Forty-Five by Ulee Edwards

Thwump, thwump, thwump, thwump

The record player’s arm jumps at the end of the spiraled midnight groove. Bass thumps flicker from the needle, reverberating through the studio apartment. The repetitious beat sets a monotonous soundtrack to the lethargic morning. An occupied mattress sits on a hardwood floor. A light breeze and warm eastern sunlight radiate from the single-paned window. Contrasting warm and cool sensations cause Aaron’s naked body to burst into goosebumps. Aside from the sheet strung across Aaron’s midsection, a sleeping lover in a cocoon of hoarded blankets is the only source of warmth. The bombardment of senses causes eyelids to flutter as ears catch up to a groggy brain.

THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP

The six feet to the record player seem impossible from deep within the silken-sheeted comfort of the bed. The automatic arm, still refusing to budge, taunts Aaron. Persistent low-pitched heartbeats eventually stir enough motivation. Aaron’s knees creak as they swing to the side of the mattress. Insecurity strikes as the realization of nakedness sinks in. What the candlelit room hid last night is maximized by the white light of day. Carelessness has worn away over the years, replaced with an old-aged reason. Nonetheless, a shrug and discarded caution set a course for the turntable.

THWUMP, THWUMP…

Aaron lifts the record arm to cease the droning. Standing in a mindless morning stupor, jumbled pieces are set into rightful places. Elation hits as the mind grasps the prior evening’s outcome.

“She” came back to the apartment.

Rosemary, Aaron’s late-night companion, has been an object of affection for quite some time. Her friendship is held with high regard, but further intimacy has afflicted Aaron’s thoughts of late. Apprehension about advancement has also plagued thoughts. Desires for Rosemary are intense, but deeper roots hinder progress. The endless repetition of self-destructive action that led to the solitary company of a vinyl collection instigates doubt.

The end seems near, within reach. Bonds seem to regress at the mere thought of her. Each time her name is heard aloud, the surrounding air feels warmer, almost sweeter. “She” feels different, though, without sensible explanations. This one is special. More than just a widowed mother of two, her gentle, paper-thin soul feels like a kindred spirit who has loved, lost and hopes to love again.

Aaron stands in the aftermath with absolutely no idea what to do now. Dreams seem less real when close to acquisition than on a distant precipice. Intoxicated with anxiety, a decision with no sense of fashion is made. Worn, thin sweats slide over Aaron’s lower half. A look down ignites instant regret, but with the rustling coming from the bed, the point of no return is breached. An unreasonable shyness overcomes Aaron, and fleeing to the embrace of warm sounds brings familiar comfort.

With quieted steps, Aaron walks back to the shelf where the enshrined turntable resides. The clear, rectangular case lifts open on hinges like a treasure chest of gold. The weighted record adapter is placed on the spindle. A swift flick slides the switch from the number 33 to the number 45. Like a surgeon’s, a deft hand rifles through a milk crate filled with 7-inch singles. One-hit wonder after wonder flip past astute eyes and nimble fingertips. Band names go by: The Cars, The Specials, The Sonics. Random stereo song titles: “Sukiyaki,” “Relax” and “Cool Shake.” Names speak volumes with four letters: Dion, Nena and Devo. Paper brands of primary colors and logos: Sun, Motown and Chess.

Aaron pretends to peruse with silly self-delusion. Honestly, there was no real option. It was decided once the adapter was set in place. The same song plays every morning when the mind turns to her. Knowing fingers dance over the stacks toward its precise location.

The constant clicking of record-rummaging rouses the redhead from sleep. Lifting her bed-headed crown from the pillow, Rosemary greets the sun with stiffened neck. She rubs her aches away and looks around the room through hungover eyes. Like a bag of bricks, last night comes to light. A mix of embarrassment and fear wash over her, leaving her with butterflies—no regrets, just uncertainty. The rushing thoughts climax as she looks to the person going through a pile of records on the floor.

Her rousing has gone unnoticed as the phonophile appears compelled. With all the hours of conversations they shared, this vinyl obsession never came up. Have we always talked about me? Rosemary thinks to herself. She recalls talking about her kids in college and how they never call. Countless confessions of awkward blind dates set up by annoying colleges. Confided consultations about her late husband and how she still can’t bring herself to say his name aloud. Have I been that self-obsessed? she wonders. Ashamed, she feels the need to flee to a safe place and hide her nakedness. Rosemary stands beside the bed and steals the sheet to cover up. Deliberately, she clears her throat to gain attention.

Aaron welcomes the interruption from the bed. The search pauses. After turning at the waist, eye contact and an unsure moment is shared between the two. Crossed legs adjust toward her to give full attention. Rosemary breaks eye contact with a smirk and a look to the floor. A muffled giggle is Aaron’s only response. In awkward unison, they fill the space between with a colloquial “good morning.” If they weren’t already folded, Rosemary would see Aaron’s uncontrolled, shaky knees.

“Which way to the bathroom?” Rosemary asks with a cute raised tone at the end of the question.

Aaron answers, “Well, we’ve only got three doors.” A finger directs her toward the far wall. “That one is for the closet, and the one to the right is the exit.” The finger swings back behind her. “And the one near the kitchen is the bathroom.” Rosemary makes her choice and goes through the bathroom door, closing it behind her. After a few seconds, the sound of a faucet at a slight trickle comes through the door.

Aaron’s pursuit continues as discs go by: Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum,” Jacqueline Taïeb’s “Bravo,” James Brown’s “Out of Sight.” Stylings of folk, rock, yé-yé and ska fly by until finally the record is found. It’s a rare single from Trojan Records circa 1978 with “Lloyd Miller” printed in bold lettering on an orange circular label. A dampened rag, stained with ancient dust, wipes the record’s veins with refined care. Finessed folds capture music within. Love for old-fashioned analog sound is clear in Aaron’s actions. Light scratches are examined closely. Though these imperfections may blemish, they give a deep warmth to the sound that can never be replicated by ones and zeros. Each scuff tells a tale of devoted listening. A small, square sticker of the number “19” is stuck crookedly on the center ring, indicating that this was once part of a jukebox’s ensemble. It’s a hidden gem lost amid a sea of dust. Long ago, somebody somewhere saved it from forgotten time. Eventually it found its way to appreciative, loving hands. Lips push together and a light breath dries the vinyl. It’s ready to play. The single slides over the silver adapter and the arm moves into place, setting the platter to its 45 rotations per minute. With a delicate touch, the needle lands at the edge of the disc, catching waves that take it to its center. The reggae-styled sounds of upstroke electric burst from their entrapment. Bouncing bass and three-piece drums shadow the offbeat tempo. A singing voice from the past comes on.

She ain’t got no money

Her clothes are kinda funny

Her hair is kinda wild and free

Oh, but love grows where my Rosemary goes

And nobody knows like me

 

Rosemary shuffles into the bathroom with an aura of awkwardness and closes the door behind her. On the inside of the bathroom door, a full-sized mirror reflects without lying. She drops the sheet and stares at the naked woman before her. Examining her pudgy belly, fingers trace stretch marks that decorate her waist like a road-map reminder of motherhood.

Who would find this appealing? she argues to no one. Self-deprecation fills her heart, but her bladder still needs emptied. Due to the proximity of the bathroom to the bedroom, she sets the sink to trickle in hopes of masking the sounds of splashing into the toilet. With no need to unbutton her pants, she sits to relieve herself. She has only her inconveniently intimate mirrored self to look at. Doing the best she can, she fixes her hair, frustrated with her frumpy look. With a pinkie moistened by a licked tongue, she dabs at the corners of her eyes to fix smeared mascara. She whispers to herself, “Just look at this mess.” Grabbing a couple of tissue squares, she cleans up. Siting for a moment to reflect, she analyses the situation. Having never done this before, she feels continuing excitement and fear.

Suddenly, like distant thunder, a needle striking vinyl cracks. The sweet sounds of reggae echo into the tiny bathroom. Rosemary has never been much of a fan, but who doesn’t love Bob Marley? That was the extent of her reggae knowledge. It sounded lovely to her. She had always preferred trying new things over repetition of the same…but then the singing comes in. Her ears prick to the familiar lyrics, and Rosemary’s past arises.

Though the artist is unknown to her, the song is well-known. This is “Love Grows.” But that’s not the complete title, is it? she inquires of herself. The most important part of the title is in the parentheses: “Love Grows (Where my Rosemary Goes).” That was the full title. Did I mention the importance of this song to Aaron? She considers. Shaking her head, she decides she would never have brought it up in conversation. The fact that it was “their” song made the topic unlikely to have been spoken aloud. The original version of this song was her late husband’s request when he wanted to make her feel special. To be honest, she always felt this song was part of his attraction for her. He even mentioned it on their first date.

She had no knowledge of the song or the band Edison Lighthouse, but by the end of that date, she became a reluctant expert. She still remembers the funny way he told the story. He was always so bad with names and could never get his facts straight; he just knew the vague details. The late Sixties or early Seventies—he knew it was in that broad spectrum. Over the many times he told the story, the location would change. Sometimes it was London while on other occasions, the generalized Great Britain. Those digressions aside, he continued: A group of songwriters, whose names he never even attempted to remember, wrote a hit song released by the group Edison Lighthouse, a band in name only. As the single started ascending the charts, a band was formed for television performances. The studio singer did appear with the band, but the lineup changed members over the couple of times they appeared on television. Essentially the band never truly existed. Why he thought that was such a great story was beyond Rosemary’s logical brain. The interest wasn’t in the content, but in the way he told it. It was one of the many quirks she fell in love with. He had such an immense passion for music…and that was reflected in his record collection.

Emotions come on strong as she attempts to stifle tears. It’s been so long but the music brings it all back to the surface. She grabs a tissue and wipes the creases of her eyes. Tossing the tissue in the toilet, she pulls down on the lever. Before the tank can refill, she wraps the sheet back around her, takes a breath and exits with a full heart.

Aaron hears the toilet flush and readies for interaction. Was it too presumptuous to play this song? The song spoke of love with Rosemary, but this was too early in a relationship to speak of love‐if this were even a relationship. Has the cycle of implosion begun again? Aaron fears. Before properly mental preparation can occur, Rosemary enters the room with a smile. She walks toward Aaron, her step skipping in time with the song’s beat.

“You like the song?” Aaron asks hesitantly. Rosemary’s face fills with reminiscence and she nods without words. Aaron’s nerve cracks, and a string of unimportant knowledge bursts from Aaron’s mouth. “This song is actually a cover. The original was released by a band called Edison Lighthouse.” Aaron begins to rethink the topic, but the opportunity to revise it has passed. “And I say ‘released’ because the band never recorded the song. In fact, Edison Lighthouse never truly existed.” Aaron spouts fact after fact about the history of the song as it continues its spin on the record player. “One of the songwriters also wrote the song ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ by The Foundations. A side-noted fun fact: ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ and ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ were both used in Farrelly Brothers movies.” Aaron continues his stream of interesting but useless knowledge.

Though she has no clue who the Farrelly brothers are, she gives no indication that she’s any less enthralled. She enjoys the not-so-fun facts, listening to every word and never missing a single beat. Her heart begins to swell without control. An overabundance of feelings she hasn’t known for quite some time takes control of her body. The song begins to fade as Aaron finishes the story in perfect time with the music. As the last stanza whimpers away, Aaron feels the need to fill the gap of sound and asks sincerely, “Any requests?”

With no expectations or thought, Rosemary throws both her arms around Aaron’s neck. What should’ve been awkward feels instantly natural to Aaron. Accepting Rosemary’s hug, she pulls her in closer with the clutching of hips. Aaron relaxes as past anxieties melt away in the warm grip of new beginnings. Rosemary consents to herself with a newly acquired resolution to let herself be happy again. Each second that passes narrows the divide between friends and lovers. Long ago, they loved like there was no tomorrow; in the light of a new day, they’ve learned to love anew. Without worrying about etiquette or mixed signals, the women reciprocate craved embraces.

Inescapable momentum compels kisses shared by gentle lips. They drop gently onto the bed. Tenderly, as the needle reaches the end of its groove, they make love to the sound of beating hearts.

            Thwump, thwump, thwump, thwump