, and we begin to sing the most beautiful songs together in my head. I have a little tape recorder running. But as soon as I open my mouth, they're gone. But I'm getting closer. I just have to get in the right frame of mind, to really open myself up, so that they'll trust me. But it hard, there's so many things I have to deal with. So many things... I have to take some helpers to free up my head. But I can do it... And then I'll be happy."
Oh, no. "What do you mean, 'helpers'?"
"Don't worry, I'm not going to kill myself. I just have to get closer, that's all. It means so much."
"Kali, listen to me, you need help. I've been there, I know. We're leaving here right now."
"Wait, I hear them now. Can you? It's so beautiful. I have to go. I'll be okay. I'm just so close..."
She gets up and bangs right into some guy who’s coming in. He stops cold when he sees her face. "I can't believe it, it's Kali Riegel. Wait, I gotta get a picture of us."
She puts her palms on his chest and pushes him away. "No time."
The guy's stunned and backs up. Then he gets mad and yells, "Hey, you've got a lot of nerve!"
I get between them and grab him by the shoulders. "Calm down, okay. Kali's just nervous about her next album. Okay. Nothing personal." I turn back. "Kali, let's get out of..."
She's gone.

August 7, 8:00 a.m.
My eyes open slowly to see an orderly line of black and white plastic. I've fallen asleep on my electric piano keys and I can feel the ridges made into my face. My mouth tastes like cotton’s stuffed in it. The clock radio's blaring, but I don't care.
I look over at the answering machine. Still no messages. She hasn't called me and I can't find her. I searched the club. I searched the block. I called her apartment. I called her sister. I called the police. They told me she'd have to be missing for 24 hours before they could do anything. I searched all night. Drove to every place I thought she could be. But all I saw were Kali wanna-be's.
I reach over to turn off the clock radio. "In local news, a rock singer was found dead in a Glenside motel from a drug overdose..."
August 7, 8:32 a.m.
I can't believe I'm thinking about her in the past tense, but I am. And all I can do is play Richard and Linda Thompson's "Walking on a Wire" over and over and over again.
There's nothing else to do. I know this feeling, but it's been awhile. The growing hole inside that pulls you into a vacuum, the abyss. Until you clutch the edges with all your fingers and toes, and slowly pull them back together. Or finally let go and implode.
It's my fault. I should've reached over and grabbed her and held on to her as hard as I could. But I got distracted for a moment, and a moment is all it takes. Still, I should have done something more. Me, her support partner, the rock. The rock. The rock.
A melody plays softly in my head. I slowly switch on the electric piano, and close my eyes. An image fills up inside. We're back at Cafe Tempo, except this time there's just the two of us, and I'm sitting behind that old piano playing this same tune. Kali stands and begins a dance. I know it. We saw the ballet together in L.A months ago. She is dancing Giselle's final solo. After she finds out that the one she loves, who means everything to her, is not what she believes.
In Kali's eyes, there is eternal sadness. But she turns gracefully in a pirouette, her head arching back, her arms extending into infinity.
Beautiful movement.
August 14, 7:38 p.m.
The Fettucini Alfredo tastes good tonight. The warm cheese sticks to my teeth, refusing to let go. I know it's as fattening as eating a stick of butter, but I don't care. It's tradition. A treat I give myself whenever I present one of my new songs. So when it's turned down, at least my stomach is full.
For six nights a week, this is just another West Hollywood Italian restaurant, with its plastic Renaissance statues and paintings. But on Thursday nights, it's the home of the Los Angeles Songwriters Alliance's weekly pitch-a-thon. Near the door, where the salad bar’s usually set up, is a replica of a game show's big wheel of fortune, stood up on its side, with about eighty numbered demos clipped to it, ready for cassette roulette.
Underneath it sits this week’s guest, Brad Sherwin, music publisher. Not someone who actually publishes music in the traditional sense, like printing out fancy sheet music and selling it at music stores. Today, they're really more of a songwriter's agent. If a record company gets a cassette from a publisher they know and trust, they'll probably give it a listen.
He starts listening to the songs on the cassettes dangling off the wheel and comments on them. He's brutal. So rough that the organization's coordinator walks over and tapes a small sign in front of his table. It says "Please don't shoot me."
Behind me, I hear one of the back wall gang grumble, "What an asshole." Of course, that's what they all say every week, just louder this time. Bitter. I hope I don't end up like that.
The singer on the cassette that's playing yells "I wanna hold on to you when the Big One comes." After it ends, Brad laughs, "Hey, I wanna hold on to this. I get a lot of calls for earthquake songs."
I shake my head and watch the cassette with my latest song being pulled off the top of the wheel. I don't care if he rips it, I didn't bring it for him. I brought it to play for my friends. To let them hear what I wrote the day after Kali passed away. To share with them the feelings I had. But maybe it's too personal, too painful. Maybe it'll just make people feel awkward. But it's too late, I hear my piano intro.
I close my eyes. For a moment, it feels like she's back again. When I open them again, even the folks in the back are nodding. The music fades. There's silence.
"I'd like to listen to this one again," Brad says.
A booming voice announces "It's a keeper! Number 72, 'Dancing with Darkness' by Chris Savigor."
October 11, 10:51 p.m.
"Do you have Billboard magazine?"
"Yeah, right here."
I'm hoping the grocery clerk asks me why, so I can tell him I want to see if my song's on the Top-Forty chart this week. But he doesn't. He just goes back to stamping price tags.
And why not? Who would've known that "Dancing with Darkness" could even be recorded by now? I sure didn't. But Brad knew. He knew that Sheeba was finishing up her latest album and came up a couple songs short because of some contract problems. And he knew there was something in "Dancing With Darkness" that would grab people. It had sure grabbed me.
But the record producer made the song upbeat. To me it sounds surreal, but to most people it just sounds cool. Like the singer's hinting at some dark secret she's holding deep inside. She even called me from the recording studio to tell me how much she liked the song. And then the record company decided to release it as the first single from the album.
Great, they have the latest issue. I know where the Top-Forty list is by memory.
There's my song. Twenty-six, with a bullet.
My heart's beating faster. I can feel how crisp the air is as it passes by my lips down to the bottom of my lungs. The buzz. Everything seems more real.
Wait. I hear it. The clerk standing next to me is humming "Dancing with Darkness."
November 8, 3:02 p.m.
The receptionist smiles, flashing perfectly polished, capped teeth. She's cute, perky, the kind you'd expect in a music publisher's office, underneath the gold records and paparazzi photos. The difference is the gold record over her head has my song on it. She quickly glances down to my left hand. Looking for a wedding ring? She smiles again, this time squinting her eyes a bit, flirting. How times have changed. I get a bit excited.
I have new songs for Brad. I've been working on them for months now. I've used all those ideas that have been churning in the back of my mind. All those things I've wanted to say. All those feelings that have been gnawing at my insides. My new little children, longing to be heard.
He waves me into his office, stands up, briskly shakes my hand, then turns his palm upwards. I give him my cassette and sit down. He drops it into his deck and hits the play button. My music begins. I wait.
After it ends, he smiles. I smile.
"Nice songs," he says, "nice songs." He leans way back in his high-back leather chair and yanks open the closet door behind him. A stack of cassettes teeter inside, reaching up to the coat bar. A few roll down to the floor and under his chair. "I'm up to my neck in nice songs. Where's the hit?"
December 27, 5:06 p.m.
I feel like I’ve got a cattle prod jabbed into me. Every time my mind starts to wander, another part of me goes bzzzt, back to work.
Even here at the Pizza Palace and Good Time Emporium, where everything is supposed to be fun, fun, fun. A family laughs together next to me. Little kids are jumping into the ball pit, or banging on video games. Up on the stage, a mechanical Farley the Fox and his animatronic band are singing their version of "Happy Birthday" yet one more time.
You know where you stand with your publisher when the only time he can fit you in is during dinner on Friday, when he has visitation rights to his kids from his second wife. And he's late. And you're waiting, with your latest songs. The ones you've slaved over day and night for more than a month.
Where can he be? I don't know. I don't even know where I'm at right now. In the big scheme of things. I guess somewhere between a wanna-be and has-been. But down deep inside, I worry that someday they'll stamp just one name on my tombstone.
One Hit Wonder.
You see, if you haven't made it yet, there's still the chance that you will someday. Just like those vanity record company letters say, even Paul Simon and Alanis Morisette were once unknowns.
But when you finally have a song go all the way to the top and can't follow it up, people start to wonder. Either it was just a fluke, in which case you're a fraud. Or you're too stupid to figure what you did right the first time around. Or you're too lazy to use the talent others would kill for. You've shot your wad, and now you're just lying on your butt somewhere.
There he is. I stand up and wave. He sees me, comes over to my table, gives his kids a handful of tokens, and sends them off to the video games. We exchange a few pleasantries, then I hand him the cassette. He pops it in his portable tape player, puts on the headphones, and sits back to listen. He has the volume cranked up pretty loud, because I can hear the chorus of the first song.
We got all night to make it all right
Turn out the light, get next to me
'Cause we got all night to make it all right.
Hold on tight, you'll see
Just what you've done to me.
He's shaking his head. C'mon, c'mon, I think. Like them. This is it. I don't know what else to do.
He finishes the third song, then clicks off his cassette player. Leans back. Takes a bite of pizza. Takes another bite of pizza. "Not bad, not bad. The first one's got real potential."
Yes. A second chance. I smile. "So you'll pitch it to the labels?"
"Yeah, sure, it's a lot better than those snoozers you gave me last time. But we'll have to pep it up some, and yank out that bridge. It's dragging down the whole song. Don't worry, we'll work on it."
"But the bridge says what the whole song's about."
"Who cares? Just keep them guessing. Most listeners are operating at the brain stem level anyway."
I hesitate, then mumble "I care."
"Well, that's nice Chris. Save it for the Rolling Stone interview. Hey, look what I did with 'Dancing with Darkness'. When I first heard it at that goofy songwriter mercy-hearing, it would have bummed out Chuckles. But I could tell it had that hipper than thou, 'I don't know what it's about, but I'll nod along so everyone will think I'm cool' thing going for it. It just needed some candy coating, so it'd go down easy. And now it's real popular at high-school proms."
I shudder. "You've got to be joking. The song's about death."
"Look, it's got 'dancing' in the title and that slow rhythm beat. They turn the lights down low for the 'darkness' part, and the little morons get to do some groping."
My stomach clenches as I imagine the scene. "I think I'm going to throw up. Brad, can’t you stop them?"
"Hey, I got no control over who uses the song as long as they're paying the licensing fees."
I can picture the scene. A glitter ball overhead. My song being played by guys in tuxes.
Wait, I really do hear it. I look over at the stage. The mechanical band is starting to play my song.
Farley the Fox's mouth starts moving. "Hi ya folks. Hope you're having fun, fun, fun tonight. And don't forget to try out our new Turkey Pizza Delight. 'Cause when you do you'll be..." The music swells to the chorus, and Farley sings "...dancing with dark meat..."
Brad turns to me, and whispers hard, "don't do anything. It's just a stupid gimmick."
But it's too late.
"Aaaah!" I rush the stage. My first swing crushes Farley's snout, and smashes the cones of the speaker next to it. I keep swinging. There's twisted metal, bits of fur, blood. My knuckles are bleeding. Three guys grab me and wrestle me to the floor.
The manager stands up, looks over at the mechanical mess, then glares down at me. "Look what you've done to Farley."
"But it was ruining my song."
"What? 'Dancing with Dark Meat'?"
The two cooks hold me in a tighter grip. The manager yells to the cash register station,
"Call the police!" Then he turns back to me. "You're going to jail for this."
What can I do?
I see Brad in front of me, waving hundred dollar bills and his check book, telling them I'm soft in the head. That he's my dad. That I don't know what I'm doing. That he'll take care of it.
It confuses them long enough for me to break free.
He looks at me, shakes his head, and silently mouths "run."
I bolt out the front door to the parking lot. I jump in my car, start it up, and tear out onto Santa Monica Boulevard, heading west.
I'm sorry I went berserk. I'm sorry the little kids had to watch the crazy man kill Farley the Fox. But I'm not sorry I smashed the damn machine. No, I'm not sorry about that.
December 27, 5:43 p.m.
My car phone wails, demanding attention. Reluctantly, I pick it up. "Hello."
"Is this Chris Savigor?"
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"Frank Collier from the law firm of Williams, Ziegler, and Collier. You're in a hell of lot of trouble."
I slowly shake my head. "You guys sure move fast. I just left the Pizza Palace a few minutes ago. Are they really going to sue me over bashing Farley the Fox?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. We're suing you for plagiarizing 'Dancing with Darkness'."
My jaw drops. "What... who are you representing?"
"The estate of Kali Riegel"
"We found some of her handwritten notes. And it has lines right out of your lyrics. You've got a lot of nerve, thinking no one would ever find out. Well, you're wrong and we're going to nail you in court. Think about that." Dial tone.
I slowly put the phone down. Street lights whirl by in a blur. A car horn blares. A car crosses right in front of me. I swerve hard to the right. Tires squeal. Just missed it. I look in the rear-view mirror and see that the last traffic light was red. The phone rings again. It's another partner of the same firm, apologizing for his colleague, and offering to settle the matter amicably. In L.A., even the litigation lawyers play good cop/bad cop.
I call Trina, Kali's sister. She already knows about it. "Yes, they showed me the lyrics yesterday, but I told them you never saw them. Nobody had. They were in her personal diary. The one I gave her on her thirteenth birthday. A big sister to little sister thing."
"What was the date on the lyrics?"
Pause. "The night she left us. She wrote it in the motel room. So there was no way you could have seen it. The police found the diary in the room and held on to it. Then they turned it over to the estate lawyers."
"But how could I have written the same words she wrote?"
"That's what the lawyers asked me. They figure she gave you the original at the cafe and then wrote the words down again later. But that's not what happened, is it?"
"No, I had no idea they were her words at all. They came to me when I first played the melody the next day."
"I think she really wanted to finish that song and needed you to do it, to fill in the gaps. You know she was only good with ideas. She'd get so excited at first, but then run dry halfway through. She always told me you're the one who's good at working out the details. She'd just get frustrated and give up."
"But when I first thought of those words, Kali was..." I still have trouble saying it, but I have to be blunt. "Kali was dead."
December 27, 11:28 p.m.
It would be so easy.
Like driving down a two-lane road. Only one sharp turn of the wheel to the left. Like standing on an open ledge. Only one step out. Like sitting here in this tub. Only one handful of tranquilizers. That's all that separates me from the abyss.
Why does everything else have to be so hard?
I'm so totally drained, that the only thing left is the hole. But I could forget about this. I could throw the pills away and just go to bed. I'll wake up tomorrow. Get dressed. Have breakfast. Brush my teeth.
And then what? And then what?
I can't write songs anymore. Even if I did, who'd publish them? Who'd record them? After they've heard about the lawsuit, I'll be too big a risk. And even if they did record them, how could I bear to see another song, another child, contorted afterwards? Knowing that one day, one of these children will come back from the freak show and stab a stake through my stomach.
So all those songs I've wanted to write, all those things I've wanted to say, they can never be said.
I hear a melody. Voices singing. The Sirens are calling me.
I twist the top off the bottle.
I hear another voice. I know this voice.
Kali. Why?
Do you want me to be with you? Why? I remember that look in your eyes the day we wrote our only song together. When you danced. When I said goodbye. That look of emptiness.
No. I won't do it.
I grab the edge of the tub and spin myself around, causing a wave to splash over the sides, just like when I was a kid. I thrust my head under the faucet. The rush of water stings my eyes. I open my mouth, and water fills it, flowing over my lips. To taste it, touch it, see it, hear it. That's all there is, that's all there has to be. And if it was all gone, if I was really plunged into the void, I'd do anything to have it back again. Even for a moment, even inside someone else's head. Someone who could imagine it.
Oh, Kali, now I know. Alone, naked, in this grimy old tub. I know.
Why the Sirens sing.
The melody grows louder in my mind. I stand up, throw on a bathrobe and go to my old piano. Can't lose the moment. There's nothing to record with. I've trashed it all. But it doesn't matter.
My fingers rub against the keys as I start playing the melody I'm hearing. They feel like the floor boards at Cafe Tempo after I'd taken off my shoes. I close my eyes and I'm there again, surrounded by light and shadows. A figure is coming out of the darkness. I know who it is, but I still gasp, feeling the corners of my eyes go wet.
I keep playing the melody. Even with my eyes closed, my fingers know where to go as they feel their way up and down the keys. I see her more clearly now. She's not wearing makeup anymore. I want to open my eyes. If I do, maybe she'll really be there. But I know better, so I just keep them closed.
Part of me wants to let go. To go after her. To crash. But she needs the dependable one. She needs the rock.
I can feel her breath against my face, her arms around me, as we slowly dance to the melody I'm playing. Her face is moist against mine. Or maybe it's my own tears. It doesn't matter.
"I'm so sorry," I say, "I'm so..."
"Shhh...," she whispers, "just keep playing.”

©1997  John Gerner
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