The final notes fade as the needle traces the record's outer grooves. The turntable's arm floats up and staggers to the side. There is a fizz of static and then nothing. My heart breaks a little whenever the music ends, especially when it's something I haven't heard before. I try not to worry about how long it will be until I hear the B-side.
The clock stopped thirty-three days ago. So far, no one else has noticed. At first, it bothered me not knowing the time. Now, I've decided life is better without it. With no ticks or notches to count, I measure my days by which wooden floorboard the sunlight kisses.
Today, I listen for Helen. She likes watching game shows and the same soap operas as my mother. It's quiet. When she doesn't check on me for hours, I know she's left—it's a secret she doesn't know we both keep. I can't hold it against her. If I were whole I'd leave this place and I wouldn't look back.
The right side of my nose itches. I can't even flare a nostril, much less lift my hand. On occasion, my mother wonders aloud what life must be like for me. She doesn't hold up the board and slide her finger over the block letters waiting for my blink-spelled answer. If she did, I'd tell her: Locked-in syndrome is feeling everything without ability. A frozen body is a perfect prison for an active mind.
The sun passes the dresser. Helen will not be flipping the record anytime soon.
To occupy my mind, I play the only game I can. Lenses. Pretending my eyes are twin cameras I pan them from my left side peripheral to my right and select my target. Today it's easy. Helen left the album sleeve leaning against the crate. It is a new record in the lineup. My stomach flutters in anticipation. There's pleasure in having something other than medical equipment and the faded pink walls of my childhood to look at.
I zoom in. Pirates. Rickie Lee Jones. The artwork is a black and white photo. It's fitting. My life is drained of color: I'm Dorothy expelled from Oz.
Click. I zoom in closer. The couple in the photo is positioned like a pair of preteens slow dancing. Faces close enough to feel the other's breath, pre- or post-kiss. Its night, and the streetlight (Or is it the moon?) illuminates them.
It's about to rain. There's a cool, damp breeze that carries the fraternal scents of brine and salt. I enter further, seeing only the air between bodies.
My first impression was wrong. They aren't happy, they're inching apart. Sometimes the less you see, the more you experience. The man wears a philanderer's smirk. He's unfaithful. Is the woman cold, difficult to please? No. Her mouth is generous and her eyes are earnest.
I look at her hands. Open around his shoulders. His are fists balled in pockets.
They're swaying. Drunk. I envy them. A stiff drink would be a tiny miracle. I like to blink at the letters W-I-N-E. The request is always ignored. I suppose my caretakers feel queasy at the idea of mixing a cocktail into my feeding tube. I long for someone to dip a finger into a glass of earthy red and run it along my lips.
I'll never be drunk again. My future stretches out in front of me, slow and full of nevers. Sometimes my caregivers...my family...forget that my mind works. They talk like I'm only a body.
I zoom into the girl's eyes. She doesn't know it yet, but she's lost everything.
In the distance, there's a clatter, the return of Helen. I pull myself from the game. Sighing, she enters the room and dabs at drool dangling from the corner of my mouth. I want to hear the B-side of Pirates. I blink at her but she pretends not to notice. Of all my caregivers, she has the least patience with the letter board. I want her gone, but it would take days to get the message across. Besides, the next one might be worse. It doesn't matter that I can think and feel. Forever frozen, I'm easier to ignore than a goldfish.
Helen puts the record back into its sleeve and flips through the crate.
She puts on Wham!.
I hate her.
I zoom inward, away from the room. I zoom until the outside is a distant blur. Inside, I listen for the lost notes of the previous album's songs while searching for the girl from the photograph. I find her alone under the streetlight, a handkerchief in hand.
I speak to her. When you sing, it's like you're singing for me. My face reddens with naked embarrassment, I'm exposing too much.
She smiles as her head bends shyly. Then with a gasp, she grasps my fingers. So long, do you play piano?
Yes, I'm a musician. Was. But the truth is unimportant here.
Jazzy rock music rains down on us in the form of a million falling stars. Fingers trembling, I reach out and touch her face. Her aria-eyes close and I kiss her. She tastes like bourbon and dark chocolate.
I've never kissed a girl before, she tells me.
In this world, I've kissed thousands; in the outer one, only three. All before my brain exploded at twenty-six.
We dance until there's a distant click of the record completing, calling me back.
I have to go.
Do you? She offers her hand to me and I take it.
We walk to the pier and I don't look back. Music from the B-side plays. It is the sweetest song I've ever heard.
BIO: L.L. Madrid lives in Tucson where the rain smells like creosote. She resides with her daughter and a mysterious cat. When she's not writing for places like Gamut, Jersey Devil Press, and Spirit's Tincture, she’s busy reading for and editing a peculiar little journal called Speculative 66. Links to L.L. Madrid's works can be found at http://llmadrid.weebly.com/.