L says to T, “Do you ever hear sounds coming from your fingers?” She’s examining the tips of her fingers, the little grooves put there by the strings of T’s guitar. She holds her fingers to her ears. “I swear I can hear a buzzing sound.” L is learning to play. Ever since T told her that guitars have songs trapped in them waiting to get out, she’s been practicing. One day I’ll free them all, she thinks.
“I don’t actually believe that, you know,” T says, “that thing about songs being trapped in guitars. It’s just something some musician said ‘cause it sounds cool.”
L says the real reason she’s practicing is because she wants T to fall in love with her. Then she says, “Just kidding,” because she is, partly, though another part of her isn’t. She’s seen the way he looks at those girls in bands when they go see shows. Bass players, keyboardists, lead singers playing guitar.
L watches YouTube videos of people playing songs on the guitar and tries to imitate what they’re doing. Most of the time the people in the videos talk too fast, or the camera angle is off and she can’t see where they’re placing their fingers. Rewind, pause. Rewind, pause. Find a different video to watch.
T is out seeing bands every night now. He usually calls and asks L to come but then he’ll say things like, “But if you’re tired, don’t worry about it,” or “I think those guys won’t go on until late, so it’s okay if you don’t want to.” So, she stays home and practices until her fingers burn. Sometime after midnight, she goes to bed with aching hands and wrists, and falls asleep imagining her fingers are red and glowing under the bedsheets.
The next week L barely hears from T at all, just one text that says, “Hope your week’s going okay. Let’s hang out soon,” followed by a champagne bottle emoticon. She types, “Okay, sounds good,” then stops before sending it. She erases her reply. According to the formula—take the total time you’ve been dating someone and divide it by two—she’ll forget about T in about a month or so.
On the bus, she examines her white calloused fingertips now permanently indented from the stress of the guitar strings. She thinks of the tips of T’s fingers, remembers how they looked the same as hers do now, dry, white, torn, how they felt rough on her cheek when he touched her face. She places her own rough fingertips against her cheeks then moves them back towards her ears so she can hear the buzzing sound again. She wonders if maybe one of the songs that was trapped in T’s guitar has crawled out of it and into her fingers. Whatever it is, it isn’t a very good song, she thinks. There’s no melody to it. It’s just a bunch of random notes and pitches. When trapped songs are freed, do they need to be decoded somehow?
L is listening so hard to her fingers that she misses her stop and has to backtrack two blocks in the rain to her apartment. When she gets inside, she takes off her coat and hangs it in the bathroom so it can drip into the tub. She goes to the living room to get the guitar but it’s gone. Then she remembers T still has her spare key.
She stands there in the middle of the living room and closes her eyes, lets her feet sink into the floor like she’s standing in an inch of warm water. Her fingers are vibrating now and the room is filling up with the buzzing sound and without even realizing it, she starts to hum along.