The Optimistic Songwriter | Teen Ink

The Optimistic Songwriter

January 27, 2011
By JDKirkland BRONZE, Cincinnati, Ohio
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JDKirkland BRONZE, Cincinnati, Ohio
4 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
"Some people never go crazy... what truly horrible lives they must lead..." -Charles Bukowski

Author's note: I wanted to write this, because I had a dream about a woman playing guitar at some place and she was dressed silly. There was a man watching her, but it was more than love in his eyes I think. I just had to get my idea down on paper.

The author's comments:
A Short Story

The Optimistic Songwriter J.D. Kirkland The Optimistic Songwriter There was a beginning and middle, and I was struggling with all of it to be honest. Everything was incomplete. I met Isabelle York when she was a guitar player at Graeter's Ice Cream Shop. I'd gone in there one day for a scoop of peanut butter chocolate swirl in a waffle bowl with rainbow sprinkles, (my girlfriend had broken up with me just yesterday morning), and I saw Isabelle. I saw her fingers first, the way they so delicately strummed the cords of her acoustic guitar. Then I heard her voice, which wasn't glorious, but raspy and beautiful in a dark way. Then I saw her face. Her eyes were closed, but when she opened them, they were brown like heated caramel and matched her skin. Her black hair, still wet from the rain, was tied back into the messiest ponytail I'd ever seen. It didn't look bad on her. Her look didn't pull me in; she was dressed in gray sweatpants, a white t-shirt, and brown cowgirl-looking boots. No, it was her voice that pulled me in. It was the dryness of it, the emotion in it, like every word stood for something, symbolized something. Listening to her, I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be ordering, so I ordered a scoop of mint chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone. I sat down at a round table near the guitar player to hear her sing. I didn't know what she was singing, but it sounded beautiful enough to keep me engaged. “I'm watching him sleeping- until he opens his eyes/ I'm saying imagine- me there by your side/ his feelings are molded- he's ready to die/ I'm begging don't go, no- I'm in deep need of your advice,” Her voice raised a little on the next part, but not too much to ruin the calm affect of her music and I silently applauded her for not going overboard, “He says 'when it's cold outside, close your window'/ he says, 'there's no need to cry, when I'm not here'/ he says, 'I'm going to keep you, I'm your keeper'/ hey and I say, 'I want so desperately to disappear'.” My phone rang through the shop, but it didn't interrupt her. It didn't interrupt any of them. They were mesmerized in her voice. She was a gravitational pull. She closed her eyes when she was into a particular part of her songs and opened them when she wanted to see the reactions from her audience. I listened to three of her songs that day before I had to head to work, and all three songs were stuck in my head. I went back the next day to hear her, but she wasn't there. The next day she wasn't there. The day after that she wasn't there either. I went home thinking about her and listening to her voice again and again in my head, until it faded into nothing more than words, because I couldn't remember that well anymore. * It wasn't until early May that I saw her again, back in Graeter's looking a lot different than I'd seen her last winter. Her hair was longer and hung down to her shoulders, still messily if you ask me. She was dressed in a brown and yellow sundress with black boots that looked too big for her feet, and she had on Batman wing dangling earrings. I might not have been able to tell it was her, had I not heard her voice, because she had on the ugliest, biggest brown-framed sunglasses. I ordered whatever I was up for, which was strawberry and cookie dough ice cream (two scoops) and sat down at my “regular” table. Grater's was always filled with teenagers sitting Indian Style on the floor and at tables whenever Isabelle was there. I hadn't noticed before because I didn't care. Now, I felt like one of them. As soon as her fingers started to make the guitar strings tremble, my heart did too, and I knew at that very moment that I had to talk to her. Her voice came a little afterward, challenging her own tune, flowing in unison with it, “We – aren't we/ we only pretend to be/ just like that/ love – is a game/ I'm not very/ fond of playing/ just like that/ and I/ I-I-I'm/ wasting time/ ti-i-ime/ make believe/ stupid dreams/ stupid things/ silly dreams...” She paused for a moment and I could have sworn she was looking at me from behind those glasses. Or maybe she wasn't. Then she went back to singing and I melted all over again. “We – aren't we...” * After that, when she had played all day and Graeter's was empty and five minutes from closing, I watched her from my table trying to get up the courage to go and speak to her, at least tell her that she was good at what she did. I watched her from afar, though. Watched her throw her hair back into a ponytail and watched her lift up her dress high enough to see her tiny beige shorts and little ass. And if I wasn't close to an erection I might have gone over to her; instead I grabbed my book, reading glasses and headed for the door. “Pardon me.” Her voice. I knew it was her voice because it was soothing like she was talking a lullaby, instead of singing one. “Pardon me.” She repeated when I said nothing. I put on my reading glasses, to look more sophisticated and less like a jackass, and turned around to her. “Yes?” “Hi.” She smiled and her wide, brown eyes narrowed when she did. She held out a black wallet to me. “Does this belong to you?” She had an accent. She didn't strike me as the kind of person to have an accent. A British accent at that. It wasn't as strong as any of my professor's at the University, but I could tell that it was hers and real. She pushed the wallet closer to me and said. “Someone dropped it and I don't want to go into it, because – well that would just be rude.” “Um.” It didn't look like mine, and plus I felt my wallet weighing down my back pocket. I tucked my book under my arm and took the wallet from her. When I opened it, the first thing I saw was her driver's license and a piece of paper with her number on it. I looked up at her and she was biting her bottom lip and smiling. She held her hand out to me. “I'm Isabelle York.” She smiled. “Everyone calls me Bell around here though.” “I'm,” I shook her hand, probably too eagerly, “Eryn Sinclaire.” “Eryn Sinclaire.” She repeated back. “Sounds like a girl's name.” She scolded herself immediately. “I'm sorry. Sometimes words just come to my mouth and I can't stop them and,” She paused, “I'm willing to start over.” Her carrying on like that made me laugh. She was sweet. “No need. So is this for me?” I took the folded piece of paper from her wallet and handed the wallet back to her. She pulled up her dress and tucked in into the side of her shorts like a gun, or something. Then she raised an eyebrow, making one eye a little smaller than the other. “I have a feeling you're about to ask me out to lunch or something.” She smiled. So I did. I asked her out to lunch, and then I asked her out to dinner, and then I took her out to breakfast, and it usually started all over again. * I had started to feel like maybe I was smothering her. Maybe she thought I was being clingy, so I stopped talking to her for a few days, and those days turned into weeks and those weeks turned into months. I got the feeling that our small time spent together was meaningless to her, and so I tried to forget about her. She called a couple of times, and each time I missed her call, and when she texted me I was too scared to text back. I didn't even read the messages. I knew they would say something like she had moved on without me; she had found someone else. I was in her past now. I was three months of her past. That was the amount of time we had spent with each other. One day, I couldn't take it anymore. I woke up after a night of dreaming about her and went straight to Graeter's. Of course they weren't open at eight in the morning, so I waited until eleven. Bell didn't show up for a couple hours after that and I swear I was the first person to walk in after her. I watched her from behind my sunglasses for a while until she spotted me and gave me the saddest look I'd ever seen. Then she turned away from me and walked over to her stool and sat down. Why was she sad? I could only imagine. Someone had broken her heart, the bastard. How dare he? I went to her to talk, but she ignored me when I said hello. “What's wrong?” I knelt down to her, and she looked at me. “Are you mental?” Her voice had anger to it that I had never heard before. “No?” I stood up and she stood up with me. She wasn't as tall as I was, but she could probably kick my ass in a fist fight. “You're what's wrong! Why haven't you answered my texts? Or... picked up the phone when I called?” Had I gotten something mixed up along the way? Had I gotten something wrong? She was with someone, wasn't she? I had convinced myself that she was. “You're seeing someone... right?” I sounded like an idiot. She burst out in loud laughter. “You are mental.” Then she slouched down onto her stool and shook her head while she tuned her guitar. “It's just like a man to put the blame on someone other than himself. You know I thought about coming to see you. I wanted to make it a surprise, but you made it pretty obvious that you wanted nothing to do with me. What'd'ya get... bored... up there in your lit'el apartment? How dare you put the blame on me?” “I'm not... doing that... Isabelle. I honestly thought you were with someone else. You waited three months to call me.” “I was waiting for you to call me!” We stared at one another until we were both laughing and shaking our heads, looking like total idiots and then we stared at each other some more. I kissed her then, because it was the logical thing to do, and it was what I saw them do in movies. She kissed me back, grabbing my head with her warm hands and holding my face to hers once the kiss was over, and our lips were still touching. My body was warm, like I had drunken a glass of hot cocoa in the winter time, and my hands were trembling. We had been apart for nothing. So I took her to my house to make dinner for her. I couldn't apologize enough for making her sad. At least she was smiling now. She danced around my living room (which was nearly connected to the kitchen in an awful, ugly way) and drank from an old coke glass bottle that I used and reused a million times because I liked old fashioned things. She had asked me about them and I'd simply told her that I poured the coke from the cans into the glass bottles and put them in the refrigerator. I watched her from the kitchen while stirring onions and vegetables in a frying pan with butter and garlic salt. I didn't even know what the hell I was making, only that I had seen my mother do the same thing before she died. Bell sang to me. I knew she was singing to me, because she kept throwing out hints about how she loved my eyes and how my smile made her smile. She was just making it up as she went along. Her voice was different when she sang to me though. There was easiness to it like she wasn't afraid of messing up and when she couldn't think of a word that rhymed or made sense with the rest of her song, she just hummed the finish. Then she walked over to me, stood behind me, and wrapped her arms around me. I couldn't help, but laugh. She sung to me and I thought my jaws would break when I smiled, “You are my sunshine/ my only sunshine/ you make me happy when skies are gray/ you'll never know, dear, how much I love you/ please don't take my sunshine away...” I turned around to face her and she stopped singing when I swept her up into my arms, like she was weightless, and kissed her. I wasn't sure in what amount of time it had taken me to get her to my room and get her clothes off, but I remembered jumping out of bed when she was asleep to go and make sure the kitchen wasn't on fire. It smelled like hell, garlic salt and burnt toast, and I was sure the smoke would clear. I hurried back to the bed before Isabelle could wake up and covered her bare body with the white sheet, before lying down beside her. I didn't want to think of her as my possession, but I couldn't see her belonging to anyone else. I fell asleep right there with her in my arms. * When I woke up, Isabelle was playing with my hands and smiling. “You have big hands.” She said and then kissed my palm. I sat up and pulled her up with me. “Do you write any of your songs?” “Funny you should ask.” She looked up at me, but not for too long. “Of course I do. In fact, I've written songs for other artists too. Even famous ones. I wrote a song for Lindsay Lohan once, but it didn't go that far. I wrote a theme song to a commercial too.” She laughed, like she was thinking back on that moment. “That didn't land either. Now, I write music for Peyton Marten.” I had heard of Peyton Marten. She was an underground rock star in New York or something like that. So I was surprised, “Really?” “I used to.” She corrected herself. “But we don't talk anymore. We had a 'falling out'. Do you write?” She fixed the sheet around her and me. “I used to.” It was true. I used to write music, poems, anything that took my mind off of whatever stress I was feeling at the time. They were packed up in the back of my closet far away from my hands. Bell asked me to show her until I was red and embarrassed and felt like I had no choice. It wasn't until we had both taken a shower together and ate breakfast that I moved the coffee table and spread the old sheets of paper out on the living room floor. Bell looked through them with fascination and I watched her eyes with trepidation. They were solemn during the first few lines, then they changed to some kind of excitement (maybe), and then they fell again and she ended with a smile, before reaching for another page. I read over my own work too. Nothing made sense anymore. They were just words now. Words over blank pages. “I like this.” Bell nodded, and she kept shaking her head, while reading. “Mm. That is so true.” Then she finished, set the paper on the other stacks she had formed and went to another random page. She was nodding her head to an imagined beat on this page, and tapping her fingers on her crossed leg. “Where's your guitar?” She asked me, without looking up. “Um.” I rushed away to grab my guitar from the back room where it had been hidden for at least two weeks and brought it back to her. She tuned it faster than lightning and strummed it like it was her own. Then she sang my words and I swore I felt my heart drop. “We live in times of no salvation/ of starvation and deprivation/ of truth and lies this world may sing/ and stupid laws that freedom brings.” She paused to catch herself, to fix her beat and match it with her voice. Then she continued, “Of short and tall tales of tomorrow/ of good bad and which to follow/ of crimes and wars we cannot end/ and shoe prints of our father's sins.” “You sound amazing.” She looked at me and there was a smile in her eyes, a sparkle I'd never seen before. She set aside the guitar to kiss me. And so this became one of our rituals. We would write songs together or separately and record them, and she would point out my mistakes and I would point out hers. * Bell moved in with me a couple months later. It was much easier then. We made love every night for a week. Then we'd write songs about making love and then we'd write songs about people writing songs about making love. Then we'd make love again. I had already admitted to myself that I was in love with Isabelle York. I just didn't know when I was going to admit it to her. She came in one day late February, carrying her guitar, and holding a red rose with a white ribbon wrapped around the stem. I was in the kitchen standing at the sink and fondling the silver engagement ring in my hand. “It's freezing out there.” She sat her guitar on the armchair and walked in the kitchen to kiss my cheek. She stood back from me and held the rose out. “A homeless man gave this to me.” She smiled. “'Ent that the sweetest thing you've ever heard? He had nothing and he gave me a rose. I just thought that was sweet, so I'm giving it to you. Happy Valentine's Day, love.” She kissed my cheek again and walked away, but something stopped her. She turned around to face me and I turned to face her with my hands behind my back to hide the ring (and my shivering). She narrowed her eyes suspiciously at me. “I have the feeling you're about to do something completely unexpected.” She bit her lip nervously. This was the time. This was the time for me to confess to Isabelle York that she was the love of my life and would forever be. I dropped to one knee and her eyes widened as she looked down at me. My heart pounded wildly in my chest, making it hard for me to breathe. What if she said no? It would ruin everything if she said no. My heart would be broken. I stuck to my plan anyway. “Isabelle York,” I gulped, “I love you. The first day I saw you I knew that I had to make you mine, and so I did, and now I can't imagine you being with anyone else. I want you forever. Do you want me forever?” She nodded, because she was too nervous to speak. I smiled. My lips were quivering I think. “Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” “Hell yes!” She exclaimed. I put the ring on her finger as quickly as I could so that I could hold her, and kiss her and make love to her. * We got married in July and it was about time too. Her family had taken so many pictures of us that I'd had to buy new photo albums to fit them in. My family had recorded every single moment of our wedding. The best memory of it was Bell ripping off the bottom of her used fifty dollar wedding dress and pulling me to the lake. The entire wedding party followed us and tried to stop us before we jumped in, but it was too late. The cold water chilled our hot wedding and I was content. I was happy with Isabelle. That was more than I could say about any of my other past relationships. A few months later, we sold one of our songs. Bell jumped up and down on the couch when she got the news and did cartwheels in the kitchen. I laughed at her childishness, because deep down inside I was just as excited. Everything was looking up. We were married, we were making money, and life was good. We heard her song on the radio a month later. Peyton Marten was singing it. She had changed it into something dramatic. I liked Bell's voice better when she sang it and so I asked her to sing to me one day when I was sick, with the flu probably, and needed some comfort. She sang it without her guitar and stroked my hair back from my sweaty forehead. She made me feel like I wasn't going to die in that bed. Like I wasn't going to sweat all my weight off. “You're sweet/ as radiant as can be/ as beautiful as the sea/ as glowing and as lovely/ as possible to me/ and your wish is granted with every need/ just say it and it shall be/ just please don't whisper to me/ 'baby this is our last kiss'...” Her voice faded in my head as I drifted into sleep and I was grateful for it. When I woke up I was a different man and five pounds lighter, and I was much better, but Bell was sitting over the toilet vomiting her guts out. She had probably caught the same bug I had. I went to hold her hair. There was a pregnancy test on the sink, but it was negative, and I was scared. She couldn't stop vomiting. Every time she did, she grabbed her stomach like she was about to start again, until she was on the floor and couldn't move anymore. “That's it.” I pulled Bell into my arms. “We're going to the hospital.” “No.” She pleaded. “No, I'm fine.” She didn't even sound fine. There was a tremble to her usual soothing voice, and she spoke so lowly you'd think she was in a library. It only took me six minutes (I counted) to get to general, but it took longer for her to be admitted. I held her like a child on my lap in the emergency waiting room and I carried her to the room when she was called back. The doctor, a tall Chinese man with slit eyes and a crooked smile shook his head when he saw her. “Didn't I tell you to come in whenever you were feeling some pain, or any stress?” He sucked his teeth at her. “You've got to learn to listen to me sometimes.” I was confused. What the heck was he talking about? How did they know each other? When he saw my confusion, he looked at Bell and she nodded to him. Her eyes were dead as she lied there on that bed. The doctor turned to me and held his hand out. “I'm Dr. Yumigoshi.” He smiled. “I'm your wife's doctor. Is there somewhere we could go and talk after I settle her down?” I nodded, because I wanted answers and I was halfway tempted to punch the guy's glasses off. We went into the hallway and he told me that Bell had been a breast cancer survivor for two years, until it returned last year and she was sick again. I wanted to cry, but what would I look like crying like I was going through it myself? My wife had cancer? This was hard to fathom. How could she have kept something like this from me? Why would she want to? He told me that at this point there was probably nothing they could do about it, but that they were looking for alternatives. I cried then. I cried because this wasn't fair. This s**t wasn't fair. It took me thirty minutes to calm myself and when I went back into Bell's room she was asleep. I held her hand and kissed her palm like she usually did mine when I was asleep, or just waking up, or just randomly, and I watched her. She was beautiful and pale. I watched her chest move up and down. I didn't sleep. I was afraid to sleep, because I didn't want to lose her. I was afraid of losing her. I had to be optimistic about this. I had to believe that this was something we could pull through. This was something that couples faced right, just a test? This was something I was supposed to go through maybe, Bell and I together. * When I woke up the next morning, Bell was awake and standing at the window, looking better than ever and singing to herself, “The way you smile so bright/ you know you could have been candle/ I'm holding you so tight/ you know you could have been a handle... Those aren't the right lyrics.” “No, I don't think they are.” I walked over and stood behind her. I wrapped my arms around her and took in the scent of her hair, which still smelled like vomit, but I didn't care. She was alive and she was in front of me. I cried on her shoulder and she cried too. “It's okay.” she whispered to me. “Why didn't you tell me?” I kissed her neck and her ear. “I didn't want you to worry.” She turned around and wrapped her arms around me and buried her face into my shirt. “I want more time.” “This can't happen?” I rested my chin on her head. “This can't happen to us.” But it did happen. She was fine the first couple of months and up until October. Then she had to be hospitalized. We wrote a few songs in the hospital when she was strong enough to strum the strings on her guitar, and when she wasn't, I did the strumming and she did the singing. But her singing wasn't singing anymore. Her singing was just words... and they sounded beautiful coming from her. Anything sounded beautiful coming from her. She fell asleep one night and I sobbed like a baby in her bathroom until my eyes were red and puffy and I couldn't see out of them. I took a couple sleeping pills to get some rest, and when I woke up Bell was awake, but just barely. I rushed over to her because she was reaching out to me, grabbed her hand and kissed her palm. “What's wrong?” “I love you.” She whispered. “No, no, no.” I climbed up onto the bed next to her. “No, baby.” “Just say it back.” “I need you to fight this, Isabelle.” What was I supposed to do without her? It didn't make sense when I pictured my life without her. There was never a complete thought in my mind. There was never a clear vision of her not beside me, or on her way home to me, or waiting in the living room to watch a movie with me. I wouldn't do. I wouldn't say goodbye. It couldn't be that simple. It couldn't be that easy. Life. Death. Was this how everything would end for us? “I can't fight anymore.” Bell whispered, but she said it with a smile. She pretended like this was the way it was supposed to be and like she was content with this outcome. “Please.” I couldn't cry in front of her, because she would cry and that would only weaken her. I sniffled back my tears. “Its okay, Eryn.” No, it wasn't. “I love you.” I whispered and I felt her shiver. “Thank you.” She kissed my palm with dry lips. “Thank you for loving me.” Then she rested her head on my shoulder. She hummed the words of my favorite song to me, and I sung them in my head. You're sweet/ as radiant as can be/ as beautiful as the sea/ as glowing and as lovely/ as possible to me/ and your wish/ is granted with every need/ just say it and it shall be/ but please don't whisper to me/ baby, this is our last kiss... * Bell died a couple days after Christmas. She died right there in my arms and that was that. I went home and cried to myself, cried for five nights straight. My apartment was too empty without her. Her smell lingered on every pillow, every blanket, the sofas, the carpet. She was everywhere. Every picture held her presence. I couldn't take them down, because they reminded me that she existed, but not anymore. The last picture I had taken before I knew she was sick was the one in Graeter's Ice Cream Shop, sitting on her stool and smiling. Her eyes were covered with another pair of silly sunglasses, but I knew exactly how they looked anyway. I saw her in that picture, the same way I had seen her when I first met her, as radiant as could be. A part of me was missing. My heart had a giant hole in it. I tried writing songs after that, but I couldn't finish them... or I couldn't begin them, or there was no middle. I usually just wrote verses and couldn't think of any chorus, and sometimes I tried to combine songs that had choruses and no verses, but nothing fit together that way. So... there was a beginning, middle, and I was struggling with all of it now. Everything was... incomplete. End © J.D. Kirkland

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This book has 1 comment.

on Jan. 30 2011 at 12:53 am
Timekeeper DIAMOND, Cary, North Carolina
62 articles 0 photos 569 comments

Favorite Quote:
"A guy walks up to me and asks 'What's Punk?'. So I kick over a garbage can and say 'That's punk!'. So he kicks over a garbage can and says 'That's Punk'?, and I say 'No that's trendy'!"- Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day

Perfect cover art! My only disappointment was that it was really just one short story rather than the exciting novel I was hoping for.

Perhaps you could turn it into a collection of musically inclined short stories? That'd be a fun read!

Please check out my novel SuperNOVA and leave your thoughts on it. Thanks :D