A New Song

Peter held the gun in a trembling hand. He had never before fired a gun. This one had sat by his bedside for the last month, new and unused.

He sat in the balcony of the Embassy Theater, staring up at the domed ceiling. The stage lay empty below. He wore the red uniform of a theater usher.

He had chosen this spot because he would be remembered. When they found his body, his name would be on the front page of all the newspapers. And he had come here at the end because it was the only place he had ever been happy.

Music was his one joy. Tragic melodies resonated with his lonely soul; the rising notes of triumph lifted him into unknown heavens. He believed in neither God nor demons, but in concertos and crescendos. From the first dissonant tunings to the ending applause, he lived in the presence of a thousand transcendent gods and a thousand impish devils.

He raised the gun. He knew from movies he should stick the barrel in his mouth. It seemed undignified, debased—but what did it matter? An artist might contrive to hang himself from the stage lights to present as grotesque a figure as possible. He was no artist. He was a bag of flesh.

He stuffed the barrel in his mouth, gagged on it, removed it. He checked the safety. Off. He wiped away furtive tears. He lifted the gun again, pressed his finger against the trigger. He shut his eyes—why, he didn’t know. He would join the emptiness soon enough.

He hesitated.

A strain of music reached him, drifting in and out of hearing. For a moment he thought he had pulled the trigger and the voice was….

It was a wordless melody, not quite in tune, but gentle, like a mother’s lullaby. He kept his eyes shut, trying to name it. He had memorized all the great works, his head full of Puccini and Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald and Gloria Gaither.

“What is that song?” he blurted out, breathless, as if confessing to some crime. His eyes flew open. He saw no one. He hurried down the stairs to the balcony edge and leaned over. A woman somewhat past middle age stared up at him in surprise.

“You scared me,” she said. She held a broom.

The gun was still in his hand. He hid it below the balcony edge. A scene flashed before him of the lady crying on the local news, blubbering about how he had shot himself in front of her.

“What was that song?” he asked again.

“I don’t remember what it’s called. My dad used to sing it to me.”

“Ask him what it’s called. I have a phone.” He needed to know before…well, before.

“He’s not alive any more, but I find myself humming it,” she said, self-conscious. “I need to get back to work.”

He nodded. She returned to her cleaning and he to his seat. The gun weighed heavily in his hand. Exhaustion pulled at him. He wanted to sleep. The melody started again, a low tune carried up to him by the room’s acoustics. What song did he leave the world?

When he woke, the woman was gone. He stood to leave before remembering why he had come in the first place. He touched it. How cold the gun was in his pocket! He stood undecided, lost in half-thoughts. He came to, realizing he was humming that nameless song. He focused on the tune left to him by a stranger, the tune of a dead man, and tried to draw out its beauty.

Tiredly, he ascended the stairs and left the empty auditorium.

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