Over by the entrance, with his back to me. I’m sure that’s him. The glasses, the gray, thinning hair. His posture, I remember the look of him. Oh, Christ.
Even in the middle of the day, at the oddest time, some piece of regret will climb into his awareness and cause sweat to bead at his brow.
How could this be the intention —what merciful God would allow instants of imaginary sorrow to sully the idea of Grand Design? Poison moments that return and replay in memory —a child betrayed —a friend insulted —a lover spurned or an act of violence. What is this ghostly record worth? And why so powerful? A skeletal shock rendering good conscience impotent, and making any wise, worthy man cower in guilt or grief.
He sees his brother across the table, saying something. There is conversation. He is expected to continue the thread;
‘You can’t just tax the rich. There is so much more to consider…’
What was his name? Sean?
The waitress breaks his concentration,‘Is this for you?’
‘No – it goes there. Thank you. Oh, and this is my brother —Bill, meet Megan.’
‘Hi. Nice to meet you. I was going to say – you’re gonna be wound up today if this is your third espresso.’
It was someones birthday. What? Ten years ago? We were discussing the phone apps that identify music. What was the question? How do you think they distinguish one song from all the available tunes in such a small period of time?
So many other considerations of the moment. Thus his reply; ‘probably a database of some kind.’
You can’t take comments back. You can’t erase them. They exit the mouth and that’s it.
You can’t explain in retrospect that your wife is at the end of her rope. That you’re going to pack up and leave your family, probably in the next few months, as soon as she reaches the breaking point —because you’re going to leave it there; too cowardly to precipitate the separation. Lacking the courage of your convictions.
Sean. His name is Sean. He frequents open-mic nights at a couple of the local pubs.
There was that one time at the Ironwood Bar —they passed each other in the entrance way. Thank God there were other people —a couple of patrons between them, allowing him to feign preoccupation and then spend another five minutes of his life with perspiration at his brow.
This conversation comes back to him. This, and the time in the garage, when he got mad, threatened his son and saw tears well up in a five year olds eyes. Or the moment he realized the Doctor was looking at him like that because the injury to his daughters arm was consistent with an angry parent’s violent tug. He didn’t say, ‘I didn’t harm her, it happened on the playground.’ But the doctor didn’t have time to listen, he didn’t have courage and wasn’t able to mutter an excuse. The sweat welled up and he stood looking sheepish, and guilty. The Doctor used this look to confirm his suspicion.
The same sweat that marks his forehead whenever God dishes up this memory. Along with all the others.
I should have said, ‘…it has to be a combination of intensity and notation. The musical phrases alone aren’t enough to differentiate any musical piece from myriads of others. But if you take one or more additional data sets on top of that —intensity, dynamics, you should be able to narrow the selection down to a few, or even one choice. That’s the ideal. Still, it’s so fast. I wonder how it can all be done in so short a period of time. That’s the miracle.
But he didn’t. He muttered, ‘…probably a database of some kind.’
An insult to their level of conversation. Sweat on the brow. Even today, this far down the line.
Bill has to leave. They say their goodbyes, and he will sit in the coffee shop for another half-hour then stop at the grocery store to replenish his supply of milk for tomorrow’s coffee.
He glances over, sees the side of Sean’s head, attempts to hear his voice. Over and over again.
On the fifteenth glance —he is gone. The chair is empty. The other people he’s been talking to are still there. He looks over toward the washroom, Sean is exiting, and they lock eyes. It’s confirmation. This is the man; this must be opportunity.
‘Hey, it’s Sean, right?’
‘Yes. Hi! How’s things?’
‘Nice to see you. You’re on the music scene sometimes. I’ve seen you in a couple of audiences.’
‘Just a spectator. I don’t play. You too. How have you been?’
They shake hands.
‘Great. It’s been a while.’
‘Listen, I remember a conversation a long time ago at my wife’s place. I think it was one of Tess’s birthdays. You brought up the apps that identify music. I think you were speculating on the method used to select a match for a user’s request. You know what? I embarrassed myself. I didn’t answer that properly. I’ve been thinking about it. I suspect it’s a combination of things.’
Sean is looking at him. Some question forming.
‘I was thinking it could be intensity – and notes – the notes – combinations of notes might be the same in a lot of songs…’
There is no recognition. Sean’s face displays a kind of query.
He is unable to cement the look. Incongruous.
‘…so —intensity —and notes. Maybe something like that…’
…does he not remember?
‘That’s interesting. You could Google it. It’s probably a database of some kind.’
This picture is different. His mind reels and echoes, seeking comfort.
Say something else. Clarify.
‘I thought about that. Yeah. That’s probably it.’
‘Anyway, nice to see you.’
He packs up, avoids looking to his right and begins his journey to the grocery store, sweat beading at his brow.