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It's Supposed to be Romantic

James Northern

I take a sip of my Chardonnay and stare at her name on my programme as my fellow concert-goers take their seats. When I saw she was in town, I couldn’t miss the chance to see her. It’s a big festival for her to play, even in a New Artist Showcase, twenty minutes sandwiched between other bands. We haven’t spoken in five years. I remember her practicing at home, back when we lived near the mountains. When we were together. Maybe I’ll find her at the end. I imagine the surprise on her face, her lost little eyes meeting mine.


Sunlight streams through the living room windows, reflecting on the polished black surface of our baby grand. She works her fingers over the black and white keys, her fringe bouncing as she nods to the beat. Her timing is immaculate. That’s the problem. She’s playing Ponce’s Intermezzo too rhythmically. Too consistently.


“You need to be more expressive, my love,” I say. “Try to feel the music. It’s supposed to be romantic.” She gives me one of her cold looks, her cheek muscles pulsing.


Fixing her hiking pole into a groove, she levers herself up onto the rocks, ignoring my offer of a helping hand. She spent the morning murdering a tango and several of Lecuona’s danzas while I boiled green chile on the stove. We reached the mountains mid-afternoon as the crowds were diminishing. Now the peaks stretch as far as we can see in all directions. Below the evergreen-clad slopes, the valleys are decorated with towns, ranches, and glimmering lakes. Trails of aspens mark the rivers. There’s a chilly, scentless breeze on our faces. She’s looking over at the continental divide, the highest snow-capped range of all. I tuck her thick hair behind her ear and kiss her cheek. We have to do something about that hair.


As I draw her closer, she pulls away, unhooking my fingers from her waist. A flock of squawking geese soars over us, arrowing their way north to their breeding grounds.


It’s a big stage just for her. The piano is a little off to the side, awaiting her entrance. All that space around it. There’s space around me, too. An aisle on one side and an empty seat on the other. My date didn’t show. Another pupil. I thought we’d hit it off. But it’s Okay. Tonight was never about her.


The announcer is up.


“Ladies and gentlemen, making her debut appearance at the festival tonight, please give a big hand to Jennifer Hawkins.”


The crowd applauds as she enters the stage. She passes the microphone stand and the drum kit left by the previous band. She kicks her shoes off as she sits at the piano, placing her foot on the pedal. She sweeps her fringe from her eyes. She has the same slender figure. Barely another line on her face. Her fingers strike the notes like clockwork. Like a metronome. I sigh and reach for my wine glass, but there’s a stir at the back of the stage. Two men emerge as she loops the intro chords. One bears a double bass, leaning backwards under its weight. The other heads for the drums. The crowd applauds again as the newcomers join in. They’re a tight trio, each in lockstep with the others. That rhythm. Guaracha. The audience is clapping the beat. We stand and cheer at the final chord, and a guy in the front row whoops and cheers louder than anyone. He’s been dancing in his seat. Swaying his long blonde hair. Maybe half my age. I could swear she smiles at him.


James Northern is a British writer living in America. His short stories have been published in anthologies and web journals by Retreat West, National Flash Fiction Day, Stroud Short Stories, Truffle Magazine, 100 Words of Solitude, Secret Attic, Loft Books and others. In his spare time he enjoys hiking and playing the piano. Twitter: @JNorthernWrites.

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