Episode #217 Musical Interlude – Thirteenth Hour Reading Set to “The Skipping Stone”
This week, I’m reading from a short excerpt from The Thirteenth Hour sent to a draft of a music track I just wrote to score this particular passage. It was done on the iOS app, Auxy, and was meant to be an ambient, introspective instrumental piece. Because skipping stones feature in the excerpt a few times, I tried to find synthesizer effects that sounded like splashes of water.
The man from the Army was already waiting at the doorway. The Army man looked a little surprised when he saw me, possibly because of my height. He stood outside in the hallway while I “got my things in order.” But there was really nothing more to do, and I was just stalling for time.
Aurora stood in front of me, waiting as I fumbled with the knot on the bundle that held my belongings: a spare set of underpants, a few pairs of (holey) socks, and my two best skipping stones. They were both smooth and flat, but one was sandy colored and the other dark blue. The sandy one I had found a long time ago on a shallow river bottom. It was just the right size and weight, and despite numerous throws and temporary losses, I had somehow always managed to recover it. The dark blue one had been Aurora’s. She made me take it. Like mine, it was of perfect shape and size except that there was even a little notch on one corner that you could fit your finger in to put more spin on the stone as you threw it. She had been delighted to find it, and we both knew it was special. Special things have a way of falling out of your hands when you least expect it, but she always found it again and said it brought good luck. When said she wanted me to have it, I protested relentlessly, saying that if she gave it away, what would bring her good luck now? She gently but firmly closed my hands over it, and that was the end of that.
When I was younger, one of my favorite storybooks in the orphanage library had a picture in it that I’ll always remember. It was about a little bear leaving home to go to school for the first time. Before the little bear left, the mama bear looked down, held her son’s shoulders with her paws, saying, “Be brave now,” and kissed his forehead. I had never seen a bear, had no idea whether they could talk, if they wore clothes, if went to school, or if they kissed like people did. But that’s what Aurora did just then. After Mrs. Brunscomb, she certainly didn’t need to straighten out my collar or comb my hair, but she did kiss my head, and said, “Well, time to go. You’ll be brave now, I know you will.”
It did kind of make me feel like a kid, but then, in many ways, I still was one. I’d even had to promise myself that I wouldn’t cry, that I’d make a good showing at least until I got outside. After that, all bets were off, but as long as I could make it till I was alone, everything would be alright. So over and over, I repeated to myself the line that the orphanage nurse always used when a boy came in with an injury. “Come on now. Be strong. Real men don’t cry.” And I really wanted to be a real man, but I’d had precious few role models to go by.
When I looked up at Aurora, there were big tears rolling down her cheeks. She gave me a sad little smile, and that was it for me; I couldn’t help it. I tried a trick that never really works–I opened my eyes really wide, looking around the room. I tried to smile back, failed, and turned around quickly.
“You all set there?” asked the Army recruiter. “Don’t look back. Say, what kinda place is this anyway? I didn’t pay any attention when I walked in. Seems kinda depressing. Too dark for me.”
“It’s an orphanage,” I said softly.
The man opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, then shut it. He was quiet for a minute, then said, “Then who were those people back there? I thought the old lady was your mom and that gal was your big si …”
“Just a friend,” I cut in quickly.
“Shit, sorry, kid, I didn’t realize. Well, we’ll make a big man outta you, don’t you worry,” he said, slapping my shoulder; I nearly took a tumble onto the stone floor.
We reached a big cart attached to four horses. He opened a door in the back. “Get in, and make yourself comfortable,” he said, shaking his head with a laugh.
I looked in the cart, jammed packed with men on wooden benches. They were all quiet, looking tired and depressed. A few of them waved a little and tried to make some room, but there wasn’t any to spare, so I sat on the dirty floor in between the legs of the men and their bags. The recruiter closed the door, locked it, and disappeared from sight. The cart had no windows except for a small one by the door, letting in a little sunlight.
From my seat on the floor, I could see our window–Aurora’s and mine–on the second floor. I strained to get up to see if she was there but could not move. Suddenly, just when the cart began to move slowly forward, I saw her. She opened the window, leaned her elbows on the sill, and looked out.
My hand closed over the skipping stone she had given me; it felt cool and solid against my hand, as if it would always stay the same. I pulled my knees in, wrapping my arms around, trying to hide my head like I had done on that day, so many years ago, when I’d met Aurora, sitting on my new bed, wondering where I was. But this time, she wasn’t there.
Speaking of music, if you haven’t checked out “Arcade Days,” the song and video Jeff Finley, Brent Simon, and I finished last winter, click on the link below to do so!
Empty Hands, the synth EP soundtrack to the novella, Empty Hands, is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.
Stay tuned. Follow along on Spotify! There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.
As always, thanks for listening!
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