Categories
fiction

Clef by Melissa Goode

The bus runs down Broadway, from the Bronx through Harlem out to Bowling Green. I listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, beginning with “So What” and I will reach, “All Blues”.

A man boards the bus, carries a little girl, about three years old, and he takes the steps one-two-three, sure. His height, his dark hair, he could be you.

He is not you for many reasons, not least of which it is eight A.M. Monday morning and you would have already made two hundred coffees for commuters at Terminal Four.

#

“So What”, starts slow, so slow, as if it will not start at all. It is interlude, hiatus, the spaces between.

#

The man settles the little girl on the seat beside him. He touches a kiss to the crown of her head and the bus starts to move again.

#

In your bed, you gripped my arms, said into my ear, relax. I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. I inhaled your man shampoo and man bodywash and beneath that, your skin, warming to hot. In the low yellow lamplight, the crucifixion tattoo on your arm glowed.

#

You lived close to JFK, the air smelled of jet fuel, of leaving, but I moved in with you, regardless.

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I sat you down on the couch, said, for the love of god listen to this and I played on the stereo, “It Never Entered My Mind”. You crossed your arms over your chest, said, honey, it’s background, I can’t hear it at all.

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The man unwraps a sandwich, takes a bite before giving it to the little girl. She grins up at him, hand on hip. He winks, elbows her. I turn to the window.

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You said, I don’t get why you obsess about jazz. You type for a living.

It was an awful Tuesday evening when the storm would not break and it built and blackened and the air-con stopped and the fan turned its face slack and slow from side to side like it was 1980 and I tried to work out whether we could eat the five-day expired sour cream on our tacos.

I don’t type, I said. I fucking data process.

#

You said, don’t leave any marks, while I kissed your neck and the trumpet on “Blue in Green” dragged and soared up and up.

I said, say sorry.

You laughed, said, no, never.

I straightened, pulled away and you dragged me back down, pressed sorry into my burning skin, a quiet sorry, maybe not sorry at all.

#

We sweated on the couch, slicked together, so wet it didn’t matter, urgent and fuck’s-sake-we-should-do-it-like-this-all-the-time and you said, this is the magic of make-up sex. The magic was the nightstand with the box of condoms was too far away and I said, let’s not worry and you said, anyway, it might be nice? And when you pushed into me, I was obliterated.

#

You bought me a long white T-shirt imprinted with a treble clef running from neck to thigh. You joked about the T-shirt being half-price at Macy’s, they were giving them away.

The treble clef made me think of sex with you, the curves and spirals, the spike. It made me think of beginnings.

You said I’d grow into the T-shirt, that soon it wouldn’t fit at all. It hung from my shoulders and I stretched it out with my fingers, as if fitting it over my baby-heavy stomach, my fingers poked spidery against the cotton.

You smiled, said, look at that, look at you, you’re gonna be gorgeous.

#

In Queens Hospital, you sat in the chair beside my bed and there was a still full minute before you took my hand.

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A woman crossing the intersection at 110th Street screams at the driver of a cab stopped two inches from her leg. She raises her fist, flings it down.

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“Love for Sale” played loud on my noise-cancelling headphones. You pulled the headphones away, said, turn it off, said, listen to me. You put your mouth to my ear. I waited for you to speak but you said nothing and your lips rested there, warm, known, mine.

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The silence between your last word and you squeezing my foot through the sheet.

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I play on repeat the trumpet solo by Miles Davis on the soundtrack for the 1958 film “Ascensur pour l’ échafaud” (“Elevator to the Gallows”; also known as, “Lift to the Scaffold”).

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The little girl makes itsy bitsy spider hands as she sings to the man.

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You can’t make someone love you. You can’t make someone stay. They say this at the East Harlem Community Center on 99th Street in the Thursday night group therapy. We consume instant coffee in polystyrene cups and faintly Baptist affirmations, although our counselor promises they are non-denominational.

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The Miles Davis’ Stockholm 1960 recording of “Lover Man” starts with audience applause. It sounds like rain and now they are so many dead hands clapping for a dead man and his trumpet currently not on view at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

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In my share apartment, in my bedroom, I listen to music only with headphones, because I vowed I was quiet, clean, responsible, meaning—silent-invisible-not-flaky-employed-pays-the-rent-on-time.

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In bed, I trace the treble clef, it starts at my stomach, circles, rises over my sternum, cuts across my breast, sweeps up to my neck where it loops, then falls in a straight line to the center of me, where it stays.

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The driver calls a stop and the man stands, swoops up the little girl, and they move to the front of the bus. Her leg and pink sneaker swing behind him—tick-tock-tick-tock. She looks over his shoulder, her eyes close, she smiles—she is being carried. I feel the weight of her on my hip, a shared gravity, as if she is ours.

 

Visual art by Alexander Chubar

By gulfstreamlitmag

www.gulfstreamlitmag.com