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Shostakovich’s 5th string quartet


by Henry E. Powderly II


It's starts like a quiet step, reminds me of when I walk upstairs to check on the little girl, leaving my slippers below, so they don't flop and shuffle and wake her. But, then I could stomp and growl and groan or maybe scream, for joy or just to hear myself holler, and it would make no difference. The emotions are there, the loud ones, no matter how quiet I am trying to be, climbing up the stairs without my slippers.

Maybe I start back at the bottom and try again, and it's not stairs that lie ahead, it's somewhere else, a bridge, over a stream, over a river, or a rocky mountain pass. It doesn't matter where it is, or how quiet I'm trying to be, because the point is I'm walking, never stopping, over rapids or up a soft hill carpeted in wildflowers.

Everywhere's movement. Even my dogs, who sleep like quotation marks on my couch, curled in the baby doll blanket my wife wouldn't be happy to see them sleeping on — one smells terrible and leaves the terrible smell in the blankets — they move. You can't see it without looking closely, but it's there, a breath, another breath, a twitch, both moving, both alive in their sleep.

How long have I been moving, forever? I try to remember a time I may have stopped, but I can't find one, and, to be honest, this searching only makes me move faster. Even in sleep I march, through the dreams. This week I dreamed I was in a forest that looked like the suburbs, and every time I stopped to admire one of the trees I noticed it had a price tag. Some of the trees were only displays made of plastic, and they always hid some door, or some window, or some garage. Even the night in the forest, which I thought flickered with fireflies, was fake, because each time I tried to catch a glowing insect I found myself in the path of oncoming traffic.

Though, even when I stopped and sat in a pile of fallen branches that turned out to be a heap a trash waiting for the Monday pickup, I could never stop moving, not for a moment.

Soon, I was awake, listening to my little girl chant “Da da” in her crib, which I lay in bed listening too for a while, not still, but beating my heart and breathing my breath. And then I stepped out of bed. The chilly air that streams in the the winter just above the wood floor stung my toes, and I stepped into my slippers and walked to her nursery.

She smiles, and rocks back and forth, waves her tiny hand and spins the pacifier in her mouth. I'm awake and warm when I take her out the crib and nuzzle her neck, her fingers pulling at my shoulders, and smell her slightly sour breath dried on her cheek.

If there's any chance that things stop, it's then, when she smiles me awake. But things aren't stopped at all, they're moving faster than ever, time is speeding up, because last week she could hardly lift her head and the week before that she didn't even have a name.

The morning always moves, and I end up in my car, the news boring the shit out of me, though I listen to it anyway. There are so many stories, in this world, where plots turn and twist with every human soul. Is the news wrong for singing about them, even the bad plots, the phony plots, the idiot plots?

I'd hold down the gas pedal and never let it up, which I think while listening to a news report about gas pedals that have just been recalled for getting stuck on the floor mats, if I wasn't too afraid of killing some child at a bus stop, or a mother on her way to work, or a migrant walking his bicycle on the shoulder. A day doesn't go by where I don't hear about somebody being run over because the driver never let up on the gas.

At times, when I'm at a red light and spot a seagull soaring on a gust of wind, and I wonder if he can still see the sea that high up, I feel as close to stopped as I ever am, and the news report almost dims on its own. Then I think that when the light turns red, no matter how hard the guy behind me might honk and wag his fist at me, I might just stay put, let it turn green and then red again. He might drive around, but I'll stay there, until the light changes again and then changes again, because if I can't stop moving I might as well sit still and think about why that's so.

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