The Morning After
“It’s been three months since she last picked me up. Three. It was April. Late April, I think. It wasn’t raining though.” musicforthemorningafter murmurs to himself, leaning his vinyl frame to the left, his soft tones trying to shutter up hurt like an unwanted, too sunny morning.
It’s midnight though, with no sun to speak of. Instead, there’s rain, a lot of it, three days and four nights of it, despite the cliché that it never rains in Southern California.
“Hey, I’m not a cliché!” It Never Rains in Southern California interjects, reacting defensively from the right side of the crate. Insulted.
musicforthemorningafter doesn’t respond, or maybe he just doesn’t hear It Never Rains in Southern California, at all. He’s too busy fixating on her. On the lack of her. On how long it’s been since he’s seen her.
For years he’d held claim to her heart. He’d been loved like that childhood stuffed bunny with the torn ear and worn patches. He’d been held close like a lover whose meant to stay the course and played much more than often. It seemed like they were “meant to be”, another over-used cliché, yes, but one musicforthemorningafter couldn’t help believe 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 crates envied him. They fall all over each other, whispering, conspiring, pointing out all his flaws.
“Track six is trite. Repetitive,” Tidal says, stroking her long, straight hair and wrapping invisible arms around all her emotional depth.
“That fifth song always makes her cry. I never make her cry. Never, never ever.” London Calling brags, holding himself up straighter, chin jutting defiantly, fist-raising, vying to be the tallest in the row.
“Love is fleeting. You should know that by now,” Substance says, sorrowfully singing how love tears them all apart.
“You never were all that,” Rio says 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 had all happened so suddenly, musicforthemorningafter thought. He’d been her early mornings, her long afternoons, her off-to-dreamland 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, one car crash (well, one and a half), three jobs, and one rent-controlled apartment since they’d met – all with his songs as her soundtrack.
Sure, she’d had flirtations with others in the crate. Some were best when she’d had too much to drink. Another set was just right when she wanted to wail and thrash her body around the room, crashing her right knee on the coffee table’s edge, or falling hard just to get back up again. Two were for tears, another for disappointment, and that one she hardly grabs for, she was meant for shame and sorrow. Afterward, though, she’d stash them all back in the crate, especially that latter one. I mean no one wants to replay their low points too soon.
Afterward, she’d always reach back in again – for him.
His songs crossed boundaries and moods. They could weave through almost all her good and bad days. He fit right into nearly all her “somethings”. She knew all his words, sang-a-long to each and every song, wrote them down in bound notebooks, and even had one from that so-called “trite” track tattooed on the inside of her left arm.
Take that, Tidal.
But something has changed. Something big.
It feels like she’s gone.
He has no one to talk to about it though. All those years as her beloved, as her favorite, has isolated him from all the others. Or, maybe he did it to himself. Puffing his chest out, taking up more space than his double-sleeve requires, boasting the scrawled signature across his front side, the fingerprints – her fingerprints – that pattern across his grooves. He’s let it all grow into a self-satisfied smile. He’s let it take him over. He loves being her number one. More than that, he’s felt happy, never needing anyone else’s soft touch, no one else’s but hers. He’ll wait here though. He’ll wait forever if he has to. Poised and ready for her red-lipped pucker, and that slightly out-of-tune voice that is unmistakably hers.
Even on her worst days, she is beautiful to him.
Even on her worst days, he has been who she’s reached for and clung to.
“Maybe you should dye your cover, redecorate, change your style,” Hunky Dory muses. “The universe is full of inspiration, possibility, infinite ways to be.”
“She’ll never love you back,” Songs of Love and Hate says. “I’ve been around a good long time. Been with three other beauties. It always ends. They always break our hearts.”
musicforthemorningafter doesn’t heed the advice or warnings. He brushes off their suggestions and opinions, assuring himself that he is different.
She is different.
But is she?
He traces back the days before this shift, rewinds them like the old cassette relics that came before him. Black Celebration and Purple Rain have told him about those “early days”, how their sonic ancestors had been smaller, their insides visible, and easily torn.
All the others in the crate, they are made to last longer. Their outsides stronger, their internal vulnerabilities nearly impenetrable. Vinyl forever – right?
He can hardly picture what that must have been like. All he’d ever had to contend with were the smaller versions of himself, still circular, but brighter, lighter, and easier to snap in two. She had one of him like that – a CD version – its case was cracked from rolling around in her car’s backseat floor.
He knows she prefers the weight he offers, his raw sound, the turn of each side. She loves to flip him over, and then over again.
Back before April, in those last leading up days, she had started to leave them all alone, sometimes for days on end. She would throw him on before leaving, turning him up loud enough to shake the wall behind where he plays. She’d rush around, manically grabbing at this and that, singing with him the entire time. But more often than not she’d only get through track three before she’d turn him off again. Leaving him face up and naked, lying in wait, his cover abandoned far across the room, open wide on the worn, second-hand couch.
“She’s in love,” The Libertines (self-titled) said, English accent heavy on the ‘ove, as the two symbiotic singers lean in closer to each other, playing at being in love themselves, to illustrate their point.
Is that what this is?
Is that what has happened to her?
But, he’d been there for love before. 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 was always there afterward. 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, carefully positioning his song on one of those cyclical discs to give the new guy. Once she played his whole first side when she’d brought one of them home.
Whoever this one is he’s never come home with her. She’s never recorded any of his tracks for him. She’s never taken him along with her, either. Not even once.
Weeks have gone by. Dust is starting to settle on his sleeve. Tiny flakes slipping through, threatening to colonize each groove. He tries to shake them off, leaning further to the right side, rubbing against the crate’s hard plastic.
He is starting to lose count of how many days she’s been gone.
The other’s are starting to take notice, too. Silence turning into a kind of fading. The window above them, the one with the broken shade, brings in the hard mid-day sun. One day after another, and another, and another. Soon they will all lose their color, their shape, maybe even their sound.
He can barely remember what her touch feels like.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, he hears her. Feels her as she slides him out from the crate – oh so carefully.
Is he dreaming?
Her hands are cold, damp, shaky. Her eyes are wide and rimmed in red, her skin is a pale pallor except for the lines of inky tears that snake down each cheek. Her breathing sounds labored, ragged, as she breathes in, then out again. musicforthemorningafter wants to say something to her. Tell her how much he’s missed her. Ask her where she’s been. Say “are you okay?”
But they don’t speak the same language. Not in words, at least.
She starts with the last track. “A Girl Like You”. Each line, each lyric, says everything he can’t. She sits as close as she can get to the song, laying him softly in her lap, swaying, and singing-softly-a-long.
More tears come. They slip into each word she sings. And when the track is over she plays it again. Then once more still.
Maybe this is goodbye.
Maybe she’s back…for good.
He doesn’t notice the boxes that show up over the next few days. He doesn’t pay attention to how she packs them, carefully, one-by-one. Shutting them up tightly with thick, clear tape. musicforthemorningafter doesn’t care to notice anything besides the fact that she’s back, that she’s playing him again – a lot. And that the others are all green as the crates themselves. Jealous once again.
He does notice the sun’s warmth when it hits him though. How glaring it is as she holds him close and carries him outside. The heat beats down on him as she lays him gently on a plaid woolen blanket.
The others are here, too. All of them. He sees them starting up into the sun as she picks him up again.
“This was my favorite,” she says, softly.
musicforthemorningafter has no time to consider her words as another set of hands take hold of him. Rougher hands. Much bigger than hers. He has no time to look at her – one last time – before he’s turned over and tucked under an arm.
Songs of Love and Hate’s words echo back in his memory. “She’ll never love you back.”
“I love that one so much, but there’s no room for my records at his place,” she explains. Her voice cracking, “you’ll love it, too.”
He has no time to tell her he’s loved her, too. That he loves her now. That he’ll always love her.
It’s morning. Bright and sunny, with no chance of rain.
Special thanks and credit to the following albums:
musicforthemorningafter by Pete Yorn
It Never Rains In Southern California by Albert Hammond
Tidal by Fiona Apple
London Calling by The Clash
Substance by Joy Divison
Rio by Duran Duran
Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen
Black Celebration by Depeche Mode
Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution
The Libertines (self-titled) by The Libertines
Here’s an accompanying playlist, too: Listen on Spotify and YouTube
“A Girl Like You” by Pete Yorn
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Shadowboxer” by Fiona Apple
“The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division
“Lonely In Your Nightmare” by Duran Duran
“Changes” by David Bowie
“Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen
“A Question of Lust” by Depeche Mode
“Purple Rain” by Prince and the Revolution
“Music When the Lights Go Out” by The Libertines
“Lose You” by Pete Yorn