1. I See Black for You (German: Ich sehe Schwartz für Sie)

In a basement apartment on a dead-end street, Quarantined Man sits on a piano stool at a makeshift desk and writes odes to an erstwhile lover, a player of timpani. From concrete floor to concrete ceiling, books sandbag the walls and bunker the windows, tunneling daylight dimly.

He plays his keyboard as if ivory and ebony, his movements rising and dipping, from bright marcato to dark staccato, translating themselves magically into binary numbers. In Pantone Process Black, graphemes, phonemes, words, descriptions, sentences, and punctuation flock across his glowing screen.

His face reflective, he grunts, he chuckles, he smirks—innuendos, inside jokes, puns, and idioms. Daring the odd cliché!

Fischer’s Symphony with Eight Obbligato Timpani plays. His outpouring flows. Daugherty’s “Raise the Roof” plays. He bodies, fleshes, and clothes characters. Elias’s “Hero’s Journey” plays, and a woman repulses a male. (She speaks yet never completes a sen—. Is Quarantined Man’s treatment of women a subconscious misogyny?)

Six, twelve, eighteen, twenty-four hours—Stravinsky adding a piccolo timpani to The Rite of Spring, Luigi Nono raising timpani numbers, an octave and a player. Quarantined Man’s entranced. Away fall his upper cases. Spaces. Punctuation. And margins. Away fall the screen’s confines: Black spills from the laptop screen, filling the spaces between his keys. Black smears Quarantined Man’s fingertips, splashes onto his desktop, and drips upon his lap. It puddles at his feet.

Books stacked on the floor soak it up.

Silverfish and cockroaches climb to dry spines.

To Strauss’s Burleske, books unmoor, drift. Quarantined Man, adrift himself in his black melancholia, raises his stool. He raises his desk. He works standing.

Black reaches the windowsill, trickles picking up dust, pollen, insect carcasses. It oozes its way through the window frame and drips onto foundation-hugging pebbles and weeds. It fills the drainage ditch, clogging the weep hole.

Holst’s planets align. And when Berloiz’s Grande Messe des morts ends, the surface of Quarantined Man’s black flow films over.

His landlord arrives to collect rent due. He surveys the blackened basement windows and retrieves an axe. Glass crashes like a cymbal, releasing a sticky whoosh, which slows to a drumming dribble.

The coroner examining Quarantined Man cannot wash him clean. A black knob of lingua meconium the size of her fist blocks the victim’s throat. His heart is as hard and fragile as an obsession.


  1. Heading for a Cliff

We were visiting some friends, my husband and I and our kids. The friends treated us to a concert in the park, Bonnie Raitt. At intermission, while out stretching my legs, I ran into Carrie. We’d lost touch after I married and moved away. Same grin, elfin face, and aura of Irish curls.

In a milieu of flying frisbees, kids playing chase, beer-swigging, and wine-sipping (with a weed whiff from somewhere), we exchanged a pocket conversation. Still married, yes, haha, the kids are nutty but doing well, hahaha, etcetera. Carrie had returned to school, to work on a PhD in education. I freelanced copywriting—shrug.

We’d met back when I was an undergrad. She was studying for the bar then, and we job-shared at a bankruptcy law practice. Personally, learning debt’s destructiveness was a useful lesson for me, and—bonus—Dave taught me more about grammar and narrative than any English teacher had.

Carrie said, “Lisa’s dead.”

Dave had mentored Carrie, so she’d become close to him, Lisa, and their two kids. I can tell you; that family got to know only the sitter-sweet side of her. I got to know her gambling side.

She and her boyfriend, Stu (a builder), operated a pot plantation—in those days, illegal. A sledgehammed hole in a bedroom closet gave passage into an aluminum insulated garage. Artificial lights. Jungle humidity. And the sharp, sticky pong of marijuana buds. When she heard of the county prosecutor’s plans to root out pot farms by scrutinizing power usage hotspots—consumption spikes justifying a search warrant—they shut it down. Later, they became photovoltaic pioneers.

A hacky sack landed at her feet, a young man with a tanned chest and dreads claiming it. She said, “She disappeared off the coast.”

I recalled a time she’d lugged a laundry basket of freezer boxes into the office (a downtown, two-bed apartment) and revealed their contents, red strawberries oozing juice. “My freezer’s full. They gotta go somewhere.” Into the kitchen’s refrigerator freezer, they went.

Over that summer’s heatwave, I broke into those berries—just one. Just one layer of one box. Just one layer of each box. Deliciousness traveled like sweet icicles down my spine. I confessed my crime to Dave. He laughed. “Lisa does things in excess. She’s forgotten them. Help yourself.”

He must have told me about another of her excesses, her fascination with the Devil’s Churn. She’d go there weekly, maybe more often. Or Carrie might have told me.

I knew the inlet, the short slick trail from the parking lot, the coastal wind’s roar, even in summer, and the incoming ocean’s freight-truck force slamming into the narrow channel. Foam spraying. A violent roil and rumble.

“Assumed accidental.” Carrie touched my arm. “Only her ring finger washed up on shore.”

I scanned the crowd. There, my husband and kids and the friends we were visiting lay sprawled across a quilt. They licked ice creams.

I’d never stood at a dangerous precipice, but I’d witnessed others do so. I wish I’d known Lisa had been one of them. Whenever at Dave’s office, she’d leave crumbs of her life’s annoyances: a weight struggle (although she looked great to me) and loneliness, despite Dave, the kids, and the Bible studies courses she led. When his mother died, he inherited a low-mileage ’68 Mustang. Strawberry red. Despite his eagerness to keep it for himself, Lisa adopted that car, taking it for her coastal drives, the rain lashing at her windscreen.

I wonder if she’d ever sensed where she was truly headed.


Meredith Wadley lives and works in a medieval microtown on the Swiss side of the Rhine River. Her most recent fiction is published or forthcoming in Dribble Drabble Review, Collateral, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gone Lawn, JMWW, Lammergeier, Longleaf Review, Lunate Fiction, and Orca Lit. Follow Meredith on social media at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wadleymeredith/   Twitter: https://twitter.com/MeredithWadley  or visit her website www.meredithwadley.com