Cosmic American Music

Photo by Chris Maris
Cosmic American Music by Matt Jones

The Second Fiddle with the Broken Neck

Even though I don’t remember the precise words, I do remember the way he said them, his voice caught between a plea and a command, a request and an order. I remember the thing he said in the way I remember some songs, the lyrics a blur, a mess of possibilities, but the rhythm clear.

I was sitting on the armrest of the couch and Tim was next to me. Jess, his wife, was sitting across from me on a chair she had pulled up and our knees were touching. Tim and I had never been honest with one another up to this point. Earlier that night, we went for a drive heading north on Highway 69 where the Alabama pines crowded the night and trailers could be seen parked back in the forest like metal monsters peeking out from between the trees, their eyes all aglow. We were taking this drive so we could listen to the new Kendrick Lamar album in his new car, just him and me. I don’t remember what we talked about. For the most part, I don’t remember talking at all. We kept the windows down and let the bass from his stereo trade punches with the still-warm October wind whipping across our faces. I thought for sure that he’d been planning to talk to me then, to say something about Jess. Before Tim and I left the apartment, she had looked nervously at me as I walked out the door, but nothing came of that drive. More booze needed to be had. The night needed to go on longer.

It feels like a past life now, what he eventually said after we got back to the apartment and let the liquor touch our lips , something along the lines of “we could be friends” or “I don’t have a lot of close friends, but you could be one of them if you don’t do this to me.” Anamnesis almost. Truth can never be learned, just remembered. And remembering truth comes in the form of catharsis, a great purge from guilt and remorse. Plato once said that “cathartic melodies give innocent joy to men,” so why feel guilty? And I don’t feel bad about Jess and I—us–not anymore, so I must know what I’m talking about.

But I buried what Tim said under the friction of my knees rubbing against Jess’s, under the throaty heat rising out of my mouth. I killed his comment like a hand to a buzzing fly and let it drop to the floor where its spindly legs and sputtering wings struggled against the carpet fibers. I can still hear it like that, a distant music, a faint humming like static that could have been completely drowned out if I turned up the dial on whatever conversation Jess and I were having, probably something too intimate, too sexual to be discussing with another man’s wife while I rubbed elbows with her husband.

What Tim said that night is almost sacred to me in the same way that death is: it will only happen once. But I don’t like to think of that night, what he said, the way I disregarded it, as the death of our relationship. I like to think of it as something more ceremonial than that, celebratory, conscious even. A loss like a fuzzy dirge in which Jess beat on the lacquered wood of the conjugal coffin like it was a drum with Tim boogalooing his way to the grave (although he was much more white bread than that, so he probably foxtrotted), the tense flutter of his heart backing up the coda while I mee-mee-mee-meed up my vocals to get ready for the next duet, each shovel full of dirt burying him with willful tempo.

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Matt Jones is a graduate of the University of Alabama MFA program. His prose has appeared in Slice Magazine, Okey-Panky, and various other publications. He can be found online at