Echoes – an essay

Three notes. Three notes pulsating through the darkness. Something within me rises to meet them. I’ve never heard them before, but I could swear a buried memory wants to claim them. Around me, the dimmed theatre sits hushed as the opening chords of “The Mighty Rio Grande” whisper in. For a moment, the movie takes a back seat to its own score; the story somehow overshadowed by the melody.

The moment passes. But somehow the music touched somewhere. Stirred something.

You know the feeling: a chord, an arpeggio, a riff . . . you hear it, and a memory explodes across your mind. A memory so clear, so present, you can taste, smell it. You’re there. Somehow.

“Jessica’s Theme” . . . It’s dusk; I’m on a ridge looking down across the North Carolina mountains. Fog slowly fills the fields, puddling like some lazy stream. A breath of mountain air ruffles my hair and whispers on through the trees. Absolute solitude. Reverence. Stars fight their way through the last light of the bleeding sun, their icy brilliance adding another dimension to the deepening void. That song somehow takes me there every time.

Through the years a group of songs has become so entwined through my being all I need to hear is one whisper–notes through the open window of a passing car, a barely-caught bar while scanning the radio, background mall music–and my senses jump on edge. Ears straining to catch it. Imagination somehow already replaying the scenes. “Taps,” “Bolero,” bagpipes wailing “Amazing Grace,” “Freedom,” others . . .

What is it? I hear it. Eyes widen. A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth. I feel myself turning to the nearest person. Wanting to explain. To share. The half-smile freezes. The words die before they’re born. I’ve learned–it’s not their memory. It’s mine. I sit back.

In the theatre. Not alone, but alone, I take in the music. Acknowledging the rare moment–the moment when another song adds itself to your life’s playlist. You don’t pick the songs. They pick you.

I sit back and listen.

*author’s note: I wrote this on September 27, 2011, but over the last week a couple of songs crossed my path again. They took me back. Way back. So I decided to dig in my files and dust this off. Hope you enjoy it.

Clocks – a short story

7:45. The grandfather clock in the corner of the old florist shop let out a soulful “gong” as he entered. Stepping past banks of daisies, he headed for the counter.

“Mikey!” he called to the old man at the table.

Spinning in his chair, Mikey’s eyes sparkled. A beatific smile cracked his wizened face. “Hey, bud! I’ve got it all ready for ya. Whadya think?” In his gnarled hands, he held a beautiful arrangement.

Gently accepting the flowers, he shook his head in astonishment. “Stunning, as always.”

“I figured what with it being such an important day an’ all, you’d want somethin’ a little extra special…no charge of course.” The little man hesitated, and looked up with a shy smile, “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Bending down, he grabbed Mikey in a hug, feeling the tiny frame almost brittle in his arms.

“You will soon, my friend.”

Waving goodbye, he jogged out of the shop and to his waiting car. He carefully laid the flowers beside the cooler in the front seat and turned on the ignition. The clock on the dash read 7:58. He was going to have to push it to make it in time.

The sun was flirting with the horizon as he pulled off the freeway at 8:21. Nine minutes left. His pulse picked up and he felt the familiar dryness in his mouth. Fumbling for a piece of gum, he whipped into a parking space. He gently grabbed the flowers and cooler and stepped from the car, eyes already scanning the crowd searching for her. He flashed back for a second to the first time he’d seen her – standing across the room at a party, tall and elegant in a simple black dress, high heels perfectly matched with a small clutch, a rebellious strand of dark hair falling behind her ear and tracing the line of her neck, looking slightly lost as her date chatted with an associate. Her curious eyes roamed the crowd before locking with his. They stood for a moment studying each other; finally, with a small nod and a tip of her glass she turned back to her companion. From that first moment, and during all their time together, he still couldn’t believe how much she could communicate with a look. She’d always been a woman of few words, but her eyes spoke volumes.

His eyes lit up, and he quickened his pace. Glancing down, he checked his watch. 8:24. A couple minutes to spare. Settling down in the grass, he held out the flowers, “Happy anniversary, baby! Mikey really outdid himself this time. You know, he really loves it every month when I come by to get your flowers. No way I’d trust anyone else to do it.” Cracking open the cooler, he lifted out a package wrapped in foil. “And I’ve got the cake too. I figured I’d at least bring it. Probably gonna taste horrible after a year in the freezer, but if it tastes anything as good as it did last year, it’s worth a shot.”

The sun sank into oblivion sending flames of color across the evening sky. Pulling his iPod from his pocket, he turned on Coldplay. The digital readout showed 8:30. In the trees behind them, a lone whippoorwill took up a mournful dirge. The sky became a canvas splashed with a million shades of color – pink, red, orange, tangerine, ochre, purple, and gray all mixed together and ran in bleeding rivers across the horizon. The evening breeze whispered across the grass bidding welcome to the shades of night.

Flat on his back, he looked up watching Venus flame into existence. Closing his eyes, he breathed it all in, holding on, embracing the moment before exhaling in a long low sigh. He gently pushed himself up on his elbow and turned towards her.

“Tell me what you see,” he whispered. The melancholy music and haunting bird calls were the only answer.

Tears welled up in his eyes. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Curling up against the gravestone, he closed his eyes.


(Thanks to “1 Story a Week” for the inspiration behind this.)