Even in the silence, I can hear music. My pen scratching on paper; the bitter wind wailing at the bay window; snowflakes sticking to the ground and beginning to pile in the field beyond. The words I write, in those letters I’ll never send, are music to my own ears. And I am the conductor, too, constantly leaning into the sound, my hands willing and prying the music from the woodwinds, then the strings. A symphony of emotions alive in my head, with a trembling vibrato and burning crescendo. And as the movement draws to a close, as the fermata holds that last glistening note--
What utter melancholia.
I set my pen down, eyes staring blankly at the world outside. My own reflection gazed back at me, and for a moment, I couldn’t recognize myself. Then my features began to melt into being, as if the window had been a mirror, foggy after a scorching shower—yes. It’s clear now. There she is. Somewhere behind the steam. Is it such a terrible thing to mourn the dead when they themselves have not yet died?
Well. He’s dead to me, I suppose. Gone. Never coming back. So it’s the same thing, really. Maybe I should write a eulogy, or an epitaph, really set his death in stone. I chuckled a bit despite myself, leaning back in the chair and stretching. The leather armchair screeched in protest, waking Licorice with a jolt from his nap on the windowsill. I could see the indignation in his yellow eyes as he yawned, reminding me of his sharp teeth, and resettled himself.
Serves him right.
I jumped in my chair with a start. Licorice snarled at the noise—I really should just buy a new one—and he hopped down from his seat and walked away, black tail raised in the air.
“Sorry?” I managed to say, swiveling the leather chair around dramatically, like I was some nameless Bogartian gumshoe who always swung his desk chair around dramatically.
“You said, ‘Serves him right,’” said Heather, suddenly before me.
“Oh,” I said, having not heard her come in. “I didn’t know I said it out loud.”
I hated her smile. It was gorgeous for one thing, and always painted a bright red apple color, for another. Tempting, I guess, to certain people.
She stepped further into the room, the shadows of snowflakes falling down her pale face. “But you weren’t just talking about the cat, were you?”
I folded my arms, swiveling the chair back around. I could almost hear Heather wince from behind me at its groan.
“You know, you could just buy another chair. God knows you can afford it.”
Fake and jealous.
I absently picked at the worn leather. “Nah, think I’ll keep it. Growing on me.”
A few seconds passed, and I could tell that she hadn’t moved away. “No,” I said at last. “I wasn’t talking about the cat. Well, I was, but also…yeah. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
Heather sighed. “It would be easier if you just told me what was going on. I’m worried about you!”
I had to laugh. “You! Worried?”
“We’re all worried,” she said, heels clacking on the white oak floor as she stood beside me at the desk. “What’s this?”
I slammed my arm down on the desk with more force than I intended, surprising us both. “Don’t.”
“I said, don’t.”
“And why not?” she asked, a smirk disfiguring her pretty face.
“They’re personal. Need any other reason?”
“I was just curious. You don’t have to bite my head off.”
“Ha!” I said, gathering my letters in my hands, straightening them and sliding them in the drawer. “I wouldn’t if you dared me. Disgusting.”
“You’re so weird.”
“Too bad we’re related, then. I hear weirdness is genetic.”
Heather flicked my shoulder with her apple-colored fingernails, but said nothing.
We both stared out the large windows into the wintery abyss. The day was nearing its end, the woods at the end of the field deep blue silhouettes against the darkening sky. And if I tilted my head to the side, I could hear in the distance the music in my letters, calling me, inviting me to pick up my baton and guide them once more.
Heather shivered. “Have you really been in here all day?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not really. But it’s kind of depressing, isn’t it? Locking yourself up in here.”
“I guess you’ve just never been depressed then.”
“Well… You’ve got me there, Charlotte,” she said slowly with a certain coyness that made me grit my teeth.
“Did you come here for a reason?”
“Just checking up on you. You can’t hide in here forever.”
I turned to her, raising my eyebrows and offering a bemused look. Two can play coy. “Who said anything about hiding? …Now, if you don’t mind, I was in the middle of something just now.”
“Sure,” she said. And then, as if she had been holding it in all along, blurted in a garble, “I’m-just-so-sorry-about-David!”
It was like one of those moments on cheesy medical dramas, you know, where they tell you that your favorite character has terminal cancer, but it’s not like you believe them at first, and maybe the diagnosis is wrong and it’s just to draw in more viewers. But then the audio starts playing Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars, and all of a sudden, the reality hits you all at once. I didn’t move. I couldn’t.
I didn’t reply. After all, what was there to say? Thank you for being sorry for bringing him home with your friends that one Thanksgiving? Sorry that after that skiing trip in the Adirondacks, the one where you stood around helpless like a bunny in the snow, that he and I grew close? That I was so lonely I accidentally fell in love with the man you’re marrying next week? Sorry, that I had to watch from the sidelines as he slowly broke away from me and ran to you? That I had to see you tempt him with your apple lipstick? Sorry that he wasn’t who I thought he was?
Yeah. There really wasn’t much I could say.
“I mean, I know he didn’t mean it when he made that comment last night about the dishes. Honestly. That man!” She coughed a forced laugh, and I despised her. “Anyway,” she continued, “Thanks so much for putting us up here for the weekend. I love your place. God, I hope we can buy a house like this when we’re your age.”
I hadn’t realized she’d left the room until I heard a car pulling out of the gravel driveway. By then, it had already been too late. She just had to pull back the scab, didn’t she? Just had to pick at it like a brash kindergartener.
Looking around and seeing nothing, I realized it was fully dark now. I switched on my desk lamp, blinking twice, and carefully withdrew the letters one by one. Letters dating back months, years, all to the same person and all never sent. Vulnerability requires courage, which was why he would never know how much of myself I had spilled onto those pages; how much music I had composed that would never be heard. I heard a symphony in my head, so I took out a fresh milky sheet, my pen dancing like fingers on the keys of a piano.
Perhaps love really was for the young and foolish. And perhaps I had been a fool for thinking I could come so close to it. I had thought he was… No, it didn’t matter what I thought. It mattered what was. I chuckled again. I really should write his eulogy.