Lake Effect, Volume 27: "Murder Ballads"

Murder Ballads

By Aimee Parkison

     Sometimes his songs flowed like the river, cutting through the forest, and sometimes you could enter the songs like the rooms of familiar houses where you lived long ago. Falling in love with the fiddle player meant strange houses became familiar in song, though you never ventured inside until he fiddled the doors open. 
     Just by playing the fiddle, he told you what he wanted more than he could say with words. He played for hours, which took strength and skill. He played until sweat ran down his long-wet hair on the tavern stage as if he had been drenched in rain. 
     Later, you would lick the sweat off his eyelids, knowing how jealous women and girls would become since he could kiss you by playing his fiddle. He could work you over without touching your body, stroking you with sound. You often wondered if it were a game he played, then you realized this was no game. He was doing it to other women. 
     Sometimes when he sang songs, he sang the dead alive so you knew them better than you knew the living, his sisters singing along, gazing into your eyes until you wanted to be a singer, to be some sort of musician so you could be part of their world where the dead breathed through song.  
     You became the rattler. The girls gave you a rattle so you could shake it, twitching into garden. Going into song with your rattle was the most exciting thing you ever did, stepping on stage with them at the barn dances like trespassing until you realized you were part of the band, dancing. 
     The dead danced shadows for him and for you and for the music he wanted to haunt. To join them on the road at night, as the van drove the highway, you stroked his long chestnut hair, fingers strumming his beard as he slept. 
     Careful, careful now, his sisters whispered with their eyes as night became morning. He needs to sleep through dawn since he works the stage into tavern light. 
     This is the moment you realize he trusts you enough to fall asleep in your arms and has given you the gift of loving you enough to let you cradle him even as he sleeps, to trust you to hold him sleeping as you watch his eyes darting beneath his lids while wondering if he dreams of you. 
     One night when he’s sleeping with his head resting on your lap, his older sister tells you their mother was strangled by their father in a drunken rage. Never speak of her because they saw her die, the other sisters warn, though they speak of her at night while he sleeps until you make the mistake of reminding the older sister what was said and she claims you are mistaken. This moment becomes another forgotten memory because his murder ballads are love songs where the mother is unwritten, her face gazing through the van’s dark windows.