Christmas Eve. I’m in my car, trying to sleep, when the sound of Karen Carpenter singing makes me sit up. I unzip my sleeping bag, wipe condensation from the windscreen and there she is, standing under a streetlight, not thirty feet away, in a white, butterfly-sleeve dress.

She’s singing We’ve Only Just Begun, the Carpenters’ old signature song, but unlike I’ve ever heard it — unaccompanied, her voice from beyond this world.

Holy moly, Karen Carpenter. This is my third week living out of the car and the lack of sleep has left my brain frazzled.

My phone rings. “Donna,” the caller ID says. My wife, God love her. She can’t stop calling me: the cat’s gone missing; the cable TV’s crashed; she’s following my recipe for mayonnaise and it’s curdled. Now what?

Donna told me, that last morning at breakfast, “I want to feel wanted, like you wanted me once.” She’d met someone else, she said, and asked me to move out. Now, it seems, she can’t let go.

Outside, Karen Carpenter’s breath forms little clouds in the frosty night air as she serenades me. I try waving to her, but if it registers, she doesn’t let on.

My mum loved the Carpenters. When I was seven, Dad left us — opened my bedroom door one night, called out, “So-long, kiddo,” and waved goodbye. After that, whenever Mum listened to the Carpenters, I prayed those sad songs would draw Dad back to us. But I never saw him again.

This time I switch off my phone. I get out of the car and make my way over. Karen sings about a kiss for luck and being on our way, in that happy-sad way of hers, and I wonder if I’m alone in encountering her like this. Who knows? Maybe others do, too.

I start humming along, then join in, tentatively at first, sotto voce, but Karen gives me this playful, what-are-you-waiting-for look and I don’t need a second invitation. I echo her pose, holding my arms outstretched and turning my palms and my eyes skywards.

We’re on the final chorus. I don’t hold back. Neither does Karen. But all I can think of is how lonely and empty the two of us sound when really we should be flying.

Digby Beaumont‘s stories appear in journals such as The Rose & Thorn, 34th Parallel, Slow Trains, Pindeldyboz, Monkeybicycle, The Linnet’s Wings, The Scruffy Dog Review, Toasted Cheese and Opium Magazine, as well as in the anthologies Small Voices, Big Confessions, Late-Night River Lights and City Smells. He lives in Brighton, England.

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