Title: Sad Songs and Waltzes
Word Count: 811
Thanks: Lyra, you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. And that's why I've been singing that up at your window every night, drunkenly, for the past few months. And why I can't understand why you got that restraining order....
I don't really sing up at her window and there isn't really a restraining order. I'm just in a cracked out mood. But she is my sunshine. Or something comparable.
The record player sat in the corner of the cabin by one of the east facing windows, over the hand-knotted red and white rug. His grandmother called it ‘The Extravagance’, and shook her head disapprovingly whenever she talked about it, but she smiled, too. It was a gift to her, from Benton’s grandfather, on the occasion of their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. It had been used, but it had come with a handful of records, too.
When she cooked, his grandmother played Louis Armstrong, or Billie Holiday. She hummed along with the melodies, her foot keeping time as she peeled potatoes or carrots, or dressed the meat. By the time Benton’s grandfather came home, the record player was usually off, and dinner was on the table.
And after, instead of turning the music back on, the three of them would sit together – either on the porch or in the living room, with Benton’s grandmother knitting, needles clicking and clacking together. Usually Benton would watch his grandfather whittle, or make repairs on his boots, and Benton himself would braid leather together for the dog’s harnesses. More often than not, these times would be quiet ones – just the creak of leather, the click of the needles, the soft scraping of his grandfather’s knife.
Sometimes, though, his grandfather would sit there, whittling without looking down at his hands, watching Benton’s grandmother, and then he’d draw in a deep breath and begin to sing. It had always seemed strange to Benton that such a quiet man could have such a booming voice, one so bright and loud. It would fill the cabin, and he would go on for hours once he got started, one song after another, until the knitting and the whittling and the braiding had all been put aside, and Benton was keeping time and his grandmother was singing harmony.
He always started with “Down Went McGinty,” and ended with “Molly Malone.” Usually by then, they were all flushed, and grinning, and hoarse from the singing. The dogs would be excited too, barking and wagging their tails. Benton’s grandmother would smooth her hair back into place, and her berry blue eyes would shine at his grandfather. She’d make them tea to drink, and then they’d all go to bed.
Benton would fall asleep, remembering the music -- hearing his grandfather’s big, round, happy voice and his grandmother’s higher, thinner one.
He never thought about whether or not his grandparents loved each other, or questioned their peaceful happiness together. It never really seemed important, never something he *had* to think about, until the night he woke up to a low waltz coming from the living room, and the quiet groan of the floor boards.
It was winter, and there was ice on Benton’s window. He wore his robe and his slippers, and shuffled down the hallway. Light spilled out from the living room and warmed the corridor to Benton’s bedroom – kept the floor from being too cold through the thin fabric on his feet.
And there, in their nightclothes, his grandmother’s head leaning against his grandfather’s chest as he guided her around the small cabin in little circles, were his grandparents. The clock behind them said it was two in the morning, and at dawn, they would both have to be up. Benton’s first thought was that they should be sleeping, and what were they doing, and *why*?
He would have stepped into the living room, asked them, but then he saw his grandfather’s hand brush the white hair off of his grandmother’s forehead – and he saw the slow, sweet smile she gave him, the way their eyes caught, and Benton thought, “My grandmother *fancies* my grandfather!”
His grandfather leaned down, and put a small, tender kiss on his grandmother’s wrinkled cheek, and Benton flushed, backed away. He never knew how often they danced that way, but sometimes when he woke up in the night, he thought he heard the quiet strains of music before falling back asleep.
When his grandfather died, Benton was sixteen. For a week after, the record player in the cabin played continuously. One album after the other, again and again – Schubert, Brahms, all blending into one another. His grandmother didn’t cry, but she would sit by the window, and listen to the music, and sometimes he could see her feet sketching out the steps to a waltz, her hand curled as though she were cupping a shoulder.
After she went to bed, in the small hours before dawn, Benton would wake up, and hear nothing. He’d get out of bed, and go into the living room, and pull the needle down, play whatever record was in there. Sometimes his grandmother would come out and sit beside him, her eyes dry and her jaw tight, and she’d take his hand. And neither of them would say anything. They wouldn’t have to.