THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED (FEATURING CHRISTOPHER GRANT’S THE DEAF GUY) - CHAD EAGLETON
The day the music died I didn’t walk from the flashing red and blues. I walked toward them and the sleek patrol cars filling the parking lot on the other side of the low stone wall. I passed into the crowd without a single jostle. At the front of the barricade, I scanned Braford Manor, its twisting staircases and stone towers, the historic home long ago split into separate floors and parceled off as retail space.
Everywhere I saw CLOSED signs.
I read lips and sorted fragments.
“...should’ve had breakfast...”
“...register cleaned out...”
“...she was so pissed, but I was just looking...”
“...it’s supposed to rain later, but...”
“...fired wildly. Multiple gunshot wounds...”
“...I’ve gotta take a piss...”
“...no signs of forced entry...”
“...what’s wrong with him—flunking math...”
“...pronounced her DOA...”
I turned and, with purpose, walked home in a silence that some would call deafening, but I called normal.
Annalee was always there behind the counter in the little, basement store keeping rhythm with head bobs and finger taps. I didn’t think she noticed me as I wondered through the rows of wooden bins, searching for some Rosetta Stone other than the torn pieces of cardboard marking the alphabet and the magic marker scrawl signaling the genre shift.
While flipping through the CDs and thumbing the vinyl, I wondered what this album would sound like, who would buy that record and when. Afterward, I paged through coffee-stained copies of Rolling Stone on the old leather couch. Once the couch mistakenly belonged to someone with a cat. The punctures felt like Braille, the claw marks comforting in those broken, hidden ways that only home can be. And for a moment, the silence was not so empty.
The day after visiting the cathedral, I realized she had noticed me.
She found me in the rock section, staring at the cover of an album called Trout Mask Replica. I felt her standing next to me. I ignored her until she tapped me angrily on the shoulder.
Turning, I read her lips. “...going to buy anything? Ever? Don’t mind browsing, but shit, dude, you’ve never bought anything, ever.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” She shrugged back, eyes face-locked. “Are you deaf?”
She started to nod, too. Awareness stilled the movement, but sent her hands fluttering down against her legs. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish. I returned the album and when I looked up she fumbled her way through signing, “Why come into a record store?”
I signed back, “Look. Imagine.” Her eyes followed my fingers. “Why do you know sign language?”
Confusion. Then a ringed forefinger signaled wait. She dashed back to the register and returned with a scratch pad. I repeated in print, hovered the pen for a moment, adding with a dash, “—Always deaf. Music?”
She skimmed. “I’m a girl, I wanted to talk to friends across the classroom,” she over-enunciated.
She read again. Twice—just to be sure. “You’ve never heard music?”
“No,” I signed.
She caught that one. “Ever?”
“No,” I said aloud.
Thick clumps of mascara clung to her damp lashes.
“I can feel bass,” I signed.
She chewed her lip. Started to speak. I lost her words in a quick turn. She retreated through the maze of bins and disappeared below counter.
Arms loaded with CDs, she popped back up. Jewel cases cascaded across the counter like spilt treasures. She sifted through them until she came up with her gold.
I approached, sat the pad on the counter. Turning, she stood on tiptoes to reach the player mounted high on the brick wall. The drawer slid out and she fumbled above her head until she felt the disc catch. She pushed it closed.
I watched her pick up her stool and carry it to the far side of the counter, close to the large speaker sitting on the floor. She patted it and I sat.
Up close, I could see that she was older than either her clothes or her exuberance made her seem. The lines on her face hid behind make-up, a mass of dyed bangs and razored hair. She smelled cleaner than anyone as young as she still wanted to be.
Her black Chuck Taylor’s heel-kicked as she scooted herself backwards onto the counter. “We’re going to start with Buddy Holly—‘Rave On’,” she said, tugging on the necklaces draped around her Kula Shaker t-shirt. “It was covered by Mellencamp for that shitty Tom Cruise movie, but he’s nothing really, just a poor man’s Springsteen. God, I wish you could hear this! He starts off with this six syllable ‘Well’...”
There was something I needed before I could head across town to a different old house, split not into businesses, but sectioned into apartments. I had been there before. That time I didn’t have a weapon.
This time I did.
In life, in my life, there are few moments of genuine kindness. Rare moments when someone does something without any other motivation. Void of sense of self. No unspoken, but expected return.
She was like that. It killed her.
In my home there is only one gun. For that I have a permit. I like my life and were someone to come uninvited into my home, they would die under the full force of the law.
Across town, in secure storage, I had access to a wide variety of firearms. But, I didn’t go across town. I went into the kitchen. From the utensil drawer, I picked the largest knife I could find. I boiled it, wiped it down and secured it in my coat. I planned to leave it buried in the shared sink, lost in a mound of furry dishes.
This wasn’t a freebie. Not like the ugly girl in the diner. This was a debt. I debt I repaid with blood. She tried to give me music. Because it meant something to her. Because she recognized it as something everyone should know. I owed her because she tried the best she could. It wasn’t always perfect. But it was more than most.
“This part right here?” she said cranking the volume. “Do you feel that?”
“Robert Plant is basically just saying, ‘Ahh.’” She paced on the other side of the counter. “But he’s not; it’s more like he’s, uh...coming, okay? And it just keeps building and hanging there right? Meanwhile Jimmy Page is just...” she gestured with the remote, conjuring words.
When words didn’t appear, she fell back to air guitar. “And you’re waiting and you’re waiting and it just keeps going and you can feel it in your chest, right? And there’s this anticipation, you know, like when you think you might get kissed, and then just when you can’t take it anymore, they make you take more and finally—” She slapped her hands together hard and kicked the counter.
That day, I smelled him before I was even down the stairs and around the corner. Old sweat. Soured body odor. Something rotted. A thick chemical scent.
Peeking around the corner, I saw them arguing. Her mouth wide. Neck muscles strained. Forearms tense. Him twitching. Itching. Eyes racing.
Mine strained to read.
“...work here anymore...”
“...fucked up. You’re fucked up now...”
“...shit going on. That’s all...”
“...missing from the register...”
“...need the money...”
“...not while working here...”
“...maybe a loan...”
The register dinged open. She handed him bills. I retreated backward into the short hallway. In the poor basement lighting his shadow rounded the corner first. I fled into the restroom at the bottom of the stairs.
Ten wooden steps lead to the entrance door. I counted to 15, and chanced an opening. Above me the door swung close. I debated, chose, and then followed.
If I had known what the next week would bring, I would have killed him then.
The thing I’ve always wanted desperately from music, the thing I could never have, was a soundtrack to my life. You have it. You may not know it, but you do.
Songs tie themselves to memories. Both before and after the fact, they invoke the past with a surety unmatched. For me there are only lonely memories, quiet visuals, soundless smells and silent touches.
With a fury like the grinding of icy metal and a brutality like a snowy plane crash, a junky killed the closest I would ever come. His score robbed me of my orchestration.
But I had my own instrument.
Later at her grave, Buddy Holly CD I reclaimed from his apartment floor in my hand, I described it to her like this:
His death opens with the faintest of creaks. A door closes. Light footsteps across the room. Uneven rhythm. A jewel case squeaks. A tossed sheet. Breathing drugged and dreaming. Skin splits slowly. A bone nicked reverb with a gasping underlay. Splat and gurgle. Rising pitch. Then only gentle drip.
I don’t know if that was right—the sound. But it was the best I could do.
BIO: Chad Eagleton lives in Indiana. He has been published in DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash, Pulp Pusher, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before The Dawn (in collaboration with Keith Rawson) and Beat To A Pulp.