For the longest time she could only make love listening to Ravi Shankar’s “Raga Jog,” the sitar’s lengthy drone, its calisthenics climaxing precisely with the waves of her own roiling body in a way that verged on what she perceived religion, it seemed, must truly be. Shankar’s fingers moved like the caterwauling swing of a window washer, snaking across the elevated strings of his instrument while she rocked herself back and forth over the façade of her lover. Her body a tool for making music, every rhythm unexpected and quickening its pace.
After marrying for the first time, though, this changed. On those nights when she would black the lights and purr, the song was of a different, less foreign tongue: T. Rex’s “Mambo Sun.” Now there was muted guitar, neon stars of a chorus, her sex evolving from a calculated Eastern key to a far more porous net of notes. Marc Bolan whispered milky as she rolled as in a rocking chair and she thought he must be whispering just for her, and from their first time together she imagined loving the slinky singer instead of the man beneath her hips.
She couldn’t stand to hear the thing when he left her. She cried, of course, for a number of days that turned to weeks that turned to the type of pity people quit caring for. And when she started seeing men again she would take them and love them before knowing their names, removing her own clothes and gently dropping the needle into Aretha’s rendition of “Save Me.” The queen of soul at twenty-five collected every fear of love she knew into a single tune like the final bid before the river, the trumpets quick pricks of staccato over the sad and desperate soul of Detroit City. Every guy she met she swore never to re-meet, and went on living like this, singing Save me, loving and leaving and loving, like it was nothing, all over again.
Her second husband was a bopper from Harlem and they rode each other for hours to the sloppy bursts of Ornette and his double quartet. Don Cherry and Hubbard on trumpet, Dolphy on bass clarinet, every note the wrong one, every minute a parody of the blues. This is the man who made love while wearing his socks and shoes. And though she was dutiful and game, in truth, in the music, it was clear he wouldn’t do. But as time went by and she inched from her youth as from a sheath or a silken cocoon, she grew to love loving to jazz, the freedom improvising allowed, the tender way art became chaos until she could no longer tell the difference. Her body at once listless and then arched, her mouth in lustful embouchure, every kiss a scaling whole note.
Then on the way up the stairs to fill the silence of all their childless rooms with the shrill sirens of gulls that the making of great love brings, his heart burst—and in a flash she was left alone again.
More weeks, time to think and to fill herself with emptiness she told herself would pass. She listened to her old love songs, each one a memory of steam and the pervading stench of intimacy. She listened and kept the music going as she went about each day— Aretha while her tea steeped in the morning, the tabla of the ragas knocking counter- rhythms against the gas pedal on the way to work, twelve-minute Coltrane solos when she reached home again and stepped into the shower with every light kept off. Everything she did entwined in the carnal life she knew so closely and now, in loneliness, knew not at all.
And suddenly at middle-age she found out what it meant to fall in love without parameters—to fall so cleanly there was no after-thought, only discovery and complete, circular joy. He was four years younger, an astronomer, and so smitten from the start he caught his shoelace in the gnarly teeth of an escalator while watching her pass—unknowing, saddled with bags—the other way.
A week later, after dinner, she let him touch her and they made love to total silence. The thickness of it was the heavy thickness of a dream, the weight of the music’s absence stifling and freeing in waves like the tides the moon makes. And the moon hangs above them now through the trees shaking in the breeze behind her shaking house, crooning “Nessun Dorma.” Il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia, it sings, and she swirls on a gentle pivot and revolves into the surge of love and the simple eddies that make it so; the music
makes it so.
Brad Efford is an MFA candidate at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA. His work can be found in The Fiddleback, Shadowbox, kill author, and The Ampersand Review Online, as well as at Punchnel’s, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.