by Keely O’Shaughnessy
A WEEK AFTER I tell my husband the tune we shared is fading, he becomes a double bass. His head, the spiralling, turned wood of his scroll, mimics what were once greying curls. His pegbox mouth and chin sit proud, and he seems to like his new slender neck. He fills the house with music. Songs written in 3/4 time or classical overtures that echo around our tiled bathroom. In the kitchen, he tries out rhythmic embellishments, his sound warbling. He’s taken on a new tempo that I can’t seem to match.
As I dish up spoonfuls of peas and potatoes, my husband croons the first bars of “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Slow and melodic, he’s trying to catch my attention. He tilts his lacquered maple body so that I’m pressed into the deep curve of his rib. He slides through his scales, and up there in the higher register, I can tell he’s asking a question.
He wants to twirl me about with sound alone. In an attempt to be as supple as he desires, I tap out a beat with my serving spoon before thinking better of it and turning away.
He tries again stretching out the notes this time. They waiver, crackling slightly.
‘I’m about to eat,’ I say, knowing that music is all he needs to nourish him now.
The strings on his fingerboard continue to vibrate, and I shuffle to the dining table. He’s leaner now than he’s ever been, his paunch gone; he’s tall and polished, but all I can think about is the emptiness of his middle: a cavity only filled with sound. Perhaps if he were a ukulele and played Jack Johnson songs, songs that evoked Hawaii and cocktails and warmth. Perhaps if I knew the correct way to hold a bow, how to fully engage the strings and draw out a sound that resonates.
Sat alone at the table, I tell myself he’s the one beating out of time.
After two weeks of unrequited love songs, we’re invited to a party. The invitation floats through the letter box and my husband RSVPs with a jaunty tune before I have a chance to argue. I take a bowl of seven-layer dip, and lobster devilled eggs. My husband takes music requests, and the host slips off her heels to dance a jig on her Turkish rug.
I want to leave, but as the final notes chime, I can feel him looking for me. Not with his eyes, for they are no longer there, but through his shape, the twist of his endpin, the rise of his bridge. The way his music vibrates through each of the guest’s limbs, through the pair of discarded heels still on the rug. He sings louder than any words we used to share. He trips into a bluesy number. Urging me: remember when you used to shake your hips and sway, remember late nights at that club on corner of Nelson Street, dancing until we were kicked out onto the cobblestones and drifted home arm in arm?
I try moving my body to-and-fro; I want to remember how, but my joints are stiff. My step touch is juddery. As more guests join the throng, the warmth in my cheeks is half shame, half jealousy at their bodies shimmying so close to him and so freely. A woman in a sequinned dress sidles towards him, and the host continues to wiggle her hips as he plays. I stand still. He’s theirs more than mine now, now that he’s more music than man, and they are the ones who can match his rhythm.
Keely O’Shaughnessy (she/her) is a fiction writer with Cerebral Palsy, who lives in Gloucestershire, U.K. She has writing forthcoming with Bath Flash Fiction and Versification. She has been published by Ellipsis Zine, NFFD, Complete Sentence, Reflex Fiction and Emerge Literary Journal, among others. Find her at keelyoshaughnessy.com or on Twitter @KeelyO_writer.