The Morning After :: One record’s story of love
“It’s been eight months since she last picked me up. It was April, late April, no rain though,” the leaning vinyl murmured, soft tones trying to shutter up hurt like it was an unwanted, too sunny morning.
It was midnight though, with no sun at all. There was rain, a lot of it, three days so far and four nights, despite the cliche that “it never rains in Southern California.”
“Hey, my song is not cliche!” Greenberg interjected, insulted. “All your moping is cliche.”
Musicforthemorningafter had claimed her heart for years now. He’d been loved like that childhood stuffed bunny with the torn ear and worn patches, held close like a lover meant to stay the course, played with more than often. It seemed like they were “meant to be”, another over-used cliche, yes, but one he believed in. He thought she’d keep spinning him until he was old and worn out, until he couldn’t play any longer.
All the others in the green milk-carton crates envy him. Falling into each other, whispering, conspiring, and pointing out flaws.
“Track six is trite. Repetitive.” Tidal said, stroking her long, straight hair and wrapping invisible arms around all her perceived emotional depth.
“The fifth song always makes her cry. I never do. Never, never ever. ” London Calling brags, holding himself up straighter, trying to be the tallest in the row.
“Love is fleeting; you should know that by now.” Substance said, mournfully. Sorrowfully singing how love will tear them all apart.
“You were never all that,” Rio said, smugly. “She was mine in her awkward years. She left lipstick marks on me. Daily. Played me while she touched herself, pretending it was me. None of you will ever have fifteen and sixteen. I was her first.”
It all happened so suddenly, Musicforthemorningafter thought. He’s been her early mornings, her long afternoons, her off to dream land lullabies. He’d seen her through two lovers, one failed marriage, and a six-month stint of self-imposed isolation.
She’d had two hair colors, a car crash, three jobs, and a baby daughter since they’d met, all with songs as soundtrack.
Sure, she’d flirted with the others in the crate. Some were best when she’d had too much to drink. Another set were just right when she wanted to wail and throw her body around the room, crashing her knee on the coffee table’s end, falling down hard, then getting back up again. Two others were for tears, for disappointment, for shame and sorrow. Then they’d get stashed in the back for months and months; no one wants to replay those low points too soon.
But his songs crossed-boundaries, moods, good and bad days. All of her somethings he seemed to fit right into. She knew all his words, sang-a-long to every song, wrote them down in notebooks, even had one line from that so-called “trite” track tattooed on her left arm (take that, Tidal).
But something’s changed, he thinks. It feels like she’s gone.
He has no one to talk to about it though. So many years as beloved, as her favorite, isolated him from the others. Or, maybe he did that to himself. Puffing his chest out, taking up more space than his double-sleeve required, boasting the scrawled signature across his front side, letting it grow into a self-satisfied smile. He’d been content to be her number one, happy even, never needing anyone else’s soft touch but hers. He was always there for her red-lipped pucker and that slightly out-of-tune voice that was unmistakably hers.
Even on her worst days she was beautiful to him. Even on her worst days he was who she clung to.
“She’ll never love you back,” Songs of Love and Hate surmised. “I’ve been around a good long time. Been with three other beauties, and it always ends. They always break our hearts.”
He didn’t heed the warning. No, he was different. She was different.
Or was she?
He traced back the days before this break, rewinding them like the old cassette relics that came before him. Black Celebration and Purple Rain had told him about the “early days”, how their ancestors had been smaller, their insides visible, and easily torn. They’d come in to take their place, lasting longer, their grooves stronger, internal vulnerabilities impenetrable.
He could hardly picture what they’d been like. All he’d ever had to contend with was the smaller version of him, still circular, but brighter, lighter, and easier to snap in half. She’d had one of him like that, a CD version, but she preferred the weight he carried, his raw sound, the turn of his sides, from one to the other.
Back before April, before those final days basking in her attentions, she’d leave them all for days on end. Sometimes she’d throw him on, turning him up loud enough to shake the wall behind where he played. She’d rush around, manically grabbing at this and that, sometimes singing with him. But she rarely got through track three before she’d turn him off again, leaving him face up and naked, lying in wait, his cover left far across the room, on the couch, open wide.
“She’s in love,” The Libertines (self-titled) said, English accent heavy on the ‘ove, as the two symbiotic singers leaned in close to each other, as if in love themselves, to illustrate the point.
Is that what it was?
Is that what this still is?
But he’d been there through love, twice, three times maybe. Hadn’t he? They’d come and gone, like pop songs, addictive, sugar-sweet and hot as hell, until she couldn’t bear them anymore.
He’d been there to cleanse her palate, to sate her after their new smell wore off, Hell, he’d even been part of a few initial seductions. She’d used track two on quite a few “I’m falling for you” playlists, sent via email, or played when she’d brought one of them home.
This one had never come home with her. She’d never taken him along either. Not even once.
Weeks passed. Dust began to settle on his sleeve. Tiny flakes slipped through and settled into each groove. He tried to shake it off, leaning further to the right side. He was starting to lose track of how many days it had been. The others were stating to notice, too. Silence was turning into a kind of fading. The window above where they sat had a broken shade, and the sun could be harsh mid-day. Soon they would lose their color, their shape, their sound.
He’d nearly forgotten the feel of her touch when she slipped him out from the crate – carefully. Her hands were cold, damp and shaky. Her eyes wide and rimmed in red, her skin a pale pallor except for the lines of inky tears that snaked down each cheek and her breath sounded ragged, as she breathed in and out. He wanted to say something to her. Tell her he’d missed her. Ask where she’d been. But, they did not speak the same language, not in words.
She started with the last track. A Girl Like You. Each line, each lyric, said all he couldn’t. She sat as close as she could get to the song, laying him softly in her lap, swaying and singing-a-long. More tears came. They slipped into each word she sang. And when it was over she played it again, the last track, and then once more.
Maybe this is goodbye, he thought.
But maybe she’s back for good.
He didn’t notice the boxes that came. Or how she packed them, carefully, one-by-one. He didn’t care to notice anything besides that she was back, that she was playing him again, that the others were as green as the crates themselves, jealous again.
He did notice the sun’s warmth when she carried him outside. It beat down on him as she laid him carefully on a plaid wool blanket. The others were there, too. All of them. He noticed, too, when she picked him up again.
“That was my favorite,” she said softly.
He had no time to consider her words as another set of hands took hold of him. Rougher hands. Bigger than hers had been. He had not time to look at her – one last time – before he was turned over and tucked under an arm.
Songs of Love and Hate’s words echoed back in his memory. “She’ll never love you back.”
“I love that one so much. But there’s no room for my records.” She explained, sadly, it seemed. “You’ll love it, too.”
He had not time to tell her he loved her, too, that he’d always loved her.
It was morning. Bright and sunny. No chance of rain.
The car ride was bumpy. Hot and long and winding.
He never had the chance to say goodbye.