The Rest is Silence
By: Kathleen Chamberlin
The soft light of the candle caressed her eyes as she explained the relationship between words and meaning.
"Take wanton," she said leaning back in her chair,gazing upward under lashes lightly dressed in mascara.
"Wanton? Why wanton?" the earnest voice across the table in the dimly lit alcove asked.
"Well, first of all, it's a "w" word and those are always words that make me exhale and that's sensual," she said smiling and leaning slightly toward him. "But it has two words within it that emphasize its meaning. Definitely 'want'. The emphatic desire followed by the word 'on', as if the desire is unchecked, stretching into the future," she finished, lifting her glass to him to punctuate her conclusion.
He looked skeptical but he grinned. "What other words have you deciphered by sounds or by their inner construction?"
She held his gaze fully before sipping her bourbon, deciding how revealing she'd be with this handsome man whose attention she'd worked hard to attract. His eyes were soulful, and she wondered if they were the eyes she wanted to look into for the rest of her life. She hesitated a few seconds more, head titled slightly, thinking, an index finger playing across her bottom lip.
"Mercurial and procrastination," she said, pointing to wherever the words floated in the surrounding air. "Mercurial means rapidly changing and the sounds and rhythm of the syllables does just that, changing from long to short vowels. And procrastination is not only a lengthy word but has all those long vowels in it, essentially delivering the anticipated delay the word intends."
His laughter tumbled out unencumbered. "Right! Ah, but what do you make of a word like spontaneous?"
She grimaced, shaking her head from side to side. "Awful! It's a horrible word to represent that action. First of all, it takes waaay too long to say it: --spon--tane--e--ous--; that dilutes the meaning, doesn't it." She didn't offer it as a question, waiting for him to voice an opinion, but as a fact, not to be challenged.
"What about abrupt? Does that fill your requirements?" His interest was definitely piqued by this intellectual flirting. Her laugh was throaty and intimate, hinting at deep sensuality.
"Abrupt is perfect," she replied. "That short 'a', the 'uh' sound, makes you draw breath in, followed by the harsh consonants 'b', 'r', crushing the next 'u' between the 'p' and the final firm 't'. So, it's perfect."
Throughout the evening, between their entrées and replenished drinks, they disagreed about a local artist whose work was gaining attention in the "right" circles, he admiring its boldness, she calling it pretentious. They agreed that the music of the 60s and 70s was unequaled, though both were enthusiastic about select recent songs while not endorsing an album in its entirety.
"It can't live up to Rubber Soul," she announced, again voicing a judgment that left no room for disagreement, he thought.Or was it a challenge, a "disagree if you dare", to see if he could stand his ground and engage in debate?
"Is there any group, any at all, that you think can equal or rival the Beatles?Or do they sit highest in your musical pantheon?"
She was quiet for a moment, and he imagined her scanning what he thought of as the symphonic archives behind her eyes. "No, not really. I mean, I can agree that there have been some very good albums, good collaborative efforts marrying music and lyrics like Foreigner and Journey and one or two others, but" and here she turned her palms up and shrugged her shoulders, "there just isn't anyone whose music has been as innovative and emotionally impactful as those four. "
He nodded, more out of polite reflex than agreement, and asked "What's more important to you about a song, the music or the lyrics? "
She smiled, sipped her drink, noticed it was nearly empty, and answered him as he motioned to their waiter to bring refills.
"That's a difficult question to answer because, of course, it's not as if one can be divorced from the other. But" she raised her glass in his direction, "if I had to choose, I would have to say the lyrics. I've heard way too many interesting melodies ruined by bland, repetitive mutterings. So, definitely the lyrics."
He took the empty glass from her hand, lightly brushing her fingers. "I never would have guessed." The waiter's arrival with their drinks allowed her the time to recover from the disorienting surge of erotic pleasure his brief touch had ignited. Settling his back comfortably against the plush quilted fabric that lined their booth, he asked, “So, of all their songs, what's your favorite Beatles song?"
She didn't hesitate. "In My Life. Yours?"
"What makes you think that I have one?" he teased, then laughed as her jaw had dropped in shock. "The Long and Winding Road", he said reaching across the table to capture her hand. "It's a beautiful love song, just like In My Life, don't you agree?"
She nodded, the sensations his touch aroused in her made her voice untrustworthy. He seemed not to notice, looking into her eyes again, forcing her to notice how warm his eyes were, eyes so easy to get lost in. "What do you make of the difference in the word choices in each song? They are quite..."
"Unique, " she interrupted before he could finish his thought and he recognized that whatever he had intended to say would have missed the mark, while she had been spot on.
She shifted back in her chair, her hand sliding out from under his as she stared at the remnants of the bread in the metal bread tray as if the answer could be found among the crumbs. Her fingertips thrummed lightly on the tabletop. Seconds ticked by and finally she said, “In My Life is a more hopeful song, I think, recalling a life filled with love and lovers, without regret, maintaining positive feelings for the past but placing the current love on a higher plane. It's not poignant or heart-wrenching. It's affirming what is, in the simplest terms: friends, places, some, all, no one. 'Some' strikes me as the key word because of the number of times it's repeated. The song's path is a straight linear experience that builds to a straightforward statement: I loved you more. And the melody echoes that simplicity."
She paused to look at him. Did he understand her explanation and agree with it?Then she forged ahead. "The Long and Winding Road is more melancholy, the tone completely different, the loneliness is palpable and the melody aches with longing. Think about all those long vowels in the opening. The lyrics and melody suggest a struggle to arrive at a destination and the destination is one specific door. And the journey is the same, repeatedly. It's accentuated by the word 'many'." She stopped speaking, realizing that she'd become lost in her own analysis, nearly forgetting about the handsome man sitting across from her. She smiled sheepishly. Some habits were hard to break. "Sorry about that. "
"No apologies necessary. I've never considered music that way before. But, you know what?"
"What?" she asked quietly. His smile broadened. "I don't think In My Life is your favorite Beatles song, after all. I think it's The Long and Winding Road. How do you feel about dessert?"
"To order or analyze?"
They laughed and he signaled their waiter. They scanned the dessert choices. He settled on carrot cake, and she ordered chocolate lava cake.
"What is it about women and chocolate?" he asked as they dove into their desserts, and he watched as her face had been transformed into the one, he often saw on women in bed.
She giggled. Taking another bite of the rich cake and, hot fudge leaking out, she spoke again. "It's just so rapturous," she said closing her eyes and emitting a deeply satisfying sigh. "It's as close to causing an orgasm as food can get." Then, she remembered that this was a first date and gushing about orgasms, even if food induced, might not be the direction their conversation should be moving in. Too late now, as he cocked his head to one side, and she poked at the oozing cake, reluctant to take another bite and unable to think of what to say next.
"Orgasm? ORGASM? If cake can bring about an orgasm, we men are definitely in trouble, very deep trouble. "
She was relieved by his lighthearted reply, deciding she could risk another bite of cake, and then he said, “What do you think about orgasms?"
Nearly spitting the cake across the table, but quickly covering her mouth with her napkin she managed a 'save the moment', as she wiped her lips and said, "Excuse me?"
He chuckled at her obvious discomfort. "The word, not the experience. I assume you approve of the experience. How does the word measure up, according to your sound analysis?"
She looked at him, decided he wasn't mocking her but noting that he had clearly upped the ante. "Well, let me think," she said, immediately conjuring the image of Meg Ryan sitting opposite Billy Crystal banging on the table moaning ever more loudly with complete abandon, shouting 'Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!'.
"It begins with almost a growl: 'orrr', letting air out of the chest, ending with the harsh 'r'. Then, 'gaz', which is abrupt, sucking the air into chest, reminiscent of a gasp, followed by the final m sound, drawn out, 'mmmm', indicating pleasure...so, yes, it's a good representation of the experience. “Despite trying to be analytical, she felt the heat in her cheeks and, if she was honest, spreading out from a place somewhere further south.
"Bravo! I totally agree with your analysis, especially if the participants are giving their best efforts to bring it about ". He gave her a wink and returned to his carrot cake, attacking it with gusto. "What's your favorite word? " He asked.
She cocked her head to one side, a motion he now clearly identified as her "thinking pose". He expected her to say LOVE since, in his experience, most women seemed to structure their lives around seeking, finding, and exploring that emotional Everest.
"Evermore," she replied, loading another forkful of cake into her mouth. Once it had been safely delivered, she used her fork to accentuate her point. "It's such a beautiful, longing word. The final syllable stretching into the future."
"Why not eternity?" he asked.
"Another perfect word!" She spread her arms wide, then brought them back together, leaning forward, balancing on her elbows. "If you listen to the vowels, they keep drawing the word out, further and further with each syllable." She paused. "It's odd you should choose that word because I used to imagine a short story about two lovers", she continued, noting his eyebrow arched in curiosity, "two lovers who held hands as she lay dying, and she whispered 'evermore', and he whispered back 'eternity' and then she dies." Her eyes were peering into a world he couldn't see and remained there a beat more before returning to their table. "But I never wrote it because it seemed too sappy."
"Maybe you should write it some day. After all, what do you have to lose?"
"Oh, only my fragile writer's ego being crushed under the boots of rejection," she said with a smile but with a cold truth underlying her throw away reply. She really was afraid her work would be rejected, classified as amateurish or trite.
"I like that idea, really.It sounds very tender and, " he paused to look her directly in the eye, "romantic. As if the love they had could survive beyond death."
Wow, she thought. He understood. Might he be more than just second date material?Possibly be the one she had been looking for? The one who "got" her? Finally, a man who respected her mind and didn't just want to get her out of her pants?
"Hey," he said, "let's get some cognac. I always find it a nice way to finish a meal. Yes?". She smiled and nodded. "Yes. That sounds nice. Let's."
They ended up having more than one after dinner drink, laughing and smiling and moving to the rhythmic beats of the ritualistic mating dance, identifiable but far more subtle than the displays most species performed. When he finally paid the check, retrieved their coats, and ventured into the bitter January night, she was certainly feeling the effects of the cognac, her cheeks flushed and her gait a bit unsteady.
This was the moment, he thought, the time to choose one of two possible outcomes. It was usually a simple process that required little or no deliberation. Not tonight, though. There was just something so engaging about her, something pure and life affirming, that was difficult to ignore. He had to admit that she was entirely different from the women he had previously walked this path with. They had all been needy, a little overwhelmed by his good looks and charm, a little too eager to lean against him and lick their lips, hungry for opportunistic sex.
He had obliged most every time, except for the ones who passed out once they'd opened their apartment doors. And the others? Well. After the intensity of his climax, rather than staying in bed, he insisted they shower together, turning the water on high, stepping closely behind them, hugging their bodies tightly to his, one arm reaching securely across the collarbone, resting easily on the shoulder in a lover's embrace up until the moment his other hand reached out, pulling the neck sharply, snapping it like a brittle twig.
Stepping out of the shower, leaving the limp corpse lying awkwardly against the wall, he'd grab a towel, drying off, dressing quickly, and strip the bed linens, stuffing them into a pillowcase. Using the towel to carefully erase his presence, he'd ease out the apartment door, closing it and carrying his bundle down the stairs before depositing it in a dumpster two streets over.
For the last three years, in cities large enough to provide anonymity, he had been able to satisfy a primal hunger deeper than the need for sexual gratification. He knew he had the same effortless charm that allowed Ted Bundy not only to entice his victims and also elude capture for so long. He knew that he was smarter than Bundy and had learned from Bundy's mistakes.
"I think that I might have had a touch too much to drink," she said, attempting to make light of her condition, though embarrassment was evident in her voice. Then, she abandoned the pretext and with lips loosened by alcohol confessed, "You may not believe this, but I am mortified, really mor-ti-fied.I so wanted NOT to make a bad impression, but, well, I think I have because here I am, just a wee bit tipsy." Her voice had a mournful, sing-song quality, tinged with regret. "Can we try lunch or coffee next time? That is, if there is a next time?"
That was the real question, he thought. Would this night end with a guarantee of a tomorrow or with yellow police tape and a coroner's report?
"How about I walk you home? We aren't that far away, right?"
"Oh, that's so sweet of you but I think maybe I'd better call an Uber. I don't think I can trust my feet to cover any more ground."
"How about this, then. I'll ride with you as far as your apartment, see you safely inside and be on my way. How does that sound, Miss Evermore?"
"Perfect, Mr. Eternity" she said, happily picking up the reference to the lovers she had described to him.
Yes, perfect, he thought as they waited for their driver. Either evermore or eternity would await them at the trip's end.