Du Fremde
by bj

Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps:
silence of paintings. You language where all language
ends. You time
standing vertically on the motion of mortal hearts.
Feelings for whom? O you the transformation
of feelings into what?-: into audible landscape.
You stranger: music. You heart-space
grown out of us. The deepest space in us,
which, rising above us, forces its way out,-
holy departure:
when the innermost point in us stands
outside, as the most practiced distance, as the other
side of the air:
no longer habitable.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke, "To Music"


Ephram is staring at his piano after he sees Matt for the last time. Just sitting there, staring at it. It's been four days, by the blunted line of sunset on the porch, and he hasn't played since he killed the finale and murdered the town.

His hands are clasped between his knees. He stares at the lid over the keys, at the brass label above, at the brass keyhole below. His feet are tucked under the bench, but he can feel the golden velvet warmth of the pedals. Just beyond his reach. Like he is five again and he is wishing more than anything that he could touch them, press them, give three more dimensions to the flat plane of sound flooding from the box. And his teacher is telling him it doesn't matter. That when he is a big boy he will be able to reach the pedals, just like in a vroom-vroom car.

A hopeless shudder jerks him upright and he swallows hard before standing. Helpless. He thinks of keeping the envelope, the gift, in his coat pocket during the ride to the school. Breathing the dark warm air in Matt's car, subdued white shadow of snow gliding past, thinking of the warmth of Matt's hands on his back, on his front, on his face. He will not cry, he tells himself. When Matt says goodbye, he will not.

The slip of the paper between his fingers. Sealing the envelope, tongue along the bitter glue. Throwing it away, bile acidic in his throat.

He stands with his back to the window and presses his fingers into his eyes. The red and the pain, its blurred edges and low seep. Greying purple darkness outside, around the white and blue houses, the trees only green by memory, shadows of mountains. It is late in the day. Early in the year.

Cold shock and sudden heat, fingers under his shirt. And his own, lifting, running embarrassed through his hair when the stark slightness of his skin is revealed. The bedroom is chilly, the window is open.

Knowing exactly why he asked Matt to come look at his growing jazz collection. He knows it again, he was such an idiot. Then, and twice more, and the shivering thinness of betrayal between his shoulder blades. He's an idiot now, to be so angry, to be. Hurt like this.

To hear again, and so many times again, the tremble and desperation. Matt says, please put your shirt back on, and Ephram says. He says, no.

He crosses his arms hard over his stomach. Matt's gasp when Ephram takes his hand and puts it on his bare hip.



He opens the keys and looks at them. Looks at Matt's hands over his, on the white, the white cotton made grey by their shadow and what's outside, the coming night. Clenching his fingers, their fingers tangled. Forehead pressed to their white knuckles, making high begging sounds into the sheet. Surprised sounds. Notes shocked from strings as he pounds a fist into the keys.

Playing more than one note, any time, any notes, that is a chord. The worth of a chord, Matt says, the worth of the chord lays in its structure—how most efficiently to create the most beautiful sound. Discord, he says, leaning over Ephram's shoulder, pressing against his back, reaching over to randomly hit five keys together. Discord is also beautiful.

Matt calls him beautiful, touching his thinness, his pale stomach and chest. He goes pink in the vague darkness. Matt curves long fingers around his neck and kisses him, Matt's mouth is dry around his tongue. Ephram breathes damp air and slowly. There is so much wet, slick. He pulls Matt closer, and closer, and he feels the warm softness of Matt's sweater. That's not want he wants.

They are on top of his blankets, the room is chilly and shadowed, vague pearly light seeping over the windowsill. I want you to, um, Ephram says. Would you, um, fuck me, he says.

Matt's head on his shoulder. Deep breaths between them. Okay, Matt says.

He locks his fingers behind his head, and bends, staring at the floor, at his grey socks on the dark hardwood. Elbows on his knees. It's all over. There's nothing, nothing but discord now. His father's voice and Delia's voice, and the movement of the planet, the fucking universe. These notes lined up and angry, awkward against each other.

Latex, jelly, fingers, they make him unaccountably excited, he's grateful for his father's stuttering explanations and the donation of supplies. Matt lays him down and covers him, the creeping dark warmth of winter sunsets.

And now the dusky grace he felt descend, when Matt took his hands, when Matt was in him, Matt's mouth on his neck, it's changed. The pain is what he knows now, and. He can't, he knows Matt was thinking about her too, at some point. Ephram, Matt says, in a sorry voice. That was when he thought of her, Ephram knows this now.

He doesn't need to be told. He slips his fingers around four ebony keys; he doesn't need to be told. Like the weakest chord, like a flattened hallelujah. Fourth, fifth, minor, major, and his own come cooling on his stomach when Matt turns him over after. It changes when he thinks of it.

You are, Matt says, kissing him on the forehead and on the mouth. You are so beautiful.

Ephram laughs now and then, bitter now, shy with Matt's cheek against his and the discomfort in his ass. Feels like a step taken, like the world tomorrow, or even when night finally gets here, will be like Matt says, beautiful.

Ephram says, not really.

Matt shakes his head, lifts to stare down at him. You don't know, Matt says, what beauty is.

Ephram has to agree, bruising his knuckles on the keys, because these sounds are discordant and he doesn't think they're beautiful.

He thinks they are ugly, and wrong.



The early sunsets of winter. This guy against the drifting whiteness of the curtains, and his face dark-shadowed. But Ephram can see the change in his eyes, can see the speculation, appreciation, and he knows. Ephram knows he wants, knows what he wants.

He thinks now that he knows nothing, absolutely nothing. He had no idea, no clue, nothing told him or hinted that he was one of many, that. That sexual identity was included in Matt's fee. And he hates thinking this, and it hurts him, and it makes him even more angry. Angry enough to yell, to smash things, but he doesn't. The time for that has come and gone. Only waiting now, waiting for the dark, waiting for the hard points of stars pricking his eyes.

Matt wears a satin grey shadow of a smile, Ephram finds himself smiling back a tiny bit. He's flippant, vaguely rude, but he doesn't leave. He feels a heavy flickering in his stomach, sweat on his palms.

Matt tells Ephram to play him something, that it will tell him everything he needs to know, and Ephram sits at the piano with every intention of playing "Chopsticks."

In the corner of his eye, Ephram sees Matt leaning that day, back in his chair, hand around his chin. Watching. And he knows, he knew, that Matt likes to watch him play. Likes to listen, of course, likes to teach and tell him he's a fuck-up, but Matt loves to watch him play too. Ephram wonders if it was like that with any of the others. If it was like that with her.

And he doesn't want to lose the pleasant, pleased, hungry expression on Matt's face, hidden under the blank plainness of his features, so Ephram cuts it open. He hits in, he bites, and he finds himself smiling again. He smiles when he plays, he just does, because it is a beautiful thing he does, because it is joyful in his body, in the secret strain. The dip of his shoulders, the rise and soft drop of his foot so steady. Rhythm under rhythm. For so long.

Andante. He runs from them, adagio, and he can feel his heart beating thick and frantic between his lungs. The envelope slips, larghetto. He can feel the deep thrum, the minor seventh, when he stops.

Hands on the wall, and sliding down. A run, he thinks, largo, he hates the raw suffocated sobs jerking from his throat. Grave. Not acute or sharp; low; deep.

Beautiful, Matt says when he is done, and Ephram tries really hard not to grin like a fool. No one has ever said that before. Not and have him believe.

He believes when Matt says it.



Matt is not Matt, backstage. He is cruel, a stranger who can tell a boy he is beautiful and a girl he loves her in the same week. You don't understand, he says.

And Ephram has no choice but to agree.

The mountains suck the last purple from the sky, and Ephram thinks of how everything seems to last so long in the spring.

There is so much he doesn't understand, so much. He doesn't want to understand. He wants to not know. He wants to not feel this pain, the deep green wound in his back. He wants to not feel the deep petulant bruise in his throat, a shard of himself lodged there.

Ephram wants to believe. He wants to believe he is beautiful, and that what he does is, and that he's different. That Matt gave him the finale because he is something more, or even. He closes the lid back over the keys. No. He smashes it down. A faint startled, insulted ring from inside. His wrists hurt.

Or even because he deserved it.

The doorbell startles him from sleep in an empty house, late afternoon. Sun a dull glow of gold through his closed window. He goes slowly; sleepy, aching. He feels arthritic and ancient. He pulls a t-shirt on as he descends the stairs. His hands are too thick. It takes him three tries to grab the knob and open the door.

I'm going, Matt says. Ephram itches to close the door again. To slam it. Or do it calmly, with cold eyes. To show he cares as little as Matt does.

He does nothing. He doesn't answer.

Ephram, Matt says. His forehead creases and Ephram swallows because he knows all sixteen things that make Matt crease his forehead. I wanted to say goodbye.

Ephram feels Matt's hands on his hips as he sits at the piano. Matt's hands on his shoulders, his face. Matt's breath. He knows the eyes are on him, but he only feels Matt looking. Shadow overtakes everything but the gleaming black stage around him. A red light illuminating Matt in the wings.

Ephram locks his fingers into the music; he doesn't care if it's panicked. He doesn't care, he claws for solidity. He says, in chords. He says, I hate you; I don't want you to go. Tell me what it meant. He says, Goodbye.

Matt says, I'm sorry. I'm sorry it wasn't what you thought.

Charcoal silence, Ephram licking Matt's belly, not understanding but accepting the distance of closed eyes, the hours of practise.

He won't accept them anymore, because he understands now. Her red eyes, her hands around her elbows, her calm defeated certainty. Her eerie, familiar smile. He sees it in the mirror.

Matt draws Ephram back up, kisses him slowly. Deeply. Like he can hear. Like he can hear and he knows. Like he understands all the crouching secret things Ephram only lets himself think about when the sun is gone. There is still a lavender ring around the horizon. Ephram watches him dress and goes with him back downstairs.

Matt turns away. Ephram closes the door.

He imagines watching Matt walk back to his car and drive away, but he knows now and he knew then that it would be stupid and melodramatic. So he goes to the piano and sits.

And that is the last time he sees Matt.


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