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Slim Can't Whistle: A Short Story
She was sitting on a bench that night, under a tree, wishing that she could whistle like everyone else. It was such a trivial flaw to think about, but those are the ones that stay with you forever. You think, Why would God (or the evolutionary process, whichever you believe in) make me like this? What good could possibly come from me not being able to whistle? You complain to yourself, Well now I can’t be like Lauren Bacall. Now I can’t be glamorous.
She briefly pressed her lips together and blew a bit of air out in hopes that maybe this was the exact moment when she was meant to whistle for the very first time.
No sound was made.
The lack of sound that escaped her mouth brought on more reasons, subconsciously, why she wasn’t an adequate young woman. Which brought quiet tears.
But while she was in those tears, on the bench, under the tree, she lifted her head to see a man–most likely in his mid-twenties–sauntering, like he was secretly listening to music, in her direction. He had a white shirt on and the girl immediately liked him. His hair fell nearly to his chin, but was surprisingly well-kept, his height and weight were the same as any average man’s. There was really nothing out of the ordinary about the guy until she saw his eyes. She had heard about these eyes in love songs and romance novels; the kind that you find yourself lost in, the kind that you voluntarily drown in, the kind that you know from first sight are bad news.
At that, she pulled her own eyes back down to the book in her hands, although she found herself reading the same, forgettable sentence over and over again. She had read that sentence five times when she saw the pair of beaten-up Converse stop to her left. The stranger suddenly asked her what was wrong, making her jump at the sound.
“Then why are you crying?” he asked, Ã la Peter Pan’s Wendy.
“Please, I just…I want to be alone,” she replied Ã la Greta Garbo.
But this guy wouldn’t take her Grand Hotel nonsense. He saw her in tears, on the bench, under the tree and by God he could delve. And she grumbled when he did. He took a seat next to her, leaned in and asked, for the second time, what was wrong. His voice had a pleasant, almost child-like tone to it. Slightly shaky, as if he, too, had just been in tears.
She took a deep breath, preparing for laughter and answered, “I can’t whistle.”
There was a moment of silence after that and the girl began to wish that she had kept that whistling business to herself. That she had come up with some better reason for crying, like a failed relationship or a dying mother or a shitty career choice; all of which, were true. But that whole whistling business was the main thing, consciously, that had been on her mind when this guy with the shaky voice asked her what was wrong.
Huh?, she thought, That’s what I get for my troubles? A measly Huh? If she had known his response would be so dull, she wouldn’t have even said anything.
“I can’t wink.”
She lifted her head up, half in shock, half in curiosity.
“Yep. I can’t wink. Never could.” He gave her a short demonstration; squinting both eyes at once, the right one twitched slightly. “It looks like I’m having a seizure, doesn’t it?”
The girl found herself laughing. “It totally does!”
The two of them sat there for a minute, on the bench and under the tree, chuckling about their silly imperfections, when he finally asked, “Can he whistle?”
Part of her knew who he was talking about, but she wanted to make sure. “Who?”
“The idiot you were crying over. Can he whistle?” His disastrously bright eyes had grown concerned. Older. And, waiting for an answer, they wouldn’t turn from her face.
She nodded solemnly. “He can wink, too. He winked quite a few times when I wasn’t around.” Her fingers fiddling with the book’s pages, she forgot for a moment that the soothingly-voiced man was next to her, on the bench, under the tree. “And I knew it, too. I knew it. That’s the awful thing about it all. I knew where he was going…every other goddamn night…and I just took it. Or maybe I was ignoring it.” She realized then that she wasn’t talking to herself and looked back at the man with a sad smile. “And I’m upset that I can’t whistle. How ridiculous is that?”
For a second, he seemed to be taking all that she had said into consideration, thinking of a way to get his advice out clearly and easily. “Whistling’s overrated, anyway,” was his response. “What’s in now…is humming.” His lips curved into an amused grin when he said it, but his eyes remained somewhat unhappy. Slowly, he leaned in closer to the girl, pressings his lips almost to her ear and whispered in his beautifully shattered voice,
“Don’t you ever stop humming, Ana.”
He pulled away after that. And within seconds, had walked completely away from her baffled view.
Once she determined that it had been a lucky guess, the stranger knowing her name, Ana sat up from the bench, away from the tree, and made her way back to her bleak apartment where she could be miserable by herself.
That was when she saw the commotion coming from 153B.
Although she had never actually seen the resident of the neighboring apartment, she had heard about him. An artist; a struggling musician to be exact. And the other women of the complex had seen him. They would bring him food, personalized mix tapes, company, whatever they thought a sensitive, soft-spoken musician might need. Every so often, a women would manage to talk herself through the door, leaving the next morning with a foggy smile. But the majority of them were thanked and rejected.
But there were no foggy smiles on the women standing around the door this evening.
Ana watched as the paramedics drew a sheet over the shaky-voiced, bright-eyed musician from the bench under the tree ten minutes prior.
She found that she had been staring, when a voice behind her announced, “He was freaking twenty-four.” Leaning against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest, was twenty year old Natalie. One of the accepted girls. “It’s plain depressing.”
Her hands clasping to her book, she blinked. “When did…How–”
“His brother found him on his bed twenty minutes ago. Freaking drugs, I’m guessing. You knew him?”
“I...I don’t know…”
Pushing through the faces surrounding 152B, Ana slipped the key into her door in a haze; the same dizzying mist that the accepted girls had felt. She gradually undressed herself, each garment feeling like a lifted burden, a peeled layer.
On the bed, under the sheets, the girl quietly hummed herself to sleep.