Jaan was enjoying the party in his honor, when he saw Margret harmonizing with Keets in a corner. Jaan had been listening to Britny Geeroo-Straows puffing away on her bassoon about network sales, when he caught Margret’s fluttering crescendo on the flute, a riff of joy and pleasure he had once known intimately. Keets’ arrogant oboe overlaying her sweet octaves. She was opening more holes than needed, he thought. Then, there followed a string of notes rendered con fuoco, with a smattering of giocoso that drove him to tears. Even before they sunk into pianissimo sequences, Jaan knew his wife was having an affair.
She had cheated on Jaan before, like he had countless times with his litgroupies and Upperdiv students. That was how their marriage had evolved — they cheated in silence within a cold but pleasant coexistence. But sleeping with Keets Steevens was a game changer.
He left Britney licking her reed and about to resume another morose measure on the future of streamnet publishing. Brandishing his trumpet, the poet confronted the two with heated blasts of scorn, the horn spewing arpeggios full of staccato shrill notes. Jaan’s performance, uncontrolled bravura and fire, silenced the room. Keets’ oboe slid to his side. Margret lifted her flute and responded with two crisp bars, malincolico, lamentoso. It was one of the saddest pieces of musicspeak anyone present had ever heard.
Jaan threw his trumpet to the floor and stomped on it, crushing the bell. Before he turned to the kitchen, he blew a raspberry at both of them through his mouthpiece. Mykel Porder, his agent, concerned about how his client’s outburst would play out across the national feeds, ran to Jaan. But Porder’s clarinet could not allay Jaan’s sinking into despair; in fact, it made it worse.
He yearned to scream. To yell at his wife for being an unforgivable and unforgiving slut. She had screwed Keets on purpose to spoil this moment, he thought. His success, his happiness, even if only fleeting, was too much for her miserable, depressive worldview. She could have screwed others, but no, she had to choose Keets. That bastard who publicly called his poetry “soulless.” Who appeared on Worldvisuals with that squeaky oboe only to musicslam his work.
In the kitchen, Margret gingerly raised her flute, but he tore it from her hands and snapped it over his knee like a conductor’s baton. Her eyes flared with disgust and anger, which he enjoyed, but then they softened with pity and that was intolerable.
The cooks and catering staff crept to the safety of the walls. They signed to each other, their hands and facial expressions frantic, as the couple scowled at one another. In a flash, Jaan slapped Margret and opened his mouth to release a string of guttural sounds that came from somewhere distant and foreign. He could not stop, becoming redder with every airy, spit-flying emission. In frustration, his hands clutched tufts of hair and tore clothing; saliva frothed on his lips, tears pooled around his eyes. Witnesses say he managed a long howl. Others described it as a barbarous yawp. And then he seized a knife and slashed his throat. As blood splattered the white kitchen, he wished he had his trumpet—to play a muted, jazzy coda.
J.L. Torres is the author of The Family Terrorist and Other Stories (Arte Público, 2008), the recently published novel, The Accidental Native (Arte Público), and a collection of poems, Boricua Passport (2Leaf Press). He has published stories and poems in numerous journals and magazines such as North American Review, Denver Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, Connecticut Review, Tulane Review, Puerto del Sol, and the anthology Growing Up Latino. A Fulbright recipient, he teaches American literature and creative writing at SUNY, Plattsburgh, where he is also the Executive Editor of Saranac Review.
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