about the author

Mary Hamilton is an optician living in Los Angeles, and her work has previously been published in SmokeLong, PANK, the Indiana Review, and Storyglossia.

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You get so the only time you want to be alive is
when you’re blowing that horn

Mary Hamilton

I made my heart into a horn and somehow I kept breathing and the breath made a sound and then that horn sang. It sang one note loud and low. It sang a song in a minor key. A song I’d never heard before, but I knew every note, I knew every beat and every break. Here I am blowing this horn with every heartbeat and we know, we all know, nothing good can come of a sad song. What would I tell a doctor if I tried for help? Who would understand the steps it took to fall into such a foolish situation?

You don’t want to know what it feels like for blood to flow through brass valves. There aren’t enough drugs and there isn’t enough wine in this house to calm these nerves, to quiet this beppity boppity blaring in my chest. But can’t stop a girl trying to mute the melody.

I wait for him to call, a promise I break to myself every day and every night. I sit on my couch listening to the horn sing, I try not to think. Every day and every night I move closer to this song stopping. Breath running out. When he puts his arms around my waist, kisses my neck, I hear the song move low, a wretched blare of a note comes out. A warning call and I ignore it, try to make him stay, try to help him sleep but when he’s done he leaves and the song gets loud, a disdainful melody. Chastising me for being a silly girl. I wanted to be so much more.

There is not a bedtime story that prepares a person for this, there aren’t hymns or prayers to soothe this soul. This horn gets louder and I do what I can to make it stop. I roll myself in a carpet. I lock the windows to stop the birds chirping. Pull the curtains to block the sun. Stuff my ears with cotton, bind my eyes and hands with packing tape. I want none of this feeling. And still the horn plays. Still the breath is somehow moving, somehow my chest is still singing that minor key song. That slow, sad melody.

Waiting takes a person to a place. A precipice of decision. Jump into the want or hold safely to the lot you’ve been given. Resign yourself to these walls. This radiator steam. The mold breaking through the wall. The peephole stories of neighbors. I’ve blockaded the door with my couch so I need to climb out the bathroom window to get out and I end up rolling into a snow drift. I lie in the snow until the melting makes the tape around my eyes and hands wet and loose and I strip the bindings from my body. I’m not pretty like this, but I’ve gotta go to where this melody will become something new and good or I gotta get dead. Sometimes I feel like I deserve to be cold, winter is meant for people like me. Being warm, feeling the sun, it’s not real, the ease of it is a delusion. People like me, people like us deserve to have wet socks, raw skin, and a certain amount of dread when we wake up in the morning.

The man who lives in the train station loans me some change for my fare and I decide to ride until a stop sounds right for leaving. I go north, more options, more sky to look at. I pull my sweater tight, pull my hands into the sleeves and cocoon myself into the seat. I am a person who cries on public transportation. I am a sad woman who looks out the window at the strange grime of a winter rain. Rooftops and mustard windows whir by. And the hot sour smell of the train. When it gets this cold, there is one nice thing: when the train gets crowded and we all squeeze in, feeling the press of an arm against mine. That’s nice.

This train could go off the tracks right now and I know I’d fly. All the pieces of my body would be stripped away by tearing metal and fire and I would fly, this sour, heinous melody of mine would find a way to survive. To make its way to the water and wait for spring when the ice cracks and this song of mine can finally sink. By then it would just be a dusty note every few minutes. By then, I suppose it couldn’t even be called a song anymore. It would be something that reminds you of something. A word at the tip of your tongue.

But. This train is safely approaching its last stop and soon I will be back in the cold of late November. I think it’s Thanksgiving. I think I’ve been at this stop before. I think I’ve walked to the water from here. The rhythm is slowing as train brakes squeal their stop, no one seems to hear the song slowing as the bells ring, no one hears the key change as the doors open and we leave the car. No one knows this song is ending except me. No one even knows there was a melody.

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