Moonlight Sonata

Painful screeches rang out from the faucet with each awkward turn of Bill’s toe grip, taking the flow of water from a clattering to a few fading drips. He continued scrubbing back and forth, trying to erase away the scar across his abdomen with a soapy rag, as though somehow it might fade away into the bath water. It did nothing but cause his belly to appear red and foreign to the rest of his pale skin. With that he laid back and popped his knees up, allowing barely enough length in the tub for his head to be immersed. He held his nose then rocked back and forth creating a cleansing flow that worked its way over his face and through his hair in alternating directions. He allowed his nose, then his eyes to bob above the surface where he watched moths flutter in tiny circles in front of the sink mirror. The milky water was calming: not too hot, not too cold, with only the sound of his own heart beat echoing in his head. He closed his eyes and pictured Grace.
What seemed like a minute turned into ten. Most of the water had escaped so there was no cushion for his knees when he flopped over to the side to grab his pocket watch, ticking on the floor. Twenty-five minutes to get ready. He grabbed a towel and performed a quick-rub dry-off on the way to the sink, where he immediately started warming a rag to soften his five o’clock shadow. He quickly whipped up his shaving cream, slapped it to his cheeks and contorted his face under the straight razor in his right fist. Each blade full of stubble and cream was spread out onto the wash rag until all that was left was a boyish grin. He lowered his chin as close as he could to the basin and splashed water to his jaws, then shook the water from his hands to pick up the towel and press to his face for the final dry. He wrapped the towel around and loaded his toothbrush with paste, brushed from gum to gum, and then bent over to gulp water from the tap and spit.
The whole room seemed to breathe again when he pulled the rattling glass knob to open the door. The well-worn hardwood floors acknowledged his presence with groaning coolness under each footstep. Odd and end frames held black and white memories of family and friends along both sides of the hall. Smiling brides held tight by nervous grooms, budding athletes clutching bats and balls, silver haired couples smiling with twinkled eyes, represented life’s cherished moments. The lilacs in the wall paper have become less and less significant over the years as new additions of pictures have been plastered over them. Pockets of light shivered from their glass with each of Bill’s barefoot strides.
When he closed his bedroom door behind him, he went straight for the portable phonograph machine sitting on an old trunk under his window. Along with his steel bed these were the only items left from his old apartment in town. He squatted down and turned on the power dial, then lifted the needle and ever so carefully lowered it to the edge of the spinning record. He kept his ear low and close to the speaker to truly absorb the first few bars of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. On his way back up to his feet he lifted the window sash to let the fresh fall breeze steal away any moisture left on his skin. All his clothes were laid neatly flat across his bed, including a grey tweed suit coat and pants. The hypnotic three-note beats of the sonata seemed to soothe his heart and slow his breathing. About half way through dressing, thoughts of Grace came flooding into his head. He grabbed his starched white shirt that was still on a hanger and held it closely to his chest. He then softly rocked it back and forth around the room as if Grace might somehow be tucked in behind the pearl buttons. The muscles in his neck lulled his head into the calming motion of sideways figure eights. He vacantly stared toward the window where he saw the shadows of tree leaves frantically applauding in the dusty green curtains. Again, he was losing his sense of time. A few more minutes and she would be there. He pulled the shirt off the hanger and continued to dress.
He walked over to a small closet in the corner of the room, opened the door to access a mirror. There was a basket hanging under it serving as an attaché case. He twisted the top off of some Old Spice and applied a finger full of it to his chest through the space between his buttons. Then he opened a tube of Brill Cream, squirted a quarter size in his hands and rubbed it into his dark brown mane. He combed through it until he saw his version of perfection.
He hated wearing a suit, but it was necessary. Walter and John would be down there, and they always wore suits. They both were good guys who had a lot to say but it just made him uneasy that they were around Grace so much.
He slung the tie around his neck and knotted it into the spot over his top button. Then he stood back for a final inspection. Clean and confident, he remembered how Carol Ann Somers and Bridgette Sutton would hang around his milk truck when he would make his stops. He would take them, on separate occasions, of course, with him to play pool. He was the best pool player in town, and he loved having either one on his arm when he collected his winnings. Carol Ann was a blue-eyed brunette whose liveliness insured plenty of fun at parties, but was exhausting over time. Bridgette was a gum popping beauty pageant blonde. She wasn’t quite as outgoing as Carol Ann, but her composed adoration of Bill kept her on the list. He thought that one day he might marry one of them. That was before he met Grace.
Before Grace life was just a voyage of the expected. After leaving high school most of his buddies had their wheels locked into the track of sweetheart, to job, to wife, to house, to family. All in short time. Bill was hesitant to jump too quickly. He was having too much fun playing the skilled charmer, and there was so much more to be played, at the pool table and the field. Things seemed to come easy for him, making the possibilities for his future limitless, until he met Grace. When he met her, his focus became laser sharp. She was the one thing that mattered; the one thing that made him feel alive. He vowed to himself he would love her every day for the rest of his life.
A few years ago he developed a ruptured appendix and had to have it removed. He never really understood why Carol Ann and Bridgette acted so differently toward him since then. Their smiles looked the same, but their eyes always looked down. They were too polite and too busy for him. Grace was there every day like clockwork.
He sat on the edge of the bed and bent over to pull his brown oxfords from underneath. After tying them, he opened his door and continued through the hall and down the steps. He must have been running a little behind because he could hear voices echoing up the stairway. His seat along with his plate were waiting for him, loaded with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and cornbread.
He sat down to find John talking about the weather, as he usually does. Grace sat directly across from Bill. In an instant his eyes were taken hostage by her profile as she flashed a polite smile to John on her right. Her long lashes, her slightly upturned nose and high cheekbones gave her a presence only movie stars seemed to have. Walter, at her left, pulled John into a conversation on sports, mostly football. Grace looked full into Bill’s face.
“Hi, Grace,” he said. She just sat there smiling with her kind, dark eyes waiting for a break in Walter and John’s conversation. When the opportunity came, she started filling us in on the latest happenings around town. She was so smart. It seemed she knew everything and didn’t waste words on a bunch of nonsense like Carol Ann. Her voice smiled in a way that would make an obituary feel like a wedding announcement, and the way she always looked straight at Bill while she was talking made him feel like he was the only guy on Earth she cared for. There was a consistency about her that gave him a sense of security that he now so desperately needed. Since the surgery everyone started treating him differently, but not this group and especially not Grace. She continued to look at him. Again, he lost track of time, his mind drifting off to a time when he could hold her soft blonde hair against his chest as they would dance to the Moon Light Sonata. He could imagine fiddling with the string of pearls at the back of her neck, then as if stroking a dove between its wings, running his fingers along her spine.
He finally snapped out of his trance sensing it was getting close to time for her to go. A deep dread fastened to his heart. She had to know how much he loved her and how the love he felt has taken over his existence. While Walter and John were saying their goodbyes, he stood up, leaned over the table, closed his eyes and rushed in with a kiss. He continued contact as long as she let him. A single tear tickled his cheek as it ran down and dove onto the table. The kiss felt smooth like the side of a warm champagne glass. She had no reaction. She just continued her farewells as if nothing just happened.
From behind him a soothing hand touched his shoulder while another reached in front of him and turned off the television. In a split-second Grace disappeared into a tiny blue dot in the middle of a sea of murky dark green. Bill straightened himself up in the chair. The soothing hand went lightly around his neck. “Why don’t I go back to the kitchen and get you another piece of cornbread” she said before she laid her cheek on top of his head and then turned and planted a kiss. She grabbed up the dishes in front of him. “No, thanks, Sis, I think I’ll just go back upstairs…Gotta a lot to do tomorrow.”
Maude pulled the chair out as he stood away from it and carried it along with the dishes back to the kitchen. Bill folded the TV tray legs up and set it back behind the couch then proceeded his solemn climb up the stairs.
In the kitchen Maude scooted the chair back to its spot under the family’s trestle table. She washed and dried Bill’s plate and glass and returned them to the cabinet. She didn’t mind helping Bill out at all. She kept his shirts nice and sharply pressed just so he could wear them for an hour every evening. 
Bill had been living with them for about three years. He lost his milkman job after his appendix surgery. The overdose of morphine caused him to drift in and out of reality. On his good days he was a lot of help in the orchards, and he was great with helping the kids with their homework. She was so thankful for the six o’clock news. It didn’t matter that Grace couldn’t see him. The only thing that mattered was he could feel love and from that find hope.
Written in 2008

Ray Owen is a woodworker that holes up in the top of a barn to write. He currently lives in Pekin, Indiana, with his wife, son, and a majestic tree hound named Duke…who has yet to live up to his name.

For information on his novels and other work go to:


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