Listening and Hearing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about listening–really paying attention to what people are saying to you, or to music you choose to play or audio programming you go out of your way for, either on the radio or through the Internet. And I thought that was going to be the subject of this post, the first in way too long. But work and travel and life in general have kept me either too busy or semi-depressed to find the time, so I’m cheating for now, just to keep C?WC? somewhat active.

Capehart radio

I have this radio!

Instead, I’m posting a short story I wrote in a class I took at the local community college this spring (a topic perhaps worthy  of its own post, given the slightly crazy nature of the experience…). I am the first to admit that I’m not a fiction writer, aside from my plays. And I doubt I’ll pursue fiction in a serious way in the near future (though there is that nebulous novel in my head I keep yakking about).  But I thought this story was a decent effort, for something that was mostly written in a 20-minute burst in class, with some revisions. And while it’s not about listening per se, it is about hearing–hearing stray music, and the thoughts and associations that can go with it. And it certainly ties in to the theme of this blog, since it directly relates to so many posts I wrote during the peak Crisis time–the dissolution of my marriage and the aftermath. Take a gander if you’re interested. Or don’t if you’re not.

Traveling

italy squareHe heard the sax first, an alto solo bouncing off the stone walls of the centuries-old buildings that crowded the narrow street. He followed the music as the solo returned to the melody—something by Charlie Parker? He couldn’t place it, but it was familiar. Maybe from a record Andy had played for him so many years ago.

Andy—thoughts of him always lessened Paul’s bouts of self-pity, like the one that had hit him just before the music had drifted his way. And the ones that had seized Paul throughout this trip. This adventure.

Well, this is what you said you craved, he thought to himself. A trip to Europe, alone. A trip to revive your soul and begin chipping away at the memories of her.

Andy would have wanted to come, if Paul had asked, but he knew it was pointless. Before, Andy had always been up for any adventure, a new path to knowledge, a chance to grow. But now, the vagabond days they once shared were over, as Andy’s broken brain chemistry left him stiff and walking like a stumbling drunk. Play a trumpet solo? Not likely, not now, not like the one Andy blew outside St. Paul’s Cathedral on their backpacking trip across Europe decades before.

Walking down the street, Paul could hear another musician now—a guitarist strumming chords under the sax’s melody. Then a voice rose above the two instruments, a soulful contralto. A woman’s voice, pure and clear. Nothing like hers.

Entering the square, he saw the three musicians playing for too small a crowd, given how many people were nearby enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. For Chrissakes, Paul wanted to scream, they’re pouring out their hearts for you. Pay attention! Listen! And maybe throw a few Euros their way.

The song ended. Paul joined in the meager applause, trying to draw out more by clapping harder. It didn’t work. After a moment’s huddled consultation, the trio began its next number. A ballad. The sax played softly beneath the singer as she crooned a Gershwin tune: “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

He loved that tune—usually. But now the melancholy returned. Sarah should have been there next to him, holding his hand, leaning in close, as the two of them shared this simple serene moment. A travel moment, the chance encounter on the street when beautifully played music scaled the old stone walls, reverberated through the square, and settled back down on them like a comforting cloud. A memory they would always have together. Perhaps when the song ended, he would motion her over to the band so he could take her picture with them, the tall, skinny saxophonist dangling his alto, the guitarist smiling behind his hollow-body, the singer striking a flirty pose. Perhaps he would have done that. But Sarah wasn’t beside him, and she wouldn’t be when he returned from this solitary sojourn. Or ever again.

She had been clear: No, there wasn’t anyone else. She just needed to be alone. She felt, perhaps not in an instant, Paul assumed, but in a slowly accumulating realization, that for 11 years she had never been comfortable living with him. Had never truly been herself. That tidbit stunned him, and he tried to imagine the weight of that emotional burden on her. And of course he hadn’t helped. He knew at times he had been insensitive to her needs, but she knew he could say the same thing. And he did, for what it was worth then. Because as soon as she said she wanted out, he knew it was over. No amount of pleading or bargaining or especially arguing was going to change that.

So, she moved out. After smoking one last cigarette on the porch steps, as the mosquitoes began to emerge and the moths darted around the floodlight and he watched her, as he usually did—their after-dinner ritual. She savored her one smoke of the day, he sat with her, and they talked. Except for that last time. When there was nothing to say.

From Gershwin, the trio moved to something more upbeat, almost poppy. He couldn’t place it. And despite the sadness swirling in him, he couldn’t shut off his automatic response to something with a happy bounce. His right foot began to tap, his head rocked in time to the music.

The moment brought him back to the canals of Venice many years before. He and Andy were drinking grappa with some girls they had met at the youth hostel. As they talked and laughed, Paul was in the scene but not part of it. He felt isolated and unloved. It was Andy the girls were drawn to, not him. Andy and his fucking trumpet. As Paul sat there, only the strains of an accordion coming from a nearby café kept him grounded, kept him from hurling himself into the fetid, dense waters of the canal. Well, all right, and a massive fear of death. He was not then and would never be suicidal. He would just wallow in his insecurity, his growing sense that he would never find true love. Three decades later, that sorry sentiment still clung to his heart.

Andy, he thought now, remember Andy. Who was Paul to moan about anything when Andy approached his diminishing physical capabilities with such grace, such wisdom. He said that to Andy, right after Sarah left and his grief spilled out in beer-fueled tears. Even in that moment of despair, he knew he had so much to be thankful for. And look at how well Andy bore his burden.

“Ah,” Andy had said. “You only see what I want you to see.” Paul recalled how Andy had struggled to get out the words, as he waited for the latest round of Parkinson meds to kick in. “I am no saint. And I have plenty of fears. Plenty of anger. We all deal with some shit in our lives, you know?”

The singer put down her mic and watched the guitarist stretch out with a solo. There was nothing flashy about it, which Paul liked. No speed for the sake of speed, no painful grimaces accompanying a bent note held too long. No, he went for honest emotion over histrionics, and Paul appreciated that. There was no effort to impress. It was just clean and simple.

Paul closed his eyes and listened to the notes roll out. Then, with just the slightest flourish at the end, the solo ended. The three musicians went back to the head, repeated it,  and then out. After a slightly more appreciative round of applause, the musicians signaled that they were done. The crowd began to wander off in different directions. Paul watched the band members pack up their instruments and the small sound system they used. He stared at the singer. She looked up and caught his gaze.

“You like it, yes?” she asked him as she wrapped the cord of her mic around her hand.

“Yes, very much,” he said, and he dug into his pocket to fetch some Euros, which he threw into the hat that still sat on the ground.

“Grazie,” she said. He knew he was still staring at her, though all he really saw was Sarah, an image of her from so many years before.

“You’re ok?” she asked.

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare. You look like someone I used to know,” he lied.

“You miss her,” she said.

“Yes. And all our travel moments. Shared memories”

“Ah, yes, very important. Making memories together.”

Paul smiled again and turned from her and her bandmates. Shadows were starting to streak the square. Almost dinner time, he thought, and he walked back the way he had come, hoping he could find a good restaurant.

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~ by mburgan on May 22, 2017.

2 Responses to “Listening and Hearing”

  1. Great story. Was right there in it.

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