by David Domine
There is no traffic in the downtown, although it is the lunch hour. In the river, trout are suspended as if enclosed in solid glass. Birds perch silently in the branches, stray dogs and cats crouch in the bushes—all waiting to be charmed. The oaks and pines in the small park facing the opera house are ready to dance. Even the stones and boulders vibrate in anticipation, eager to spring to life.
But Orpheus just stands there, mute and unmoving. He shapes his arms as if to cradle an instrument, his fingertips ready for the pluck and strum, yet he makes no music. The notes and chords sound in his head, vibrating from the sinews in his motionless limbs, and he gazes into the sky. He remembers taking auspices from the swarms of pigeons and doves, and, now, with a single note he could coax these starlings from the trees and sing their murmuration high into the heavens, twirl them about, then land them one by one on the roof ridge of the turreted brick building before him.
There hasn’t been a concert in the Peterson Opera House since before the war, when the family still thrived and controlled so much of the town. This doesn’t stop Orpheus, who sneaks through the side door once or twice a week and takes a worn velvet seat in the row nearest the stage. There, he stares past the spider webs, at the elaborate stenciling and gold stars on the ceiling, reliving a time when he practiced astrology and the magical arts. And when he mastered the harp and the lyre and all things musical. Hollow strains of old performances dance in his head, and he pulls an invisible instrument close, as if to play along, and even if silence is all that comes, he knows that one of these days a tune will return.
At those moments, he senses Eurydice is out there somewhere, maybe in the next county, in another village, but always when he heeds the pull from the darkness and follows, his mind fills with the ancient and blurry songs and, somehow, he becomes distracted. The next minute he looks down and he’s carrying a box of long johns or honeymooners from Klein’s Bakery because his new wife likes them so much and he tries to please her however he can, or else he blinks awake to find himself sitting in the bowling alley with a still-full schooner of beer on the table. A niggling in the back of his brain tells him he needed to do something important, his body itching with desire and a dull throb in his groin, but the yearning soon evaporates with a soft whoooosh and kithara music rushes in to fill the void. A lightness still lingers, though, a winged being in his heart, where it flitters about until collapsing into the hard-toothed worm that bores into the flesh of his memory to dig out another grain of remorse.
Standing in front of the old opera house, he feels a sharp stab in his chest and a ringing starts in his ears. But Orpheus can only feel music in the air today, the fingers of his empty hands grasping the yelps and mews of the dogs and cats hidden in the hedges. The riverfish are sleek and shiny with song, the blackbirds poised to take wing into a deafening chorus of quarter notes and eighths.
David Domine lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he teaches foreign languages and translation at Bellarmine University. In addition to an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, he has an MA in Spanish Literature from the University of Louisville and an MA in German Literature from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He also completed studies in literary translation at the Karl-Franzens Universitat in Graz, Austria. To date he has published numerous articles and non-fiction books with topics ranging from folklore and architecture to bourbon, travel memoirs and regional cooking. His stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in publications such as Wisconsin Review, Indiana Voice Journal, Golden Walkman, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His current projects include the forthcoming novel Peter Paul’s Kitchen and a true-crime book about the bizarre 2009 murder of drag queen Jamie Carroll and the subsequent trials of alleged killers Jeffery Mundt and Joseph Banis.