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Sonant, Page 1

A. Sparrow


  Copyright 2011 by A. Sparrow, All Rights Reserved

  Deliverance prayers excerpted and adapted from the Gene B. Moody Deliverance Manual

  To Mom

  Prologue: The Pump House

  Eyes shut, forehead pressing against a rattling window, a screech like a budding cellist heralded Aaron’s arrival at the Red Line terminus. Eyes still closed, he rocked back in his seat and sighed.

  “More pressure on the bow, please. Replenish your rosin.”

  Aaron’s mumbles attracted the stare of an elderly Asian lady gathering her shopping bags. He took no notice. Trapped in a trance, he gathered his fiddle case and exited the train, riding the escalator into the heights of the Alewife parking garage.

  The last lesson of the day lingered and haunted. Emily. Davis Square. Eight year old daughter of a Tufts professor. Ignored all his jokes. Offered not one fleeting smile during the entire half hour session. Sore fingers. Gritted teeth. He might as well have been drilling and filling cavities.

  Kids like that, their parents should just let them quit. What was the point? First chance they got, they would abandon playing music for life. Why not help her find the right instrument; give her a chance to kindle her own musical fire if it was there to be kindled in the first place? Let the poor kid improvise, if that’s what it took.

  Music should not be torture. It should be its own reward.

  Too bad Sheila never saw it that way. Aaron worked hard, seven days a week, all hours of the day. It seemed like a lot, scribbled in the squares of his calendar, yet never seemed to tally up to a decent living.

  That, in a nutshell, was the rotten seed that spoiled his marriage. In Sheila’s eyes, Aaron had no career. He had only been screwing around all these years. Her job at the library had paid the bulk of the mortgage and provided their health insurance.

  Legs on autopilot, mind afloat, he still managed to locate his car in this concrete labyrinth. He opened the door and tossed in his fiddle case.

  North Cambridge in May. The air was crisp, tainted with lilac and diesel. He spiraled down the ramp, handed five dollars to the Ethiopian in the booth and tore out of Alewife for the hills of Arlington and Belmont.


  To all outward appearances, Aaron lived a life of grudging compliance with the judge’s Order for Protection. Commuting back to his room at the Acton Motor Lodge, well beyond the specified two-mile radius, he kept to Route 2, never daring to venture into the quaint business districts that had so enchanted Sheila when they were searching for the ideal place to raise a family. She might be there right now with the girls, buying tea cakes or browsing through the toy shop.

  He could understand why the judge would award custody, but to deny all visitation rights? Why? Because he was loud? Of course he was loud. He was a Levine. But he had never, would never touch her in anger. Never. Sheila knew that. Didn’t she?

  Pulling into the motel parking lot, all he had in mind was a glass of wine, some Chinese takeout and maybe watch a Celtics game. But as he unlocked the door and stared at the calendar hanging in his kitchenette, he remembered it was Friday. Back when he was still man of the house, that meant pizza and popcorn and DVDs with the girls.

  He changed into sweats and for the third time that week, pretended to head out for a jog. But just beyond the grounds of the motel, he ducked into the woods, cutting through a thicket of saplings to the commuter rail tracks. He turned and followed along the gravel bed, back towards Concord.

  A dead elm marked an axed ‘x’ showed him where to veer towards the river. He slogged through piney swamps to a hip-deep ford. The current tugged at his thighs as he crossed to the slick mud of the opposite bank.

  He followed a path well-worn by his frequent prowls. Two hundred yards through red maple and quaking aspen, the land rose through a patch of knotweed, leveling off at the edge of a lawn he had mowed a thousand times. He crawled the last few yards on his elbows and lay in the weeds, gazing at a garden overgrown with weeds, the broccoli and lettuce already gone to seed. Pangs, deep and dull accompanied the sight of the little white house, with the clapboards he had scraped and painted through three cycles of weathering, the roof he had re-shingled as his marriage deteriorated.

  The drapes were drawn on the patio doors he had added to open up views of the backyard and the deer that came to snack on the neighbor’s apple trees. Maybe they weren’t even home. Or maybe Sheila had drawn them to keep the glare of the setting sun off the TV.

  Aaron lay among the knotweed and waited for darkness to fall. He didn’t need his nosy neighbors to spot him and call the town cops. He let mosquitoes feast un-slapped on his sweaty brow, on forearms scratched from branches and briars.

  How many afternoons had he come to the edge of these woods, clearing deadfalls, trimming brush? He imagined that any moment the back door would open and Sheila or Nina would call him in for dinner. Just like old times.

  It was creepy, all this skulking about. It would land him in jail if he was found out. Knowing it was wrong compelled him no less.

  Sheila was already seeing another man. Brian. The anti-Aaron. A ruddy and jovial bear of an architect with a perpetual smile that made Aaron feel like he had been left out of a joke. How could Sheila be attracted to such extremes? Was it reactionary?

  The sky was changing behind him. He remembered the many evenings Sheila would call him and the girls to the window to admire the sunset. He would stand behind his wife, chin tucked over her shoulder, arms wrapped loosely around her waist. The girls would come and cling to their legs, oohing and aahing at clouds tinted otherworldly hues. A beautiful sunset of crimson and mango was happening right now. If only he could share it, but he wasn’t even allowed to call them on the phone.

  As the sun sank beneath the pines across the river, the house stayed dark. No one was home. The realization opened a void in his chest that could have swallowed the known universe. He picked himself up and in the dying light, retreated through the brush to the river.


  He didn’t bother returning to the motel. It was three miles back in utter darkness. Now that the weather was getting warmer, he had taken to camping in an old pump house on the grounds of the old W.R. Grace chemical factory. It had been built in the 1980s to house and environmental remediation system that removed the solvents polluting the groundwater from an old waste pond. The EPA sent reports every quarter, mapping out the gradients of the vinyl chloride and other less pronounceable compounds in ppms and ppbs.

  The pump had long ceased to operate. Parts lay dismantled and heaped among sections of pipe outside the little hut. Whoever had built the shack added more flair and grace than such a utilitarian structure deserved. It looked like a mini-Colonial with its steeply pitched roof and deep-set eaves. The workmanship exuded pride. All he had to do to make it livable was sweep it out, repair a few screens, patch some holes with plywood and cover the floor with some carpet remnants he had rescued from a dumpster.

  He changed into a set of dry clothes to replace the burr-studded sweat pants, soggy from his river crossings. An air mattress and sleeping bag was laid out crosswise at the far end of the shack. A shelf held a few Heinekens left over from a six pack. A can of chili. A box of saltines.

  He cracked a beer and ate his chili cold. Afterwards, he pulled out the cheap fiddle he kept tucked away in a sack among the rafters. It was a risk to leave it in the shack, but no one ever came here except him.

  Lighting a candle to keep the night at bay, he sat on the stoop and rosined his bow. With the moon hanging high and a chill settling in, he played his fiddle to the pines. He played free, unbound by chord signatures or scales. He tuned by ear and never the same way twice. He sought and cultivated wolf tones,
vibrations that sang out from the body of his instrument when the wood resonated in sympathy with a string. Playing alone freed him to pursue his inner muse down avenues well-removed from western or even human music. He harmonized with owls, katydids and bull frogs.

  He hoped the girls were back home from wherever they had gone. Perhaps some faint strains of his music would seep across the river to color their dreams.

  A little swirl caught his eye in the candle light. The dust seemed to dance when he stroked his bow a certain way. He watched, entranced by as the little puffs rose and spun like dervishes, ever on the verge of dissipating, vacillating between structure and nothingness. They persisted far longer than any puff of dust had a right. Some spun off into the night.

  There was something in their core that he couldn’t quite make out; something veiled that bent the light. He adjusted his playing by trial and error, like an eager bandleader striving to keep the patrons dancing so he could study them. He found he could shape these motes with his tone alone, his fiddle a sonic lathe, carving out divots, squeezing bulges flat.

  It had to be some intrinsic and peculiar resonance of the pump house caused this phenomenon. The frame was under-built, braced just enough to support the roof. Its timbers plinked like tone wood when tapped, just like the spruce that gave his violin its unique voice. The structure thrummed in sympathy with his fiddle.


  A week later, he returned with his better fiddle, and it brought out the dervishes like never before. He played and they spun and he kept them spinning. As he wound himself into a fever of improvisation, a sparkly grit collected on the rafters.

  An hour into the session, the trees rustled and something grumbled in the woods outside, sounding like a muffled foghorn. He barely noticed, rapt in the spinners in the rafters.

  When he put down his bow to sip his beer, the little whirlwinds persisted. How soft and delicate they looked! He couldn’t resist reaching up to touch one.

  It shrieked and stung him. He yanked back his hand, rubbing a perfectly circular patch of skin that had been transformed into something like wood, grain-free but hard as maple. Blood soaked into the pores, beading into regularly spaced droplets.

  The drone rumbled closer. Something big brushed and scratched against the side of the pump house, like a blast of desert wind. The dust billowed and the spinners chirped, evacuating the shack like a flock of sparrows flushed from their roost.

  Why should the devil have all the good tunes?

  Rowland Hill

  Chapter 1: Shinjuku

  Aerie drowsed in bed, her brain a ball of fuzz. Sharp pains shot through her neck when she tried to roll over. She must have slept wrong. Really wrong.

  Some of the most awful music she had ever heard sifted into the room—mindless, boring post-industrial techno. Where was it coming from, so loud?

  The mix combined giggling Japanese voices, footsteps clapping on hard linoleum, clanking steel, creaking hinges. These more organic sounds were underpinned by electronic rhythms—a bright and widely spaced ‘bing! … bing! … bing!’ overlain with a quicker cycling but duller ‘wup-wup, wup-wup, wup-wup,’ while beneath it all chugged a steady ‘wirra-wirra-wirra-wirra-wirra.’ All together, the staggered timing of their overlapping grooves produced a sort of syncopation. Only her geekiest friends at Berklee would have liked it.

  The piece went on way too long. It was completely amorphous, without climax, dynamics or resolution. It reminded her of the worst of the student compositions she had been sometimes forced to accompany simply because she was one of the few who played bass.

  That’s what this tune needed—a bass part—to weave together its dissolute elements and provide a rhythmic center. To Aerie, basses were hammers and every musical problem was a nail.

  She searched for the perfect bass line in her head, notes that would provide the piece a frame with some rebar and i-beam. Something reggae-ish and syncopated, with flurries of notes followed by windows of space wide enough to expose the other parts. Something like: Ba-dum Badumba Dum. Space. Ba-dum Badumba. Space. Repeat. That might turn this mushy ambience into something more compelling.

  Aerie’s eyes flickered open to find a stainless steel post dangling clear tubing. A bag of physiologic saline dripped into the catheter feeding her wrist. Bandages crinkled when she moved her neck.

  “Oh, crap.”

  She remembered getting hurt. She couldn’t remember how. Her thoughts had the half-life of soap bubbles. As soon as one would form, it would pop.

  The sliver of window visible between the curtains brought a familiar view—the Hilton hotel in Ochanomizu and the green bridge traversing the Kanda River. She knew the surrounding streets for the guitar shops where she bought strings for her bass. The streets beyond harbored gaudy pachinko parlors and pay-by-the-hour love hotels. This was Tokyo. How she knew all of this, she had no clue.

  She looked around the room as far her neck would allow. Shojo fairies pranced on pink wallpaper. A purple teddy bear grinned from a bookshelf.

  “I’m twenty-five, for Chrissakes. Why’d they stick me in a pediatric ward?”

  She wracked her weedy mind for a clue for how she ended up in this hospital. Other than a stomach bug, she had been healthy since arriving in Tokyo. It couldn’t be a car accident. She always walked or took the train to gigs. Had she been hit crossing the street? Her limbs seemed intact and other than a foggy brain and a slight headache, her head was fine. She slipped her fingers under her johnnie, finding nothing but intact, goose-pimpled skin.

  Most of the pain centered on her neck, confined under a rigid plastic collar with bandages beneath. This discovery triggered a vague unease but no nuggets of tangible memory could yet congeal. The full truth hovered just beyond reach at the edge of consciousness, like some neglected but forgotten chore.

  A bento box sealed with plastic film lay unopened on a bedside tray. A world sports show on FNN news blared from a monitor.

  An aged female voice murmured on the other side of the curtain splitting her room. A man chatted with her. They were making fun of American football. It puzzled Aerie how she knew what they were saying. Though, she remembered coming to Japan, she couldn’t recall ever learning Nihongo. How long had she lived here?

  It had to have something to do with jazz. Why else would she come to Tokyo? She didn’t even like sushi.

  She wriggled up higher on her pillows, triggering stabs of pain beneath the clammy plastic collar. She winced and cried out.

  The man who had been ridiculing the NFL pulled aside the curtain and hustled to her bedside. He pocketed a cigarette he must have been itching to light, and pulled out a notebook and pen. He plopped down in a pink and green vinyl chair and leaned forward, eyes bulging, studying her with a wry smile.

  “Konichiwa. Are you feeling better today?” His English was lightly accented and highly Americanized.

  “Do I know you?”

  He was thirtyish, with bleached highlights tipping a spiky haircut. He wore a sports coat with narrow lapels and a wide tie that made his slender chest appear even skinnier. He wore a smirk that seemed permanently creased on his muzzle. He seemed more huckster than doctor.

  “My name is Toguchi. I came by yesterday, but you were kind of out of it. The staff wouldn’t let me talk to you.”

  “What happened to me? Was I in an accident?” Her voice splintered, sounding creakier than the old lady across the curtain.

  He frowned. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

  “I hurt my neck.”

  “Yes, you did. You were found hanging from a transom, silk scarf around your throat, zip-tie around your wrists. In front, curiously. Tooth marks on the plastic pull. You are very lucky. Another minute and you might have gone without oxygen long enough to harm your brain. As it was, your trachea was compressed. The paramedics almost had to intubate you.”

  “Hanging?” The image both repelled and intrigued her. His description triggered flashes of remembrance. She knew exactly what sc
arf he was talking about—the one with the forest green and royal blue paisleys. “Are you … my doctor?”

  His smirk deepened. “I’m a Keibu-ho. Assistant Inspector. I investigate violent crimes for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.”

  He pressed a button on an oblong device that looked like one of those bulky, first generation iPhones. “I should tell you, I’ll be recording this conversation. I’m here because your incident is not yet officially classified as a suicide attempt, mainly because you left no note. This is very unusual for such a careful and premeditated … procedure. Not to mention, you are a foreigner on a work permit.”

  A pressure built in her core, as if the air in the room had turned to liquid lead. She remembered now; this was how she had felt that day. This feeling was why she did what she had done.

  “You have not been able to tell me anything regarding your motivations. None of your acquaintances had any inkling that you were despondent. Why did you do it?”

  Aerie could only shrug.

  “Were you with any other people on that day?”

  She remembered being in her room for days on end. Her only meals had been instant soba.

  “No. I was alone.”

  He nodded. “Your hands were restrained in front of your body. This would be odd for a homicide.” He pulled a photo from his portfolio—a baggie with a severed yellow zip tie. “The restraint had teeth marks on it—your own. Were you biting to get free or to make it tighter? Do you remember that much?”

  “That … looks familiar. That’s all I can say.”

  He studied her eyes. His smirk softened. “Do you know where you are now?”


  “Obviously. Do you know which one? You’ve been here before.”

  Aerie shook her head.

  “Tokyo Medical University Hospital. How about your address? Do you remember where you live?”

  “The hotel?” Aerie jerked her chin toward the window, grunting at the pain it evoked. “That one, in fact. The Hilton.”