Jerry was the quiet neighbor. The one who never had a television blaring, music playing, or kids yelling. He was that neighbor. The good neighbor. At least that was the case until one week ago at 2:00 am. Yes, 2:00 am…on a work night.
I met Jerry six years ago. It was noon and the summer sun had clearly turned its hot focus directly on me as I was moving items into my new home. I’m pretty sure he took pity on all one hundred pounds of me as I tried for ten minutes to push my sofa through the front door all by myself.
“You need some help, Beautiful?” he asked as he walked up the pathway that divided my yard of weeds into two.
“The name is Katie,” I said being sure to make eye contact. “Katie.” I walked into the house and grabbed the end of the sofa that refused to enter its new home. “Sure, I could use some help.”
As he walked closer to the couch, I could smell my Grandpa. It was a scent I sadly hadn’t smelled in years. Freshly burned, sweet pipe tobacco. “I’m Jerry,” he said. “I live right there.” He pointed to the green-vinyl home to the left of mine.
It took an hour to finish. My clothes were sticking to me and Jerry’s tank was no longer dry.
“I wish I could thank you with something cold to drink, but I don’t have anything other than tap water.” I looked toward the kitchen. “Or glasses.”
“Don’t worry, Beautiful,” he said. “I have lemonade. Why don’t you come over for a drink.”
“Katie,” I said a little more firmly as I followed him to his house.
I felt like I was walking into a home in one of those outdoor historical museums set in the early 1900’s, except this home, thankfully, had air conditioning. The wood floor had a large oriental rug covering most of it, the far wall contained multiple wooden book shelves that were stuffed full with antique books, the curtains were off-white with mini red flowers all over them, and the sofas were dressed in red velvet. Most interesting, though was the record player to my right that was built into a wooden display case. “It’s beautiful,” I said. “Does it still work?”
Jerry ignored my question and made his way into the kitchen. “Come have a seat,” he called from the kitchen.
I sat at a tiny wood table that was covered in a thick table cloth lined with plastic. He placed a glass of iced lemonade in front of me. The ice clinked while he used the table as leverage to lower himself to the chair.
“I haven’t played it for ten years,” he said, looking at me through his glasses. “Not since Barbara passed away.”
I looked back into the living room at the record player and was surprised at all of the pictures that I missed. They covered the wall above and on both sides of the player. I excused myself to take a closer look at them. There were black and white photos from their younger years which transitioned to brown tinted photos and then to color photos over the years. They looked like a very happy couple. They were beautiful.
Jerry joined me in front of the pictures. “That’s my beautiful Barbara. When she was here, we would play that record player every night and dance at least one song together. Every single night. You see that mirror up there with the pictures?”
I did. It blended in with them. Same shape and frame, just a little larger. It was directly in front of me.
“Barbara liked to watch us dance in that mirror. She would comment that out of all the couples dancing, those two right there were the best.” He chuckled. “She made me smile every day.”
Barbara passed away at seventy-two in her sleep. It was peaceful. They never had children. Jerry said they tried for years, but it just wasn’t meant to be. He still had some nieces and nephews that came around on occasion, but he would have loved to have had his own children, especially since they would have been pieces of his Barbara still with him after she left. He explained that the saying that time flies when you get older is only true until the love of your life dies. Then time goes slower than it did when you were a child impatiently waiting to become an adult. Every morning was a reminder to him that he would have to wait at least one more day to be with her.
Over the years, Jerry continued to call me “beautiful” rather than Katie. I came to learn that every time he was able to call someone “beautiful”, it was his way of remembering Barbara, and if I could be any comfort to the old man, I decided it wouldn’t hurt.
A week ago, Sunday, I was awoken. Before I fully pulled myself from whatever dream I may have been having it was already quiet again. Some faint noise, somewhere in the night. I drifted back to my slumber.
The next night, it happened again. That time I woke up soon enough to hear the clarinets and saxophones playing to the blackness outside. Swing. It was a swing-styled song. And then, it was over.
By Friday night, it became a ritual. 2:00am, Glenn Miller – Moonlight Serenade, and then it was over. The odd thing was that it seemed to be coming from Jerry’s house. Quiet, Jerry’s house.
By Saturday I had had enough. 2:00 am hit, the song began, and within the thirty seconds it took for me to painfully assault my eyes with my 100 watt lamp, blindly put my slippers on, and angrily whip on my robe, I was in my driveway playing sound detective. Jerry. I stomped over to his house and knocked. Loudly. The music continued. In fact, the song oddly started over a second time. I knocked again, with no answer. I tried the door knob, and it turned.
“Jerry?” I said over the music as I opened the door. There was no answer. When I stepped into the room my lungs momentarily stopped as I was greeted with what smelled like garbage that missed last month’s trash pick-up. I covered my nose and continued to breathe at a bare minimum. The room was dark aside from a glow traveling in from the oven light in the kitchen. “Jerry,” I said again. Then, I saw him. He was sitting on his red velvet sofa with is head tilted back, mouth open. The song stopped.
“Jerry!” I ran to him. He was cold and firm. The song started for a third time. It wasn’t as loud this time. It was quite pleasant, but I thought I should turn off the record player anyway. I walked over, but as I approached, the record wasn’t moving. In fact, the needle was at rest in its slot. Movement in the mirror above the record player caught my attention. There was a soft glow in the room’s reflection. And I saw Jerry dancing in the image with his beautiful Barbara. He looked happy. Much happier than I had ever seen him in the six years I had known him. I looked behind me half expecting both of them to be dancing behind me yelling “Got ya!”, but there was only Jerry, firmly attached to the sofa. The music faded and when I turned around, the only person I saw in the mirror was me.
The ambulance technicians said it looked as though Jerry had been dead for about a week.
It was a week ago when I had begun to hear the music. One song every night. Every single night.
It’s about time, Beautiful Barbara, I thought. He has been waiting sixteen long years for that dance.
AUDIO VERSION HERE
Written by Sheryl Marasi (pen name)
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