The only other person I ever told my story to died yesterday. I didn’t go to his funeral.
A blues pianist would deem it an insult to have people turn up anyway, he’d expect an empty graveside in the rain, just a priest murmuring in Latin or English depending on your brand.
The perfect ending for a life lived in musical melancholy, a final HA! to anyone who ever doubted his pain-laden chords.
It’s because of him that I’m telling you, whoever you are. ‘Write it down’ he said, over and over.
‘People should know there’s still magic in the world. Real magic, not the lies the tv and books and writer’s heads give them, but real honest to hell magic. If you keep it all to yourself, you’re denying them hope and the truth about love.’
I thought it was a little dramatic, but then he was. He was a lot older than me, never wanted to understand how much the world had changed, how open everything was now, and that everyone was a sceptic and an expert behind a screen.
We didn’t talk about those kind of things anyway. We talked about real things. All the pains of life, the sweet agony and death-like ecstasy of love. He’d given up on it many years before, when his heart was ripped out by a woman he only ever called ‘B’.
He told me she spent two whole months covering him in kisses, and filling his ears with whispers about forever and such. That’s how long it lasted, but it only took him half of the first day that they met to know he loved her, he said. Probably even less time than that.
It was on the day he felt the most in love with her, that she betrayed him.
‘I’d thought about marrying her the whole day’ he’d told me, almost in a whisper.
He went to her that night, saying he was certain that she’d have felt how right it was for them too, a person can’t feel like that without the other feeling it from them, it’s too damn strong.
She was feeling something else though. Someone else.
‘She was still wrapped around him like a snake when I walked in. Didn’t know I was there, breathing like she had just that morning with me. My heart fell right out of me and smashed on the floor, it made them both jump and fly apart. Nobody said anything, I just looked at her a moment, then looked down at my broken heart wondering what to do with it. I only had the energy to pick up a few pieces; I left the rest on her floor, imagine she just swept them into a pile and threw them out when she had the time. Don’t matter anyway. I wasn’t going to need them again.’
He only told me the story once, but I remembered it the best.
I would dream about finding out who ‘B’ was. I’d go to her place and argue with her, tell her she was crazy for doing this to him, and I’d push her down to the ground. She’d just lie there looking scared of me, because in my dream I’m so angry that I even scare myself a little. She stares at me with her eyes wide and points her shaking hand towards the bedside table. I open it and I find those pieces of his heart in her drawer with all the others, like trophies. I know which pieces are his, and I take them. Then quietly, each night, I put another piece back in him when he’s not looking, until it’s all fixed. Then he’d be able to fall in love with me.
My dream never came true, but I was the closest to him at the end. He was the only one who knew the truth about me. He never told though, he never shared my secret…you can trust a blues artist better than anyone else, the only thing that ever comes out of them is their own ache. Whatever else they hear stays locked inside because they’re incapable of talking about anything but themselves and how everything makes them feel.
I’m allowed to say that. I’m one of them.
That was how I met him, I had been singing the blues since my early teens and finally made the move to the city when I was twenty.
I walked into the first blues bar I found and asked for a job. ‘What can you do?’ the manager asked.
‘I sing’ I replied.
He waved his hand dismissively ‘I have singers.’
‘Not like me’ I said quickly. ‘I can make any man fall in love with me just by singing. I’ll increase your business performing just one song a night, let me audition for you now.’
I didn’t wait for him to answer, I turned away briefly to prepare, then began singing Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, acapella. Before I reached the chorus, every man in the room was sat on the edge of the stage, gazing at me.
That is, every man but one.
He watched quietly for a while, then sat down at his piano and began to accompany me. It was the first time anything like that had happened since I’d discovered my gift, and I found it a strange relief. We became friends immediately, and I was hired on the spot.
They called me ‘Siren’, painted my name on the sign outside.
Over the months, my friendship with him grew. We confided everything in each other, he seemed as glad of the ear as I was.
I confessed my secret to him one evening when we were the last two left in the club, expecting him to laugh and call me crazy. He just smiled a little and played the piano softly, shaking his head.
‘I know you’re not lying’ he said. ‘I’ve seen it. I see it happen every night.’
He played Yellowdog Blues from start to finish as I hummed along, then turned and looked at me.
‘Tell me again.’
The morning I found my gift, it had been raining solid for three days. All over the news there were flood reports, people’s lives washed away by nature, nothing anyone could do. We were lucky, living up high, it didn’t affect anything.
I’d gone out to get some bits and pieces my mother needed for a recipe she wanted to try. I took a different route because the path I usually took was a mud bath, didn’t really want to have to hose my shoes off later.
There was nobody around, not a soul. Not even cars driving.
The dark sky, and silence apart from the relentless sound of rain made it quite eerie. Especially as I had to pass by the abandoned cinema on the high street, a gothic looking building of dark stone, windows boarded up, the remnants of old film posters all ripped and torn everywhere.
That’s where I found it.
I stopped as it caught my eye, a very strange looking bottle, just sat on the counter in front of the ticket window that had been padlocked shut for at least seven years.
I don’t ordinarily stop to look at bottles, but this one was full, unopened, and had a large label attached.
Also, and I thought at first that it must be a trick of the light due to the storm, but I could have sworn it appeared to be glowing.
I turned the label over;
‘One drop, one song.’
I thought it must be one of those joke things you can buy, like online love potions or ’grow your own money tree’. I looked all around, there was still nobody, so I picked it up.
I knew it was technically stealing, and I don’t know what made me do it to this day, but I opened it.
Inside the top of the bottle was a dropper, like you see in some oil bottles. I looked around again, having already made my mind up to try it.
Tipping it up, I let one drop fall on to my tongue. I stood there with my tongue sticking out as I replaced the bottle top, waiting for something to happen.
Nothing. Plus it tasted of nothing.
I closed my lips, rubbing my tongue against the roof of my mouth. No flavour and no sensation.
With a little sigh, I put the bottle in my pocket (was open now, I couldn’t leave it), and continued heading home.
The rain seemed lighter, which pleased me. I started humming a little random sad tune, that soon turned into doo-bee-doo’s out loud. It sounded so beautiful and heartbreaking that I smiled up to the sky, singing ever louder.
I was so wrapped up in my voice that I didn’t notice the man walking towards me. He stopped right in front of me, a strange expression on his face, his eyes gazing into mine and almost clouded.
I stopped, my heart thumping, and looked around wildly for someone else. But we were completely alone.
‘Please’ he whispered, in an almost strangled tone, ‘don’t stop singing. Please sing to me.’
I ran. He gave chase, still calling out ‘please!’, but eventually and to my immense relief he seemed to lose interest.
I took the bottle from my pocket again and looked closer at it.
‘One drop, one song.’
Over the following years, I tested it occasionally on boys I liked. It worked every single time, by the end of the song they were promising me the world and begging me to run away with them. Strangely though, once this happened, I felt nothing for them and couldn’t even remember their names. It all disappeared, I remembered nothing, which seemed to be some kind of curse after all the nice things it did. Isn’t that strange?
He nodded, after hearing this revelation for the second time. Smiling slightly, he started playing the piano again.
I listened to him for a while, mulling over everything from the past ten years of my life.
‘Why doesn’t it work on you?’ I asked him. It was the only time I did, because I already knew what he was going to say. He stopped playing, and didn’t look up from the keys for a long time. When he finally did, he turned to me and stared so intensely into my eyes as he spoke, that I didn’t breathe until he’d said every word.
I won’t repeat what he said here or anywhere else, it’s for only the two of us to know.
But anyway that’s my story, he’s gone now, and part of me is gone too. It’s too hard to write about anymore.
I may not have been able to be there, but I sent the bottle to the funeral home, and asked that it be put in the coffin with him. From now on I’m choosing to sing only as myself, not the siren who steals hearts under false pretences via some kind of magic or trick I can’t explain. Yes, it’s made me money and earned me respect, but not the kind I want. Blinding people to the truth of you never gets you what you want. A very good friend taught me that.
You may think I’m crazy for what I did with the bottle, but I wanted my gift to end with the only one I’m glad it never gave to me. Because as a consequence, he will be the only one I’ll never forget.