Michael Pasley grew up in Southern Indiana and briefly attended Indiana University in Bloomington. His publications include “Vanishing” in the Virginia Normal.“You Just Don’t Get It” which was published in Germ Magazine and Dirty Girlz Magazine. His story “Double Zeros” which was featured in The Avalon Literary Review. He also the winner of Causeway Lit’s 2019 summer fiction contest.
As a young African American growing up in the housing projects, Michael often felt alone in his love of poetry, Sci-Fi, and fantasy. He began at the age of eleven to write poems and short stories. Michael now lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana where he spends most of his free time attending book club meetings, hiking, playing with his kids, and writing.
The Music Box (A Love Story)
Before I kill myself, I need to explain how I got here because, when we die, our worlds pass with us into oblivion.
The most valuable possession I ever owned was an old scoffed and scratched Swiss music box. In soft, melodic tones, the music box would tinkle out the tune for the Christmas song “Carol of Bells.” Even now, in this horrid place, I can hear that haunting melody. The music box was not ornate or ostentatious. It was blood red and classical in style, the box was an anachronism, a throwback to a simpler time. It was a little more than thirteen inches across, with a large, silver comb of ninety-eight steel teeth. Small pins on a brass cylinder plucked the teeth to summon the music. The cylinder detached to allow for different music selections. I had only the “Carol of Bells” cylinder, Anna’s favorite song.
If you looked closely enough at the music box, you could see several of Anna’s fingerprints had stained the wood, little maps of her uniqueness. A worn, gold-painted crank handle with a black wooden grip adorned the music box’s side, and on its lid was the embossed letter “A,” displayed in gold filigree. The box smelled of old, smoky mahogany combined with faint traces of Anna’s perfume of jasmine and clover. Sometimes I would lift the box and breathe in the scent, taking long, sensual inhalations.
“Anna.” Even now, saying her name sends a rush of shuddering pleasure through me.
I first met Anna around Christmas time, not long after I buried my wife, so I was still in mourning and the holidays had me blue. I was leaving a movie theater, having watched a god- awful film about a serial killer Santa Claus. The maniac sang Jingle Bells while chopping his victims up with an ax. Anna was standing with her (I would come to discover later) abusive boyfriend, Todd, by the drink station, smiling brightly. She was an ethereal woman, slender, and only a bit over five feet tall. Her pixie-cut hair was cobalt black. Her body was gorgeous, but what stood out for me were her ice gray eyes. Eyes you could fall into for a million years and still want to peer deeper. Eyes so very, very much like my late wife’s. When Todd stepped away for a moment, I introduced myself.
At first, Anna was shy, afraid to talk because Todd might return at any moment. She seemed worried, timid, she drew away from me. So I stepped away. When she left, I felt as if she signaled me with a look to follow her home. I was, of course, a bit taken aback by such an overt gesture from such a seemingly shy girl. But she was so lovely, so spectral in her beauty that I had to follow her lead. Usually, I wouldn’t have pulled such a disturbing move, but her crooked sideways smile convinced me.
I waited outside her apartment in my car. The cold February wind howled like a starving dog. I shivered and cranked up the heat. I can’t even tell you how long I was out there—it felt like forever. When Todd finally did leave, I crunched through the snow and knocked on Anna’s door and invited myself in. I found her hesitant to engage with me at first, but after some gentle coaxing on my part, we began to talk and found ourselves conversing all night. We spoke about her favorite things and my favorite things, her family and my lost wife.
At some point before sunrise, she showed me the music box and played its haunting and bewitching music for me. Anna told me that the music box had been in her family for decades and it was her grandmother’s before she passed it on to her. Anna’s mother had died at a young age and had never gotten the chance to own the device.
Later, after we finished talking, things became heated between us. I know it was sudden, but there was such a spark of attraction. Our connection was so strong, so powerful, and so real. Now you must understand that I’m a gentleman so I won’t go into detail, but I spent the night at Anna’s. And yes we made love, and yes, it was the most exceptional experience of my life. When I left in the morning, Anna insisted I take the music box to remember that magical night.
When I was alone, I would crank the box and listen to the music, stare at the snow falling outside, and relive that magnificent night of passion.
After that evening, Anna and I became inseparable. I would phone her begging her to leave Todd, and I thought she had agreed because I saw her every day. I walked her to her teaching job at a nearby elementary school and waited for her when she got off; to make sure she was safe. I felt as if Anna had chosen me, but Todd was becoming a problem. He was a pretty boy—tall, blond, with rugged, movie-star good looks. He worked out in the morning, and in the evening. Todd was an attorney and had many friends within the police department. His connections forced me to avoid law enforcement for fear of harassment. The real problems began when Todd started showing up where ever I was and causing trouble with angry outbursts and threats. He would follow Anna and me, taking pictures, and send me threatening text messages. I can’t say how he got my cell number, but I had photos and texts to prove his stalking. I wanted to put a restraining order on him, but Anna wouldn’t hear of it. Either she was afraid of his police connections or her heart was too kind.
One day I was waiting for Anna to leave work when Todd showed up and attacked me.
He punched me and screamed at me to go away and leave him and Anna alone. He said he would kill me if he ever saw me near her again. He said the police were searching for me and he hoped they would shoot me.
That was the last straw. I’d had enough of Todd. Because law enforcement couldn’t be trusted to handle this problem, I decided I would.
I went to Todd’s home to confront him. He rented a houseboat on the Ohio River. I went at night, dressed in all black and waited for him to arrive.
Todd’s car approached.
What was this?
Anna and Todd were arriving—together.
How could this be?
They exited the car, holding hands.
A twisting sickle of rage sliced my chest. In my sight, the world bled. I rushed them, striking Todd with a pipe I had found. Anna screamed, and in my anger, I accidentally shoved her. She fell backward onto an escarpment that sloped down to the banks of the river. She splashed into the icy water and struck her head on a jagged shard of driftwood. Unconscious, she sank fast, her heavy winter coat pulling her down.
Todd was yelling something.
I heard nothing. The world had narrowed to only my fury.
To my eternal shame and regret, I had lost my head. Instead of leaping after Anna I turned on Todd who was still dazed by the blow I had dealt him. My hands found his throat, and I squeezed, my black gloves closing off all oxygen to his body. His hands groped at my face ripping away my ski mask. His legs kicked and his body bucked. But I squeezed all the harder.
Todd’s frantic jerks ceased.
I still bear the scars on my face of his fingers ripping and scratching at me as he strove to survive.
So focused on choking the life from Todd was I that I didn’t hear the sirens approaching. I didn’t see the lurid flashing red and blue lights orbiting the world around me.
However, despite my best efforts, Todd lived. And he convinced a jury to buy his half-mad and convoluted side of the story. I must admit, he lied in a most eloquent manner. He had that slick attorney’s tongue. He used that car salesman speak. Todd was so convincing on the stand that I must admit there were times even I found myself questioning my version of events.
Todd lied repeatedly to the court, saying that Anna and I were never a couple. He said she had rebuffed all my advances that first night we had met at the theater. He said that I had broken into her home assaulted her, and stolen her grandmother’s music box after a night of trauma and torture. Todd, that liar of liars, said Anna had been living in stark fear of me ever since. He told the jury that I, not he, was her stalker and that I had been stalking her at work and spying on her from the bushes. Todd told them that hardly a day went by when she didn’t spot me watching. Finally, he testified that I, in a jealous rage had slain her and tried to kill him too.
Of course, friends of Todd’s, so-called police officers, got on the witness stand and perjured themselves. They lied and said they had been hunting me for weeks.
As it turned out, I had to discharge my own counsel after the fool tried to convince me I needed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Can you believe that? My own counsel! The idiot said that Anna, my sweet Anna, had taken a restraining order out on me and was planning to flee the state to escape. Supposedly, he had interviewed her friends and family, and they told him she had feared me returning to assault her again. He said the authorities had found my dead wife’s remains buried in my basement and that the autopsy had shown death due to blunt force trauma. He told me things didn’t look good for me.
I fired my counsel after he said the police had found pictures on my phone shot from across the street of Anna’s apartment and Todd’s home. He showed me threatening text messages I had allegedly sent to Todd. He said she had not given me the music box but rather that I had stolen it.
I, of course, decided to defend myself in court.
Casting aside all notions of propriety, I told the jury how Anna and I were in love and even described how we had made love that first night. I went into painful and exact detail of every aspect of the love-making. My description of our union had been so powerful that one juror fainted and another, for some strange reason vomited. No doubt she was swooning at the romance of it all. I spoke of how Anna had gifted me the music box as a sign of her love. It was at this moment that the infuriating man that was Todd stood screaming to the courtroom that I was a liar. In a wise move, the judge had him escorted out of the proceedings.
Seeking empathy with the jurors, I played the music box in court, closing my eyes and dancing to the soft music. But Todd’s family had stronger connections than I, strong enough to sway a jury, apparently. The false jury sentenced me to death, but the judge sent me to Mayfair, a home for the criminally insane. I was to be housed there for the rest of my life. And in truth, I could’ve dealt with living inside a padded cell. But they took from me my darling’s music box, and that would never do.
So last time I was outside, I retrieved a small rusty nail from the asylum yard, a place we strolled in for an hour a day. The nail is not big enough to use as a weapon, but gazing down at the big veins in my wrist, well I think it will work just fine.