Authors: Jessica Bell
by Jessica Bell
Copyright © Jessica Bell
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
E-book published by Vine Leaves Press 2012
Edmonton, AB, Canada
Trade paperback edition first published in 2011 by Lucky Press, LLC, Athens, Ohio, USA
Cover design © 2012 Jessica Bell
Cover image from Shutterstock © iko
This book is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental.
ALSO BY JESSICA BELL
If You Were Me
At times I wish I’d speak my mind
My thoughts are vile and you are blind
But what if I could house these thoughts
With wood and glue a hut of sorts
I’d lock them in
You wouldn’t see
The things you’d say
If you were me
If you were me
If you were me
You’d never feel the sting of shame
Corrupted hope a need to blame
So let me hide away from light
Away from grace and out of sight
I am not worth the effort, dear
Just solitude; no hate, no fear
This plastic smile is all I can give
Until the beat puts my heart back in
Don’t lock me in
I need to feel
I need to sing again
Let me be me
Let me be me
Let me be me
If music were wind, I would live in a hurricane. If it were a mother, I would sleep in her soothing womb. If I were music, I would simply be me, shrouding my existence in a monsoon. But I am not music, even though my name, Melody, suggests I could be. The closest I get to “being” music, is playing it, living it, embracing it as if it were the organ most vital to survival. I might say it was my heart. But no … I can’t give it a name, because it’s more like a sixth sense.
Music is the shadow of thought.
A muse for grief.
An unending moan.
A manic pandemonium that roams through rhyme and mimics my soul through mime. It masquerades selfish woes, masks my hollow lifestyle like warm, humming cellos. It’s a blend of folly and secretive gen, acoustic vignettes—motionless, yet moving.
Music is not meek; it’s neurotic, like me. An eternal vessel for pain that must be voiced and heard, but can’t reach its desired destination because it is trapped in the skin of a four-minute tune. Because of this time limit, I reject the constant sorrow I feel for abandoning my guitar in a corner of my bedroom. If only a song could last my lifetime, then I wouldn’t have to listen to that slice of silence, of domesticity, that makes me forget how much music means to me.
Now I’m a career woman—a mother, a wife, a “happy” homemaker—who lives a socially acceptable existence. Like a metronome. Tick. Tick. Tick. No dynamics, just monotonous responsibility. But between the octaves I play over and over in my mind every day, and the struggle to push my need to play guitar out of mind and get on with the life I chose to pursue, is the scent of reviving this need for music in my life; of understanding where this true love for music stems from and embracing the path I desire to follow. It’s time to dust off my lonely guitar and press my fingertips into its strings so hard that they mould around them. It’s time to live as
if I were music,
music were wind
. It’s time to live in a hurricane.
I gaze at myself in the full-length mirror that doesn’t fit my head in. I suppose it’s better that way, though, because I’m unable to see the ugly faces I make in reaction to my morning splendor. I focus on the haze of dust brought to life behind me in a beam of sunlight—my body becoming a blurry foreground image. Dust. One of the endless woes of living in Athens, Greece, and the root of my guitar’s death.
“Alex?” I call for my husband, still gazing at myself, inspecting the wrinkles between my breasts that take forever to disappear now that age has left its mark on me. The hissing sound of gas seeps through the gap below the bedroom door. It means he’s making his morning Greek coffee—a ritual that has become as important to him as being a good parent to our four-year-old daughter, Tessa.
Alex’s watered-down Greek accent is stifled by the filthy rugs we have yet to remove from the corridor for the approaching summer. His voice is smooth, deep, and gentle. Unlike mine, which will forever be polluted with a brutal Australian twang. Alex’s voice was the first thing I was drawn to when we met five years ago at my debut solo performance in this city. It was just me, my voice and my guitar, battling the fear of laying my soul out for scrutiny, below the hot stage lights and in front of the quiet, unresponsive Greek crowd.
“Can you come and help me do up all these buttons on my dress?” I call, looking up at the ceiling, the crumbling paint, and the damp stains, wondering if I should bother trying to get it repaired or whether the old lady upstairs will forget she left the bath tap running again.
“I can’t, I’m making coffee. I’ll fuck it if I leave. You come in here.”
There’s that dreaded ‘f’ word again. Something that took me a long while to disregard. Alex, new to the English version, now uses it for every possible part of speech as if a nerd with a new gadget. I soon realized that swearing in a foreign language is like playing a game. The impact of the word is no greater than saying
, or something to that effect. But when he swears in Greek, I hold my breath, waiting for the swing of his fist to finally cease toying with the idea of hitting me. Alex has
hit me. But I know he wants to sometimes. And I’m afraid that one day he will. I can see it in his face when it goes blank and pale. It means he’s holding back rage. I’ve spent my whole life trying to escape this kind of rage. Will I ever?
I hobble down the corridor feeling the scratchy carpet fibers stick through my stocking. For some reason I forgot to put on my other shoe in my eagerness for Alex to help do up my dress. I’m in a hurry. Don’t know why; I have plenty of time. Perhaps it’s become a habit since my transition from musician to career-oriented, manic mother.
“Oh. Nice. You don’t normally dress like this for work. What’s going on?”
His soft fingers brush against my breast as he slowly buttons my dress with a smirk on his face. Is he silently mocking my enthusiasm to dress up? He hasn’t even heard the reason why. The routine is, I wear the same black tailored pants (I own five pairs), and a drab gender-neutral mono-colored shirt. But today is the start of a new beginning. One I should be proud of, unafraid to tell Alex about. But I am afraid. And in all honesty, I’m more anxious about succeeding than of my husband getting upset when he finds I’ve kept a secret for the past year. Hence the outfit. If I succeed today, will music remain a thing of the past?
I breathe in the sandalwood scent of Alex’s shirt collar and absentmindedly watch his coffee as it overflows and smothers the flame.
“Oh shit!” Alex reaches for the paper towel and tears off more than is necessary. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Sorry. I didn’t realize till it was too late,” I reply, not moving a single muscle to help him clean up the mess.
“You were staring right at it.”
“Was I?” I ask, through gritted teeth.
Alex frowns, huffs, leans his weight on one foot and shakes his head. I look at the floor, wide-eyed, and bite my thumbnail. Why can’t he simply clean up the mess and not make an issue out of every little thing that goes on in this household? It’s coffee. Not a burst sewage pipe. Besides, it was his responsibility. He should have been watching it. I’m so tired of being the brunt of domestic mishaps no matter how large or small. Since when should a woman be responsible for her husband’s incompetence?
My instinct is to argue, to tell my husband to stop blaming me for everything. Even though I’m not certain he is blaming me for anything at all. I feel rage too. All the time. The difference between my rage and Alex’s rage is that I don’t act on it. I bottle it up because it’s not worth getting angry over ridiculous things like overflowing coffee. So, I take a deep breath. I remain calm. I keep the peace, just like I learned to do when I was a child.
“I must still be sleeping,” I continue, physically shaking off the unwanted wrath exploding within. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll make you another one. What time is it?” I take the coffee-covered paper towel from his hand and throw it in the bin. His hand rests on my lower back. He leans against the kitchen bench looking me up and down as if it’s the first time he’s seen me. He’s putting on an act now—trying to be the good guy.
“Seven thirty. Have I ever told you how much I love you?” he asks, pulling me toward him.
He kisses my top lip with his mouth slightly open. I feel nothing. I don’t even know if I love him anymore. I nuzzle my head into his neck, trying to convince myself that I do, that I haven’t given up the last five years of my life for nothing, that I stopped playing gigs because Alex means more to me than music ever will. But I’ve carried around a larger resentment since giving birth to Tessa. Alex organizes music events for a living, so why did he insist I stop playing? And why did I
that wish? Why didn’t I fight for my dreams? I never wanted to become a Greek housewife. And I married Alex because I thought he was different, and I would never have to. Clearly he isn’t the man I thought he was.
If Alex were wind, would I like to live in a hurricane? No, I would not. If Alex were wind, I’d be forever trying to escape his debris.
“I need you to edit an email before you leave,” he says as I pull away from him and begin fixing him another coffee. Has he totally forgotten about discovering why I’m wearing this dress? He’s always been a bit self-centered, but I thought that would gradually disappear after the birth of our daughter, Tessa. I was wrong. Men never change. They cling to habit like sap to a tree trunk.
“Your English is fine,” I say, giving him a reassuring sideways glance as I put water into the biriki to make more coffee.
“Doesn’t feel like it. Keep making the same mistakes. What was it you said? Prepositions?”
“Seriously, Alex. It’s no big deal,” I insist, burying a twinge of irritation with a fake smile.
“It must be the emails. British agents.”
“Yeah. Must.” A little voice in my head keeps prodding me to ask for a gig. Before I had Tessa, he used to offer me a thirty-minute slot on the stage to play whatever I wanted. Our daughter is growing up now. She doesn’t need nursing twenty-four hours a day. And we can hire a babysitter if Alex wants to come and watch. I can juggle a full-time job and play music too. I
I touch Alex on his shoulder while he pours himself a bowl of Special K. I want to ask him to get me a gig so much that my neck constricts as if I’ve eaten a lemon. But I get distracted by flakes falling on the floor. He doesn’t bother to pick them up, and hides them with his bare foot. They crunch. Like dry autumn leaves on a lawn. He looks at me as if he got away with something. The urge to call him out on it plagues my tongue like moss.
Don’t worry about it. Leave it alone.
“I love you,
,” I squeeze the back of his neck even though I know he hates it. Vlaka means ‘stupid little person,’ but this time, as I say it, I think,
What the hell happened to us?
Alex turns and kisses me gently on the forehead after rolling his eyes at my neck squeeze and sniffs my skin like one would a glass of vintage red wine. He’s trying to be tender. Perhaps he’s trying to save our marriage. Does he feel like I do? Is he scared to admit that it’s really over?
“Where’s Tessa?” I ask.
“In her room, I think.”
“Before you go to your desk, can you get her dressed for preschool while I make your coffee?”