“I don’t like jazz.”
“Well, you don’t have to listen.”
“But I’m working in here, and I want to listen to some music — just not jazz.”
“Have you got any better suggestions?”
“How about Bach?”
“I prefer Count Basie.”
For months now — almost from the day they got home from their honeymoon — these petty little control dramas had been happening. At first it was only a few times a week. Now it seemed like there was no exchange between them that was not about power. Dominance.
Which lamp to turn on. How much coffee to put in the French press. Who’d opened the milk carton. Unloading the dishwasher.
Early on he’d believed these were true negotiations, the growing pains of a fledgling relationship. He wasn’t sure when he’d realized that it was the norm, that she liked it, and that his one and only role to play was submissive. She would play cat-and-mouse with anything important to him, simply to establish, again and again, that she was the master.
She was the predator, his desires, his possessions, his entire life, hers for the taking.
It’s unnatural. The words seemed whispered from a dark corner of his mind. He felt his spine stiffen.
“Not on my record player!”
Emmet crossed the study to the corner where his newly acquired, vintage hi-fi sat on its own small table. He used his sleeve to rub a smudge from its clear square cover. He’d searched for ages for an instrument worthy of his vinyl collection, something equal to the magnificence of Wagner, Mahler, Beethoven. Its pristine condition made it the rarest of finds, and he wanted it dedicated only to the sublime vibrations of his favorite composers.
“If you want to hear any music while you work in here, you’ll have to let me choose,” Amy said. She had a few albums of classical. She’d always enjoyed Mozart, and he’d given her some exquisite LPs for her birthday last year — a celebration of their shared love for the perfect imperfection of non-digital sound, as well as a small effort to shepherd her tastes more toward his own.
“But why? Why is it so important to you?”
“Because the records are mine,” each word a shard of ice, her back to him.
It was true. Amy owned all the records in the apartment. Emmett’s collection was still en route with the rest of their things being shipped from Chicago.
Controlling bitch. The venom behind the words shocked him.
“Come on, Amy,” he purred, pushing away the rising tide of rage, trying to soften her. “You didn’t want to listen to anything at all until I suggested it. Please let me choose something so I can get back to work.”
“Emmet. You have every right to use your record player at any time of the day or night.” Her voice had that maddening, chirping quality it took on when she knew she was winning. Sharp, it sliced into his brain. He knew a headache was coming. “But for now, if you want to hear anything while it’s on, you’ll have to play whatever I say you can. And tonight it’s jazz. Or nothing.”
She was used to getting her own way, had no reason to expect anything different this time. He’d spent the last two years supporting her every interest, the hobbies she flitted between while he prowled the world of forensic accounting, methodically performing audits and, from time to time, pouncing on embezzlers or the criminally incompetent. It’s not that he expected gratitude for being their sole source of income — not really; but a little consideration here and there? Some small gesture to show that he meant more to her than a paycheck, an advantageous marriage, a chance to rebel against her parents by marrying someone outside the flock of silver-spoon suitors they’d selected for her.
His stomach rumbled. He glanced at the clock on the shelf — a beautiful porcelain time piece that had been passed down to him from his great-grandmother. He loved old things. They gave him a sense of gravity, stability — nothing like Amy’s preference for flying all over the place (at great expense) and collecting the latest shiny object that caught her attention, only to end up leaving it in a box in a closet, forgotten.
Lunch was a long time ago, and Emmet was hungry.
His head was pounding now, too. Amy was talking, though he wasn’t listening.
Perhaps getting married had been a mistake. She was so beautiful, so fresh and alive. He wanted to keep her and cherish her, a precious new addition to his life. He knew that, for her, he had merely been a chance to shock her parents, whose expectations stifled her sense of independence. He’d been convinced that he could keep her happy even so, and dedicated himself to the task.
Lately it had been worse than usual. She found the most excruciating ways for him to prove his devotion. Testing his desire to prove that they could beat the odds, make it work, defy tradition, breeding, instinct.
This move from Chicago, for instance. Thinking about everything he was leaving behind made him tremble.
His sort aren’t right for us, her mother had said. It might be exciting at first, but he’ll turn on you!
Amy had just trilled her high laugh and turned her back on her family.
She was still talking. Chattering on about possessions — dear God, was she proposing that his new record player was actually hers? Is that where she was heading now?
Emmet felt his muscles tense, and the back of his neck prickled.
Maybe her mother was right, after all. Maybe they had been foolish idealists.
He looked at Amy. Small yellow beak, gold-green feathers, like a summer morning. So fresh. So tender.
He noticed his mouth was wet, and licked his lips. His claws unsheathed, and he flexed them behind his back.
“All right, Amy,” he rumbled, somewhere between a purr and a growl.
The new sound in his voice startled her. “You mean it?” she made her voice sweet, light, innocent. “I can have it?”
Her back was still to him. He knew she wouldn’t turn until she had what she wanted. He stepped carefully, silently around the half-unpacked boxes between them.
“Sure,” he whispered, like snake’s breath.
“Oh Emmet!” she whirled around to face him, wings fluttering girlishly at her side. Their eyes met and he held her gaze hypnotically.
Amy just had time to think that, after all, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik would have been a pleasant thing to listen to after dinner.Start writing here…
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