Only a few nights before I lose you, I decide that I like you best around 5AM, bundled up on the first train of the morning. On the cusp of sobriety after the night’s gig, I stop trying to measure how much of your head on my shoulder is drunkenness, how much is comfort, how much is care. The dawn’s syrupy tendrils trail over the tracks of the Keio Line as we run up the stairs, over the bridge, down again. Your guitar bounces on your back. We crash into the fence of the fire station and curl our fingers around the diamond mesh.
Down on the pitch, twelve rows of men move up and down in synchronized pushups while their captain chants numbers. We count along, quiet and giggling at first, then mimicking their imperial booms. Our laughter spills through snorts, a soprano counterpoint to their drumming.
We try to find a bench but collapse on the concrete next to hydrangea bushes that will bloom when the rains come. Your voice slides into a hum as you rest the guitar between your crossed legs. Bum bum bums buzzing on your lips. You wanted to be a jazz musician, but you ended up with a wispy voice and open chords and a girlfriend whose father used to play keys for Mott the Hoople. I have never been able to give you what you want, but I can at least clap along in uncommon time.
The audible sweat from the firemen makes me thirsty. At first, I assume you will fall silent as soon as I leave you alone, but your fingers keep picking at the strings, rummaging for voiceless melodies. I find the nearest vending machine and let the little plasticky 100-yen coins roll into the slot. Some twelve feet away, you look homeless on the concrete. I drink and drink again, my insides arid where they were sticky only a few hours ago.
A lone dog walker becomes your first audience member just as the sky shifts to indigo. She stares, debating whether to shush you. Alcohol bubbles inside me once more and I want to start a fight with this bomber vest and her Pomeranian, but then the dog bites its own collar and yanks the lady forward, wagging its tail in triumph, and she lets herself be led away, sighing into such blissful fatigue that I relax my arm and let the tea spill out of the bottle without even noticing. Your head bobbles along to a rhythm of its own.
A few weeks after I have lost you, I walk to work early one morning with my scarf draped over my head to keep my hair dry, and I find the firemen again. This time, none so symmetrical. Assorted lumps of oversized overalls twirl translucent umbrellas, limbs lollygagging, coffee cans and tea bottles spread all around the fence. I cannot tell if they are laughing, but the wires send electric memories up my arms all the way to the dimples in my cheeks. I indulge a fantasy that you might come back to play for the Kanagawa base, but you would never make such sacrifices for me.
The bell rings and the captain strikes his tuba-timbred opening chord. All humanity runs out of the firemen like liquid. Their boyishness stiffens into mechanical jumping jacks, uniforms tightening in the rain.
Over their chanting, I start humming. Discipline is not enough to recall the melody just as you played it, but the beat tastes the same.
Annina Claesson is a geographically confused writer and researcher currently based in Paris, France. Her short fiction has recently appeared in New Reader Magazine and won awards at the Charroux Litfest.