Updated: Apr 1
The record slides easily out of the jacket, tipped robotically upside down into her palm. She clicks it into place with practiced ease, flicks the on switch and keeps her finger there until it glows red through the tip of her nail. It feels like she’s watching herself from her own body, an alien living below the surface.
It takes two and a half seconds for the music to start. Two and a half seconds of staring, mesmerized, as the silver text blends into one blurry stripe of grey against red. The needle descends like a leaf falling in autumn, like a lover’s hand through your hair. The vinyl catches the light as it spins, her shadow casting the bottom into darkness with every graduating revolution.
Her eyes unfocus, giving up on tracking the text as the letters mix together. Two and a half seconds…
“Side B is better,” he had said that night --that first night-- flipping the record upside down on the table.
“I haven’t even heard Side A,” she’d told him. She was on his bed, leaning towards him. The open window fanned the cold October chill around the room.
“You don’t have to,” he shook his head, his hair brushing against her forehead, “Side B is better.” Then he took her by the back of the neck.
He played all of Side B that night. Twice. And then she walked home in the dark.
It takes two and a half seconds for the music to start, and then it takes thirty five minutes to stop. She stares at the vinyl the whole time, watches it whirr in the dim light of her parent’s house. The music doesn’t reach her ears. Sometimes the needle will jump, wobble insecurely against the record player, like riding a skateboard for the first time, or a lover’s finger as they tremble with overdue affection.
“I kinda like Side A,” she admitted sometime later, back on his bed in the frosty light of the bedside lamp.
He’d scoffed, “No you don’t,” and pulled a shirt over his head.
“You’re leaving?” she asked, voice smaller than intended.
“Yeah,” he hadn’t looked at her, “be back later.”
He closed the window on his way out.
She only ever listened to Side A when he went out in the middle of the night, watching the needle graze the surface as she cradled her body in his duvet, like a lover’s embrace after the lights had gone out.
Sometimes he would come back drunk; once with his board smashed.
But he would climb into bed behind her, unwrap the duvet and replace it with his arms. God, if only he would do that in the daylight, if only he ever offered to walk her home.
The first song comes to an end, spins and spins until the last breath is puffed out and the crackling is amplified against the nothingness that follows. The second song surges, so starkly loud that she steps backwards until her back hits the wall.
She can see clearer from farther away. An alien living beneath the surface: master of observation, masterfully observing herself.
The needle glides gently across the piques and valleys of the record, skipping with her heartbeat like it knows Side B the same way she does, like the music pulls at the needle like it’s pulling out hairs.
How easy it would be to stop it, she thinks, to press a finger on it, scratch the vinyl beyond recognition with just a touch--two seconds for the music to stop.
The needle is gentle until it’s not.
She went back-- back to his door, back to his bed-- let him play Side B until she could sing along to the entire track list if she wanted. Sometimes she would stand on his doorstep, nails pushing crescent moons into palms, but she would always knock. And he would always play the same eight songs on a bent needle before leaving her wrapped up in his bed.
Her parent’s record player isn’t secondhand, the needle not bent or dulled with age, but the way the music flows is the same. She hasn’t listened to Side B since that night --that last night-- she hasn’t listened to Side A since before that, and yet she finds she could still sing along, if she wanted to.
She doesn’t want to. Never has.
“Take your shit, then,” he had said that last night, throwing one of her shirts at her feet.
“Yeah,” she said, “thanks.”
She waited until he turned around before picking her clothes up off the floor. There wasn’t much of her here, because for all the nights she spent in this four-walled apartment, she’d always be gone by sunrise. It was only then, on the last night, when she realized she’d only seen his apartment in daylight once.
The apartment seemed to grow smaller the longer she sifted around it--stuffing one of her earrings into her pocket, disposing her toothbrush in the garbage can--when she emerged, pockets noticeably not stuffed but full of the last remainders of her here, he had wordlessly handed her her backpack, and she had wordlessly taken it and left.
And then she walked home in the dark.
The last song starts, swells like a breath, and not for the first time she wonders if the music is listening to her, too. Maybe the music was scarred the way she was; maybe it absorbed her experiences and wrote them into the lyrics while she wasn’t paying attention. Gosh, if only she’d paid more attention.
She took the long way home that night, held her own hand until her knuckles were white.
Later, when she tipped the contents of the bag onto her bed, hands cold and unfeeling, the vinyl slid out from the back like a loose diary entry. A post-it note was stuck to the jacket, side A is shit the only message attached.
And so the soundtrack to their relationship sat tauntingly on her bed. Something twisted inside of her, like falling off his board for the first time, like a lover’s hand tugging at a knot in your hair.
She stared at it for a long time. And then, bizarrely, she laughed.
Couldn’t she laugh? Didn’t she deserve at least that?
She didn’t even own a record player.
So she’d put the vinyl at the bottom of a box, the back of a cupboard behind a box of reasons not to open it again.
Until now, of course, holding herself up on her parent’s living room wall.
She blinks, backs away from the first night and the last and all the nights in between. It isn’t so surprising, looking back, that they fell apart the way they did, not a spark or a firework, but a dud, like trying to burn a candle with no wick. A puff of smoke, an echo. She wanted a hand to hold on her walk back to her apartment, someone to stave off the cold as she wrapped herself up in them, and he wanted a waist to hold as he fell asleep, hips to grip in the dark. It wasn’t supposed to work, and so it didn’t.
If only she hadn’t deluded herself for so long, if only she hadn’t spun herself around over and over on a bent needle when what she really wanted was a new player.
68.3 revolutions, eight songs, thirty five minutes. It takes two and a half seconds for the music to start. It took three months for it to stop, and even then, the vinyl had already been scratched.
The needle slides towards the center of the record, the music fizzling out into nothingness; louder now, somehow, than the music itself. She stands there, watches herself from her own body for long enough to break her hypnotized paralysis before stepping forward.
She flips the record over and watches the needle descend onto Side A.
Header by KrayBoul @krayboul