In a way he lived on—in the chaos, in our groans as we wakened that black night in our dorm. Operatic anguish: clanging cymbals, wailing voice, brassy blats that brought us staggering heavy-limbed up to our feet. Just noise to us: something to kill with a switch. So before we knew it, we, three of us, were thumping down the hallway, rattling the doorknob, taking turns bawling at the little glinting peephole—imagining him behind it, the scrawny creep smirking—as we pounded the door that just yesterday we wouldn’t touch, that we’d never opened since the day he moved in, a late arrival, amid hushed rumors last fall.
Now, eight years later, I’m in a strange city, alone after a breakup (my fault, of course), seated in the balcony of a large and famous concert hall. I’m here on a whim after reading a write-up on Wozzeck, a hellish-sounding opera based on a play by Georg Büchner, wondering ever since, Could it be … ? So now, over halfway into it, quavery woodwinds make my neck prickle; bright ailing horns and I’m sure of it; a ghoulish “Blut!” and I’m back in my college dorm’s hallway, but this time before his room I know it’s empty, there’s just this unleashed music, mad and urgent, then strangely yearning, and in the heart of it, I know there’s an unburied message. But is it Berg’s, the composer’s, as humiliations in the army burned through him? Büchner’s whose friend was captured and died? Or is it the pull of two doe eyes fixed on me—eyes that didn’t move me, didn’t wake me, that still haunt me so in a way he lives on?
Since receiving an MFA from Wichita State University, Stephen Delaney has taught English and writing and currently works as a freelance editor. His fiction, articles, and book reviews have appeared in, among other places, The Writer, Euphony, Gingerbread House, Blink-Ink, New World Writing, Phantom Drift, and The Believer. He tweets as @smallestwords.