Chapter Seven

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The gun sets us all free. Someday you'll lose me, but I will have myself and in the emptiness we'll dance. –Jackson Killian

Chapter Seven

I stared out the window, my phone still hot in my hand. The knuckles of my other hand pressed against my teeth. I watched the rain sluice down the pane, blurring the night outside. The Bronco stood out from the wild darkness in a bright cast of light from the bulb in the carport. The stalwart juniper bushes bent with every fierce gust of wind, then righted themselves, branches quivering.

The sound of drops drumming the roof had begun just as Jack and I said our goodbyes, quiet at first, then louder. Somehow, despite the blur outside, I felt sharpened by hope. And wary about it.

I turned from the window feeling determined. The floor lamp in the living room shone dimly up at the ceiling, the wall heater ticking as it cooled from its most recent blaze. I passed the door to the mudroom, moving with purpose to the junk drawer in the kitchen. Wood scraped wood when I opened it, the track warped with age.

The drawer was full of rubble: chancy pens, screws to who knew what, extended warranty paperwork for my microwave, a broken calculator, batteries, and This Life Not Right.

I set my phone on the counter and pulled out the CD.

Light, it felt like so much nothing wrapped in a cardboard case.

I was slipping it into the CD player before I'd realized I'd made a decision, but my finger hovered over the play button for a prolonged moment. Then I pressed it.

I don't know why I'd thought I was ready. I wasn't.

I sat down right there on the floor in front of the stereo; watching the seconds tick by on song one, feeling the chords as he strummed them, the music vibrating out of the speaker and into me.

My heart was in my throat, so big and obstructive I felt like I couldn't swallow around it. I couldn't breathe around it. I couldn't seem to think around it. I placed my hand against it, the skin of my palm cool and clammy on my neck.

I knew it would be like this, which was why I hadn't listened sooner. I've never been able to control the physical reaction my ex-husband could evoke in me.

It was his breath that caught my attention most. At certain points the microphone had picked up an inhale or a whimper attached to a word, and those small sounds clawed at me with all the pain they seemed to contain. Desperate, aching sounds I'd never noticed before.

I sat still, eyes burning, listening to Jack Killian cry songs like tears into an empty bucket.

These were the songs from a man who had died and been revived. He almost never recorded any of this. These lungfuls of soul almost never happened.

I didn't like it. I didn't know if I would have liked it if it had been another artist; I just knew that the emotions trapping me blurred any appreciation I might have had for the talent. It was different for me than his first album. His first album had seemed brilliant, maybe because I still had some small measure of hope then. It would take me some time to determine whether or not this one was, and I didn't know if I was committed to it beyond this single listen.

I recognized the second song. I didn't know the name of the track on the album, but once upon a time it had been called "Deicide Undecided." Written on a sultry Vegas night, I remembered it specifically because it had a title—many of his poems didn't. That, and he'd rhymed front with cunt.

His accent tempered his vulgarity, making profanity sound almost sophisticated.

Jack liked words, liked the feel and shape of them. He liked to break and remake them, always had. He wasn't afraid of or embarrassed by them. A lot of the songs seemed sexual in nature, not that I could be certain, the way Jack shrouded his real meanings behind metaphor. Poetry was his playground, symbolism rampant in his art.

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