You Heard Me Howling in the Dark (Amy Lyons)

Three bottles of pink wine a day, rocks on the beach like fists, the Mediterranean Sea as warm and salty as the bath my mother ran when I caught the flu at five—the shake of the Epsom carton a calming shush, the ubiquitous pocks on the water’s surface when the thick grains struck, the tickle against my skin as the salt sank around my legs, slid to the bottom of the basin and settled. The long weekend in Nice would be a last-minute side-trip after London, after Paris, when my gap semester was almost over. As my father had predicted, I did not want to go home, hated the idea of returning to classes, my cramped apartment, my job at Newbury Comics. Chained to his easy chair after ten-hour shifts at the post office, the television’s sickly glare his most constant light source, my father had remained within a ten mile radius of the patch of living room carpet where my mother had collapsed in front me more than a decade earlier, her heart exploding inside her chest. 

A week before my new semester began, after a morning spent walking the foot bridges and winding paths at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, attempting to fend off fear of re-entry into my regular life by focusing on flora, I couldn’t resist checking my e-mail, despite the inevitable anxiety-heightening effects my messages, or lack thereof, would produce. Eric’s name hit my brain’s pleasure sensors, a straight shot of dopamine, though I had never found him particularly interesting. He’d heard I was in France and invited me south, where he had been jamming around with musicians from all over, sick of the pay-to-play scene in Boston. The plane ticket was cheap. 

When I boarded the next day in Paris, right around the time I was supposed to catch the train back to London and a flight home from there, my nerves flared. A low-level hum of nameless discomfort had distantly nagged me all morning, like white noise turned up a tick too high, and now I couldn’t ignore it. I stepped onto the jet bridge and forgot where I was going. This was supposed to be fun, a last hurrah, a spontaneous change of plans, but I felt adrift and terrified. It was as if I had not been the person who made these plans, booked this flight, hailed the cab that brought me to the airport hours earlier. I had been held prisoner inside some other self, a deranged imposter hellbent on wrecking my life. This other self would snap my neck in a heartbeat, hold my head under icy water, lead me to a cliff and fling me over the edge. 

I sat next to a middle-aged American woman who murmured into her phone. She said she would be home soon. She said I love you. She said I can’t wait to see you either. She said yes, just two more flights, then mama will be home. All at once, there was no air inside the plane. I leaned forward, pressed my forehead to the seatback, shut my eyes and tried to catch my breath. The woman ended her phone call and leaned forward to speak into my ear. She asked if I was okay, if there was anything she could do. I did not look at her because I did not know which of my selves she would see and I did not trust either self to understand that this woman was not my mother and that I was not the child on the other end of the phone waiting for her to come home.  

 Eric met me at the airport. Minutes after takeoff, I had reached up and pressed the call button to order a nip of vodka, which began to put me back together. I emptied it into my body fast; it lit me up. I turned to the woman who had spoken kindly to me. She paged through a magazine, her nails filed in short, neat ovals, painted to an immaculate shine with translucent polish. Her body fit neatly inside the seat, with room to spare. Her hair had been cut to fall toward her face in two brown commas that swooped up and under her jaw, the back stacked into an angular shelf above her exposed neck. I tried to make my body small before I spoke to her, tucking my elbows tight and shifting my wide hips toward the aisle. I buttoned my sweater, which I noticed with embarrassment had migrated into the extra space inside her seat. I opened my mouth and heard myself say I was sorry for my stupid little meltdown at takeoff. She smiled and told me not to worry about it, then went straight back to reading her magazine. I thought about her thinking about me. I had just enough self-control to wait for the drink cart to graze my hip instead of making a second special request for booze. By the time the cart arrived, sweat dampened the hair at my temples. I struggled to restrain myself from grabbing more bottles as the stewardess set cups of apple juice and ginger ale on tray tables across the aisle. Finally, I ordered, and the two little bottles landed on my tray, along with a cup of ice, which I quietly put back on the cart. If Eric knew I was drunk when he hugged me and took my backpack, he didn’t say so. 

We rode the bus to the outdoor market, bought three tomatoes, a thick sword of bread, a sprig of sweet basil, and a ball of mozzarella soaked in brine and pale as the moon. I made sure the wine was screw-top so I could drink as we walked, which we did for several hours. We walked along the Promenade des Anglais, across pink and white plazas, up and down the narrow streets of old town, a beating hot sun overhead, its blinding brightness muted here and there by drooping awnings. At the marina, the yachts sat docked like hulking buildings, comically enormous, in no way resembling vessels made for locomotion across open water. I couldn’t imagine them unmoored. 

I was Eric’s first guest from home and he was eager to show me every corner of his new life; he talked incessantly about his music, his new fans, his freedom. Within the first hour, I was seized with regret for having accepted his invitation. He was a drummer and a singer, a loquacious extrovert who adored a spotlight. The dread that had snatched my breath from me at take-off in Paris wormed its way back into my mind as he spoke, but walking and drinking kept my panic in check. 

We arrived at Eric’s in darkness, but inside his place there were several circles of light on the enormous floor and ceiling, pools of brightness cast by a smattering of mismatched floor lamps. A handful of people hung around the shared space. There was Charlie, an upright bass player from Toronto; Lauren, a flautist from Maine; and Gregor, an intense Pole who played the Theremin. Eric warned me in a whisper that Gregor was a weirdo who could only perform his strange, touchless interaction with his instrument with his back turned to his audience. 

The place was a cavernous, echoing warehouse with trifold screens creating bedrooms in all four corners. A round, raised stage sprouted from the middle of the floor and three rings of folding chairs surrounded it, enough seating for thirty people. These concerts in the round left Gregor unable to perform his wizardly extraction of ghost howls from his instrument, unless the house was less than half sold and the spectators agreed to sit clumped on one side of the stage. I set my bag down near Eric’s corner and wondered where I would sleep that night. 

In the kitchen, I made Caprese salad and fanned slices of bread across a cutting board. Gregor made vegetable soup and Lauren fried salami slices in an oily pan. Eric napped on his mattress. 

The show that night was sold out and I sat on the floor down front, along with a few other friends of the band. Gregor sat beside me, tall and silent, pale as a hologram. They played only originals and I secretly longed for the familiarity of a cover or two. I never had to worry about awkward sleeping arrangements; I woke the next morning right there on the floor, in the same spot where I had watched the show, my head on Gregor’s chest. 

I stumbled downstairs, to the bathroom, and let all those drinks run out of me, careful to hover my ass two inches above the toilet. I washed my hands, splashed water on my face and under my arms, and shook four Advil from the bottle in my backpack. I changed my t-shirt, brushed my teeth and climbed the stairs in search of food to ease my churning stomach. 

A few steps before the landing, I heard the whine of wind outside. Then I realized the sound came from a cat, and I wanted more than anything to pet the creature and feel its small body against my ankles. I stood there on the stairs, listening to the cat’s mournful cry, my tears welling up, then scaled more steps and came closer to the sound. When I reached the landing, I almost ran right into Gregor’s back. He moved his arms like a tentative conductor and his eerie song reached straight inside me, resting on my soul. I froze, embarrassed to be seen in this state of blinding and sudden sadness, and I knew Gregor did see me, though I cried behind his back. I thought to turn and sneak back downstairs, but before I could make my escape, he put his hands down by his sides and turned to face me. We stood in silence and listened to each other. He turned around again, showing me his back once more, and I wasn’t sure I could endure his haunting song again. He took hold of his instrument, turned it slowly, gently, so that he and it faced me. He raised his arms and prepared his body to play.  


Favorite Drink: Two ounces of Makers Mark served over a giant ice cube. 


Amy Lyons has had work in Autofocus, Waxwing, HAD, No Contact, (mac)ro(mic), Lunch Ticket, Best Microfiction 2022, and other nifty places. She lives and writes in Nashville. 


image: Jason Melvin writes words and takes pictures. you can find these at