The New Song

The Word: Ear

Mel watched her daughter down in the living room, playing her old black Telecaster. Kat weighed what, a hundred pounds?  She certainly hadn’t gained any weight during her stay in rehab–how was it possible for a girl to be alive and yet so thin?  So alive and talented and painfully close to the edge–one small crumble of that narrow dirt ledge upon which she so precariously balanced would send her tumbling all the way down to the rocks a thousand feet below.  For some reason, she thought Kat would come back looking healthy, snatched back from the abyss. True, she looked a hundred percent better than she had in the days before Gerald, her ex, checked her into rehab–Gerald, who’d fought her every step on the raising of this thin, sensitive girl who was now supposedly clean and sober.

“What’s that you’re playing?” Mel called down to where Kat sat on the raggedy old couch, the survivor of the divorce, the couch that had seen how many hours of old movies and Kat’s favorite ’60s spy shows?

“It’s a new song,” Kat said. She was 22 but she looked like thirteen.  Yet there was nothing childish in the music coming from those long thin fingers on the black Tele, her thirteenth birthday present.

The song was surprisingly cheerful, a sprightly pop melody in E.  Absolutely unexpected from a girl who has been in anything but a pop mood for the last six months.  But she was still so thin, it was remarkable that a girl could be so alive and so barely there, thin and pliable as a shoot of bamboo.

And yet, bamboo had a tremendous vitality, didn’t it?  Didn’t it?  She  stirred the spaghetti sauce that Kat always liked, her ‘welcome back’ dinner.  Thinking of a show they’d once seen, a program Kat loved, that specialized in debunking legends. This one tested a legendary wartime torture, to see if a bamboo cane would actually work its way through a man’s body.  Indeed, they proved that a shoot would work its way through a side of pork in under three days.

Kat was alive.

And she had made up this song in the place Mel could only think of as That Place.

Did she even know this girl, this child which had come out of her, her talent seemed otherworldly now, her life a dangerous mystery. Mel gave the sauce a last stir, splashed in some wine and turned down the heat.  She went down into the living room, picking up her old Guild guitar from the rack, and joined her daughter on the old grimy couch.

“Play it again, I couldn’t hear from up there,” Mel said.

And Kat smiled at her.  A smile! That was unexpected. And began to play.  So confident, so authoritative.  When did she get so good?  And Mel listened, trying to work her way into the tune, she was improvising around her daughter’s line, picking it up.

They didn’t talk about That Place, the overdose, the why and the how.  For now, they were just playing.  Kat leading, Mel close behind.  She couldn’t ask for assurances, she couldn’t ask what came next.  There was no sheet music for this one, she would have to play it by ear.

Part  of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: CANE


7 Responses to “The New Song”

  1. LOVE IT! This really is how art presents itself, how an artist is revealed beneath the facade of what people have chosen to see. I liked the description of authority and strength which came with the character playing her instrument–how in one flash, she had transformed into something which transcended anything physical. You are such a gorgeous writer, Janet Fitch!

  2. Wow, what a great one. Like I was there, listening to their homecoming-jam.

  3. A small clip of awesome. Glad to find you blogging. I had ‘friended’ you on Myspace a loong time ago and after jumping that ship, missed your words.

    I like the writing prompt…maybe I’ll give it a go and link.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this, Janet. I definitely connected with this piece the most out of all of your “word” short stories (well, this and the “Hand” come to a close tie). But this honestly gave me chills. Truly hit me hard, taking me back to the early days after I was released from treatment — that near “innocent” bareness of coming home.

  5. Veronique D Says:

    Is there anybody here (Janet or someone else) who can recommend a literary or almost literary book that is cheerful with a theme like successful love, happiness, fulfilled ambition, realized dreams? I can only think of Ayn Rand and Paul-Loup Sulitzer books, and they are not very literary (but not fluff either).
    Why all serious books have to be about hurt and pain etc. I find it extraordinary and somehow scary, and telling about our mindset that there isn’t any happy literary novel I can think of.


    • Hi Veronique!
      Yes, I certainly can. But in the interests of full disclosure, I would never recommend Ayn Rand to anyone…
      I think serious books can include a great deal of hurt and pain just because these are what put us to the test in life, as human beings–we don’t know what we’re made of until we come up against the difficult. Books like that make us feel better through a process called catharsis. You feel the terror and grief, you go through it, and come out on the other end changed–the Greeks saw it as a cleansing of the soul. But if you’re looking for something more cheerful, you’re looking for a writer with a comic, rather than a tragic, view of human life, and I can recommend any number of books you might enjoy, including: Anything by Mark Childress–his new one, Georgia Bottoms is wonderful. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene. Drop City by TC Boyle is a great favorite of mine. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. My daughter has a special love of comic novels of the 1920’s–PG Wodehouse, SJ Perelman. I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan, but this is exactly what she does–successful love, happiness, fulfilled ambition, realized dreams. And for sure, there’s an absolutely incredible, beautiful book about the Curie marriage called Radioactive. Thurber is wonderful but not romantic. Moll Flanders by Defoe is amazingly modern and fun. Being There by Jerzy Kozinski. Possession is very romantic, by A.S. Byatt. Ditto The English Patient by Ontdaaje. I haven’t read Chocolat, but I imagine this is probably close to what you’re looking for. And 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez is just pure beauty. Anyway, see how that sits with you.
      all best,
      Janet F.

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