Melancholy Rain

cove-man

By: J.J. Cheesman

 

May 16th, 2016 will be a tragic memory forever etched into my brain. It’s a stain on my life that I will never be able to wash out. There are many things about the night Alice died that I won’t forget. The sound of the busting glass, the screams she’d made, the crimson that poured from her beautiful light-brown hair as she sat lifeless in the seat next to me. The sound of rain drops hitting pavement used to be a calming sound to me, but now it only brings the memory of her screams back to my ears. Tomorrow will be nearly twelve months to the day that my wife was taken away from me, and the horror that has followed me since is not limited to the guilt of being in the driver’s seat when I lost her. God I wish it was.

Alice and I were married in the spring, her favorite time of year. The spring was the season for rain in Illinois, and Alice loved the rain, an irony that isn’t lost on me now. Whenever there was a downpour, she would sit out on the porch reading and listening to the sound the water made as it assaulted the roof.

“There is nothing more calming than the sound of rain”, she’d say.

Fate has a cruel sense of humor.

We were driving home after having a couple of drinks with her brother Barry, and his wife Patricia. They had a little gathering of friends at their house, nothing special, just a little get-together they were hosting. We weren’t out late, by the time we left their house it was 8:30 P.M., and it was pouring rain.

I know what you’re probably thinking, I wasn’t drunk driving. It was Alice’s car that we had taken, and when she realized I’d only been sipping on one beer the whole night because I simply wasn’t in the drinking mood, she handed me the keys. The rainfall was hard and heavy, I remember distinctly the sound of both of our phones going off as we got in the car, warning us of the Flash-Flood Advisory.

“Thank god they told us now, I’d hate to get caught in nasty weather!” Alice exclaimed after looking at the screen of her cell. I laughed as I turned the key in the ignition. She always made me laugh.

Flooding on the roads hadn’t happened yet, but I knew it would soon, so I was eager to get home. I backed out of Barry and Patricia’s driveway and drove as quickly as the speed limit would allow to our house. It was only a five-minute drive, that’s all. We should have been home safely, regardless of the rain. I was going too fast, that’s all there is to it. I have no excuse or good reason for my wife’s death, Alice died all because I wanted to be home as quick as possible. Three minutes into the drive, we made it to the bridge that connected our neighborhood to the rest of town. Alice took off her seatbelt and leaned over. She rested her head on my shoulder and I looked down at her. She had her eyes closed, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail to keep it off her neck, she always did that when she drank. She hated being over-heated. With her hair out of the way, I could see every feature on her face. The way her nose crooked just slightly at its tip, her wonderfully-round cheeks, and her absolutely perfect dimples.

I admired her for a moment, just a moment. A habit I exercised often, and one that Alice always hated.

“What are you looking at?” She would ask if she caught me staring.

“Just you.” I’d say.

“Well stop, it’s weird.” She’d reply.

Even with her eyes closed and being a bit tipsy, Alice knew I was looking.

“You should be looking at the road.” She said without opening her eyes.

I smiled, and looked back up at the bridge. Just up ahead, a truck was stalled with its hazard lights on. If I had simply pressed down on the brake calmly instead of slamming my foot down, if I had just remained calm and turned the steering wheel to pass it, Alice would still be alive, but this isn’t a story about ‘what if’s’. The sudden appearance of the truck startled me, and my foot came down hard on the brake. The car hydroplaned, and I lost control of the vehicle as the tires squealed the entire way, slamming the front of the car into the metal guard rail of the bridge. Alice’s screaming came before the crash, and my ears were pierced by her cry of fear and surprise before her body was thrown away from me, and her head slammed into the passenger-side window. When the car made impact, my own head hit the steering wheel hard as the windshield busted out from the sheer force of the crash, and glass showered over me. The air bags released late, and I was thrown back in my seat.

Everything after the moment I hit my head is a blur. Two days after that night, I woke up in the hospital, the doctor told me I had what was known as a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, but given the state of the vehicle, I should consider myself lucky, I disagreed. The last moments in that car that I could recall were brief. I sat with my head laid against my head-rest, trying to keep my eyes open. I was blinking slowly, I was unable to move my arms, and blood was pooling around my eyes making it difficult to see, but I did see. Alice laid unmoving with her head on the dash. She had blood on her as well, but god there was so much of it. I could see it running from her head and down her back, staining her pearl-white blouse. The blood ran down her cheeks, dripping off of her perfect dimples. By some odd chance, blood had not run into her eyes.

Her beautiful, stunning green eyes. They were wide open, and staring into mine, full of pain and anguish. They seemed to be accusatory, demanding an answer for why I let this happen, and I could only sob in answer. The last thing I remember is the sound of the rain hitting pavement before I blacked out.

There is nothing more calming than the sound of rain.

 

My life was never the same after the accident, not in anyway. Along with waking up with the worst headache I’d ever had, the doctor said I might experience the loss of memory or motor function. At first it seemed like I suffered none of those symptoms, as I could move my hands and arms fine and there wasn’t anything I felt I couldn’t recall clearly, aside from the obvious exception of the moments after the crash. It wasn’t until they pulled out the catheter and I got out of bed to walk for the first time that I realized what the incident had done to me. Walking was difficult at first, the few days I had spent lying in that bed had caused me to be unable to do it unassisted, and I had to use the walker they provided, it wasn’t until I tried walking without it that I realized what was wrong, and what would be wrong for the rest of my life.

My right leg had become bum, and I walked with a terrible limp. The hospital provided me with a cane, and they offered to schedule my first physical therapy appointment, but I refused to go. Of course, the doctor insisted. He said that it was very likely that with treatment I could achieve full control over my right leg, but I stood steadfast in my refusal. I didn’t want any god damned therapy. The most wonderful thing in my life had been ripped away from me, and it was my fault. It might make you think ill of me, but sometimes people can’t help but let tragedy color them bitter, and I was as bitter as they come. To me, the bum leg was punishment for what happened to Alice, a sort of atonement for the hand I had in taking her life. As I wrote that out it actually made me laugh. My punishment hadn’t even begun.

The first rain came about a month after the crash. I’d lived in a little town called Browning, and in all my time there I’d never seen us go without rain for that long. For anyone who’s lived in the Midwest, they know that weather can act up in every way imaginable. It can be calm on Monday, have tornadoes and snow on Tuesday, and then be clear skies again on Wednesday, and that’s no exaggeration. Still, I had never known Browning to go without rain for longer than a week, especially in the Spring season. It wasn’t until that first rain that I realized something about my bum leg. It could feel the rain coming in.

I was taking a nap on Monday afternoon, sleeping off some heavy day-drinking I’d done earlier, which was something I was prone to after Alice’s death. The crash had caused injury to my head most certainly, and the pain I’d felt in my skull days afterward was almost unbearable, but that was the first time since the crash that I’d experienced pain in my right leg. I woke up from my nap with a terrible pain that felt like daggers in my thigh. I sat up in bed and massaged my leg for a moment, but the pain only seemed to increase. I thought maybe walking on it would help, so I grabbed the cane that was leaning near my bedside, and using it for support I stood up. I walked to the other end of the house, near the front door, and the pain seemed to subside a little. Then I turned around and walked down the hall and into the kitchen, and then back to the front door once more. Repeating this several times, the pain was almost completely gone, and only a faint twinge of discomfort remained in my right thigh.

I sighed and leaned against the hall by my front door. My heart was thudding in my chest, and I was out of breath. Maybe get a little more exercise, I thought. The heavily depressed state I was in since the accident had left me all but a shut-in. I still went to work, but a desk job at the court house didn’t offer much physical exercise, and I never had to talk to anyone. After work I’d come straight home and either drink or sleep. Leaning there on that wall and thinking about how out of shape I had gotten, I had an image of me running on a treadmill with my messed-up leg, bouncing and swaying with the limp as the treadmill belt moved at high speeds, and I actually laughed. It was the first time I’d laughed in a month.  A brief and silly moment of pleasure I’d allowed myself. Then, in an instant, my smile faded from my face with the arrival of the sound. Rainfall.

I hadn’t realized it until then, for some reason it hadn’t even crossed my mind, but that was the first time I’d heard rain since the night I was in that car, staring into Alice’s lifeless, accusatory eyes. The near-constant drunken stupor I’d put myself in hadn’t given me much time for such thought. But there in that hall the revelation came like an orchestra of stones on my head that kept in time with the raindrops on my roof. My cane fell from my hand, and clattered to the floor as I used the wall for support, and cried in my hands. Whatever little comfort or healing the alcohol had brought to me had been undone with the simple sound of water falling, and it was like I’d never left that car. I don’t know how long I cried in that hallway, but eventually I stooped down to pick up my cane, and resolved to go back to bed.

Before I took a step however, I was stopped by a sudden and sharp knocking at the front door. Four knocks to be precise, one right after the other. I stopped in my tracks, and turned slowly toward the jarring sound. For some reason, a terrible dread had washed over me. No one ever knocked at that door. In the five years that I’ve lived in my home, anyone who visited only ever used the doorbell. I was a little surprised, so it took me a moment to find my voice.

“Jus… Just a minute!” I croaked, as I shambled over to see who was knocking. I opened the front door, and for a moment, as I looked out into the open space of my large covered front porch, I saw nothing but the dark rainy street beyond. It was when I looked down on the floor, that I saw her. Laying there on the porch she at one time sat on rainy days such as that, was Alice.

I cried out in surprise and fell back, hitting the floor of my home hard as I stared out at the body of my dead wife. Her body shouldn’t have been there, I was at the front of the crowd of mourners when they lowered Alice’s casket into the ground, and I watched as they piled dirt on the lid of her coffin. It was impossible for her to be there now, but there she was, just as I remembered. Not like she looked after the mortician had worked his magic and made her body presentable for the open-casket visitation, but like she looked in the car the night of the accident. Blood stained the back of her pearl-white blouse, and ran from her head down her cheeks. She was facing the door way, the blood somehow staying out of her eyes, those accusatory eyes. Wide eyes that stared straight into mine, demanding that I give some sort of explanation for her death.

“No… No… You aren’t real.” I spoke in a shaky whisper,

“There’s no way you’re real, you’re dead.”

I began to sob and I closed my eyes, praying that this was some sort of dream, convincing myself that when I opened them, Alice would be gone. I kept my eyes shut for a long while, listening to the awful sound of rain hitting the pavement, when I heard something else. It was a kind of low gurgling sound that was just loud enough to hear above the rain, and it made my blood run cold. Slowly, I opened my eyes and saw that Alice was still there, eyes still wide and anguished, but there was something else. Movement.

Along with the horrific gurgling sound, came a new and terrifying sight as well. Alice’s blood stained pearl-white blouse was moving steadily. There was definite visible rise and fall of the fabric, as if she was breathing. Then, all of a sudden, the blouse jerked violently, and I screamed. I turned and crawled on all fours into the hall, and kicked the door shut with my foot. Falling back against the door, I reached up with my hand and turned the deadbolt, locking out the apparition of my memory. For a long time, I simply sat in front of my door and listened to the rain while I waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but I thought if I left the door unguarded, Alice’s ghost would burst through it and come for me.

It was only after the rain stopped that I found the courage to stand with the aid of my cane. I cursed my luck for having a front door with no window or peep hole as I slowly cracked it open. I peered out and scanned the front porch, expecting to see Alice still there, watching me. She was nowhere to be seen, only the first rays of sunlight peeking out from behind the clouds. Shutting and locking the door, I turned and made my way back to my bedroom, and opened the drawer on the nightstand beside my bed. After Alice died, her mother and father, along with her brother, asked if they could take some things of hers. Some pictures, a couple pieces of jewelry, and an old sweater her mother had knitted for her. I obliged, in fact, I asked them if they would remove everything from the house that belonged to her. They did so, with some hesitation, knowing that I would regret the decision, which I did. At the time, though, I thought it might help with the grieving process. What a fool I was.

Within the nightstand, I found Alice’s wedding ring, the only possession I had left of her. I scooped it in my hand and felt the weight of it as I squeezed it into my palm. Then, I fell into my bed, and cried myself to sleep, still holding onto that ring.

Two weeks went by before our next rain in Browning, and like before I felt it coming like fire in my right leg. I was at home sitting on the sofa after work, one of the few times I’d opted not to drink after coming home. The T.V. was on an old episode of “Roseanne” that was nearly finished, when that pain flared up in my leg again.  This time I didn’t move to try to walk it off, I knew what was coming. A minute later, the pain in my leg dulled, and heralded by the distant sounds of thunder, the rain came. I closed my eyes, hoping to god that what I thought would be coming next didn’t come. But of course, it did. Four sharp knocks echoed out through my home, and that terrible dread fell over me like a veil. I shook my head and spoke to myself.

“No. Don’t you dare go to that door. You didn’t hear anything.”

I turned my attention to the T.V., now on some show I’d never seen before. Surely, if I just didn’t go to check, if I just pretended that I didn’t hear anything, everything would be okay. Then my heart sank at the next sound that rang out through the house. It was the gurgle. That damned gurgling sound I’d heard before, only this time it was loud enough that I could hear it while I sat in my living room. In an effort to drown out the noise, I grabbed the remote beside me and turned up the volume on the television set. With the volume as loud as I could make it, I sat as quiet as I could be, waiting.

The gurgling was still there. Only this time it was louder as the sound rose above the noise of the television and the ever-increasing intensity of the rain. Shaking, I grabbed my cane and hobbled into the kitchen, where I poured myself a tumbler of cheap whiskey and sucked it down like my life depended on it. The amber liquid warmed my insides, but it did nothing to still my shaking hands as I could hear that gurgle increase in volume. With tears in my eyes I made my way to the bedroom and found Alice’s ring in the nightstand, and I laid in bed, sobbing and clutching the ring like a totem to ward of her haunting spirit. I don’t know how long I laid there listening to that awful gurgle and the pounding rain, but eventually, the rain ceased. As I suspected it would, the gurgling sound followed the rain.

That’s when I knew for sure. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but for some reason, the rain brought my wife to my front door. There was a lot about what was happening to me that didn’t make sense, but I knew one thing for certain. I wasn’t going to go through that nightmare again.

I watched weather reports, and googled when the next predicted rains would come. As good as a meteorologist my bum leg was, I needed to know a little sooner than right before a rain would come. When rain was scheduled for a day, I would make sure I was at a bar, or if it was coming at night I spent my time at the twenty-four-hour diner in town. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

The next rain came three days after the second time I was visited by my wife. As soon as I was off work I made my way to a little hole-in-the-wall bar I knew to wait for the coming rain. It wasn’t like I didn’t spend most of my time drinking anyway. I sat down at the counter of the mostly-empty bar, and I ordered a Manhattan, (I was always partial to whiskey) and I waited for the pain in my leg to come. After an hour of sitting in the bar, the fire in my leg began, and ended, as it had before. Just like before, the rain followed almost immediately after the pain ended, and I smiled in triumph after I heard no knocking.

I raised my glass to toast with myself to my genius, the few occupants in the bar didn’t pay me any mind though. Bringing the glass to my lips, I began to drink, but I was stopped abruptly by that damn sound. Four knocks came, the same four sharp knocks that always seemed to begin the arrival of Alice. I shivered.

“No.” I whispered aloud to myself.

“What’s that? did you need another order son?” The older gentleman behind the bar asked. I looked up at him, my mouth slightly agape, and I lowered my drink.

“Didn’t you hear that? Someone knocked at the door.” I told him.

“I didn’t hear anything.” The old man replied. The color drained from my face, and I could feel a cold sweat form on my forehead. The man’s brow furrowed, and he asked,

“You alright bud?”

After he spoke those words, that terrible gurgling sound began to fill my ears. I watched the man’s face, waiting for him to hear what I was hearing and react, but he didn’t. His expression remained stern and concerned.

“Uh… Yeah.” I said finally, the gurgling now growing in volume.

“Just uh… just a headache is all.”

The old man nodded, and turned away as two patrons opened the door to the entrance of the bar. I looked up, but not at the two young men with their elbows locked with one another, but behind them. In the space between their legs, through the open door, I saw her eyes. Alice’s ghost followed me, even there to that bar, waiting for me. Before the door shut, I saw her body rock slightly, and I shuddered. While the new customers placed their drink orders, I held my head in my hands. The gurgling grew in volume in my ears, and of course, no one seemed to hear it. Why was that? How come no one could hear what was happening? Why didn’t the men see Alice when they walked in? Was I going crazy?

That day I stayed at the bar until the rain stopped, walking home hours later, drunk and crying. For months, I went on like that, I went anywhere public when I was sure it would rain. It didn’t stop the visions of Alice, but being around people made the ordeal easier. It was five months after the first haunting, that a new sound joined the gurgling. Crying.

It was low, and small, but it was there, just behind the gurgling. It was supposed to rain early one Tuesday morning, so I made my way to the diner. I sat drinking coffee, waiting for the whole process to start again. First the pain, then the rain, then the gurgle. It was always the same. Not that time though.

When the rain did come, I made sure I was staring down into my coffee. If I looked up through the glass of the diner, I would surely see Alice. The gurgling came next, loud as ever, god it was a sound that was enough to drive a man mad. Then, all at once, I heard it. It was a soft and low, crying. It was definitely not something I’d expected. The sound was so startling I looked around the diner to see where it was coming from. When the few people in the diner hadn’t looked up with me, when no one seemed to even acknowledge the sound, I knew where it was coming from. The sound broke my heart. Alice was crying now, and it was all my fault. Jesus fucking Christ, it was all my fault. All her pain and suffering, it was because of me.

That was when I broke. I waited out the rain like always before I made my way home. I no longer cared if my wife was at my door anymore. I no longer cared about the haunting’s I would endure, what more would come after the crying. This was my hell, and I deserved every single second of it. Hell, I hoped that one day, Alice would come and pull me out of my bed, and pull me into the dirt with her.

Three more months passed, whenever the rain and the knocks came, I laid in bed, holding onto my wife’s ring, and cried along with her. The crying only got louder and louder, and that was the worst part. It seemed to get closer, as if Alice was just finding her voice. Those days became a blur. My work had long been suffering, and I was sure I’d be fire any day. I wasn’t getting much sleep for obvious reasons, not to mention I’d come in still half-drunk more often than not. My daily routine was always the same. Work, drink, sleep, repeat.

Then came the dream.

I dreamt of the night we went to Barry and Patricia’s to have those drinks on that fateful night. I didn’t dream of the accident though. I dreamt of the hour before we left our home. In our bed, locked in embrace, we had made passionate love. My hands lost in her beautiful light-brown hair, and hers in mine, as we kissed. She opened her beautiful green eyes, and stared into mine. She was just so god damned beautiful, and she didn’t even realize it.

“I have a good feeling about this time.” She’d told me.

“Oh, really?” I laughed.

“Yeah, this is the one.” She smiled, but her look was serious.

Suddenly, and the sound of four knocks rang out from the front of the house. It was Barry, who had dropped by to let us know about the get together he was having that night. I looked back at our bedroom door, wondering who was at the front door, and turned to look at Alice. Her eyes went vacant. Then her smile faded along with the light in her eyes, and blood began to pool on the pillow she laid on, and I heard crying.

With a jolt, I woke up. It was night, and I could hear that crying, as clearly as I could hear the rain pattering on my roof. Tears rolled down my face, and I opened up my palm to reveal my wife’s ring in my hand. The revelation the dream brought was horrifying, but now everything made sense. I stood, grabbing my cane and hobbling toward the front door, almost not in control of my own body. All the pieces had come together. The way Alice’s blouse moved when the hauntings first began, the gurgling sound that was almost like someone struggling to breath (which I had assumed was Alice’s breathing), and then the crying. Crying that with a sober mind I had realized couldn’t possibly be Alice. Somehow, she was right though. Somehow, Alice knew just hours before she’d died, that we had conceived a child.

I wasn’t being haunted by Alice, of course I wasn’t. Alice knew I loved her, she knew I never meant for the crash to happen. But how could an existence, that hadn’t even gotten the chance to breathe yet, understand that I loved it? How could it know why I never held it in my arms?

Before I knew it, I stood in front of the front door of my home. The crying grew louder and louder as the rain outside pounded heavier and heavier. I hesitated a moment before doing anything. I didn’t know what I’d find at the other end of the door, but I decided that nothing would ever change if I didn’t find out. I would face what lay out there, and I would make amends. It was time I’d forgiven myself for what happened. It was time I apologized to my unborn child. Filled with new hope and vigor, I took a deep breath and put my hand on the doorknob, and slowly opened the door.

Blood turned to ice in my veins as I stared down at the horrific sight. Alice was nowhere to be found. Instead, swaddled in her blood-stained pearl-white blouse, was a baby. At least, what would have been a baby had it been allowed a natural birth. Instead, what I stared at was a gruesome and malformed entity that had never been given the chance to breath. Its flesh was gray and covered in varicose veins, its eyes were sunken and all-white. The child’s head was misshapen and missing bits of flesh. It cried, and wailed as it flung it’s claws up at me. Its scream was loud and angry, and hateful.

I was such a fool. I thought that I could make amends, I thought that I could put things right, but that was impossible. The thing that laid out there, crying on my doorstep, that wasn’t a baby. It was a shell. It’s what’s left when something innocent is just beginning to take life, and has it stripped away in an instant. Defeated and more heart-broken than I’d ever been, I shut the door and once again, I found myself falling against it. I sat with a stone face and listened. I listened to the wailing angry cries of my unborn child. Cries full of nothing but disdain for the father that took its life.

When finally, the rain stopped and the crying subsided, I made plans to move to somewhere where it hardly ever rained. I’ve been living in Nevada for about three months now on what little savings I had. I’ve been lucky so far, I’ve not had to deal with any rain yet, but I don’t intend on ever dealing with it. It took this long to work up the courage to do what needs done, I have my dad’s .45 that I’ve only ever shot once when I was very young, but I don’t really need to be a good shot to do what I’m about to do. This is the last thing I will ever write, my account to explain why exactly I’m doing this. I can’t bear to hear that crying again. Even if I could, what happens then? The second casualty of my reckless driving has been growing little-by-little, what happens when it grows up?

No… I don’t intend to find out. I still have Alice’s ring, and believe it or not, it does still provide some comfort. At least in some way, I won’t feel completely alone when I go.

I’m so sorry Alice, things should have ended much better for you, for me, for our child. I wish I could face what I’ve done, but I’m a coward. A scared child in the face of something I don’t understand. You told me once that there’s nothing more calming than the sound of rain, but I know now there’s nothing more terrifying.

Melancholy Rain

Grandmother’s Keyboard

 

cove-man

-By: J.J. Cheesman 

 

I was twelve years old when my grandmother began teaching me to play piano. She was in a band when she younger, and she was extremely good. Although, I only got to hear her play once. I never even knew that she played piano for the longest time. I think it reminded her too much of when she was younger, or maybe she just didn’t like it like she used to. In truth, I don’t know. But I do wish I heard her play more often, or had a recording of her music. Whenever she played I was completely entranced. The beautiful music that woman’s fingers could produce was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  I remember the feeling of hearing her music, closing my eyes, and wanting to fall back into the soothing melody that came from those old keys.

 

I wasn’t the happiest kid when I was younger. I wasn’t what some may call a ‘problem child’, but I had my fair share of issues. My doctor diagnosed me with ADHD, and I always felt down, sad even. Maybe I should have talked to someone about that, the depression that is. But I was already taking medication for something, and I didn’t want to add something to that list. I still don’t in fact. I, for the most part, ignore my depression and anxiety. That sounds insane, right? Can you even have anxiety if you can claim that it’s something that is able to be ignored? Well, I wouldn’t have thought so, not before that piano.

 

It was the summer, and my grandmother was watching over me one night while my mother was at work. I wasn’t the type to go outside and play, I was always inside, watching T.V. or reading. Nothing bothered me more than social interaction. To this day, I hate it. People expect too much out of you, you’re expected to give into social norms and act according to other people’s standards. So, I always opted to stay in, and that day was no different. I was watching some silly show, when my grandmother came in from the kitchen.

 

“Ronnie, you’re watching T.V. again huh?” She said. I didn’t speak or even turn to look at her, I just nodded. Through the corner of my eye, I could see her place her hands on her hips.

 

“Well, do you want to come help me in the garden?”  Again, no eye contact, I just simply shook my head. She waited for a moment, and I could feel her eyes on me, searching me. Then she simply walked into her bedroom, and didn’t return. After about twenty minutes, I heard it. Piano keys, played in an arranged tune that was hauntingly beautiful. It was sad and somber, but it was also hopeful and innocent. It stirred emotions in me that I wasn’t aware I’d had, it was entrancing. My feet picked me up and carried me to my grandmother’s bedroom almost on their own accord. My grandmother sat there on a stool in the corner of the room. She was playing on a keyboard she must have pulled out of storage in the open closet, because I had never seen it before then. Her fingers danced and played among the keys with such speed and grace that it was just as hypnotizing to watch her play as it was to listen.

 

It is hard to tell how much time passed while I sat on the bed listening to my grandmother play. If I had to guess, it was only a couple of minutes, but as the music filled my eardrums and wrapped me in its embrace I became lost in it. Time didn’t have meaning then, nor did I or the room I was sitting in. The only thing that existed, was Grandma and her piano. Something was calling out to me from the arrangement of notes, a meaning, a message. A message that I almost very nearly understood. Then, all at once, it stopped. The magic spell that the music had cast over me was over, and I opened my eyes. I didn’t even realize they were closed.

 

My grandmother sat turned in her seat smiling at me.

 

“Did you like it?” She asked.

 

“It was beautiful!”

 

She nodded to the chair she kept at her writing desk and said,

 

“Good, I’m going to teach you how to play. You need an outlet. I think you’re a lot like me Ronnie. When I was a girl, I didn’t like to talk to friends or play outside. Your great grandmother found that frustrating. She hated that I didn’t like to talk, but you know what I figured out?” I stood up and moved the chair by the writing desk and place it beside my grandmother’s stool, and took a seat.

 

“What’s that?” I asked.  She leaned in real close and said,

 

“There are many different ways of speaking.”, then began to play.

 

So, that’s how it started. For hours and hours my grandmother sat at that keyboard. That first day she taught me the keys, and the second day, and then the next. Two weeks went by, and I visited my grandmother every single day, eager to learn more. It took the entirety of that two weeks to know every key by heart though. The house was filled with the intermittent tones of notes as I struggled to get down the basics. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was the first tune I ever played, then I moved on to “We Three Kings”, which at the time I was quite fond of. I learned to play progressively more difficult music, my grandmother always the willing and masterful teacher. I started slow, but under her tutelage I became increasingly more adept at the keys.

 

“Your skill will grow with your soul.” My grandmother would say.

 

“Music is written into the very essence of our being. It is every bit alive as you and I are.”

 

 After six months, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was child’s play to me. My skills at the keyboard were rapidly improving, and soon I felt as if there was nothing I couldn’t play. I don’t mean to sound full of myself, on the contrary. I would be nothing without the lessons I received. All of my talent, great or miniscule, is owed to that wonderful woman. However, as much time as I spent with my grandmother in those days, I never again heard her play that haunting melody. Sure, she played all the famous pieces for the sake of teaching me, but never again did she play her own music. Then one day, I realized I would never hear that song again.

 

My grandmother passed away in her sleep at seventy-two years old. She had a brain tumor, something she knew about but never mentioned anything to any of her family members. My mother said that she was surprised it hadn’t affected her memory or brain function near the end of her life. It all of a sudden made sense to me why my grandmother never playing that song again. The tumor had affected her memory. I was heart-broken and devastated. My teacher, my best friend, and my grandmother were all taken from me in the night. What was I going to do? The only person who understood me, and really knew how I felt, was gone.

 

“There is more than one way of speaking”, my grandmother told me, and the service held for her spoke volumes. All sorts of people I had never seen before, or haven’t since, for that matter, showed up for her funeral. Distant family members from out of state, old friends that grandma had when she was younger, and believe it or not, even her mailman was there. It still amazes me that my grandmother touched so many people’s lives. Everyone I over-heard speaking talked about how wonderful of a woman she was and that she seemed to give life to any room she was in. I couldn’t agree more.

 

In my grandmother’s will, she left me her piano. I was both not surprised, and a little offended when the will was read. Of course, the piano was going to me, I was the one who spent hours and hours speaking through it with melodies. In my mind, it belonged rightfully to me. When I arrived at home the night of the funeral, the first thing I did was set it up in my room and begin to play. I started with some Beethoven, and I moved on to Bach, and then I freestyled a bit. Music poured out from my finger tips and out from the keys. There was an ache in my heart, and a burning in my soul. A melody had escaped me, grandma’s melody, but I was determined to catch it. I thought by learning how to play the song, I would understand it’s meaning, the message within the melody that I nearly had a grasp on.

 

 The first bit of music I ever wrote myself came out that night. I got a piece of paper and a pen and began jotting down the music as I played. It was the early hours of the morning before my mother came into my room and asked me to stop playing. I did, but as soon as I awoke I was right back to that keyboard. Something pushed me forward, egged me on. I was writing and playing like a man possessed. There wouldn’t be rest for me until I found that tune that my grandmother played all that time ago. Musical score after musical score was written, but what I was searching for still eluded me. Every time I tried to recall exactly how it went, I drew a blank. There came a time when my pursuit of that tune had to be put on hold.  We all have to grow up sometime, and I couldn’t expect my mother to keep me housed forever.

 

I didn’t go to college, we couldn’t afford it. When I was seventeen I got a job as a bank teller, and soon after I moved into the second floor of an apartment complex outside of town. The money at the bank wasn’t spectacular, but it paid the bills and kept food on the table. But I never stopped working on my music. Being in an apartment meant that I had to do it in the middle of the day if I wanted to play my music loudly, so as not to wake anyone or make them angry, which made it difficult, because my job was a 9-5. The weekends were unfortunately the only time I ever got to play at full volume. It was a hindrance, but I made do by keeping the music low.

 

 The apartment life suited me well. My place was small, but cozy. The best part that it was extraordinarily cheap, even for the state of the neighborhood it was in. The only annoyance was my neighbor across the hall. He was a middle-aged balding man with a green sweater that always had grease stains on it, and a ratty brown beanie that he always wore on top of his head. He always seemed to catch me while I was coming home from work too.

 

“I noticed you play piano.” The voice came from just behind me as I was putting my key into my door late one evening. I turned, a bit startled to see my neighbor, standing outside his door and wringing his hands together slowly. He was hunched over, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. With his ratty clothing and pathetic demeanor, I couldn’t help but think he looked like some sort of crony for a comic book villain.

 

“Err… Yeah. Does it disturb you when I play?” I asked. He stood, staring at me with large brown eyes.

 

“I like piano.” He said, smiling. His voice sounded as greasy as his sweater.

 

“Uh, great. Listen if it ever bothers you, just let me know, okay?” I said, turning around to finish unlocking my door. The guy didn’t say another word, and as I slipped into my apartment and closed the door, I looked through the peep hole. For a long while, the man simply stood watching my door. After several moments, he opened his own door and went inside. I’ve made sure that I deadbolt my door every time I come home since then.

 

That was also around the time I started having a vivid and recurring dream. I was back in my grandmother’s house, sitting on her bed while she played that melody that I’ve been craving so badly to hear again. In the dream, I was an outside observer, watching myself and my grandmother. The other-me sat on the bed, swaying slightly with his eyes close. My grandmother’s fingers danced on the keys as effortlessly and with as much expert precision as that day when I first witnessed her work at the keyboard. My heart ached as I watched the memory play before my eyes. It was torture seeing it all unfold in front of me, not being able to talk to her, or feel her touch once more. I was stuck in the dream state of unmoving. My lips tried to move and call out, but I had no lips in the first place. Only eyes to watch it all. But the damning hell of it, the absolute worst part of that terrible dream, is I could not hear what she was playing. Night after night I endured this awful torment, and night after night, I awoke with tears in my eyes.

 

The days would come and go, I would play and play. I built up quite the collection of personal written works, but none of them sounded like the song my grandmother wrote. Call me a quitter, but I had finally given up on hearing that melody ever again. That dream could haunt me until the day I died, but I had come to terms with never finding out what that beautiful arrangement of notes was. I had decided that I had to stop chasing that childish dream, and focus on my own work. I didn’t plan on being a bank teller forever after all. For all the things making music has brought me, the thing I’m most grateful for is what it has done to my peace of mind. My depression, my anxiety, none of that seemed to matter as long as I could still play.

 

One Friday evening, while I was arriving home from work late, I came through my front door, deadbolted it to keep out the strange man across the hall, and went straight to work on my music. Around nine o’ clock there was a knock on my door. I got up from my seat and looked through the peephole. There was no one there. I unlatched the deadbolt and opened the door, and looked right out into the hall. There was no one there either, but when I turned to go back inside I noticed a small, white piece of paper on the ground just in front of the doorway. I bent down, and turned it over.

 

Got you, it read. I heard the door across the hallway creak and I looked up just long enough to see the baseball bat come down on my head.

 

“Wake up, it’s no fun if you aren’t awake you piece of shit.”  I stirred, and the words echoed around in my head, causing pain. My eyes flicked open to the bright kitchen light. I was in my own apartment, lying on my back on my kitchen floor.  I couldn’t move my hands, they were bound behind me with some rope, and my legs were tied together as well. Duct tape wrapped tightly around my mouth prevented me from calling for help. Struggling as hard as I could against my binds, I found it was no use, they were so tight that they were cutting into my skin.

 

“That ain’t gonna help kid. I’ve been doing this a long time, I know how to tie a fuckin’ knot.”

 

My assailant walked into view. It was certainly my neighbor from across the hall, but his voice was no longer greasy, it was cold, and cruel. Gone was his slouched posture and pathetic demeanor. He stood before me now a completely different person than when I first saw him. He stood straight, caressing a large hunting knife with a gutting hook at the end. His eyes, once large and brown, were now small and black, and as cold as ice. His breath was steady, and calm. He smiled a cruel smile at me, and I tried to move and shake, to somehow break free. In my movement, I heard the sound of plastic, and my hands rubbed against a thin layer of the material underneath me, and I gave up fighting. I turned my head and glanced around only to confirm what I already knew.

 

I didn’t know who this man was, or how long he had been staying at this apartment complex, but the plastic that covered my floor and walls told me he wasn’t lying when he said he’d been doing this a long time. I knew my time was up.

 

“Oh, come on now. Don’t be like that.” The cruel voice spoke.

 

“I know I said it’s no use but your breaking my god damn heart with that look of yours. A little fight is always appreciated, I just can’t go and leave any mess behind, ya know? That’s how you get caught. I’ve spent a long time learning how not to get caught. This neighborhood is perfect see, because seedy characters are just the norm, right? So, when someone like me comes along and says hi to someone like you, you don’t even think twice do you? You’ll just keep your door locked, watch your peephole, do whatever it takes to avoid the creepy guy. But you know what people never expect from seedy characters? Smarts.”

 

I didn’t look at him while he spoke, I stared straight up at the ceiling, trying to come to terms with my own death. It’s strange, isn’t it? Not bothering to try and fight for your life. I knew it was strange even then. I just knew I didn’t want to die crying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

 

“They just assume it’s some weirdo. Serial killers are everyday people, they say. Your friend from work, or the delivery guy, or the repair man. They never say ‘look out for the creepy guy’, because that should be common goddamned sense. But you were just grateful you never saw me after that first night. Thankful that I never pestered you again.”

 

He was right. When I saw him I never would have suspected. He was just the creepy guy across the hall. I was grateful he didn’t bother me again.

 

“So, you let your guard down for a moment, but a moment is all it takes.”

 

He knelt down beside me, and put a hand on my stomach. I winced, trying as hard as I could to keep calm.

 

“But victims are few and far between in this neck of the woods. Killing the unfortunate gets rid of the blood lust for a minute, sure. But that’s easy, and hardly entertaining. No, I wait for your kind. The poor young souls who need a cheap place to stay, and have so much left to live for.”

 

He lifted up my shirt, placing the tip of the cold steel on my bare skin. I shivered, and not because of the cold. I was scared, and he knew it. He laughed.

 

“The great thing about it, is when I take all of your crap out of this dump, they’re just gonna think you skipped town, and I…”

 

There was a sizzle and a crack, as the bulb above us shone brightly, and then went out. The pressure of the blade on my stomach released, and I heard the man stand up.

 

“God dammit, my luck eh? Why don’t you hold tight for a second kid.”

 

I heard his weight shift on the floor as he turned and walked into the living room, and then he stopped.

 

“Who’s there!?” He called out. There was no answer. In the silent dark I laid there listening intently, wondering what the hell he was talking about. I stilled my breathing, and waited. Then I thought I heard something. I could hear the breathing of my attacker, somewhere in the dark, but I could also hear something else. Someone else’s breath could be heard, low and raspy. Another sound came from the dark, one that I recognized as music. It was quiet, but it was there. A song that I hadn’t heard in a very long time. The moment I realized what it was, there was sudden movement. Heavy footsteps ran through the darkness, toward my assailant. There was a loud *crack* and the man screamed. His cry was followed by the sound of glass shattering, and I could hear him yell as he fell all the way to the pavement outside.  I heard someone hollering out beyond the window, and it wasn’t long before I could hear police sirens. In the dark of my apartment I lay on the floor laughing with tears streaming down my face. Not because I finally heard grandmother’s melody after all this time, but because I finally knew the message within the notes. It was simple, but it was as powerful as the force that protected me that night.

 

I will protect you.’

 

The night I was attacked was about three years ago now. When the police arrived, they found me lying on the floor in the kitchen, of course. In the living room, however, they found my keyboard, broke in two pieces in front of the window the killer was thrown out of. After examining the body, it was concluded that blunt force trauma to the back of his head caused him to go careening out of the building and onto the ground below where he broke his neck. I was asked over and over again about who was in my apartment that night, because someone had to have attacked him with the keyboard. I simply told them the truth about what I heard that night, because I really had nothing else to say.

 

 I’m doing well composing sound design for various podcasts and audio dramas. It’s actually really neat. I’m glad I finally get to make a living doing what I love. I had to buy a new keyboard of course, but I kept Grandma’s. Both of its pieces are in a shadowbox above my bed now. I’ve never played her melody though, I don’t want to. It was my grandmother’s song, it’s her message, and hers alone. Besides, I still have that dream. Except now, I can hear that melody, plain as day in my dreams. Sometimes even as I’m waking up I swear I can hear the low notes of it off in the distance.

 

No, I’ve been working on a new piece of music. It isn’t perfected yet but I hope to finish it one day. It’s a score that I have simply titled,

 

“Thank you.”

 

Grandmother’s Keyboard