A Small Apartment.
There was a boy. And this is his story. And it is mine as well.
You see. I knew him.
In elementary, we would sneak away from our classrooms, grinning madly and stepping quietly away from the principal's windows. We would hide in the courtyard, behind a huge old tree, sharing chocolate bars and counting spiders. And every day, as the day grew cooler and the clouds raced over the sun, I would ask him to sing. And he would blush and stammer, this boy who was in the school choir, and I would nudge with a stick and bully him into finally singing a quiet song, under the rustling dusty leaves and behind the aching old bark of that schoolyard tree.
In high school, he would stand quietly outside my classroom, unnoticed by everyone except me, and I had five minutes to think up an excuse to leave the room or he would saunter away and I would be left behind. Notebooks were Xeroxed, bladders were emptied, and I came down with pneumonia cancer heart disease and jaundice all in the same week as we huddled behind the school gym, laughing quietly as the teacher in my classroom wondered aloud if I had fallen into the toilet. And as always, he would sing for me as I smoked cigarette after cigarette just to keep warm. Nothing special, just Top 40 songs to lullabies to commercial jingles.
His voice had won him championships. I knew he was embarrassed about the cases of medals and trophies and certificates his parents kept back home, and I never mentioned it. But I always. Always. Always. Asked him to sing.
College came. Our classes were separate, our courses starkly different, but at night at the dorm, girls would whisper about the shadow lurking in the halls, their blankets curled tightly around their bare legs and pale hands. And an owl would hoot loudly outside our windows, prompting frightened shrieks and screams as they scrabbled for cover. I would act brave and venture outside with a flashlight to find him sitting on our doorstep grinning from ear to ear as he cupped his hands over his mouth hooted and listened for the screams. This owl turned nightingale as we walked down the streets illuminated by midnight to our deserted elementary school, where he would push me on the kindergarten swings as he hummed in my ear about pretty women and how all that matters to me is she.
He was always such a dreamer.
We graduated, maybe not with flying colors or honorable mentions, but we graduated nonetheless. It made me proud, standing in front of a crowd in our uncomfortable robes and silly hats, smiling blithely into the blinding cameras and blinding grins of such proud parents. His hand touched mine, he stood beside me, and without thinking twice, I held on. He looked down on me, surprised. And I hit him over the head with my diploma and yelled at him to smile.
Maybe you're waiting for me to tell you that we were in love. Readers would want to know about the romance between the boy with the beautiful voice and the girl who chain-smoked her way through her education. But there is none to tell about. I loved him, yes, but it was a love that consisted of respect and affection. No passion whatsoever. He returned my feelings, with the passion solely centered on his one and only true love: music.
We moved away from our town together, in the same van, scrunched between boxes of clothing and knobby furniture, grinning at each other through the swaying and skidding of a driver who hardly knew where he was going. He took my hand, then, and started singing over the clanks and clatters and curses of the van. I like to think that the driver overheard, and slowed down a bit. After all, music doth soothe the savage beast.
We found an apartment in the shabbier part of town, where the rent was affordable when it was split between the two of us. He had a small job in a music store across the street, terrorizing the yuppie teenagers who seemed to think that Britney Spears was all there was to music. While I lived on the money my parents sent me periodically, and churned novella after novella out on my rickety typewriter, sending them off to various corners of the literary world and praying that one might get published. I was, quite literally, a starving writer, and he was simply my best friend, happily going wherever I went, happy to lend me extra money when the mail was late.
Our beds were separate in that little apartment, and people look bewildered when we go for groceries together and I tell them that he was not my boyfriend. Much less, that I was not sleeping with him. Why?! their expressions seemed to ask. How can you live in such close quarters and not have sex? And I pondered that question as I watched him sleep in the cot across the room, his head nestled into the sofa pillows and his feet tangled in wool blankets, dreaming behind closed eyes. The sun had slipped into our room long before I found the answer.
Time danced past, and we soon found ourselves celebrating our move-in anniversary on the scratched linoleum floor of the apartment, with instant ramen and a bottle of cheap wine. We toasted each other over and over again for such things as being able to clean out the most dead roaches in one day, or for tidying up the most, or for being the constant laundry boy (which was obviously him) on days where all we had to wear were towels and flip-flops. We hiccupped and laughed and whined and cried the night away, just breathing in the sheer pleasure of each other's presence. I told him, sloshing the wine out of my paper cup, how remarkable it was that I never tired of his company, through years and years and years of knowing him. He was silent at first, stirring the ramen into a greasy pile, then finally, he began to sing.
He sang while the sunlight turned everything grey. I sat there, quiet, like a myriad of times before, drinking in every perfect note. It was as if his voice never fell into the cracks and pitches of puberty, but slipped from a sweet tenor into a bell-clear alto in his sleep. He sang about an old tree, and midnight swings, and hooting like an owl underneath a girl's window. He sang about typewriters clacking late into the night, and watching a girl sleep in her bed across the room. He sang about a small apartment on the edges of the city, of fast-food dinners and microwaved pizza. He sang about a girl who smoked like a train, and wrote novels that jumped from one page to another and never got published. He sang about this girl, who was sitting on the pockmarked linoleum floor, watching him with eyes like dinner plates and her mouth slightly open.
When he finished, he emptied the wine bottle and winked at me. "I made it up as I went along."
I couldn't take it, and I went to bed at seven a.m.
He cleaned up, and went off to his job at the music store.
chapter two coming soon.