The spa smells like my ninth-grade science classroom. The music is lovely though–“Morning” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. That was one of my favorite pieces to play in the middle-school orchestra. I was on cello; Max stood behind me on bass. He was tall and cute.
The masseuse has strong hands. She’s working to the tempo of the music, pressing knots out of my shoulders, bending and unbending my elbows, caressing my wrists, rubbing the palms of my hands. Here’s the part where I used to come in with my cello.
I wish it didn’t smell like formaldehyde in here. In ninth grade, I had homeroom in my science classroom. Max’s last name started with the same letter as mine and on the first day of high school, when he walked through the doorway, the room fell silent. His right arm had been amputated over the summer, shoulder and all. He took a seat in the back row and conversations started up again. I tried to think of something to say. How was your summer?No, that wouldn’t work. How’s it going? How do you think it’s going? The morning pledge rescued me from having to come up with small talk. I kept my eyes on the flag, didn’t turn around to see if Max had brought his left hand to his chest instead of his right. It wasn’t as if we were close friends; he was just a tall boy I had a crush on, a fellow musician.
“Solveig’s Song” is playing now, quite possibly the most beautiful piece of classical music ever written. I should’ve taken the time to learn this one on my own. The masseuse has moved on to my thighs, my calves, my ankles. She massages my feet. I want to thank her but someone has sewn my mouth shut.
In high school, a girl named Jess played bass. I missed having Max standing behind me. By the second week of school, all the students knew that cancer had taken his arm. When we passed one another in the hallways or in the stairwells, I averted my eyes like everyone else.
A makeup artist is brushing my hair, applying rouge to my cheeks, brushing mascara over my lashes, swiping gloss across my lips. “Solveig’s Song” has reached the crescendo that always used to make me cry. My eyelids are glued shut so no tears come this time.
It took me eight months to die, same as Max. Same killer, only I got to finish high school and college and have children and watch them finish high school and college. I got to keep my arm. They announced his death over the intercom one morning in April. Everyone shook their heads as if they hadn’t been complicit in ignoring him. If my next destination is heaven, perhaps I’ll be given an opportunity to apologize to him. Maybe we’ll be able to make music together again.
Bari Lynn Hein’s stories are published in The Saturday Evening Post, Mslexia, Adelaide, Verdad, The Ilanot Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Sensitive Skin Magazine, Modern Literature and elsewhere. Her prose has been awarded finalist placement in many national and international writing competitions, among them The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest and the OWT Fiction Prize. Her debut novel is on submission. Learn more at barilynnhein.com.