Stuck in the Tape Deck
The car ran fine, though the air conditioning was spotty, and the floor mats were gone. They spun the knob of the radio dial trying to find a station to listen to. Neither liked silence, and they’d both agreed they needed to spare their phone batteries, just in case. But they found more static than music, a thick, crackly blanket of sound almost worse than the quiet. There was a tape deck in the car, though, and their hands moved idly over the console, half-interested, and when they hit the eject button, a cassette tape popped out. It was hard, clear plastic with no label, and the shiny black ribbon was spooled all on one side. The day was hot, and the road stretched across the dusty landscape like a worn elastic band, loose and crumbling as it sagged over the gently rolling hills.
Fingers with shiny black nails pushed the tape back in.
It clicked into place and then a quiet, rolling static filled the car. A voice broke through. Rough and sad, a deep, aching loneliness —I’ve been searching for you, it sang. Searching for all that I’ve lost. No music played, only the voice, filled with a longing that sank like a dull knife deep, deep into their chests. Molly pressed the eject button before she could stop herself, but that voice was etched, permanent, into her, like the dolorous clang of a bell that would never be unrung.
There had been too much silence. Before they left, it was nearly all silence —hands unclasped, words unspoken, the very breath and beat of their bodies dimmed and contained. After Jasmine shaved her head, she got a tattoo just behind her ear. Lines of thin, scrawly, looping black wound together to make the head of a sunflower. Molly traced the petals with the tip of a finger and held back laughter and asked, very quietly, if it tickled. Jas said yes and cupped her hand over the flowers, to keep the ghost of the touch from leaking away. Molly heard everything she meant, everything she couldn’t say —and they ran, together and never silent again.
The car was silent, more oppressive than the heat, a choking cloud around them with no life or noise. As though it had been an accident in the first place, as though neither had wanted to stop the sounds of that voice, they pushed the tape back in together. It clicked on. That voice played again, heartbreaking and bare and raw. With no music behind it, the voice felt bottomless, a baritone reaching down for something always out of reach. Jas put her hand on Molly’s leg, on the soft bright skin above her knee. Molly clasped her hand and they listened as the tape played, intimate and painful, until the voice whispered to a halt and the sound rolled back into quiet static. Then they rewound the tape and listened again.
The sweltering heat sizzled out as night fell, and the sky was black and cool when they pulled into a motel, dotted with stars that dripped pale light onto the world in strings of gauzy silver. They tripped over each other into the room, buoyed by the high of travel and the strange, demi-magic sound of the tape. They took turns showering, ate the protein bars they’d packed, and then lay together with the lights off, on the top of one of the twin beds. The other stood like a stranger in the room, its only personality the bright, geometric print of the bedspread, washed by the darkness into a slab of dull gray.
Jasmine curled her fingers into Molly’s as they stared up at the ceiling, a crack of light from the half-closed curtain like an orange slice across the soft beige. One of them started to hum, or both of them, together maybe, their voices soft and fleeting and conjoined. It was the song from the tape, the haunting melody of that lost, lonely voice.
I’m still searching, the voice had sung, its echo all around them. Molly moved closer, nuzzling into Jas’s shoulder, their hands in a knot between their bodies. The mass of Molly’s curls sat soft in a pillow around them as they sang about searching—and thought not about what they had lost, but all that they had found.