A simple premise; a bold promise To present one story per day,
every day—providing exceptional authors with exposure
and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

Today's Story by Frank Holland

She confronted the two men. “Why are you two so mean tonight? What happened?”

The Far-Off Music

Her hair dangled in a wave over one eye, hiding it. Beth smiled at her drink, as she lifted it toward her mouth but stopped. She laughed at the glass, and then looked up. The room seemed darker. She turned from the bar to Ronnie and measured distance between his face and hers.

Someone intercepted, a customer whose name she forgot. He kissed her on the cheek. “Hi! Where’s your friend tonight? Cynthia, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. She went somewhere tonight. With Eddie.”

“You’re kidding!”

“To a play, I think.”



“Oh-oh.” Then he was gone.

The jukebox was playing far off it seemed, a pale blue light glowing to the outer rim of curving glass which shielded the records. Beth savored a sensory shower that bathed her with the clink of bottles, the squeak of duckboards under the bartender’s feet behind the bar, and then the pulling sweep from the front door, as it shut automatically behind one of the last customers to leave, all blending in with the music as if in a movie. She let her smiling lips open, her tongue moving, speaking words like the lyrics of the song playing; yet only a parody came forth. Her own creation: “I took a nee-dle be-cause I needed — nee-dled it” — nonsense chatter that caused her to giggle again.

Her face brushed against the rough serge of Ronnie’s coat lapel. It left face powder, which she tried to brush off. Her drink was spilling too. Large growing, glowing silent spots appeared on her blue dress. Watered silk. –Whiskey and watered silk. She laughed again. Everything was so hilarious tonight. She poked her nose against his shirt, teasing the cold white buttons there. Had he worn a four-in-hand instead of a bowtie, she would not have felt the buttons, like cold raindrops. She rubbed her cheek against them, as if they were doing the touching, and she was a soft kitten rubbing against someone for affection.

Ronnie leaned down. His warm breath came through the hair over her ear. “Let’s go.”

“Wait until I finish my drink.” She held it up, squinted, studying it. Melting ice was filling the drink. “Roll on, O deep and mighty river, a blue — jukebox-blue — river light. Hang a glass of sparkle on the rudder, for a taillight, as we sail along down the old mill stream.”

“It’s five to four, baby. Drink up.”

She nodded, closing her eyes, bowing her head toward the drink in subjection. “Van Gogh, man, go.”

As the door opened, the triangles of napkins along the shelf behind the bar moved; they waved in the sea breeze. Or was that from the sigh, coming from Ronnie? She told him, “I’m drinking, see?” He was watching the front door. And that stirred the shelf paper again, reversing the cloud of cigarette smoke.

His voice rumbled, balking about something. He grumbled: “Cynthia just came in.”

She touched his chin, smelling shave lotion. “You shouldn’t feel how you do, Ronnie; she’s nice, very nice. You just have to understand her, that’s all.”

The clicking high heels stopped, as Cynthia leaned toward Beth’s left ear. “Come on. You’re coming home with me.”

Beth blinked to refocus, but then reclined again into the relaxation she felt before. But it was jarring. Something was spoiling it now, too late to try to swim back up the waterfall. Maybe salmon could, but not her. Coming home with– “Why? What happened?”

Ronnie was leaving, going toward the door marked GUYS. And Cynthia diphthonged a word: “Come ah-on!” Like some petulant ten-year-old in grade school. But she was over twenty-one now, old enough to know better. Cynthia stood, leaning forward, and clutching the top of her blouse together. Buttons were missing. She shouldn’t do that, wear things like– It wasn’t like Cynthia, not at all. Even her face. The eyes were dripping; the ends of her mouth were turned up, like she was laughing. Only she wasn’t. Why do some people suddenly look like they are laughing when really they’re crying? It’s very confusing. Very mixed up. Like they never learned how to do it correctly.

Then Cynthia was leaving too, walking away, the same way Ronnie did. And the room, everything, was withdrawing, abandoning Beth, with a click-click-click of high heels.

As Beth got up, for steadiness she held onto the bar’s edge. She left the stool and hurried haphazardly, following the departing figure.

She shivered as cold air poured over her. She nearly tripped over that annoying single step down to the sidewalk. “Where are we going?”

Cynthia let go her hand then. She tugged her coat around her shoulders like a cape. And for a moment Beth saw the seam of Cynthia’s sleeve was ripped open. Not at all like impeccable Cynthia. Or was it Cynthia?

She was waving her other hand at passing cabs. All were occupied. And Cynthia’s face dissolved in rain, smears of red and black, rolling away in individual directions like a Van Gogh landscapes. Clockwise? Or would he have painted counterclockwise, had he been born in the southern hemisphere? Or no. Down there it was clockwise. Only up here did hurricanes and tornadoes, even water in the sink drain counterclockwise in whirlpools of eddying–

“Eddie!” Cynthia almost choked on the name as she said it, or on her own liquid — tears and saliva. “Don’t you know what happened?” It was an accusation. And she seemed to be blaming Beth.

“Eddying?” Whirlpools again.

“Yes. And you said he wouldn’t. You said he was safe.”


Cynthia’s face dissolved again in strokes of paint — fierce eyes, streaks of red and blue, a dot of white at the bottom, near the lower lid. “You told me they all were OK, nice and friendly. They just kid with you, come up behind and hug you tight, and kiss your neck, playfully. Behind your ear. Buy you drinks and never– All innocently. Nothing beyond that! Yes. Like big brothers. That’s what you said. Well, you’re wrong!”

The cab door opened in front of them. Cynthia asked from the interior, “Are you getting in or not?” But her look said no, don’t.


“Goodbye then!” The door slammed shut, and the cab flew off, expelling exhaust fumes behind it.

The bar door opened and Ronnie came out, Eddie with him. A distant sound of music hummed from inside until the door shut again. She hadn’t seen Eddie till now. He held his head down, sort of ashamed, or maybe hiding the fact that he was not ashamed.

Ronnie asked, “She go home alone?”

Beth nodded.

“Maybe you should have gone with her.”

“What happened?” Turning to Eddie: “Why?”

Ronnie said, “I’ll walk you to the subway.” He took her arm. But she winced. “Ow!” A tender spot somewhere ached.

She confronted the two men. “Why are you two so mean tonight? What happened?” But she followed. Ronnie was looking down at the gutter. Wind was blowing about like feathers or bits of torn paper blowing in counterclockwise direction. She felt her feet moving forward automatically, not with any effort from her. Or was it the sidewalk moving instead, and she, hurrying to keep up with it? The world — the whole world — was moving, but too fast.

She tried to smile, to enjoy it. Then the pain again. It never hurt before; now it did. And maybe the music of the spheres…. She thought for a moment she could still hear it playing. And she wondered suddenly whether the world spun clockwise or counterclockwise; because if it did, from which angle were you supposed to see it, from what perspective? And who was there to decide that?


Frank Holland has had several short stories published by periodicals including Cicada, The MacGuffin, Oyez Review and Pleiades.


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page.