Ice clinked against the glass tumbler as Robert set it down on the patio table. It was his first vodka tonic of the evening, and he guessed he would pour another before his wife was finished prepping dinner in the kitchen. Following their new retirement pattern, today she was trying a new recipe, some kind of Continental-style chicken curry. She insisted on laying out a mise en place each time and swore it helped the success of the new dishes. Robert didn’t mind, as it meant he got an extra drink during Saturday happy hour.
His sweat-soaked clothes stuck to him like an extra layer of skin, thanks to two hours of chopping wood. Robert reflected how he was working harder, physically, than he had worked for the company. Some retirement, he thought, but he was actually proud of his improved fitness. He was in charge now, and it was satisfying, at last.
While lost in his thoughts and trying to ignore the sweat still beading on his forehead, the opening melody of a Beatles song drifted from the portable speaker next to his tumbler. Of the hundreds of their songs he adored, one brought back memories too painful to feel again. He couldn’t stand to hear “She’s Leaving Home” anymore.
“Jean!” Robert yelled from his chair. “Can you skip this song?”
There was no answer; the closed windows and doors were too soundproof.
Paul McCartney’s sweet, innocent voice trilled about a young girl slipping out of her bedroom and the goodbye note she left behind, and Robert’s knuckles whitened around his glass.
“Jean! It’s playing from your laptop in the kitchen! Skip it!”
“Dammit,” he muttered. “Haven’t we told Pandora not to play this song?”
Paul sang another line about the girl’s freedom; the knife twisted in Robert’s chest.
He gulped the last of his drink and, keeping the glass in his hand, stood up. Stomping over to the kitchen window, he saw Jean inside with his back to him. A phone was sandwiched between her shoulder and the side of her head; it shook slightly with her arms as she chiffonaded basil.
“Jean!” Robert’s arms were stretched out. He couldn’t believe she didn’t hear him.
Now John Lennon joined Paul in perfect harmony to remind Robert again that the girl was indeed gone, gone, gone.
Then he was back at the table, fumbling to shut off the speaker. He mashed button after button, but he couldn’t see the smallest one for power. His eyes were blurred with tears he had tried not to let escape. Finally the hand holding the tumbler smashed into the speaker, over and over again, until the glass was nothing but shards and his fist was flecked with blood. The music, though, had ceased.
“Robert!” Jean was in the doorway, horrified at the sight of her husband. He had collapsed into his chair and was cradling his fist. Blood drops mixed with tears on his khaki shorts like a Pollock masterpiece. She crouched in front of him, mindful of the glass at her feet.
“It’s only a song, darling.”
“Every time I hear that song, I see our daughter’s note.”
Robert took a deep breath and tried to calm down. It worked for a moment, but then in a flash he grabbed the speaker and threw it far into the lawn. They watched it mercifully bust apart, speaker mesh cartwheeling and electronic innards twisting and flying until they settled into the grass, forever lost.
Katherine Benfante lives in New Jersey where she and her husband are raising two book-crazy daughters. She is a fiction writer and a substitute teacher of math, engineering, and French classes. Her short fiction has appeared in Blue Lake Review, Ariel Chart, and Potato Soup Journal. She is a member of SCBWI and writes monthly with her town’s writing group.