Short Story: The Duet

I wanted to break out of editing my novel and my beta reading projects, so I sat down and wrote a short story. This is the result of wanting to try a different point of view and tense…

It was the third week of spring. I was playing an imaginary game, probably I thought I was a hero avenging some great evil. I had forgotten that the empty house next door was no longer uninhabited, and crossed the property line.

You were kneeling in the middle of a freshly tilled patch of soil with your skirt spread around you like a flower. I didn’t even see you, much less where I was going. My game carried me through your precious garden. The shy seedlings you had been cultivating with excitement had only just showed their faces. My fancies wrought a destructive dance on your fragile magnus opus, unaware until you pushed me out. When I realized what I had done, my heroism was also crushed and I apologized with tears. You accepted my apology but gave me a few pointers on grown up behavior. We must have been ten.

I stop to remember. Even I, with a healthy mind, have difficulty with the past. Random moments, with little importance attached, shout for attention. I pick another one up.

You liked to sing. You always sang. When you were alone you sang. I know because I did homework in the treehouse on the edge of our lot just to listen to you sing. I can’t say it was beautiful, though in reflection, I think it must have been, but I considered the lyrics you invented to be very intelligent. I asked you once to sing one again and you had forgotten it, so I begin to write the words as you sang them. I lost the book sometime ago in the move, but I have pieces of your imagination mixed with that of the greats in my head.

Yes, you like to sing. I tortured a violin and neither of us called it music. My mother, however, had impressions–did we agree that she was tone deaf?–about my “talents”. She asked if we would do a special at Church. I still don’t know what happened, only that I didn’t say yes, but somehow the Pastor thought we were doing it.

There was very little practice in our wake when we stepped up in front of the congregation. It dawned on me for the first time as you stood at my two o’clock that you would be pretty if your face wasn’t red from crying. I had no idea what caused this pre performance breakdown but you assured me that it didn’t have anything to do with me or my music.

My curiosity distracted me as I sawed at the steel cords, though I doubt it affected the quality of my playing. In the end, our duet was a disaster. You abruptly stopped singing one third of the way through the piece because we were in two opposing keys. Years later, we agreed that I had accidentally transposed it (which you asserted was a genius of its own). You told me it was my fault but I told you I just needed you to sing louder. I did said I was sorry for causing you embarrassment.

You told me to laugh it off, that even the mistakes weren’t a big deal if I faced them right. You told me that God could make me a great violinist if I worked with Him.

I look up and see her smiling at me. I check my watch. There is still time and she seems interested by my stories. I fast forward and choke on the first words.

I asked your Dad. With his encouragement, I didn’t waste any time in planning. I invited you to dinner and instructed that you to wear your best. You did. I think the dress was new; you must have bought it for the occasion.

I picked you up in my car, I was proud of it, and we drove to town. We talked like always.

You were flustered by the restaurant I chose. You had never been anywhere so expensive. I got nervous the moment I opened the door for you.

We were shown to a candlelit table for two. I pulled out your chair for you; you’ve since told me you didn’t notice my manners, but I know they weren’t wasted.

Then I sat in my seat, and I felt as if an expensive rug had been pulled from under me. I couldn’t feel the wallet I always had in my back pocket. You were already searching the menu, asking me what the words meant. I told you about the problem, ashamed of my mistake.

You informed me, gently, it was the kind you could forgive. We sat in my car and you found some cash in the glovebox–was it really from your purse? I was wondering if I should attempt to salvage my plan for the evening when you suggested we get a burger. My mind was made up then and there. I asked you to be my wife in the parking lot of Jack in the Box.

She reaches out her hand and I take it in mine. It’s warm and soft.

“Do you remember?” I ask one heartbeat away from hurt.

She doesn’t answer. All she says is, “Tell me more.”

Marie had grown up in the Lord. We had no doubts about her character and I extensively vetted Darren. But still we panicked when he asked to court her.

She laughs with me. Both of us look toward the picture framed on the wall. The little family is our legacy.

We wanted the best for her, but he does too.

They invited us to their home to see our first grandchild. You were afraid to fly, so they paid our gas. We traveled seventy miles on the wrong road and camped on the side of the road by the woods. You were scared to be out there at night, but I promised to protect you. I meant it, but you were mad at me when you found I was asleep in the morning.

I forget where I am. I don’t know how long I’m lost. She calls me back with a squeeze of my hand.

You were officially diagnosed with dementia. We went home and I thought you would be sad. I wasn’t surprised though when you wanted to watch a movie. It was so stupid I don’t even remember the title, but it cracked you up–you know you get hysterical when you’re stressed out.

I want to laugh and cry, but I only cry.

“I’m not dying yet,” she comforts me. “I do still remember some of those things, though not in the details.”

I look into her eyes. They are just as deep and amber as ever.

The Duet quote

“Don’t be sad,” she speaks again. “I asked for stories, not just to remind me, but to
remind you. I wanted you to laugh over the duet. Yes, the bumps hurt, the stress, the mistakes, the garden, but when you look back and see what God has blessed us with what He has done through us, you can laugh at the flat notes. We
are a duet.”

I have nothing to say. She is once again my Jack in the Box angel; she always has been.

“I love you. You’ve been so wonderful, and I couldn’t ask for a better husband. I do know it will be painful when I forget more or change. It may get hard to talk, but–” she stops.

“What?” I encourage her. I don’t want her thoughts to go unfinished.

“I’d love to listen to you play.”

I pull my hand away and rub my fingers together. My hands are wrinkled now but the pads are calloused. I can feel the vibration of strings held beneath them. I haven’t played for over fifty years.

“I only remember one song.”

“That’s good both ways. You’ll perfect it, and it’ll be brand new performance for me each time.”

I know she is only half teasing but I like to see her grin. It makes her beautiful.

There is a knock on the door. My eldest son is here to drive me to an appointment. Every time I have to leave, I wonder if she won’t know me when I come back. I stand up and lean over to whisper in her ear, “I need you to sing louder.”

She giggles.

The End

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