Ellie’s love life is suffering from the soundtrack in her head.
The music scares away her dates. They can’t hear it, but it bothers them nonetheless. Perhaps it’s her humming. Or sometimes, the way she holds an expression a little too long as she surfs an unheard crescendo. Her stubborn pace to a particular rhythm. How she places a finger to their lips with a giggled apology when they unwittingly speak over a key change.
To be precise, which Ellie likes to be, it’s a score, not a soundtrack. No time for the narration of others, nor the folly of foley. She dislikes songs, the forced nostalgia of her own unchanging top twenty.
Tonight, she is trying again. Framed in the open wardrobe, ready for her outfit-choosing pre-date montage – though the clothes are the simplest decision. Her unique burden is the selection of sound.
Brass? The farce of the clown readying to entertain, powdered face and big lipstick grin to cover her fears. No. It lacks nuance for a Wednesday. Maybe the breathless symphony? Wind instruments flying her off in a whirling dervish (clothes-in-the-air! Feet-on-the-stairs! Bounce-of-the-hair!).
Perhaps, the piano. A more contemplative tone. Yes. Sonata. Delicate, tentative suggestions of feminine hopes. It cues her into the elegant zip close of silk, the arch of an ankle into heels, the clasp of pearls at the top of the scale of her spine.
Her accompaniment segues her smoothly into the taxi. She stares through falling notes of rain on the window, a drowning out of roadworks and talk radio.
Everyone’s doing the same, in their way. A city, swaddled in ear buds, bound in plastic, raising volumes against boorish chat on the Underground. Ellie is simply more…organic.
And yet. Alone. And always with the mournful cello to suggest a solitude that is…expectant.
So, she is off again, her second first date of the week. ‘Music’ listed in his hobbies.
She muffles the piano for a moment on entering the restaurant, allowing a counterpoint of cutlery and glassware and warm murmurings as she is shown to her table.
She sits, and waits.
A tad too long. A few discords. Could this all be turning to tragedy? A minor key of disappointment, or even the sole high note ping…ping that indicates a warning. Something sinister.
But no, here he comes. Rushing over with apologies, awkward hellos, then sitting, settling.
Ellie watches him while the wine is poured. Should she, dare she, start the sax? The slow jazz comp to ease the evening into seductive promise? She decides to wait for the coffees, at least, and his attitude to splitting the bill.
They eye each other over the menus. A gaze is held a quaver too long.
Time for sweeping strings? Is this ‘It’, the Moment?
But then there’s nothing. Silence.
Just the rhythm of her heart, breath on lips, the wetness of a blink.
He puts the menu down. Opens his mouth, and hisses. Pop. Hiss. Pop. Hiss.
They wait for the needle to drop.
Jess Moody is a Wulfrunian in London. She likes her worlds and words a little weird. Short fiction in Ellipsis, Lunate, Storgy, Reflex, Retreat West, and Cabinet of Heed. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net. @jessmoodhe