Short Story | The Gramophone by Molly East

Short Story | The Gramophone by Molly East

Ethereal. It had been and still was, all these years later. Its beauty had both excited and startled Alvin from the moment he laid eyes upon it. Brass and bending, its large horn gaped towards him as though it might swallow him whole. He almost wished it would, perhaps then he might make sense of it.

Countless times he’d observed its magnificence, pondering its mystic ability to turn those delicate ridges into sound. He’d watch in awe as the needle danced. Steady. Precise. An athlete circling a track, trained not for speed but endurance. His eyes would close tight with concentration as he imagined the vibrations pursuing eagerly their journey, from arm to elbow to pavilion, for them to once again echo from those protruding arches in a way he simply couldn’t comprehend. And so the mystery transcended. He remained perplexed.

Alvin handled his records with the patience of a saint. His placement of the needle both sure and slight. He would listen attentively as they poured out, for to Alvin records told stories, and over time his library had grown extensively. Each time the stories were told there were changes, tiny but there nonetheless. After all, even the oldest of fairy tales have been altered, now not quite the same as they were. The vinyls indents transformed with age, whilst Alvin followed suit.

Tonight, like many others, they sat together. The virtuoso and its patronage. Many moons ago his wife would join them, and together they would dance beneath a choir of stars. From room to room they waltzed and span until the velvet evening sky bathed them in shades of rose and gold, always within earshot of its sweet serenade. As the nights became darker, the stars grew brighter, the songs sweeter.

Upon one such evening, he proposed. The melody reached the pinnacle of a rousing allegro. ‘You always did have the power to take me back in time.’

‘I’m leaving you, Alvin’ he heard her utter decades later. Susan had been watching him for quite some time, her head rested on the door frame, not quite within the room but not quite outside of it either. It wasn’t the first time she’d studied such a scene. She appeared shrunken. Defeated. Her hands fiddled with the broken door handle he had promised to fix several months ago, no sign of any rings. Of course, Alvin had barely noticed her presence. The symphony reached its fiery crescendo, its quickening pace capturing his soul, setting it ablaze. He was absorbed, indefinitely. ‘Euphoric.’ He thought.

Alvin wasn’t quite sure when exactly he became aware of his wife’s affair, though he had known for a long time before she left. Perhaps it was the faint scent of a perfume far too masculine for a woman’s neck that would linger as she spoke from that door frame, night after night. Maybe he knew from the first time she turned away from him whilst changing, or wore pyjamas to bed instead of sleeping nude.

The creases in Alvin’s face deepened as he frowned, the record had begun to skip, the previous note
resonating endlessly in an obnoxious loop. He paused for a moment before rising, his spine misshapen, feet unsteady. He lifted the needle with hands that shivered before bringing the record close to his face, both of them thin and fragile. Squinting behind brass frames he spotted something jammed deep within a groove. Alvin reached for the sewing needle he had always left nearby for such occasions and removed it, in the exact way he’d shown his son when he was a child.

When Susan left, she took Jonathan with her. The music felt louder without Jonathan around. There had been times where Alvin would scold his son’s disruptions, for it never occurred to him that these would one day be something he longed for. The tune began to play again, an ambient cazenda in its infancy. Alvin sunk back into his seat. His time with Jonathan became too organised back then, his visits squeezed into sporadic slots. Jonathan was borrowed, promised, negotiated. Susan could never quite take away their shared passion, however. Together they would sit- one man, one son, one player- as ballad after ballad frollocked into the afternoon breeze. Jonathan learnt to tap his feet just like his dad did. He’d seize each beat with a jerk of his head, golden curls bouncing, reciting lyrics with true dedication. Year by year their visits became sparser. It had been a while since Alvin last saw Jonathan. He had his own record player now.

Alvin’s room glowed bright orange as the day retired so that he could vividly see the dust in the air. He liked to think of the particles as dancers. The melody lowered in volume, exposing the song of a distant bird, no longer muffling out the drone-like hum of motor engines or the pitchy beeping of car horns. Alvin’s beloved needle traced the final scores of the record, the tempo was slowing now. Soon, there weren’t any notes left to trace. Though the turntable continued to spin, its tune could be heard no more. By now, Alvin’s hand had fallen slack, his tumbler of bourbon had fallen to the floor, its contents soaked into the fibres of the carpet. Try as it might, there was nothing else for Alvin’s gramophone to say.