I walked each night. The music hall on campus made picking a destination easy. You always loved music. I assumed you did, anyway. You always loved those places you could practice. The ones with soundproof walls and doors. The ones you could make mistakes in.
Any hardships you leaned on me for. The classes and the study sessions, the food, the cleaning, the organizing. At the far end of the days, I set up all the times just so we could be in the piano rooms. The ones without mistakes. You’d dart past the doors so fast, so no one could see you; not even if a minuscule peep faded through the doors. I met you each night on the steps outside the building. You’d emerge from darkness, and I always waited under the street lamps.
I could hear the grand in the hall down the way. The one without mistakes in mastery, not in the safety of soundproof glass. Sometimes I played on that piano, besides the ones in the practice rooms. I had to have a special day for that to happen. A day with a win. Most nights didn’t have one.
You’d come home with me after practice. You’d get bored eventually. There is only so much dauntless singing one can do before the courageous high of getting there falls away. There you’re just a soul in a white walled cage with a scratchy voice and confidence only gained in satisfaction. We’d go back to the apartment, to the dark room, to shadows.
By the time of February, I had scarcely went to practice at the music hall. I did not continue my efforts of mastery on the grand, nor did your courage last very long in the practice rooms. You’d play the keys for a few minutes and tell me, “what’s the point?”
I had been in the dining hall one night, rather than the music halls. Sitting in shadow. Rain pelted the window.
“Oh, do you need a seat?” She saw I was drawing at a seat in the dark. Above hers, a light.
“I’m just doodling.” I said. “Enjoying the rain.”
She gestured to the chair on the other side of the table. We sat down with her.
“So you two live around here?”
I must have misheard.
“Yes. I live in the apartments. I used to live in the dorms the dining hall is built into.”
She gestured to me a second time. Not hallucinating.
My voice took on a dark sorrow. “I live here.” And I patted my head.
“And here.” I patted my thigh.
“I see. You’re really riddled with it then, huh?”
The light above her seat stayed firm, but I swore as more people finished their meals around us, they faded out of the dining hall and shadow made space for nothing else. I wouldn’t let myself ruin this. I began to tell her of my proficiency.
“I practice — well, sort of practice at the music halls.”
“And does it help?”
“You know, when its sunny and shining there are cicadas on the trees and in the grass.” She said. “I used to think their sound was the sun shining.”
“I did too, as a kid.” I remembered staring up from my swimming pool into the leaves above, the sunbeams shining through with their deafening chitters.
“I used to shuck corn cobs outside when we visited our relatives at the Cape.”
“I did that too. We had bags full.”
‘I used to… huh.” The shadow did not appear to be in a position of her liking. “We’ve really got it bad.” Her light flickered, just a bit.
I walked home from the dining hall back to the apartment to rest. But on the way out, I figured I’d visit an old place of mine that swirls in the memory in deafening waves. A small sunflower garden, where ghosts and phantoms of my past swim round and round. The two were there.
“What’s the point, we can just go sleep. We can be free for just a little while.”
I started, “do you remember this garden, with its tall stalky sunflowers in the warm weather? We tried to draw them once, do you remember? We would put cuts of them in our apartment room to liven the place. I can’t believe how far away it feels.”
“We don’t deserve to be here.”
“We can make new memories here, we just have to —“
“Shut the fuck up, Hope.” I said aloud. The light flickered out. I imagined playing on the grand in the music halls. I couldn’t sit here in this garden and feel nothing. Tears fell. My slumped shoulders pointing forward, I shuffled to my apartment. I turned off the desk lamp. And let another night pass by.
When I woke up to the blinds drawn. I got up to brush my teeth. In the mirror I saw myself then, “Today, today will be different. This month will be different.”
My reflection talked back, “You’ll never succeed, you don’t deserve to be here.”
I smiled then and let out a small laugh.
“You need me more than I need you.”
I walked out my door with a backpack and slowly Hope’s light came back on. When every night felt like a rock bottom, every morning felt like swimming to the surface. I can only choose to make choices in the right direction.