Music to Words is an experiment focused on the way music can inspire writing; you're encouraged to listen to the song as you read, since the piece was written while it played.
“He sounds like how heartbreak feels,” she said.
I knew exactly what she meant; I felt it in my chest, the hollow tension. His voice was like ice skates on a freshly frozen pond, a quiet cutting. And for a fleeting moment, I could hear those skates, whispering over the ice, above the buckling subway tracks beneath me.
As the concrete beams flew by, I considered our conclusions. “Fate always has Her way,” we had agreed. And that’s why I liked her; the honesty. But I knew I’d fight it anyway. I knew I’d push back on that fate, because a person who speaks their mind is few and far between.
Real honesty, I thought, is a lonely drag on a cigarette, a view of the sunset on an empty roof, nobody to enjoy it with. A face of freckles that you can only see in your imagination, or the cold October water of the Atlantic. We beg for that kind of honesty, but do we really want to hear it? Do we love the words, “this isn’t right for me,” or would we rather bathe in the “I love you’s,” even when they aren’t real?
Real honesty is admitting you walk slower now, and it’s nice noticing the moon again. Real honesty is the way the elevator counts down the floors; 5, 4, 3, 2… and you are scared of that moment when the doors finally open, ‘cause you know you’re walking out for good.
Real honesty is loving someone even when you don’t know them. Real honesty is shaking your head at the people who can’t fall for someone in a sentence, in a breath; what takes you so long?
Real honesty is the nuance of it all; a 3 train running local north of Times Sq., the same way she may only like hot sauce in the morning. Real honesty is admitting you wish she could have been on the train, just to see the way you stared at your feet and listened to the tracks below; real honesty is wishing that she could see the way you watched the subway map and wondered why something so simple, getting from point A to point B, had to be so tricky. The subway road on, though, and it always does. But wouldn’t it have been nice if she could have been there? Standing in the corner, cheek against the pole, hand on the railing, watching. She would have seen me with my elbows on my knees, my chin in my hands, taking a breath. She would have seen how I twirled a lighter in my fingers, counting the spots on the floor. She may have stepped forward, her face off the pole now. I’d run my hands through my hair and look at the ceiling, begging for a distraction from it all, not realizing that what I wanted a distraction from was standing right there. A street musician would strum the first notes on his guitar, and apologize in advance to the car for bothering them. I’d smile at the older woman across from me, amused at the redundancy of performance. But we’d be glad for him, and I know that, because her heart aches must be forty years greater than mine, and I needed his music the way a panting dog needs a bowl of water. She’d see this exchange and smile, remembering how I had a way with people. I’d lean back against the seat and rest my head on the worn subway windows. The car would begin to slow and she’d stop hiding her stare now, looking right at me. I’d rest the lighter against my knee, spinning the wheel and sparking a fire, and she’d know it was her I was hoping to find in that flame. We’d be close to a complete stop, and she’d still be staring, but I’d be watching my reflection in the glass instead, always trying to figure out what it is that’s inside me. Suddenly I’d hear the waves breaking; I’d catch a scent of that Cape Cod breeze. The bells would ring and the PA system would click on.
“This is, Utica Ave,” a woman would tell me. I’d snap out of my daze in time to see the back of her head as she exited the train, her hair pulled over her shoulder. I’d wonder to myself how long I’m going to see her in the strangers, and she’d bite her lip as she walked away, holding back something she didn’t understand either, and just then the doors would close behind Her.