Gilded Aria

Fiction by Rachel Pahl

Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash

It fuels the symphony inside of her head, this place, with its dripping coffee and jingling change and ticking clocks, and the delicate piano in her mind fills up the percussive white noise and trickles and dances its way towards the end of her shift, promising upbeat violins and the swell of strings when she finally gets there.

She pours two more cups of joe, sighs, times it to the drop of a piano riff so it fills the silence.

The music never ends for her, a constant stream as if her life were a silent movie with a soundtrack. The soft rain comes with clarinet trills and the heavy tread of her sensible shoes is paired with a reverberating bass drum; her inner eye directs an exterior camera, and the movie in her mind plays on, its music everlasting.

She’s gotten used to moving with rhythm, to timing out her movements and composing on the spot, to swaying a little on the subway in time to her inner orchestration. Her life has been directed by these melodies, almost like reading the script of a movie before it comes out; the music changes when things happen, adjusts to the life around her, and a long time ago the songs were exciting, interesting. Lately, however, though the orchestras still play in her head each day, passing the time, filling the mind-numbing hours of boredom behind the pie counter, they’re always the same.

Today, the clock ticks are the loudest; they’re persistent, counting down and counting up at the same time.

Too many grilled cheeses she’s served. It’s not like she’s lived enough life to be counting her grilled cheeses, but she lives on her feet and hand-to-mouth is practically her middle name; that would make a relic out of anyone.

Soft flutes filter in suddenly; her subconscious knows something is about to happen.

The patter of a snare, almost like a sheet of rain against a window. Piano, cello underneath. Slow and soft, minor, she thinks absentmindedly. Perhaps there’s a storm coming, or even something sad. Inside her head, a melody sings and it’s mellow, even chill, and it surprises her; since she moved here, got this job, no moment has been mellow, no moment has been chill. Something is about to change, and her bones prickle in anticipation; the tinkling of a windchime sounds soft behind her ear.

She relishes the cool silence that sweeps across her spine and straightens her shoulders, holds herself higher when she pours another cup of coffee. The music is changing. It’s been so long.

Someone walks into the diner and she turns to the back, asks for that burger for table five, pretends she doesn’t hear the way the music is tapering so the sound of the chimes on the door is evident, pretends like her little mind-conductor isn’t trying to get her attention.

Someone has come in, someone who sits at the counter and picks up a menu, someone who makes the music speed up like the pounding of a heart and slide slick like sweaty palms and ring dry in a suddenly warm mouth.

It’s a someone she’s not likely to forget anytime soon, with an order of pie and coffee, please, or tea if you have it, with a voice that is sweeter than any music she’s ever heard in her life.

She brings out the pie and the tea, because even though they don’t have any, she keeps some English breakfast in her purse and she’s willing to sacrifice it for this, for this new song, this new music that comes with this new person.

The music is quieter while they talk. She doesn’t ask for a name, and why should she? It’s only some pie, it’s only some tea, it isn’t the end of the symphony and it isn’t the end of the monotony and she’s always made a bigger deal of these things than she should; always was so dramatic, wasn’t she?

Their conversation rings with simple things – the weather, horror stories from their jobs, the like. The newcomer talks of a job at a bookstore, and a ruffling of pages and a ding from a cash register join the plethora of instruments, something new, something vibrant, and she’s falling hard for this symphony the way she’s fallen for the others.

She goes home and writes a piano solo, scribbles out the melody that stuck to the flypaper of her mind so gullibly, because she can’t forget this one just yet.

The melody becomes everything. She plays it at night, always worried she will forget, but every day it comes back. There is no end to this new and beautiful sound.

The newcomer visits almost every day (not a newcomer anymore) and always orders the same, talks about books and writing and history and other things she couldn’t care less about, but she keeps the tea coming because the music isn’t worth letting go.

The melody becomes all she hears, the diner’s periphery noise long forgotten. She wonders when this sweet, sweet symphony filled that missing piece of herself; it grows stronger every day.

One day, the melody changes, quiets to make room for a voice, soft and hopeful: “How would you like to get coffee with me some time?”

“No,” she shakes her head, “I don’t think so.”

It’s not you, she thinks desperately when the chimes clang on the door. It’s the symphony.

That’s what I’m in love with.

The music never stops, and she plays it every night.

About Rachel Pahl 305 Articles

Rachel Pahl is a sophomore at Clayton A. Bouton High School. She enjoys reading, studying linguistics, and fretting over fictional characters.