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That Song

Music, like smell, provides some of the strongest sensory memory there is. It's a powerful drug, a miracle healer, and a good friend.

But no matter how much you love that song, the jukebox eventually demands another quarter. 

That Song by J.J. Sinisi



That song is playing at night when I get in the car and crank the engine and blow on my hands and do all the things to get the chill out. The song doesn’t help. It quite honestly makes it worse, but there are other things I can do to stay warm. So for now, I listen to the jumping guitar and slow melody and I think about you.
              
The next day I dig out my gun from above the closet, still in a shoe box, still hidden from Hank even though he moved out eight years ago. I head to the hospital, the tune chiming between my ears. The halls are asleep and before you wake up I stand by your bed and watch you sleep. I know you used to say that was creepy, but I don’t think you meant it like that.
              
“Hey Tiger,” you say through eyes caked with snots and so many dried tears. If I weren’t me and you weren’t you, I would have no idea what you just said. But we are ourselves, at least for now.
              
I dab your lips with a damp cloth. You attempt to smack my hand away but your coordination has failed.
              
“I heard that song on the radio last night.”
              
“Yea?” after a struggle.
        
      
“Yea. I don’t think it’s mine anymore. I think it’s time for me to give it back.”
              
“It was the only thing,” you pause, words strangled. I’ve stopped asking myself if I had found you earlier would things be different. If I hadn’t had another, and another, and one more for the road, because Jimmy always has one for the road, if I would have seen you fall, seen the stroke happen and been able to do more than just the rough calculation that you’d been down for at least three hours.
              
I hold your limp hand. The doctor walks in. He is younger than both of us and his glasses look like fashion accessories.
              
“We’re early today, Jimmy.”
              
“Couldn’t sleep.”
              
He flips some charts, makes some notes, doesn’t look at his patient, doesn’t look at my wife.
              
“To be expected.”
              
“She told me last night she’s in a lot of pain still.”
              
He glances up through those designer metal frames, back down at his clipboard.
              
“Her Morphine is already maxed out. Can’t do much more than that. She’ll just have to stay comfortable.”
              
I don’t respond. I don’t tell him you’ve never been comfortable with anything in your life.
              
It’s six hours later and I’m sitting at Tommy’s. There’s no one there, just me and Tommy and a jukebox and an empty bar full of my regrets.
              
“How is she?”
              
“Barely talks. Can’t move. Trouble breathing without the tubes.”
              
“Shit.” Tommy rubs a glass. I don’t know if it’s dirty or if this is the secret source of a bartender’s divine spirit of conversation, summoned like a genie in a bottle. “Doctor’s say it’ll get better?”
              
“Not likely, no. She was out too long.”
              
He finishes the glass. Doesn’t say anything.
              
I swill my beer and he pours another. I shotgun it. Another. He’s long since stopped asking me and my tab bridges weeks. He gets a little every Tuesday when I get paid. But I haven’t driven the tow-truck since she went down. Won’t matter much after tonight.
              
Somewhere through my fourth that song pops on the juke’s auto-play.
              
“Well shit.”
              
He doesn’t respond. He’s losing interest.
              
I kill the fourth. Sit and wait for Tommy to stop wrangling eyes with me and pour my fifth. I kill half; wipe my mouth with a dirty sleeve.
              
“After her second stint in rehab, I told her to get the fuck out. To leave me, leave Hank. Told her I never wanted to see her again.”
              
Tommy rested his hands on the bar, leaned in, the other classic bartender pose. I’m convinced he never hears a word, just plays through the script. But I guess that’s what we’re all doing.
              
“What addictions do to a family.” I shake my head, let the song fill in the blanks, drink my beer and watch the sounds vibrate the bubbles. “Anyway, she heard this song and gave it to me. I took her back a few weeks later. That was eight years ago. I’m supposed to think of her when I hear it.”
              
“Do you?” A young couple walks in and sits down. He hands them a pair of menus. The bar will come to life now. He will move on. We all move on.
              
I tap the wood, slide my empty glass across.
              
“Well?” he asks, hands still on the menus.
              
“Nope. It just reminds me of her broken. So I told her this morning I’d give it back to her.”
              
“That’s cold shit, Jimmy.”
              
“I’ll see ya’ when I see ya’ Tommy.”
              
Back in my car I hold the steering wheel, let the alcohol wave in front of my eyes. I click through every station, but the song is gone. I scan and scan and absent those sounds, I settle on static, a whitewashing haze blocking the space I can’t reach.
              
I go home and call Hank. I don’t tell him that I love him because that’s not what sons need to hear from fathers. But I tell him I’m proud of him, even though I’m not, and his mother isn’t going to get better. He says he understands and will take the next flight home. I tell him not to rush.
              
The gun hasn’t been fired in ages, but it’s okay if it doesn’t work when I need it to. That’s what our marriage was like. It just has to look like what it is.
              

I finish a sixer before driving back. The hospital is nearly as empty as this morning. I show the night nurse the piece and tell her to call the doctor.
              
His eyes are bloodshot beneath the sleek glasses. I give him my ultimatum, right there in the hall, and I know he’ll do it. I know he’ll look at my gray beard, my loose skin, at the fragility of life and he’ll take his Hippocratic Oath and bury it next to all his other regrets.
              
We walk to your room and you’re sleeping. I want to kiss you but don’t. I cock the hammer and put it next to his temple, make sure he doesn’t get cold feet.
              
Little tears drip. He loads the syringe and doesn’t wait for me to ask again. The needle whistles as he depresses the plunger and I pretend it’s the closing note, of that song, of our life. You take a quick breath and fall silent. I put the gun to my chin and pull the trigger, but it misfires. He doesn’t do anything. He lets me try again and again, but it never works. Everything is broken.


J. J. Sinisi is a professional out of New York but spends what little free time he has strolling dark alleyways creating crime fiction. His work has appeared at All Due Respect, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Heater, and he received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters contest. His noir themed website www.thisdesperatecity.com recently relaunched and is meaner than ever.