Wednesday Write-In #36

This week’s words were:

on the ledge  ::  fingerprint  ::  subtitle  ::  just a cigar  ::  birthday

Meet on the Ledge

She wakes to singing, gentle and under his breath. Barely there at all, it’s more of a vibration in his chest than anything. He’s warm beside her.

‘Morning,’ she whispers, curling herself into the hollow under his arm. They’re lying on the couch in the living room, and the curtains are askew. The light falls across her face like the blade of a sword.

‘Morning, you,’ he says, between verses. He sings her awake, making her feel like a snake being charmed out of a basket. Wineglasses cluster around overflowing ashtrays like workers around water coolers. The air in the room is heavy with remembered crowds. Laughter lingers in every corner.

‘It was a great party, wasn’t it?’ he says, when the song comes to an end. ‘Very, I don’t know – decadent, maybe. Bohemian.’ She feels him smiling.

‘They don’t throw ‘em like that any more, that’s for sure,’ she agrees. There’s a thickness in her voice, and a strange taste in her mouth. She rolls her tongue around, feeling all her teeth, trying to get her bearings. Everything feels upended. She tastes wrong, she feels wrong. Her head spins. ‘Where is everyone?’

‘Well, the birthday girl is in bed – I’m not sure who with,’ he says, archly. Her eyes fall on the birthday card they all clubbed together to make for her – it has a picture of Sigmund Freud on the front. Captioned ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…’, she grins as she remembers the messages they put inside. ‘I think there are a few marooned souls on the floor, too. Little islands of drunken solitude.’

‘You’re such a poetic fool,’ she teases, laying her hand flat on the skin of his chest. She stretches out her fingers. They feel like rivers, flowing down her arm and out under her nails, covering him from head to toe, dripping onto the carpet. She begins to feel light-headed. As if he can sense her beginning to float away, he lays his hand on top of hers. He circles her knuckles gently. Beneath her ear, his heart thuds, steady as the oceans.

‘You know, skin can take a fingerprint,’ he says. ‘So, if I become a crime scene, they’ll dust me. They’ll try to pin it on you.’ His voice takes on a noirish tinge. ‘You gotta make a run for it, sister. You gotta never let ‘em catch you!’

‘Idiot,’ she smiles. ‘I’m too clever for that. Don’t you think this is all part of my master plan?’

‘I never doubted you for a second,’ he says, chuckling. She feels his other hand start to play with her hair. She wonders if she stinks of sweat, or smoke, or worse.

‘What were you singing?’ she asks, covering her sudden shyness. She wants to ask him a different question, but she’s not brave enough to form the words.

‘Just now? It was Meet on the Ledge. Fairport Convention. Do you know it?’ She desperately wants to lie, to pretend she’s on his level, but instead she shakes her head.

‘Shame,’ he says. ‘It’s a great tune.’ The melody beneath her ear starts up again. She listens, and her mind fills up with images of high places, blown lives, waste. Lost friends. She finds it depressing.

‘A bit sad, isn’t it?’ she says. He’s silent for several minutes, but his heartbeat fills her mind.

‘No way,’ he replies eventually. ‘They knew how to write a song, back in the day.’ He hums a bit more, like he’s fast-forwarding a tape. Eventually, he gets to the part he wants. ‘“If you really mean it, it all comes round again,”’ he sings, so softly that only she can hear. ‘This isn’t the end, you know what I mean? It’s all a cycle. We’re meaningless.’ He pauses, takes a deep breath. ‘What’s the point of any of it?’ he says, his voice soft and far away. She can’t say why, but something about his words makes her feel uncomfortable. She swallows a sudden mouthful of hurt.

‘Sometimes I wish you came with subtitles,’ she jokes after a few minutes, looking up at him. His eyes are bright green in the morning light. They search her face for a long time, as if looking for a foothold. Then he blinks, and looks away.

Much later, she’ll remember this moment, and wonder what she missed. Every time this date that was once just a birthday, and which became so much more, rolls around, she’ll listen to the song. She still won’t understand, and she’ll wonder if her fingerprints are still on his skin. Between the notes of the song she’ll tell herself she can hear his heartbeat, and she’ll cry a little less with every passing year.

16 thoughts on “Wednesday Write-In #36

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Wow. Thanks, Kate. As for ‘if I struggled with it…’ – yes, I did. I almost gave myself a brain-hernia. 😀

      I’m glad you liked it, though. It’s always good to work in a Fairport Convention reference when you can. 😉

      Reply
  1. Sam E.A.B. Russell (@thequietscribe)

    Excellent choice with the track there Sinead! My dad is a FC fan so I’m familiar with a couple of their albums 😀 It embodies the impermanence, I think, if I’ve understood it correctly. And to me, it also reaches back to things lost, like you character has missed something too, something that was obviously really important. A great reflection perhaps, on what contemporary society misses all the bloody time, too.

    Well done with working this one onto the virtual page this week – it’s hard when you have a block rockin’ your noggin’ but you’ve evoked the post-party, hung-over happiness and the weird anxiety that comes with it, with ease.

    The tenderness between the characters hits the spot so you should be proud of yourself with this one.

    Sam

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      😀 A lot of Dads are fans of FC. I am, too – my taste in music has always been sort of forty years behind the times. No bad thing, normally. As soon as I read the words ‘on the ledge’, the song muscled its way into my mind and just wouldn’t budge. So, therefore, the story had to be written around the song.

      *sigh* Inspiration, thou art a fickle fiend, and all that.

      Thank you for your comment – you’ve understood, as always, exactly where I was going with this. Thanks for your kind words!

      🙂

      Reply
  2. runwithbulls

    Your use of language never fails to move me. Loved the feel of the after party: “The air in the room is heavy with remembered crowds. Laughter lingers in every corner.”

    And then the sense of loss in the last paragraph – loved it! 🙂

    Reply
  3. patrickprinsloo

    It moved from exquisite happiness to real sadness. But the para about thickness in the voice, strange taste etc jarred for me. Some great similes. I’m not sure I really care for him and I’m sorry she had to experience that sadness for so long.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Patrick! Interesting to know that paragraph jarred for you. Sorry about that! 🙂 I’m not sure I care for him, either, but I also feel sorry that his friend didn’t understand what he was trying to tell her. And I can’t really dislike a person who listens to Fairport Convention, so I can’t be too hard on him. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, as always.

      Reply
  4. Elaine McKay

    I think he is probably terribly attractive, but not the type to commit for any length of time! I feel so sorry for her and the loss she feels. I think the party sounds interesting- ‘decadent’ – I wonder what was going on. The after party descriptions are terrific. They capture that hazy, perhaps still half intoxicated, feel. You do bring this round to a philosophical point beautifully. Another great piece.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! Yes, I’m sure he’s terribly attractive – one of these louche, effortless individuals that throw the lives of everyone around them into chaos.

      Thanks a lot for your very kind comment. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Elaine McKay

        Hi, I just thought I’d say that our posts are beside each other on Flash Friday (Marie). I don’t have a blog or anything so wasn’t sure how to say ‘it’s me.’ You said you had won second prize and I had a look at the site. I am finding the photo prompt difficult. The whole thing is quite different, actually. I’ve had four goes, but you disappeared for a few weeks. Now that you’re there again, I thought I’d say! I see some other folk from Wednesday there, too. You are definitely a trailblazer!

  5. emmaleene

    I just wrote an essay/ the longest comment ever and now it’s disappeared. I hope it will just magically appear as a post I cant see, like it did before. If not I will have another go tomorrow. (have a reading and a theory behing it and an attempt at constructive criticism (had to really search !). I have to go now and try to sweep up my brain, it’s melting all over the place; the lack of sleep is taking its toll !! Really liked it. Will return !

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Oh, my goodness! No, it hasn’t appeared anywhere. I’m so sorry it’s disappeared into the ether. If you can remember what you wanted to say, please do come back and post again. 🙂

      And, get some sleep. 😀

      Reply
  6. emmaleene

    Good morning! Been looking forward to getting back to you; think there’s a problem with the internet connection and suspect it happened to me another week when I commented on one of your stories and the comment disappeared. Sorry about that, there’s prob a week with no comment from me.
    I really like this and I read it that the guy commit suicide. Here’s all the reasons why- He predicted his own death “if I become a crime scene”, – the word of the songs are judged depressing by the narrator,- he seems drawn to/associated with darkness “His voice takes on a noirish tinge”. It is the following lines that convinced me that even at the party he may have been contemplating it “‘What’s the point of any of it?’ he says, his voice soft and far away. She can’t say why, but something about his words makes her feel uncomfortable. She swallows a sudden mouthful of hurt.”
    It was the look of non-communication between them that tweaked my interest towards this reading in the first place. I’m not sure if you intended this as you were writing but I like how things are left ambiguous so the reader can decide. There’s a lot of well-crafted subtlety going on here too which I love.
    Because of your apology at the start I first read it searching for constructive criticism and there’s only one image/ word- They! “She stretches out her fingers. They feel like rivers, flowing down her arm and out under her nails, covering him from head to toe, dripping onto the carpet.” I had to re-read this few times to understand and I think it’s the word “They” that jarred because if it is referring to her fingers then I found it difficult to visualise them “flowing down her arms…”.
    I know I said a lot more in my original message about the brilliant evocation of atmosphere etc but going post this before I lose it again!!! I really enjoyed this. Thanks for writing it.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Emmaleene! That’s amazing. I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into this comment!

      Yes, your interpretation is closest to what I’d intended when I wrote the story, but I deliberately tried to leave it open to allow people to make what they wanted of it. I’ve always found the song I mention, ‘Meet on the Ledge’, a bit dark, because I think it’s about death and about people dying young, and that was supposed to be a hint – but a subtle one, because I don’t think many people know that song. I thought perhaps the mention of fingerprints, and how she wonders if hers are still on his skin, might give it away too.

      But I really love that people enjoyed this, no matter what way they read it. And thanks so much for your comment about the fingers – I totally see what you mean. I’ll think about how to reword that image so that it makes more sense! Maybe it doesn’t make sense, and should be scrapped. Thanks for bringing my attention to it.

      Have a great day/weekend! 🙂

      Reply

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