The Guitarist

February 7, 2011
“I’m a musician, first and foremost,” he told her, and through the depths of their relationship this was his refrain. She did not understand, nor did she desire this ultimatum to place its hold on her life, but she accepted it all the same.
She saw the strings of his guitar and felt resentment. Inside the depths of the deep wood she saw only what he had always chosen above her. The resounding notes that echoed through the room struck loneliness in her heart.
He saw the delicate curve of the wood and felt the depths of his emotion swelling, threatening to rise over and spill down his cheeks. The feel of gentle vibrations against his fingers was his release. As the echoing notes he played struck the ceiling beams of an empty room, he heard the roar of a crowd.
He was frequently without human company, but he had never been alone. He always had the elegant neck of his guitar, the delicate wood of his instrument, the vibrating strings he felt against his calloused fingers.
When he placed an arm around her waist, he felt the curve of his guitar in his warm fingers. When she whispered her love to him, he heard the pitch of a scale. As their fingers intertwined, he felt cool frets beneath his.
“I’ll always love you,” she would murmur to him as they fell asleep, and as he said them he felt the insincerity of his returning words.
Together they had remained for many years, in an apathetic and lethargic environment of forced affection and artificial devotion. Their assumed love within certain social circles had simply stuck, and though they did not discuss it, both knew that the faint veil of what once could have been was long gone.
The physical relationship between the two varied additionally in cycles. After long disputes, intense energy occasionally found its way through the bedroom door, a flame likely gone by the following sunrise. As for the remainder of their time, the guitarist found himself too involved in his music to take note of the outside world.
She was unhappy with this, yet she never found it within herself to voice her troubles. She did not fear his reaction; her uncertainties lay in what she perceived to be his indifference. She didn’t believe her issues were of any concern to him, and so they weren’t.
And so they remained, in the same worn cycle of arguments and struggles, side by side yet not moving forward.
It was within this rotation that she discovered a variation in her own body’s cycle. What many perceived as a joyous occasion became her living nightmare. She fretted for a month before she found the courage to speak to him.
She bit her nails as she stood before him. Her fingertips turned purple as she twirled her hair around them; she cracked her knuckles in discomfort.
His vacant stare did not help her apprehension. He plucked a chord as she swallowed, seemingly anxious to lose himself in his music once more.
At last she spoke, her tense voice moving up an octave. The words felt like molasses in her mouth as she strained herself to spit them out. “I’m pregnant,” she uttered, her entire body shaking.
He contemplated this, his fingers absently moving up and down a series of scales as he thought. For a long time neither spoke. At last he broke the silence. “What are you going to do?” he asked, yet it was clear in his expression that his mind was not with her.
She stared at him. “What am I going to do?” she asked, her voice rising above its usual pitch. “This child is yours, too! What are we going to do? That’s the question.” Her body shook, and she gave a heaving sob. “What are we going to do?”
He placed a hand on her back, and the other he ran up and down the strings. He gave the illusion of reassurances, yet he did not say a word. An outsider might have thought that he cared for her, but his feeble effort did little to comfort her. The tears cascaded her cheeks faster as she realized he would not speak, would not soothe her growing fears for both herself and her child.
She stood and walked away from him, and as she exited the room, running her hands over her expanding stomach, she heard the faint strains of music.
As the weeks progressed she came to terms with the idea. She imagined a happy family. In her mind, as she gave birth to their child, the guitarist would finally realize something more important than his music.
He did not come to terms. Instead he hid behind stacks of music, hoping she would leave him to his songs. As he placed his hands on her protruding abdomen and the infant kicked, all he felt was the vibration of a string.
He had not kept track of the months, and in what seemed no time to him he was receiving a frantic telephone call. She was screaming at him to come to her. “I’m in labor!” she cried. “I’m having our baby!”
He placed the phone down gently. He picked up his guitar as he considered what he’d just heard. And in no time at all, he was once again lost in his music, deaf to her screams.
She cried out for him. As she went through the pains of childbirth, she called his name to empty air. She pictured his hands on hers, his reassurances, but he did not come. And as the doctors held up a squirming baby girl, her tears were not for the child.
For hours after delivering, she waited for him. There she remained at the hospital, hoping for his face, prepared to forgive everything for only a brief appearance.
All she wanted was to see him express the slightest amount of concern for her welfare. She only needed to know that he cared. She needed just an ounce of the time and devotion he poured into his music.
There she waited from dawn to midnight, hoping against hope that any moment she would see his face. She wanted to show him his daughter; she wanted to see a smile cross his face as he held his own flesh and blood. She needed his love, and for the final time he had failed her.
Clutching the bundle of soft blankets, she walked through the hospital lobby under the glare of harsh fluorescents. She shielded the small pink face peeking from between the folds of cloth from the intense shine.
She moved mechanically through the sliding doors, leaving her dreams behind with the warmth of the building and walking into the callous depths of reality. Her last hope of his appearance dissolved into the strong air currents that pushed their resistance into her. She resignedly surveyed her surroundings, knowing that going to the guitarist was not an option, but having nowhere else to go. Slowly she began to walk, one foot placing itself ahead of the other with no intent.
She walked down side streets and alleyways, past homeless drunks and stray dogs, a harsh wind whipping her hair into her face. As she walked, she rocked the sleeping bundle in her arms, crooning a song. She walked without purpose, without destination, without thinking. Her mind focused only on the step ahead of her, no other worries clouding her consciousness. In this manner she walked for hours, nearly delirious from the strain on her body and lack of sleep.
She walked until she came to a bridge, and here her steps slowed. She drifted to the rail almost as if in a dream. Staring down at the rushing water beneath her, she contemplated the drop in an objective manner, almost without thinking.
Cradling the child in the crook of her arm, she climbed to move herself into a sitting position on the rail. Her bare feet, caked with dirt and grime, pointed straight down to the rapids below. She watched the water rush beneath her, so hurried, so full of purpose. It had a place to go, while she knew she did not. She stared so long at the fluid stream that her eyes glazed over, morphed into an unblinking stare at the river beneath her feet.
“It’s not so far down,” she whispered to the swaddled bundle in her arms.
The following day, the guitarist sat on his front porch at sunrise, lost in his song. His spell was broken as the morning paper was tossed onto his front steps. Absently he wandered over to pick it up, glancing at the front page as he did so. A crease appeared between his eyebrows as he read the headline.
“Woman jumps off bridge with newborn, both drowned.”
The letters jumped off the page at him in bold print. He set down the newspaper with a peculiar feeling in his chest.
He had not given her the love she deserved, though this realization had not been present in his mind through their relationship. And even as he learned of her suicide, the thought was only a brief notion fleeting through his head, gone as soon as it had appeared.
He picked up his instrument, always ready for the condolences it readily offered him. He plucked out the beginning notes to a melody, forgetting already the disconcerting news and the strange feeling it brought to him. The sweet notes flowed into the cool morning air, playing a tribute to the sun.
He filled his head with the music, making an attempt to put what he had read out of his mind. And though she graced his thoughts fleetingly in the following months, he never realized the extent of his role in her life.
He sat unaccompanied in the home that had never really belonged to her, time slipping away beneath his moving fingers. Seconds wore into minutes, minutes wore into hours, hours wore into days, and the guitarist played on.

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