At the top of my heart a bed, in the cupboard a lyre. A lyre? A lyre.
Hush now, I’m telling a story about my three sisters. How alike they tried to be. Gesturally. Posturally. Sartorially. As if they were always on stage. A stage? A stage, but in effect so was I. If the stage was under an unblinking moon. If I could possess the key to its cupboard without exacting a dance from my sore limbs, bored of moving to the tune of silence. If I could snatch the key without attracting attention from the shadow dealer, always leaning on his mic stand as if without acoustic support his whole person would crumple.
The shadow dealer liked to pretend he could neither see nor hear me, but I knew enough ghosts to know I was not one. Ghosts? Ghosts pooled around the bed, but my heart was too hard to reach, even for me. The ghosts would never get it. My sisters alone in their unanimity could locate the simultaneity it was suspended in. But then I’d have to look at them, unending in their exacting mirror, so I preferred to leave the heart alone. Ungraspable.
Eventually, the ghosts meandered, and I sought the key to the cupboard anyway. The key to the lyre of it all, if only the shadow dealer would be charmed by the dance he ignored.
I got right up to him and kicked. Oh, I kicked! I donned an old-fashioned petticoat and twirled like the fallen seed I was. He lowered his long dark face. Kicked an elbow on the stand. Are you asleep now, my sweet? How I shook it. Shook it? Shook it until his voice vibrated and he heard my movement in himself. Only then did he sigh and jingle the key. But did he kick it my way? Did he? No, he did not.
It required the help of my sisters. But first, I had to unstick them from the copy they made of each other and sealed. I had to convince them to fall to their knees and swing their ponytails upon the quiet orange stage of their consternation.
This stage is for the perfect unison of our immaculate dream, they protested. But my sisters, so long stuck in the noiseless light, they were suckers for a song. So, what did I do? Are you dreaming yet? Dreaming? Dreaming of what you would do for the perfect music.
I didn’t have to dream because my sisters showed me that even without a lyre or the key to the cupboard, I sang. Honey, I sang. I shocked even the braid of my own ponytail, which spun like a lawn ornament under the light of our fierce, strung-out moon. At first, they shrieked and clung but my sisters couldn’t resist a harmony, it melted them. Our feet were like spiders, more plentiful than we knew they could be. Thunderous, in fact.
The shadow dealer, do you know what he sounded like when he struck the coil within the magnet of his mic? Oh, you’re off now in your ghost bed aren’t you, Dear? No? No! Well, I will tell you he sounded tremulous. Tremulous? Tremulous as a sea of echoes crashing in on the riptide they themselves formed.
Now he heard all our movements in himself, not just my pitchy toss. Only in this completion did he kick the key my way. But over our whirling and stomping, our falling hair, and his cacophonous voice, I didn’t hear it clang. We danced all night and into the next while he swore and swore into his mic that he kicked like a key. We didn’t know what he was talking about, but we liked the rhythm.
It would be days before I spotted a glint on the chalky floor and believed his vibratory declarations. By then, my heart needed no lyre to wake it, it was as resolute as the wide blind moon. As open and unshakable. But when the sisters and the shadows and the dealers and the ghosts all fell asleep like you, Sweet, like you I opened the cupboard door. And what happened? What happened? Love, I was asking you.
Jessica Lee Richardson goes by Jess/she/her and is the author of the short story collection, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, which won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award. New work has appeared or is forthcoming in Adroit, The Commuter at Electric Lit, EX/POST, Gulf Coast, Slice Magazine and in the immersive online literary exhibit at Neon Door, among others. More work can be found online at www.jessicaleerichardson.com.