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These Consolations

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“Easy time will determine if these consolations
Will be their reward”

From Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon



There was something in his eyes. You could only see it if you looked a little too long. At first Jay wrote it off as the cataracts. But if you caught his eyes at the wrong angle… well… it writhed.


“I found the perfect place for you. 400 a month,” James said.

“What’s wrong with it?” Jay didn’t look up. He didn’t even miss a beat filling out his problem set, just put down another four, another five, a fifteenth variable.

“The roommate you’d be renting with is some kind of crazy,” James was grinning. Jay wasn’t even looking at him and he knew James was grinning, grinning so hard it was splitting his face. James always looked suspiciously like the Cheshire cat when he thought a plan was coming together. 

“What kind of crazy?” Jay asked but he had already lost. If James had said it was small, or gross, or cockroach infected Jay would have looked up at him and told him to fuck off. But Jay, who tapped tree times on every doorway he passed through, was a certain kind of crazy too.


“Do you hear the music?” Jay’s maybe new roommate asked as he opened the door to his maybe new home.

“What music?” Jay replied


“This is your room,” Barry said.

“Okay,” said Jay.

The room was blank as a canvas; empty, white, sterile. Even the eclectic mismatch of obviously dirt cheap thrifted furniture didn’t make it better. The rest of the apartment wasn’t quite so sterile, but Jay was starting to guess that the kind of crazy James had suggested but not identified had something to do with not having a good definition of personable.

“Will it do?”

There was a note of unexpected worry in Barry’s voice. He did not sound like a man who lived in an apartment that was also a scene of desolation. He did not sound like somebody who was missing a piece of him. He sounded instead like a man unused to sharing his space.

“It will do.”


Tap, tap, tap. Jay entered the living room, his hand trailing off the door way. Tap, tap, tap. He passed the sliding door into the kitchen. Tap, tap, tap. Onto the apartments tiny balcony to water the plants he had brought with him from his dorm room. Three taps on every doorway satisfying the compulsion, inviting good luck into his life.

Tap, tap, tap.

Jay spun to see the empty white living room filled with Barry. Barry should by all rights be a thin hunched over chain smoker. Jay was not too far off from that himself but Barry was built a bit like a football player. Barry ran a mean 7-minute mile. He ran three of them every other morning and always came back exactly 23 minutes after he had stepped through the apartment door. He left his thick prescription glasses at home. He said he knew the neighborhood well enough that de didn’t need them.  It was just the glasses and the stark apartment and the way he didn’t seem to talk to anybody that belied it all.

Tap, tap, tap. Barry hits a pencil against a cabinet.

“That’s a good triplet you got there. Three beats in the space of one.”


“I’m better at notes that I am at beats,” Barry said.

“Oh,” Jay said again. He was at a complete loss, this conversation was like a labrynth and he was Theseus who has wandered in without a magic string. Everything was absolutely comprehensible.

“But you have to have the beat, it conveys half the information in the music,” He looks at Jay, and then he tilts his head and looks through him. His eyes are milky from some exposure to great light as a child but still there are shards of glass in them.

“I bet you’re better at beat than tone, the beat is all math. I guess notes are all math too, but the beat is your kind of math” 


Jay looks up from his bowl of cereal, “Barry. What are you studying?”

Barry laughs, and the silence in the sterile white apartment shatters.

“Six weeks you live here and you only now ask.”

“We don’t talk much,” Jay scrunches his face up in horror.

“You’re not much of a talker,” Barry interspersed his words with laughs. He was sometimes absent, somewhere far away in space or time, and sometimes present. Jay found that both states were easy enough to live with so he did not intrude, but he liked it when Barry filled up the space with sounds.

“You have that walk-man on all the time.”

“We could still talk.” This time it is gentle, and softer, the chuckle only and under current in it all. “Go on ask me a question.”

“Okay,” Jay swallowed away his shame and smiled with a mouth full of nothing but words, “What are you studying?”

“I’m studying radio astronomy,” Barry said.

“I don’t ever see you working on it,” Jay said confused.

“I’m not very good at it,” he paused, “The science part, I mean. I’m very good at the listening part. I think they keep me around because I’m a good listener, I can always here stuff in the static they can’t.”

Jay ate his cereal. Barry ate his toast.

Finally, Jay raised his head again, “Aren’t you going to ask me what I study?”

This elicited another snort from Barry, “You study math.”

“I study math and I am very good at it.”


The alarm clock on his bedside tabled trilled. It’s light blinked at the rate of a heart. It read for a moment 3:21 then 12:00 then 11:11. Jay blinked at it. The air pulsed like a bird was beating its wings against the glass of the world, but there was no bird and there was no glass there was only the night.

The whole world smelled of ozone. 


When he woke in the morning everything seemed normal again and he tried to forget that the world had been for a brief moment the heart of a running animal and he had been inside it.


“Can I tell you secret?” Barry asked over breakfast.

Jay looked up, but Barry had eyes only for the notes he was drawing on the table in red pen.

“Of course,” Jay said but his throat was thick with fear. 

“I can’t remember how old I am,” Barry said, “or maybe I never knew.”  

“Barry,” said Jay though the blockage in his throat.

“My childhoods all messes up, Jay. Who knows how long it took.”

“Why tell me now?”

Barry shrugs. His eyes are still down at the table. The silence stretches and stretches and stretches. Measure after measure of rest.

Finally, Jay laughed unable to take the beat of the silence, “Our childhoods all fuck us up. Mine made me crazy. It’s all water under the bridge, it’s all fine.”

Barry grins a weird toothy grin at him and Jay finds his face splitting like tectonic plates with a match smile.


Jay didn’t wake again that night. But the smell of lightning lingered on his tongue until he brushed his teeth.


“Did you hear the music last night?” Barry asked as he made them pancakes.  

Without noticing breakfast had become a shared space. The habit had snuck up on them, swallowed them whole, so that they didn’t notice till they were so far in it it would be impossible to stop. They traded food more often than small touches, and small touches more often than words.

“No.” Jay laid his hand carefully over Barry’s, “what music?”


There is something in the way Barry tilted his head as if there was silent music just around the next corner. Something I the way he turned his guitar without reference, how he just let the pitches fall into place under his fingers.


“I’m going to the lab,” Barry called.

Jay raised his hand is a quiet salute his brain still on the math problems that spiraled out before him.

“I might not be back till….” Barry said, “I might not be back.”


In the morning there was only the faintest smell of lighting and there was no pulsing and heavy weight on the world. But there were also no pancakes or oatmeal. Just silence, which was not so much too heavy as too light, so that jay felt like he was floating ghost like through the too empty morning.


He should have gotten worried earlier but he didn’t. Instead he waited in the apartment and toiled over his equations and he waited and the scent of lightning got weaker and Barry did not reappear.

It took him too long to find the anonymous lab at which Barry went and listened to the universe. It all took too long like a feather falling, or like a vase falling off the edge of the table. You should be able to catch it but you can’t because it slips through your fingers like all time slips through your fingers.

Jay said to the guards “Is there a Barry Guiller here?”

The front one smiled at him, “You here to take him home?”

Jay set his mouth in a firm line, “I guess I am.”

“Well,” said the other guard, “I’m not really supposed to let you in without a security pass. But you go in and you take coffee away from that boy and don’t touch anything else and we’ll call it a moot point.”

Jay nodded and ventured in to the smooth white hallways so much like the smooth white walls of their apartment. 


Barry’s headphones were still on his ears but his eyes stared sightlessly into the rafters. Jay leaned over and peering into them like they were wells of dark water. Tiny stars in their depths danced tears into existence, which rolled down Barry’s cheeks from their starry origin.

“Jay,” he croaked, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to take you home,” Jay whispered to him.

“I can’t ever go home,” Barry sobbed, “I have been hearing the music all week. Can’t you hear it. I know you can hear the beat. I know you can. Can’t you hear the rest of of the music. I thought I thought they were coming back for me, but they won’t take me back. They won’t take me back, what did I do wrong, Jay? The music of the universe is so beautiful and I won’t ever be able to hear it like I did back then.”

Barry convulsed into Jay’s chest, wracked by a pain that Jay could not understand but felt echoing through him through the shuddering beat of Barry’s heart. They shook together, to resonant bodies in space.

Tap, tap, tap.

Jay tapped the side of the Headphones that still tethered Barry to the radio.

Tap, tap, tap.

Jay did it again. Then he carefully slid the headphones off Barry’s ears.

“I know this is some small consolation,” Jay said, “but there are other beats and other songs. Stay here on earth and find other music to listen to, there are a thousand songs in the universe that can be your reward. Whoever they are, they helped you be a good listener.”