US IN TAPES • by Jessa Marsh

The day I met you we walked to the train together. While our feet hit the wet pavement I hummed a little out of nervousness. Recognizing the Hank Williams melody, you said you didn’t like any country music, no exceptions. I stopped and we were quiet for a while. You broke this silence, an uncomfortable, unfamiliar one, to ask me where I lived. I said off the blue line but I was staying at a friend’s tonight. I was really going to my boyfriend’s house. I lied because when you spoke in class your voice reminded me of a boy I knew in high school, back when it was easy to fall irrationally in love. He had the same kind of lisp, hidden mostly, escaping only on the softest of syllables. A week later I handed you a tape filled with voices that twanged the way mine does when I’m drunk enough to sing. You looked at the hand-written track listing, chuckled softly and raised your eyebrows with doubt. I told you that you’d like it, regardless.

The second tape came after we first slept together, on my couch, my roommates gone and Conan on too loud. I didn’t hear your noises and your face glowed TV blue. This mix was cautiously romantic, not one song containing the word love. I made sure of that, looking at liner notes, listening over and over again to each track.

When my roommate moved out, you moved in and the mixes became blatantly sappy, like the soundtracks to indie movies about the first time you fall in love. We listened in bed, bodies exhausted and eyes heavy.

After a while the tapes became silly, an extension of our inside jokes, a secret language that only you and I could speak. There was the song that we’d sing while brushing our teeth side by side in the morning, toothpaste drooling down our chins, the words indistinguishable. A song that you danced to once at four in the morning, when two bottles of wine were in the garbage can and my stomach and cheeks were aching from laughing so hard.

Then it became harder to think of songs I wanted to give you. Mixes were started, but not finished. Eventually I stopped making them. I thought that it meant that we had settled in, we knew each others’ albums, and we had fully integrated our lives. In a way, I thought, it was a good sign. It showed a comfort level that I hadn’t reached with anyone before.

I didn’t believe that for long.

I never gave you the last mix. I made it one night while you were away. You had started going away, a day here, a day there. I didn’t know what to do with all of the space — my cluttered apartment had never seemed so immense. I sat on the floor, CDs spread around me, a blank tape in the stereo. I filled it with songs that didn’t make me think of you, songs with lyrics that I could recognize myself in. I listened to it when you weren’t around, which was happening more and more. The magnetic tape thinned, slowing down bridges and verses.

The first week after you left for the last time, the tape didn’t leave my stereo. I hit repeat and when one side finished, the other started. Day after day. One morning I woke up without pausing to think of where you were, if you would come back.

I got up and turned off the stereo.

Jessa Marsh‘s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot, decomP, Storyglossia, Knee-Jerk, and Pank. She is the web editor of Monkeybicycle.

This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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Every Day Fiction

  • very delicately done. Good stuff. Shouldn’t intergraded be integrated? And no apostrophe please on CDs.

  • Yes, delicate is the word here, and also romantic. I gave this story a five, despite the two errors Alan pointed out. The cadence of this unusual love story ran like the notes of a violin playing solo at the end of a song. Vivid images – the story glows like a silhouette caught in a sunset. Thank you Jessa.

  • Amy Corbin

    Well done, Jessa. Beautiful writing.

  • This is lovely, Jessa. I really like the way you write. As Alan says, this is delicately done; you have such a light touch. And I love how this couple speaks through music, not to each other, as those these songs express what they cannot. Well done.

  • J.C. Towler

    This got better as it went on, but really the opening was a tangle of contradictions and dissonance.

    It opens with “the day I met you” and then a few sentences down mentions “an uncomfortable, unfamiliar” silence. Well if they just met, how can anything be “unfamiliar” between them? They just met.

    “While our feet hit the wet pavement I hummed a little out of nervousness” has an inelegant ring to my reader’s ear, and becomes less palatable with time once you read the rest of the prose, which is more carefully written.

    Finally, it was odd–not impossible, just kind of odd–that the male character recognizes a hummed Hank Williams tune, even though he avows his distaste for country music. If the tune was named, it could possibly create connections with the reader and potentially clarify whether you meant Junior or Senior. 😉

    After that, I thought the story did well. There were some strong connections to readers of a certain age who can remember sitting there with cassettes and records, creating those mixed tape labors of love. I still have a box or two of mine. This makes me want to go listen to them again. Overall, enjoyable.


  • Well done. As others have indicated, the writing here is beautiful, delicate being a good word to describe it. The flow of words is remarkable. I like the usage of music to reveal the progression of the relationship. Just a couple of errors that others already pointed out.

  • As someone else noted, I found the first paragraph hard to follow. Later the story got easier.

    Overall, the story seemed fairly well written, but TO ME the entire premise seemed kind of implausible. Do people really do this kind of thing, making “mixes” and swapping them back and forth? This is not any kind of thing I am familiar with, so the story didn’t grab me.

    And by the way, assuming that people do this, would they still use tapes? Wouldn’t they–nowadays–burn the “mix” onto a CD?

  • gay

    Very nice story. Maybe the first paragraph is intentional…like a mixed tape?

  • Margie

    Lovely! 5 stars!

  • Loved this. Delicately written, yet emotionally raw. I also saw it a little as a love story of music, and of the protagonist – how at the end she started to hear and feel herself in the lyrics.

  • Jessa

    Jim- yes, people make mixes. I suppose now it’s CD’s more frequently than tapes, but I always made tapes and I feel that they are a more powerful object.

    JC- I think Hank Williams (Senior, always senior) is one of those artists that everyone who claims to hate country music actually loves, like Johnny Cash.

  • I enjoyed the write. Like others, it was slow out of the gate, but picked up midway into a delicious ending.

    It left me a little melancholy, only because it took me way back to the day it occurred to me that I haven’t thought about “her” in a couple of days.

    Thanks for the memory.

  • Sharon

    I thought their making tapes instead of CDs evoked a sense of being connected to the past, like the two young couples living near me who use turntables instead of digital. The story read like poetry, despite its few little flaws. 5 tapes up from me.

  • Definitely a 5 star………more please!!
    A real gut grabber if you’ve ever had a relationship just fade away like that !!

  • Jen

    That was excellent. So happy and romantic at first and said at the end. But absolutly real, the emotion was amazing. Loved it.

  • Typos corrected; thank you, Alan!

  • Jessa

    Thank you all for the kind comments. It’s nice to be published in a place that has a venue for feedback. I’ll definitely be submitting again.

  • I really enjoyed this story. Looking at the relationship through the lens of the mixed tape was a fresh take.

  • Rob

    Very nicely done.

  • Arthur

    Nostalgia; a passionate relationship simply ebbs away – guess it happens to most of us.