'On Pause' by Karl A Russell


The CD was propped up on the mixing desk, watching as Sue emptied the studio. Her name was scrawled on its rainbowed face, in a hand made shaky and unfamiliar by medication and the pain it couldn't quite mask, but she refused to play it. She would glance at it slyly, unconsciously, a hundred times a minute, as she cleared the room around it, but for weeks it sat there. Waiting.

Until finally, after the auctions and agents and the magazines and moving vans, she was left alone in the house, in the barren studio. Alone with his last recording.

It was time.

She sat on the carpet, amidst the indentations of long gone guitar stands, watching the sunlight play across the disc, then pressed it into her notebook. It began to autoplay, but she hit pause before the first note. The journalists and fans were desperate for one last piece, even an unfinished demo, but she couldn't listen to it. One finger on the touchpad, she tried to understand why.

She remembered all the times he had played for her, all the lullabies he sang, all the doggerel and masterpieces he composed in their bed, just for her, right till the end. She thought of the tiny betrayal she had felt when her songs were on his albums, how other people could suddenly hear them on the radio, in the super market, on a fucking car commercial. This one was just for her again, for always, and it was terrifying.

What if it's nothing but anger and pain? she thought. What if he went down there with his morphine and his soundproofing and just howled at the sheer cosmic unfairness of it all?

Or maybe it was one of his arty jazz side projects, and she wasn't a smart enough musician to understand it?

It could even be a blank disc. What would she do if his final testament was white noise and reverb, and the songs he thought he sang were only ever in his head?

She twitched a finger, tapping the pad, starting the disc.

"Hey babe."

Tap. Pause.

I can't do this.

How could she listen to him singing goodbye?

How could she hear his voice, knowing that it was the last time?

How could she play it if it was a love song?

But then, how could she not?

Tap. Play.

"It's me."

No shit, she thought.

And then he started to play, and all thought went away.

Sue began to cry, and as he sang, she fell apart.

And in the end, it was pain and anger and calm and silence, rage and restraint and stupid jokes in between. It was everything she had hoped and feared.

It was a love song, a capital -L Love song and it didn't matter if it was just for Sue or for the whole world to share.

It was his song, and she knew she would sing it the rest of her days.

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