I am in the air, high up, watching the sun gild the wing under my lozenge-shaped window. I am trying to hold onto a memory and the notes of a song like the sun is trying to linger in the sky. The clouds look like rivers of molten metal running out to the north, running out to the south. I cheat. I press repeat. The song starts again.
There was a little girl who wrote this little song. She made up the melody a decade and a half and a thousand miles ago, after voice lessons on her little Casio keyboard in the basement at home. She tried it out on a friend’s piano the day before she left for Florida, and then it slept with the rest of her childhood for a long, long time.
I was angry at Firi. Under the same roof, close quarters, I found every reason to back up my boyfriend’s dislike of her, and then I found some reasons of my own. Fruit of the poison garden, the tensions would build: dish bickerings, privacy, personal space, Gods, could you not look at that stuff in the common room? Where else am I going to look at it?! He won’t let me put the computers in our bedroom! We seethed by day and by night I’d despair– she the songstress, and I had shared with her one night that childhood melody I wrote. Those nights, I’d hear strains of my tune played back ghost-like from her room. That song was mine, that song was part of me! Don’t touch it, don’t hurt it! Please please please don’t hurt it… I never spoke about it.
Midwinter brought a Yule bush. A Yule bush is a Christmas tree, only renamed and reclaimed by Pagan folk and taken down long before New Year’s because for us New Year’s was already done with months ago, and the jack-o’-lanterns that had lit it were nicely composting out back. It’s like a grand game of capture the flag with religious symbols: “Nya, nya, stole it back!” Not just Yule bushes, but we stole the gift giving, too. But then, it’s hard to resist an avalanche.
I hated the Yule bush. She was a fucking diva, that tree. I mean that literally. The Diva Tree, proper name, decked in pink and blue and purple, glitter everywhere, garlanded with a pink feather boa, and topped with a gods damned tiara. And peacock feathers. Only in retrospect do I venture my theory that really, I was just jealous that I hadn’t thought of it. Had to keep up appearances, though, being the curmudgeon. I stated loudly that it was tacky. Even the presents underneath.
There were presents underneath. There was even one for me from Firi, thin and flat, and she handed it to me directly. She handed it to me last. Under the wrappings was a jewel case. In the jewel case was a fresh-burned CD. My hand trembled.
“Listen to it,” she directed. So I placed it in the tray of my CD drive and let my computer pull it up with autoplay. All those nights of aching ghost melodies, and there was my tune. The timing was changed, and there was the swell of the harmony she wrote, the percussion all synthesized, and all of it rich and full, a waltz. “I want you to title it,” she said.
My eyes burned while I copied the file onto my machine, and in place of “Track 1” typed “Childhood Waltz (When I Was Young).” The melody says it, an echo, “when I was young…” as the song opens, even though there are no words. The words are in my heart. All those dusks, despairing, and she was crafting this, for me. When I was young, was I so spiteful?
Even for the acid ground and the venom thorns, the poison garden bore the sweetest fruit. One day, in grand form, I hope to waltz to the song that Firi wrote for me. Until then, may I choke on bitter vines. May they be medicine to my soul.
I cheat again. I press repeat, even though all the light is gone from the sky, and the plane begins descent.