OCTOBER 2008

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Moonlight
By Peter Anderson, Jul 08, 2008

The first notes, and that voice, came in low through the air, much too low, muffled by the empty chattering and sporadic laughter of the cocktail lounge crowd. But through the distracting din, Jerry Bachman could still hear the strings shimmer and the reeds warble before the voice began—slowly, calmly, full of confidence and tenderness.

Jerry stood in the middle of the milling throng, detached completely from the crowd, transfixed by the song and the memories it brought back. He hadn’t heard it in years, but all of the hopes and aspirations and sorrows of those lost days now flooded back into his consciousness. He didn’t really need to hear the song clearly, for he felt it within himself.

The premise itself was ludicrous—Sinatra courting, politely and respectfully in the old-fashioned way, waiting patiently by his true love’s front gate. Nonsense. Sinatra never had to wait for anyone, especially not by gates in the moonlight, not even during his younger days in Hoboken. Women came to him, not the other way around, and it was all so easy for him.

Not so for Jerry. Once, in a more innocent time, he imagined himself as that lonely dreamer who stood, lovelorn but hopeful, at the front gate, hoping for the briefest glimpse. But all of that youthful longing inevitably passed, and he moved on to more mature, adult, restrained pursuits. Pursuits which brought him, full circle, back to this cocktail lounge, hearing that song and starting all over again.

How was it, he thought to himself, that he had ever gotten away from listening to Sinatra? At one time the man and his music meant so much to him, but now both had been gone from his life for, what, twelve years?

More than anything, he realized, it was because of her.

~

Oh, that ‘pop’ music is just so common, Lorna would say, unsleeving a Maria Callas record.

He would say nothing, unfolding the evening newspaper and fumbling in the sidetable drawer for the pipe she had recently bought for him.

Um, sweetie, you're getting dressed soon, aren’t you? she’d ask, more a statement than a question.

Dressed? He couldn’t help noticing the disapproval in her voice, though this time he didn’t understand the reason for it.

Yes, dressed. No response. The Magnusons? They’re coming over for bridge, remember?

Oh, yeah. I forgot. The Magnusons. It sure will be great to see them again.

He spoke unconvincingly. Long before, he had given up any pretense of enthusiasm for the social life she had arranged for them.

~

Standing in the lounge, barely acknowledging the acquaintance before him who prattled on about some personal matter of little interest, Jerry remained absorbed in the song, remembering all the words with just enough awareness to refrain from singing them aloud. He drifted away from the other man, first mentally but then physically as well. The other, getting little response for Jerry, finally took the hint and excused himself, leaving Jerry alone and relieved. At last, he could escape; but until hearing “Moonlight Serenade” again, he hadn’t realized the need to do so.

He exited the lounge, moving briskly toward the parking lot and his convertible.

The MG was the only thing he hadn’t given up for her, the last relic of his bachelor days. It had sat for years, barely driven, in their garage in Rye. She had seen little need for the car—a teenager’s toy, she called it—a trifle she saw as useless for transporting a young family around town, while he, of course, was perfectly able to dutifully ride the New Haven Line to and from Manhattan every day. Now, dusted off and freed from the old garage, the car awaited him in the lot, the sight of it reviving him. Though the autumn air was turning colder by the day, he had given no thought thus far to putting up the ragtop. Tonight, though it would surely be chilly out on the highway, he looked forward to the sensation—the crisp night air streaming through his hair, his ears reddening, his breath visible as frozen vapor.

As he approached the car, a line from the song suddenly returned to him, Sinatra imploring his love to “stray ’til break of day.” Jerry used to love doing just that, taking aimless jaunts, driving all night with no firm destination in mind. Back then there was no thought of ever stopping, Jerry content to just be behind the wheel, navigating the darkened back roads and side streets of Manhattan and Long Island, of Westchester and Connecticut, completely alone.

But no, not always alone, it occurred to him. Lorna once enjoyed, and even revelled in, riding right along side of him, sometimes in deep conversation, sometimes lightly chattering, sometimes just silently staring out the window in peaceful reflection. But that was only at first, in their earliest days together. Thinking back, he couldn’t remember when she had changed, when all-night drives no longer mattered, when mingling with the right kind of people became of utmost importance. She simply became a different person, as people often do. Maybe I shouldn’t fault her for that, Jerry thought. Maybe he was being too hard on her now, thinking back to their marriage with such quiet bitterness. She had changed, and they drifted apart. Nothing more to it than that.

That part of his life was over, and he accepted that fact. Time to move on.

Climbing behind the wheel, Jerry twisted the key in the ignition, the engine turning over with a deep-throated purr. Last week’s tuneup had the engine running smoothly again, as good as ever. The moon peeked out from the clouds high above, ready to illuminate his path, while beneath his open palm the shift and gearbox trembled. Trembled as if impatient to be engaged, as if eager to take him wherever he might happen to go.

Peter Anderson’s stories have been published in Storyglossia, THE2NDHAND, Wheelhouse, RAGAD and many other fine venues with impeccable artistic standards but little cash on hand, which means he’ll remain a working stiff for the indefinite future. He is also the proud owner of three novels in progress in varying stages of completion and/or abandonment. He lives in Joliet, Illinois, with his lovely wife, charming daughter and two literature-averse cats.

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