Amy never relaxes until the third song, imagining everyone’s staring at her hands. But when she sings Styx and Stones, the music takes her places where, even if they are, she doesn’t care. So large as to be almost grotesque, her hands allow her to play a Martin Dreadnaught and to hold a man so he feels held. She wrote that song for freaks like herself:
It’s the weird boy who makes novels And the gimp whose music soars The odd girl paints in visions That opens secret doors The stutterer writes speeches in diamond words and true The dark child set his heart on fire till he warmed himself and grew into another one of us, another one like you.It’s the scars that make us holy Wholly sacred and alive.
The applause swells beyond the complement of the dozen people in the parlor of Portia’s farmhouse. Amy likes house concerts because she can hear the audience, their appreciative murmurs, watch them close their eyes when they’re moved. Feels like making love sometimes. She strokes her guitar and offers smiles all around, pausing at the latecomer, a frail looking guy, a Pacific Islander maybe, or Filipino, half his face crosshatched with pale scars, poor bastard. She smiles on an extra beat, then finishes her set.
He’s on top of her at intermission, holding out his left hand, keeping the artificial one at his side. “Joel. Terrific tunes.”
She takes his hand, for once not thinking about her own. “Amy.”
“Stand you a drink, after?” Joel tugs a flask from his jacket pocket. “I’m kind of broke. Small disclaimer.”
Amy laughs. “Why not?”
He sits in the back for the second set. She wonders if his ballsiness is natural or a result of listening to her song. No other guy in the room attracts her, so she’s willing to find out. Although Portia will be ticked if Amy winds up complaining about one more broken creature she can’t get quit of. “It’s your own fault,” Portia says. “You’re not the blasted Salvation Army.” But. There’s something about the wounded that gets Amy every time. Their lack of illusion, maybe. Or the naked gratitude for having survived. Amy stumbles over a chord change. Focus! She still misses Vernon, who used to kiss the port wine birthmark inside her thigh, and wrap his fingers around her outsized hands. The surgery left a ladder of keloid scars behind his neck, and a crescent on his hip where they harvested bone to fuse his cervical spine. He’s the one who told her she makes a man feel held. And he made her feel… everything important. But his bones kept crumbling until he welcomed death, and because she loved him, Amy did, too.
She finishes with Vernon’s song, Down to the Marrow.
It’s where I felt you, How I loved you, What took you away from me — Down to the marrow.Not in my brain, Or port wine stain, Nor heart run through by Cupid’s arrow.But in my bones — A fragile cage To hold the promise straight and narrow.It’s how you loved me, Knew me, Thrilled me, Why I miss you Down to the marrow.
Joel hangs back until everyone is gone. They settle on the porch steps so they can see the sliver of moon. The flask is still warm from his body heat. She savors the mouthful of Cointreau, then swallows. “So what happened?”
“When? Something happened?”
She won’t play this game, although she knows he’s trying for charm.
“Bike accident. Sideswiped by a Bronco. My Harley flipped, pinned me underneath.” He waggles his prosthetic. “I was a decent keyboardist, had a band. A wife, too, before.” He grins. “Country Western song, huh? I can still sing, though.”
Joel doesn’t hesitate. He belts out Dancing in the Dark, head thrown back, serenading the fingernail moon.
“Why do I feel you had that ready?” Amy laughs. “You’re very good, though. And it beats ‘What’s your sign?’ by an order of magnitude.”
She shakes her head.
“Yeah, we’re all sorry creatures, aren’t we?” Man, she’s melancholy tonight. Maybe it’s Joel. He feels real and present. A real and present danger to her equilibrium.
By the time they finish the flask, she knows he hates Bush, loves the Philadelphia Eagles and was a sporting goods rep but is now on disability.
She sings Four Strong Winds and he joins her on the chorus. “Very nice,” she says, feeling a bit giddy. She drifts awhile on her post-gig high before realizing he’s been awfully quiet, that his eyes look filmy. She taps his good wrist. “You okay?”
“I’d be better if the Eagles make the play-offs.”
Yeah, right. Four Strong Winds, what was she thinking? Our good times are all gone…
“Look, Joel, I’ll be back in a few weeks. We could get together, sing some tunes?”
“Would give me something to look forward to.” He swipes at his eyes with his sleeve. “I’m not used to that.”
On the back of an old business card he prints email@example.com.
Wow. Why does he keep those cards if that life has been erased? “When?” she says.
“Whenever you say, I’ll be there.”
“No. The accident. When?”
“Four years in April.”
Four years. The scars you can’t see are the worst. Amy stands, slips the card in her pocket. “I’m beat, Joel. Let’s call it a night.”
He stands close to her and before he can make an overture, she kisses him on his scarred cheek. “I’ll be in touch,” she says.
By his tone of voice, she knows he knows she won’t. She waits in the kitchen until he drives away before tossing his card in the trash. She’s beat but she scribbles on a napkin. Invisible Scars. Four Strong Winds. Four years. Tucks it in pocket and drags herself to bed. She’ll work on the lyrics tomorrow.
Co-authors A.L. Sirois and Grace Marcus live in Bucks County PA. Sirois’s fiction has been published in Thema, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Amazing Stories, among other outlets, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Nebula. His story, “Death in the House of Imhotep,” won the Kitty Friend West Short Story contest in 2006. Grace was a semi-finalist in the Hidden River Arts 2008 Fiction & Drama competition with an excerpt from her novel, Visible Signs. Writing as Alan Grayce, they placed in the top five finalists in the Women on Writing Summer 2008 Fiction Contest from wordsmitten.com with an excerpt from their novel-in-progress, Fraught. Their two publications in Flash Fiction Online, “A Delivery of Cheesesteaks” and “No Show” are also excerpts from Fraught.
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© 2015 Alan Grayce