Something was waiting inside.
Maryella had remembered the furniture; it fit just right in the room. It matched the feeling of the street; north of the mission.
She had arranged the cello against the wall and intended to play it.
The same way she had played it for her husband.
He had died shortly after their last visit to the desert; a sudden heart attack.
She walked to the café and met Harry, who was still in love with her, and ordered a sandwich and her coffee, which she drank on the street, holding the sandwich in her hand.
The apartment was still fresh in her mind; the white room, and the chest of drawers.
Over the roof she could smell the sea. You could always smell the sea here.
A car was traveling very fast down Van Nuys; it careened through the intersection, burning rubber over the asphalt before disappearing around the bend.
Sirens lit up and followed it after she had swallowed her coffee. Harry brought her the sandwich and she called her friend Elizabeth who had promised to make her dinner to welcome her back; she didn’t like Elizabeth but had no other friends, not after Brian had died.
After lunch she tried to play; she held the bow in her hands and stared into the alley below her window. Pigeons were muttering on the fire escape. The light was perfect; a filmmaker’s light. She always wondered why more films weren’t made in San Francisco.
Brian’s face in the tent hovered over her mind, in the bright orange womb they had constructed for the desert, where she had done her music and he had watched her.
When she had been twenty-one she had met him at a concert. She had known there were – what was it exactly? Future premonitions.
She gave up and drove to the gym, playing some of her recordings on the stereo, looking for the right place to insert something new.
The cello is the instrument most like the human voice. The word most likely derives from the Roman Vitula, goddess of joy. Joy was not happiness, she had discovered. It was something underneath.
After the gym she had dinner with Elizabeth, which was delicious. Elizabeth had a new boyfriend and told her about their problems. The food was better than almost anything Maryella had ever had. Elizabeth was studying to be a chef.
There was something in the sound of her friend’s words; she realized it now. Some thing they were talking around.
“How long have you been in the city?”’ Maryella asked.
“Oh, you know. Since, what, 1995? Almost ten years now.”
“Why did you move here?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, I was following Jack. He led me here. On the back of his motorcycle.”
“But when you came here, why did you stay?”
“I love it here. I’ll never leave.”
Some sound in her friend’s voice alerted Elizabeth. “What’s wrong,” she said.
“Nothing, I’m just curious. That’s all. Why do you stay?”
Then she heard the sound outside; she walked to the window.
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked.
“Shhh,” said Maryella.
She walked out of her friend’s apartment and out onto the street.
The car was sitting there; the one she thought the cops would have caught. It was idling its engine, low and quiet, like her cello.
She thought to raise her hand, but realized it would be a crazy thing to do.
“Get out of here!” her friend shouted, raising her smart phone like a weapon.
The man in the car smirked, and winked at the women, and then sped down the street, through another red light.
Over the buildings Maryella could see what it was.
“I have to go,” she said.
They hugged and she drove home; listening to the traffic.
The walls were the same when she returned; whiter than anything she had ever seen.
We’re going inside; put on your sweater. We won’t stay long; she’s still playing her cello. Sometimes I still watch her play it, when she doesn’t know I’m looking. I can see her even through the walls.
They say that Silicon Valley destroyed San Francisco but I know that’s not true. It changed it into what it had always wanted to become.
Inside the studio it’s like I’ve always known here; she was always coming to be here, even when she was an art student. Even when I still thought I would be young forever.
The thing I found, it won’t stay long.
Or maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe it was always here. It’s what she has in the music. Some thing I can’t look away from.
She had dreamt of him again; his voice.
The party was relaxing but she had drunk too much; she leant against one of the strange modern art sofas and tried to catch her breath.
Outside the lights were flickering; Harry held on to her hand and was whispering something in her ear.
She closed her eyes.
The shape of the apartment was clear to her; it was a performance space. She hadn’t bought it to move in to; not as a newly single woman. As a widow.
It was an artist’s space. Like the one she had had as a student. But something was different. Not the light; it was almost exactly the same. Something underneath the light she had never noticed; some wavelength of light, or a distant sound that only dogs could hear. It was like a memory one knew one had but could not recall; or conversely, a memory one possessed vividly but did not seem to assign to any known events in one’s life.
She kissed Harry on the cheek and called a cab. In the back of the leather seat, she could see the moon flying over the Mission, like a widowed woman, still not free.
She set up the equipment at once, and the cameras. She called her friend who did installation art, and asked for a favor.
She held the bow against her cheek, remembering.
That bright light outside the studio.
The fire escape.
It wasn’t the desert; not that. It was before they were married. She had only just moved to the city.
It was the pigeons; that’s what it was.
It was just birds.
She saw there was one now; ordinary grey and white, outside on the brick ledge.
She played to it; marching it out; holding her instrument.
What did the pigeon know? It had always known what it was she was looking for. Did that make any sense? It was close to making sense. Something next to it.
She played for about forty-five minutes and then took a shower and lay on her sleeping bag on the floor.
Overhead the bare lamp mocked her; told her she was single. Told her she was dead. Told her she was a madwoman.
She got up and went up to the roof, raising the hatch that was like a submarine’s.
The city’s skyline was on fire with light; and she watched the birds wheel overhead.
In the arpeggio of their shape; the movement underneath and above her head she could discern the gravity of their weight; not their mass but the gravity of their movement; it could even be relativistic, she thought, the shape of the movement of the bird down under and above San Francisco, who had never really meant Freeman, for she had never been free here, nor wanted to be, but meant instead the division between that gravity and that weight; that pulling neither down nor up but in, and underneath, to look for the door out.
She performed the first time a widow on stage in the Western Addition; the first piece of her new album, Birds.
She flew overhead, watching not the light but the gravity underneath the actors and media moguls and rich girls and boys come under the stunning dim light of San Francisco to wonder at the shape of the world.
It isn’t round, she thought, but a whorl. Spinning around a slowly sliding center, underneath and in.
ROBIN WYATT DUNN was born in Wyoming in 1979. He is a graduate student in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick, Canada.