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The Soundtrack of My Life________ by Kevin O’Cuinn


I was surprised that my ad caught his eye but there he was in the hallway with his piano. Man, but you are going to love this one, he said, and started to play. He was right, love it I did. Let’s get you inside, I said, but his only reply was to play on. So I stepped out and pushed the piano and adjoined piano stool, upon which sat Thelonius Monk, into my apartment, his concentration unbroken. And so it began. No one would, could or will ever play like him, and every last note had a place in the soundtrack to my life. The job’s yours, I told him, and I’m honored, for the record. He cracked a smile but didn’t look up from the zone. I called the paper and told them to pull the ad—the position was filled, and oh but how.
     I brought him tea or nibbles every few hours, whatever was going, and even then Monk did not stop, but played on with one hand while he drank, while he ate; notes drenched in heart. Days passed, weeks. If he used the bathroom it was when I stepped out on errands. He was busy with the soundtrack and nothing but. Deep in the night I’d feel the mattress depress and Monk would join me in bed. And when I woke it was to music. You’re going to love this one, he’d call over; it was like those were his favourite words. Certainly, they became mine.
     My life and its soundtrack, however, were larger than the confines of my apartment, so I hired a crew to push Monk and his piano around my world—five Estonian navvies and a little guy who said he’d been a cox at Cambridge. They negotiated the streets, the traffic, never more than three steps behind me; they owned the underground. Their chaperonage was silent and love-struck, inspired by Monk and his sais-pas-quoi. People would stop and point, say, Hey, eh, isn’t that Monk? Is he writing the soundtrack to your life or something? And I’d say Yes, that is exactly what is going down here. Word spread like a rash and people started to follow us—of course for the soundtrack, but some just for the hats, to see what headwear Monk was wearing on any given day. Some tried to ingratiate themselves into his presence with chit-chat and flattery, but no chance, the master’s concentration stayed unbroken. Concerned, though, that he would be distracted, I decided to take precautions, and stopped by a Four Seasons to ask the concierge if he might give, loan or sell me a Do Not Disturb sign or two. I will never forget the look on that man’s face, how his mouth made the most perfect, beautiful O as Monk played in the lobby. A bellboy said we should try House-keeping, and was kind enough to make a call, but no one picked up—it was tools down when Monk came to town. Had the internet existed back then, well, I hate to think about the circus that would have developed. Al Gore, however, was still a very small boy.
     The logistics of getting from A to B—where A was home and B was the bar, beach or bookshop—was not easy with the droves that followed us, and the other droves that camped outside my building. After I disconnected the bell, and the phone, they pushed notes under my door and filled the mailbox with requests for interviews, love, and to jam with Monk. I read some of them to him and he said Man, if you are cool with troubadours, fine—but charge them for the privilege of contributing to the soundtrack of your life. So I did, fifty bucks per quarter hour. The line went three blocks west. Mostly they played stoned caterwaul, but I indulged them because lives and their soundtracks, I guess, have interludes that don’t seem to belong, or only do so in retrospect, if at all.
     I was happy living life in this manner, happier still with my soundtrack. Fine as long as Monk was fine—he seemed so—though I doubted at times. Are you happy, Monk? I’d say, and he’d cackle and shake his head, maybe shush me. He wasn’t big with words, he didn’t need to be. And somehow down the years I became a little like him, a little Monk by default, in that I didn’t say much anymore. There were times I wanted to ask him stuff, sure, like what was with the Countess?, and I’d wait for an interval, but intervals were as frequent as buses during the holidays. And, when one did come along, my questions felt trite. The man was his music and nothing else mattered.
     Monk’s eyes were faraway planets. Years had passed, so many I’d lost count; I was bedridden, beyond ailing, oblivion just breaths away. Around the room, the navvies, the little cox guy, all quiet. The soundtrack of my life now accompanied by the drone of a nebulizer. Monk hadn’t aged, nor had his playing, it was more relevant and vital than ever. When our eyes met, I knew the music, the waves I was hearing, was my finale; to which my eyelids slowly fell.
     
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Kevin O’Cuinn comes from Dublin, Ireland. He lives and loves in Frankfurt, Germany, and edits fiction at Word Riot. Links to his work are here.