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Beethoven’s Fifth in C Minor

Story by Pete Stevens (Read author interview) June 22, 2015

Art by Karen Prosen

My husband doesn’t listen to the voice from my lungs or the nuance of my protest, only the music of California wine and Beethoven’s Fifth in C minor. He says it has to be the Fifth. He has rules, my husband. It was Beethoven at our wedding. It was Beethoven on the beach for our honeymoon. He says the Fifth is a cave to crawl into, that with each listen new cracks and gems are exposed. Now, tonight, he says it must be the Fifth when the other couple comes over. We are what they call hosts. We are to be sophisticated in our debauchery. We prepare our bodies with scented soaps and limbs shaved smooth. My husband walks from room to room with wine glass in hand, a Sonoma merlot, the Fifth following with him as he goes.

This is our first time opening ourselves to others. The couple on their way is experienced in manners of the flesh and with sharing, and they assured us that everything will be fine, without worry, a night of new beginnings. I am not so sure. And is it my fault? Probably yes. The song of my disdain was sung too softly, the notes discarded by my husband in a wash of wine and drips from his chin.

The lights have been dimmed, the second bottle ready on the table. My eyes say no. My heart sings unheard. I cannot say what I want to say to a husband who will not listen, who is convinced of his ways and of his decisions. Yes, it is true that a spark has been lost to the night. Yes, it is true that what we once had was fresh with possibility. Yet, how can the answer be my husband inside another woman while I watch? How can the answer be my wet lips pressed to a man I do not know?

The couple, younger, in their late twenties, is soon to arrive and my husband goes to the stereo and raises the volume. Beethoven fills the house like smoke from a fire. There is no escape. I suggest other music, maybe jazz. I say to my husband that jazz is sexy, mood music, that yes, Miles Davis, his trumpet is sex. My husband says jazz. He says please. He says that Beethoven’s Fifth is sex and life and death. He says the Fifth is perfect for our night, that the crescendo of strings will stoke the flames of our lust.

I hear a knock at the door through the music and my husband goes to answer. The couple waits, expecting, on the doorstep. They enter and bring with them the smells of foreign skin. This couple, they are not shy. They remove their coats with bright smiles and laughter, suggesting it should be more than coats coming off. Together we sit at angles along the couch in the living room. My husband pours wine and speaks in hushed tones. The woman, her skirt riding higher, tells my husband to be quiet. The Fifth gains speed, its teeth gnashing. I watch as she stands before my husband, as she lifts her skirt to show him her lace. She looks to me for approval and I shift in my seat, restless. I am not sure of my place or my role. I have no desire to dance for this other man, to show him inside. I stand with bottle in hand and continue to watch. The man removes his shirt, his chest thick with black hair. The woman straddles my husband and lowers her lips to his neck. I turn and walk away. None of the bodies on the couch notice my absence or my advance towards the stereo. The Fifth still climbs, ever higher, and I end it. I turn the knob until the beat of electronic dance music erupts from the speakers. I turn it up and up and up. The bass drums kick and snap with the pounding of my heart. I close my eyes and begin to dance, my hips rocking with the beat. It is then that my husband listens. It is then that he comes to me with palms upturned.

About the Author

Pete Stevens is the fiction editor at Squalorly. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at Blue Earth Review, Yemassee, Hobart, and Word Riot, among others. Currently, he is working towards his MFA in fiction at Minnesota State, Mankato.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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