Malik had never told anyone before Josh, but sometime in his acne-speckled youth, he had arrived at the conclusion that a person was a lot like a raindrop. Embarrassed at how silly it sounded when spoken out loud, Malik had gone on to elaborate something along these lines: “You fall with a few billion other raindrops in a storm; then you stop falling.”
“I don't know,” Josh had said. “It just seems a tad fatalistic is all. Besides, if I'm just a raindrop, and if you're just a raindrop―which still makes no sense, by the way―then what are we? I mean us. Together.”
“Falling side by side?”
“Oh. How romantic.”
As it turned out, Josh had been falling so much faster―just passing Malik on his way down, really. It had taken Malik some time to catch up.
But he was getting close now. He could feel the momentum building as he took the six-gun out of the car's glove box. It looked like a cheap film prop; only the weight assured him it was real. Malik couldn't remember where he'd gotten the thing or how he had known it would be there, just as he couldn't say for certain how he had wound up in this car, with the exhaust clicking away as it cooled in the dry autumn air. It sure wasn't his car. He didn't even own a car. There were no barcode stickers on the windows, so it likely wasn't a rental, but regardless of how he'd come by it, there he sat, and there was no doubt in his mind that someone was about to get shot.
He couldn't really say who that someone was, and after a moment's reflection, he realized that he couldn't even sort out if killing was something he had decided to do or if it was the gun that had made up its mind. His confusion only grew as he stepped out of the car to discover that he could no longer tell where he ended and the gun began, and that the feeling extended to encompass the cracked pavement beneath his feet, and the car, and the splintering telephone poles, and the boarded-up storefronts, and a nearby oak tree, and a finch perched on the branch of that oak tree where it watched a strange man standing in the street with a gun. The finch quirked its head and Malik fell out of the trance with a gasp. He had to brace himself against the side of the car so that he wouldn't keel right over.
He took a minute to breathe and realized he didn't even know where in the world he was. It could have been any small town anywhere in the English-speaking world, judging by the faded signage. His plates said California, and there were hills in the distance, but that didn't mean anything definite. There was only one other car in sight, and it was just a shell, with the engine and tires missing and the windows broken. The plates had also been jacked, so no clues there. He decided he had to be in California.
Malik had parked out front of an old theater building on the town's main street. The ticket booth and the right-hand set of doors were boarded up like everything else, but the left-hand doors opened easily.
Malik found the lobby empty, though not abandoned. He noted the clean floors, the sharp smell of ammonia, and the sun streaming in through gaps where boards had been removed strategically from the windows. His attention shifted to what must have once been a gift shop, now empty. A door to one of its back rooms swung open on squeaking hinges. Malik raised the gun.
A woman stepped into his sights, considering him and the gun without concern. She was tall, nearly six feet, her hair tied back into a decidedly utilitarian ponytail, and she wore crisply pressed, professional attire. The woman didn't speak as she crossed the lobby toward Malik, her stride quick with what seemed to be impatience.
“Stop!” he shouted, the gun trembling. “You hear me? I said, stop!”
She finally did stop, just a few feet shy of the barrel. Malik almost pulled the trigger when she reached into one of her pockets, but all she pulled out was a pad of paper and a pencil. The scratching of her writing and Malik's heavy breathing echoed in the lobby. She turned the pad toward him.
It read, “Are you here for the performance?”
Malik stepped forward, pressing the gun to her forehead. “Do I look like I'm here for a goddamn performance?”
The woman didn't flinch, and as Malik stared into her calm gray eyes, he wondered why he felt so angry; and then, inexplicably, he didn't feel angry at all. The gun sagged until it pointed to the floor, and he was the gun and the floor, just as he was the woman who wrote something else on the pad, and he was the pad and the pencil.
“You've heard the recording,” he wrote with himself upon himself. “You're here for the performance.”
Malik nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I'm here for the performance. I want to meet him. The performer.”
“You can,” the pencil wrote on the pad. “You will.”
Then the woman took one of his hands in one of hers, and both hands were theirs, because there was no woman and there was no Malik―there was only a pair of bodies―and between them there was a grip, gentle and warm. One body tucked the gun into the waist of its pants as they walked to the inner theater doors. One body held a door open for the other body, and with a grateful nod to the one body, the other body stepped through.
Some time ago―exactly how long, it's hard to say―Malik had found the slightly warped record in Josh's living room on the turntable, while Josh sat dead on the couch next to his boyfriend, a nice enough fellow whose name Malik could never remember. The boyfriend was dead, too. The two of them seemed to have just sat down and decided never to get up again. Dark stains had formed in the fabric of the couch around the bodies, which were bloated almost beyond recognition. As much as Malik had once loved Josh, or perhaps because of it, he couldn't bring himself to go near the corpse. He couldn't even bear to look at it.
Malik hadn't seen or spoken to Josh in almost a year. It had taken a week-long flurry of concerned texts, emails, and all-hour calls from mutual friends to convince him to dig up the spare key that he still hadn't thrown away. He was going to hand it off to their friend L'il Lee, but for whatever reason, he wound up taking the bus straight to Josh's place instead. There, he found the front door of the house unlocked. No one had bothered to try it.
As soon as he opened the door, the smell shoved itself down Malik's throat so hard he threw up all over the front stoop. He'd never had a good gag reflex, much to his embarrassment with the occasional lover; though Josh had only ever smiled and stroked his cheek and told him to take his time. He would always be grateful to Josh for that.
After he'd cleaned himself up a bit, he entered the house and found what he found. He wasn't sure afterward why he decided to take the record from Josh's turntable, and he didn't see any need to tell the police about it.
The record's sleeve was a blank grayish thing, the same exact shade as a northern city's late-winter slush that you'd stomp off a boot. There wasn't a single letter of type on it.
Malik didn't own a turntable, so he couldn't play the thing. It just sat there on his desk where he left it, soon buried under unread magazines, outdated to-do lists, and bank statements.
Malik didn't attend the funeral. Not many of Josh's friends did. They couldn't bring themselves to stand quietly by while Josh's so-called family pretended to have loved him. Instead, Josh's friends held their own memorial sometime after.
L'il Lee arranged the affair, and she hosted the after-party in her damp armpit of an apartment. Nearly fifty bodies managed to pack themselves in. Malik found himself stranded too far from the sangria pitchers with a chattering straight girl who claimed to have worked with Josh at the bank in his final year of life. Josh had always suffered from a weakness for fruit flies. A veritable swarm of them had been present at the ceremony. This particular midge was deliriously drunk, to the point that she'd lost all ability to discern his team colors, and all of Malik's subtle attempts to clear up matters merely had the effect of encouraging the poor creature.
Just when Malik had resigned himself to causing a scene, a man built like a Brutalist high-rise pressed up next to them. Malik didn't recognize the man, but then he didn't recognize half the faces at the party. The man wore his size like a badge of office, as if it gave him permission to do anything. The stranger winked at Malik before tossing a casual compliment in the girl's direction. She turned her attention to the newcomer, providing Malik with the opportunity to slip away.
He decided to step out for some fresh air and shoved free of the party, finding himself on an empty landing at the top of a steep, narrow set of stairs. The apartment was a walk-up from a busy downtown street. Even sober, it seemed a long and treacherous way down, and it didn't help that the single bare bulb that normally lit the staircase had burnt out at some point in the night. The only illumination came from the headlights of the passing cars strobing through the frosted safety glass door at the foot of the stairs.
Malik felt along the wall for the railing and began to descend slowly. He lowered both feet to a single step at a time, realizing that maybe he wasn't as sober as he'd thought. He was about halfway down and in the midst of lowering his lead foot when a car passed. Someone stood backlit at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at Malik. Their silhouette struck Malik as somehow familiar. Then the hallway went dark again. Malik felt himself tipping too far forward, his foot sinking lower than it should have, as if the stairs had given way to a deep chasm in the Earth, and from the bottom of the chasm he swore he could hear a distant roar that he would have thought was rushing water except for the strange crackling quality to the sound, which made Malik think more of static than water just before he caught himself on the railing with both hands and hauled himself back up. He took in a sharp breath and squinted to peer through the darkness.
“Hello?” he called out.
No reply came, and he felt like a complete idiot when another car passed, revealing that no one stood there, and there was certainly no chasm, and the only roar came from the passing car.
Safely outside, Malik laughed it off, though his hands trembled as he lit a cigarette. He blamed the cold. It was the beginning of winter, and his fingers and ears had already gone numb after only a minute of smoking and watching the gaggles of clubbers pass him by. His nerves had quieted down by the time he'd finished the first cigarette, and as he lit a second, the massive stranger from the party appeared next to him. The man asked for a light and they smoked together in silence for a while, more awkward than companionable. The stranger watched Malik as if waiting to see whether he'd speak first.
When it became clear the man wasn't going to leave him be, Malik gave in. “So are you another one of Josh's work friends? I don't think we've met.”
“I work at a record store,” said the man. “Joshua used to come by.”
Malik shrugged as if this didn't mean anything to him.
“You know what Joshua was into?” asked the stranger. “I mean, just before he died?”
Malik shook his head.
“You ever hear of The Love Song?”
“Hell, I've heard a lot of love songs,” said Malik. “You'll have to be more specific.”
“Not any old love song. This is The Love Song.” The stranger raised his eyebrows at Malik's blank stare. “Don't worry,” he said. “It's hard to keep up with this kind of hipster shit. Well, anyway, it's a song.”
“I guessed that.”
“No need to get cute. You wanna hear this or not?”
“All right, then. You at least know the album L'Amour, by Lewis?”
“Well, Lewis―not his real name, of course―he appears in California in the early nineteen-eighties. Drives a white sports car and only ever wears white suits. He shows up at all the big Hollywood parties, and everyone who's anyone pretends to know him. Anyway, he records this one album, pays fucking Edward Colver to take pictures for the sleeve. You know, the guy who took all the pictures of the American hardcore scene back in the day? Then, just like he appeared, Lewis vanishes. Colver tries to cash his cheque and it bounces. The album, no one knows what to do with it, so they chuck the whole lot in the trash. But a copy, this one copy, somehow winds up surviving, and it makes its way to a flea market in Edmonton. Some fellow from Seattle discovers it in twenty-fourteen, realizes it's brilliant, and it becomes a surprise hit with the critics. I'm pretty sure people started calling The Love Song ‘The Love Song’ as a nod to that Lewis album. The Love Song is like L'Amour but even more of a mystery. See, they tracked down Lewis in the end. Turns out he was just some Canadian stockbroker named Randall Wulff. He took a vacation to California. No big mystery there, really.
“Long story short, a rip got leaked on the internet. Those Soho Clubbers were shitting lavender-scented bricks. There was a real witch hunt for the bootlegger, but I don't think they ever found the culprit. And rumor has it, all of the copies of the twelve-inch went missing soon after. You couldn't even find it on the black market.”
The stranger chuckled behind a cloud of smoke.
“Out of the hands of the elite, into the hands of the masses,” he said. “The torrents dry up pretty fast, though. No explanation. Seeders just drop off all of a sudden and you have to wait for someone to put up a new torrent. Someone always does, of course, but it's hard to know when, and it's never up for long. You want another?”
Malik looked down at his cigarette and realized with some surprise that it had burnt down to a stub already. Malik declined and the stranger continued.
“Anyway, Joshua was obsessed with the song. Said he'd listened to it a thousand times. You know how he was.”
Yeah, Malik knew. Josh had always fancied himself something of a modern Gnostic, and Malik had always liked that about him. Maybe that was just because Josh―he of such discerning tastes―had chosen Malik for a time, and that scratched Malik's entirely unspecial itch to feel special.
“Joshua was convinced that there was more than just one song, though,” the stranger went on. “See, rumor has it that the twelve-inches weren't the only vinyls out there. Some people say there's a full LP.”
“So you're saying Josh was looking for his own L'Amour?”
“Oh, I think he found it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, one day, he comes into the store all excited. He didn't come out and say it, but I could tell. He didn't buy anything. Just came in to talk about the weather.”
“The metaphorical weather. The winds of sonic fashion. That was the last time I ever saw him. He found it. I know he found it. He really never told you about it?”
The stranger looked a little too expectant, as if Malik had just been playing dumb this whole time and now was the moment to come clean.
“We weren't really on speaking terms,” he said.
“That's a real shame.” The stranger handed him a card. “Well, if you do hear anything―you know, while the family's sorting out the will and all―you'll give me a call? I just want to know that he found it before … Well, before.”
“I thought you knew he'd found it.”
The man just shrugged.
Malik didn't get home until well into the morning, but when he did, he immediately booted up his computer and ran a search for “The Love Song.” There were whole message boards devoted to it, plenty of folks lost in the echo chambers of obsession, but all of the links provided to the song itself were dead.
Malik called in sick to the office and picked up a used turntable, receiver, and speakers the next day. He suddenly had to hear it: the soundtrack of Josh's death.
He sat on the squeaking leather sofa and listened. The record was warped and the needle didn't have the weight to resist its rise and fall, bobbing like a buoy on choppy waters. It began with the hiss and crackle and occasional pop of static, drawn out for such a long time that Malik couldn't help but fidget, wondering if the record was just that, if he'd somehow been duped. But then, gradually, the static seemed to coalesce into a muffled roar, and out of the roar emerged a faint pulse that one might call a rhythm; maybe brushes on a high hat, but maybe just a trick of the mind. Malik missed the exact moment that the piano joined, hesitant at first, but soon more forceful, though washed out and in some unrecognizable key. Finally came the voice, moaning breathy sounds that weren't words but rather seemed to dance just beyond meaning.
Malik couldn't move, couldn't even―
He startled awake on the couch, hearing only the sound of his heart battering itself against his aching chest. The record had ended. He checked the clock on his phone. Hours had passed, and it was nearly midnight. He must have dozed off and missed it, perhaps not realizing how much he'd really needed that time off work to catch up on his sleep debt.
He should try to listen again, he thought, but the idea brought on a bout of intense nausea that didn't begin to subside until he'd finally stuffed the vinyl back into its sleeve and stumbled out into the night. As he walked the familiar streets, though he no longer felt the urge to puke, he noticed that the air felt strange on his skin, as if it had begun to bleed into him, seeping not just through his pores but through the gaps between the very atoms that comprised his cells. What's more, every now and then, when his mind drifted and he lost hold of himself for a moment, he'd catch the occasional scrap of a ragged melody trying to take shape between the oscillations of his vocal chords. As soon as he became aware of it, the tune would vanish, and all he'd be left with was a frightening feeling that he was far from anyone, that the streets and buildings of the city around him had long been abandoned.
“You look off today,” Malik's manager told him.
“Are you getting enough vitamin D? I used to feel like shit all the time. Like shit that's been walked on and smeared all over the sidewalk, you know? I wasn't sleeping. I was working all hours. My wife nearly divorced me. Then I started taking vitamin D, and, well, look at me now.”
Malik nodded slowly. He had opted not to take another sick day, though he regretted it now. “Vitamin D did that?”
His manager nodded vigorously. “Oh, yeah. Vitamin D. Think about it.” He rapped his knuckles on Malik's desk and sauntered off, leaving Malik to stare into the glare of his screen with little motivation to work. There was a backlog of design projects, and the marketing department was short-staffed, so Malik couldn't afford distraction, but all he could think about was rushing back home to try listening to that damned record again. That morning, the same idea had driven him to his knees at the toilet, but now the idea of having to wait was driving him mad.
After an hour, in which time he'd managed to open a blank document and save it somewhere on his hard drive, he decided to take a break. He dug the record store clerk's business card out of his wallet and ducked into a washroom stall. The phone had barely rung once when the man answered.
“You found it?” he asked, not even bothering to say hello.
“I have it.”
“That's great, man. That's great. Bring me the album and I'll tell you what you want to know.”
“I don't even know what I want to know.”
There was a pause, and Malik imagined the man shrugging on the other end of the line. “Then figure it out.”
Malik thought for a moment. “I want to know where it comes from.”
The man laughed. “I figured you were one of those.”
“One of what?”
“In my experience, there are two kinds. The first kind is happy to listen, so that's what they do. They listen. The second kind, though, they aren't so easily satisfied. You're the second kind. Bring me the album and I'll put you on the path. How's that sound?”
“I … can't.”
“You can't? Sure you can.”
The man sighed. “You will. You'll see. Give me another call when you've come to your senses.”
And with that, the man hung up. Malik called him back immediately, but all he got was a busy signal. He swore and nearly dropped his cell in the toilet. He stumbled out of the washroom and back to his desk. He knew he should bring the record to the stranger, if only to be rid of it, but the idea made him feel ashamed, as if Josh would have disapproved.
He would bring the album to the stranger after, he decided. He had to listen to the entire thing first. He had to hear it out. He owed Josh that much.
Some nights, Malik could make three, maybe four attempts before sunrise, drifting off then waking in a daze, then spinning the record again. Other nights he could only bring himself to try once, and then the nausea would chase him outdoors. The struggle wasn't unlike a drop of rain hitting the surface of a body of water. If you watch it happen in slow motion, the drop doesn't meld instantly. There's a moment after it hits when the water's surface buckles under the force of its impact, a moment when it's still a discrete object with its own boundaries. That in itself is curious, but an even more curious thing happens next. The drop breaks in two. One half joins the water beneath while the other half bounces back up, as if it's trying to escape having to become a part of that vastness. When that half of the original drop falls, the same thing happens again. An even smaller drop bounces up and falls back down. And so it goes, on and on, and maybe if the energy of the system never runs down, this goes on forever as the drop becomes a smaller and smaller fragment of what it once was; but always trying to free itself from gravity, not out of any desire to be whole again―if separateness can even be considered the same as wholeness―but only as a mechanical reflex.
Sometimes, at the point of splitting from himself, Malik dreamed of Josh―always of Josh. The roar of static panned to the edges of his hearing as he met Josh for the first time at a liquor store checkout. Technically, they'd seen one another before and even exchanged pleasantries, but Malik liked to think of this particular conversation as their first meeting.
“ID, please,” Josh would say after barely a glance at Malik.
“Ouch. Really?” Malik would catch Josh's gaze, and Josh would look bored and unimpressed.
“No plastic, no fun times. That's how it works, buddy.”
“Oh, I have ID. I was just hoping you'd remember me by now. I'm here every week.”
“I guess you don't make much of an impression.”
“Guess not. Unless you're just asking to see my ID again because you don't want to seem like you remember me.”
“You got me. You're all I think about every day I get to work. Will that cute guy with the mini-fro be in today? Please, God, let him stand in my queue.”
“So you think I'm cute?”
At last, Josh would let slip a hint of a smile. “That'll be forty-seven twenty-five, if you have ID.”
“All right, all right. Here you go.”
“Uh huh. Looks like you're older than you look … Malik.”
“I'll pay with debit.”
“You want it bagged?”
“Please.” Then, “Thanks. See you around.”
“What, you're not going to ask what I'm doing after work?”
“Naw, I figure you get asked that all the time. But if I keep coming back, one day, you'll ask me out.”
“And if I don't remember you next time?”
“You'd be lying.”
“You think no one's ever tried this?”
“Not like me.”
“Well, I guess we'll see then.”
“Challenge accepted. Same time next week?”
“I'll be here.”
Malik would lean in to read Josh's name tag, as if he had never taken note of it before. “Well, it was a pleasure to meet you, Josh. A pleasure to meet you, Josh. A pleasure to meet you, Josh. A pleasure to meet you, Josh. A pleasure to meet you, Josh. A pleasure to meet you—”
Perhaps because of the warp in the vinyl, on some plays the needle would skip and the music would catch in a brief loop. Malik would emerge from the static wash in those moments to see a familiar figure. The figure sat on a chair far back in the shadows of the room, and the voice that moaned its tortured melody seemed to come from it, not the speakers. Then the needle would catch the groove once more, and the loop would break, and upon waking the next morning, Malik would have no memory of the dark figure or the music.
On one such morning, Malik woke to the sound of curtains screaming as they opened on plastic rollers, letting sunlight spill into a room that Malik didn't recognize. Malik groaned and the woman who'd opened the window frowned at him. She wore a nurse's gown. He tried to speak but could only manage an incomprehensible whisper. Even the slightest movement sent shooting pains up from his abdomen, and he noticed an IV plugged into his arm.
The nurse welcomed him back. L'il Lee was there as well, in a chair next to the bed. She clutched one of his hands in both of hers. He had nearly died of malnutrition. He hadn't shown up to work in weeks, hadn't left the apartment. They thought he'd tried to starve himself out of grief. All of their friends had been by to see him. He'd been in a coma for two weeks.
“What about the record?” he asked as soon as he could speak again.
L'il Lee shook her head in disbelief. “I'm sure it's right where you left it.”
Malik arrived at the record store at the appointed time, and the man from the party ushered him down into the basement, alone. In the basement, amongst the towering stacks of dusty crates, waited a frail and somewhat sickly man in a three-piece suit. He had the look of a Wall Street shark who'd seen better days.
“Did you bring it?” he asked Malik.
“Why the hell do you think I'm carrying this ridiculous tote bag around?”
Malik handed the bag to the man, though as soon as he'd done so, he felt the urge to snatch it back. He might have tried if not for a sudden wave of dizziness. He nearly collapsed, but the man in the suit caught him by the elbow. Frail as the man seemed, Malik was in far worse shape.
Something like recognition passed between the pair in that brief moment of contact. For an instant, Malik swore that he saw himself through the man's eyes. Then the man let go of his elbow.
“I know the feeling,” said the man, as if he could hear Malik's thoughts, as if he'd also been Malik in that moment. “It was scary at first. Freedom is always scary at first. But there's really nothing to be afraid of, because that's what you are. You're nothing. You aren't. You shouldn't fear yourself if there's no self to fear.”
Malik bristled, though he knew the man didn't mean it as an insult. If anything, the man was all too sincere. “If I'm nothing, then who are you talking to?”
“I'm talking to myself. Except I'm nothing, too, so I guess I'm not talking to anyone. I guess I'm not talking at all. There's no me making words, understand? There's just words. Words, words, words. The only thing holding me together is a pronoun. A pronoun's a prison, you see.”
“Just tell me how to find him.”
The man looked Malik up and down. “For a while, when I first heard The Love Song, I thought I was like you. I thought that I had to find whoever had made this … thing. I can tell you what I found, and maybe you can follow those leads, and let's say you track down the source of all this. What will you do then?”
“I'm going to kill him,” Malik said without hesitation. He glanced nervously around the basement, as if just in case someone was eavesdropping from the shadows. He dropped his voice to a whisper and repeated the same words. “I'm going to kill him.”
The man nodded soberly. “There was this one time,” he said, “when I was doing my taxes of all things. I had to call for help because I'd lost my pin number. I found myself lost in this maze of recorded messages. Dial one for service in English, dial two for questions about filing your taxes, dial five for information about accounts, until I finally reached a recorded message telling me the exact same thing as the online FAQ, which I'd already consulted, and it didn't tell me how to get a new pin number, I'll tell you that. I think that's when I realized there were no real people working the phones. There was no route through all the bullshit to an actual human being.”
“Speak Goddamn English.”
The man smiled. There was patience in that smile―a shark's patience―and he spoke as if to a child, or as if explaining to an uncomprehending animal that it was about to be slaughtered for someone's next meal. “You're dialling one. Got it. How's this? When I listen to the song, it's like looking into myself to discover that there's just a bunch of automated messages. Just like when you listen, you look inside yourself and all you see is clear, clear water. You think you're going to kill a man, but the thing you're hoping to kill, it's not a man. You're like a raindrop thinking it can stop gravity.”
Malik recoiled at the man's words. He felt a strong urge to bolt. Maybe he should forget about the record, forget about it all. But then the man beckoned him closer.
“Come,” he said. “I could tell you what you want to know, but why waste the time? It'll feel like when I held your elbow, but more.” His lips trembled just shy of Malik's lips. Malik's lips also trembled. Breath tangled up between them, belonging to neither of them. “Kiss me and you can see the things I've seen; you can know everything I know.”
When Malik emerged from the basement a few minutes later, the clerk asked if he'd found what he'd been looking for. The man was grinning when he asked, so smug Malik wanted to punch him in the face. Instead, he pretended to ignore the man on his way out.
Malik did eventually find what he'd been looking for. He found it in a theater in an abandoned town, somewhere in what was probably California. Time had passed; enough time that his body felt healthy again, strong even. Except that, strong as it felt, the body wasn't sure anymore if it was or wasn't Malik.
It stood in the aisle and noted that the seats for the audience were all empty, while another male body busied itself setting up equipment on the stage. The female body walked past the male body in the aisle to speak to the male body on the stage. The male body on the stage nodded, looked at the other male body, then nodded some more. It approached the other male body and spoke.
“Hi,” it said. “I'm Mikey. I'm the sound technician. We're all set up for you. I won't be able to, you know, stay for the performance, for obvious reasons, but Claire here will take good care of you. She'll be up in the recording booth. She's deaf, so you know, she's immune, so to speak. Anyway, you're in fine hands. He's in fine hands, right, Claire?”
The male body that called itself Mikey didn't wait for a reply. It clapped its hands together and left the theater in a hurry, and the male body once called Malik took the stage. It sat at the piano and touched the keys gingerly. The man called Malik had never played an instrument in his life, but Malik was almost free of himself as he watched his body from the recording booth while it straightened its back and placed its hands on the keys with conviction this time. The body remembered what to do by doing it, because it was just like all the other bodies that had come before it to sit on this bench a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand times. They were the bench and the piano, and they were all the bodies playing their selves, and they played, and as the music took shape, the last vestige of whatever still remembered separateness also remembered a word―just one word―and maybe it was a name.
Josh. Yes, the body remembered Josh. The body was Josh, just as Josh was the song, and they were the air that vibrated with their own notes set in time to their own rhythms, and they were the mics that recorded those vibrations, and they were the vinyl into which the song would soon be pressed. They were everything and they were nothing. They were the river that flowed into the ocean, and they were the ocean, and they were heated and pulled apart by the sun's light, and they were the sun's light carrying themselves upward into the heavens so that one day―side by side for a second―they would fall.