Category B: Second Place (2021) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Jessica Oon
Title: A song of love
Have you ever noticed that after every storm there’s a break of sunlight? I was soaked through, my hair sticking to my forehead and my clothes clinging close. I couldn’t move and yet, that’s what I chose to focus on. Rays of sunlight creeping into the car, refracting off the droplets on the rearview mirror. They showcased the line of blood carving its way down my brother’s face.
The therapist recommended a journal.
“It’ll serve as an outlet for your feelings.” She’d glanced at me with concern as she placed the brown leather notebook into my hands. I’d immediately dropped it, recoiling away and racing from the room as the memories rushed back to me.
A spiral notebook falling out of my brother’s backpack as he packed for university, a stack of papers covered in coffee stains on his bedside table, a brown leather notebook hastily slipped under my door as a peace offering after an argument, a sticky note had been stuck on the top:
For your thoughts.
I had always loved to write poetry and had tried my hand at songs. I wasn’t particularly musically gifted but the words came to me, sometimes in neat and tidy verses, sometimes in long winding threads of phrases. The rhyme and rhythm seemed to put my tangled string of feelings into order. I liked that.
But, I hadn’t been able to write since he left me.
I dug the leather notebook out from the pile of papers it had been buried under after I’d thrown it back in my brother’s face.
“You can’t bribe me into forgiving you.” I’d crossed my arms, glaring at where it’d landed.
“Ice cream then?” He’d grinned like an idiot, I’d frowned.
His grin had only widened at my words.
“Hasn’t stopped you before.”
And then, he was driving and I was screaming along to the radio while he tapped his fingers absentmindedly on the steering wheel. A perfect memory cut apart by tragedy and a sleepy truck driver.
As I held the leather notebook in my hands and I could feel the regret building, the rain coming in sheets, relentlessly hitting the windscreen of my composure. I flicked through the notebook, hoping the empty lines would calm me. Instead, my eyes caught on a few that had already been filled.
A single heartbeat on a screen, unlike anything I’d ever seen. A partner in crime built just for me, a lighthouse in the dark when I’m lost at sea. A quiet treasure they all dismissed her, but I know that there is nobody quite like my sister.
I laughed at the cliche words, my tears painting a messy pattern of grief across the page. Then, I noticed that under the words were chords.
He loved his guitar, neverending chords pouring from his fingers that grated on my nerves during exam season and soothed me afterwards. He didn’t have much of a way with words, however, and as much as he loved to sing, he couldn’t write a song to save his life. Still, it never stopped him from always having some form of paper on him to scribble corny love song lyrics onto.
On the next page there were words scrawled messily in a different coloured pen, as if they were an afterthought.
Help me finish it off?
The garden was beautiful, especially on the day I visited in Summer. The flowers bloomed and the trees danced in the wind. It was a scenery worthy of a painting, placed on a clear blue sky as a backdrop. However, the painter had added slashes of varying shades of gray across the grass, perfectly cut stone embedded into the ground.
I walked up to my brother’s grave.
“Hey Desmond.” I cleared my throat, dislodging the words caught there. “I um… I brought you something.”
I reached down to open the guitar case that lay by my side. His guitar case.
“I wrote that song. It’s probably not exactly what you envisioned but I tried,” I scratched the back of my head awkwardly, “Anyway… I hope you like it.”
I sat down cross legged on the grass and arranged my hands over the strings, the frets as familiar to me as close friends. Learning guitar so I could finish writing my brother’s song had been a way to stay close to him. The painful blisters had healed and strengthened overtime right along with my heart. I did a quick tuning and finally, looking back at his gravestone, I took a deep breath and sang.
I sang about a brother who held me when I cried over break ups, I sang about a brother who gave me the last slice of pizza, I sang about a brother who loved his sister enough to write her a corny song. I sang about siblings balancing a plate of cake between them on their knees. Whispering into the small hours of the night, gorging themselves on sugar as the world slept on. I sang about escaping boring family dinners together, covering for each other’s mistakes, fighting over the tiniest things and making up right after.
Most of all, I sang about love. The first love that we both learnt, the love we had for each other that nothing could ever come between or break, not even death.
And I kept singing. I sat there and sang until my voice was hoarse and the sun sank low in the sky. I sang that song at my graduation, imagining my brother clapping for me in the front row the entire time. When I had children of my own, it was their first love song, teaching them about the power of the love that siblings can have for each other and letting my brother’s love for me live on in their memories as well as mine.
It was that love that brought me through my storm of grief. Into the sunlight once again.