He knew there was the one thing she wasn't going to tell him, and she didn't. Not yet.
Instead she said, "Play that song that makes me think of the sky," and he looked at the keyboard as if he'd never seen it before. "You know the one," she said. "The one with that little melody."
"They all have melodies," he said, scratching his head. Then he put his hands on the keys and sound came out of the piano like a cage of doves released. Music rose in circles and caressed her, and he saw her alight in images of white birds flying amid the stars. There was was little difference between music and life. He knew when he played something was born. It took him into the air, away from the apartment and the gravity of the world he loved.
He noticed a small snapping turtle walking across the living room carpet. It stopped and asked him directions, but he was busy playing and so said nothing. He was sorry to be rude.
The turtle called him a jackass and went on its way. Far away.
There were things to see so far away. Lights in the sky and places the rivers ran blue with the liquid soul of the earth. Once, aloft on a wave of curiosity, he almost forgot her and left, but she dragged him back. She always did.
"How do you do that?" she asked him, throwing back her head so her long hair reached the middle of her back.
He stopped playing and winced. She had a way of asking stupid questions in the middle of everything. It wrecked every sublime moment he could conjure. It stopped his thinking like a wrench in the spokes.
"What?" she said when the music stopped.
"Why do you have to do that?" he said, getting off the piano stool and walking toward the kitchen. Now he was sorry he'd told her he would help.
"I was just thinking how beautiful you play. Why can't I say that?"
He made a circuit of the kitchen following an invisible line around the cabinet baseboard. When he realized he wasn't going anywhere he stopped. She was making him a prisoner in the apartment. Why did he let her do it? It had gotten so he didn't recognize anything anymore. She was changing everything and he couldn't stop her. It had become her apartment. The jar was still on the mantle. He couldn't leave without it.
A shetland sheepdog puppy walked through the kitchen. It sat and stared at him. It barked once and then told him he was making a mistake. Someone wasn't going to like it.
He was going to tell it he knew when she interrupted him, as she usually did.
"Wait, stop," she said. She stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. "Brian. Stop."
When he couldn't evade her he stared into the dark circles in the center of her blue eyes. He knew if he looked hard enough he'd see a fire. There was one in everyone. All except him.
She drew him closer and kissed him, the wetness on his lips an unwelcome distraction from his searching. He pulled away.
She wanted to know what was wrong, and so he told her, "It's just not right. None of it."
"But you're still ready--right? Like we said."
Her hand ran up the inside of his leg until it could go no further. It tickled him and he turned away.
"Stop," he said, not wanting her to, but afraid to lose control. She made him forget everything important. He had to keep running it down in his mind like a pilot's checklist or he would drift away like dust.
First the music, then the fire. First the music, then the fire. If he thought hard enough he could remember when it was real. All life is music. Music is fire so all life is fire.
"That's right," she said. Must have heard him muttering to himself. "It will work. I promise. You're not yourself now. It's been a big change and there's a lot of doubt. You have to fight through this. Don't drift away. We'll make it work. I promise. I still love you. I'll never stop."
"There are so many distractions," he told her. "Things you can't see or hear. Stuff in my world..."
"Stay with me, honey. Don't leave." She dragged down the zipper on his jeans and eased her fingers down. "Stick with me. Concentrate, here," she said.
He didn't want to tell her he couldn't feel it anymore. But it made her happy so he went through the motions.
All the while angels sang anthems and cartoon dragons moped across animated sidewalks. She could see none of it.
When she had finished what she thought she had done she licked her lips and kissed him. The kiss was was warm and tasteless. Warm like fire far away.
The doorbell rang and she told him to be quiet.
"Don't attract attention. Just play that piece I like."
"And when the time is right..."
"Start the fire," she said. "Burn us."
So he sat on the piano stool, obediently, concentrating on the grain in the cabinet to keep himself from drifting. Drift too far and never come back was what he expected would happen. She wouldn't allow it. The jar was on the mantle and he couldn't lift it.
Mohandas Gandhi appeared briefly and wagged a finger.
Matthew kissed her when she let him in. It was long and passionate, and he would have been jealous if he'd remembered how.
He almost forgot to start playing the piano because a killer whale had started an interesting lecture on the migration patterns of Antarctic seals and was about to tell him where they went in the winter.
It was her glaring at him from the bedroom that got him to start playing the piano. It was Matt wondering what was in the jar and she telling Matt it was something special. Personal.
She wasn't going to tell him. She kept one thing from everyone.
He played as she undressed Matt, and she told him it was a player piano. Debussy. Ravel. Then he moved into something more modern. Copeland. Then Jools Holland and Elvis Costello. He was playing this while she knelt astride Matt's hips and threw her head back so her hair fell to the middle of her back.
Magilla the Gorilla walked past and stared at her making love with Matt. Brian shrugged when Magilla told him he'd always admired homo sapiens ability to have sex for longer than seven seconds.
Damn. He'd forgotten the fire.
He bolted from the piano stool, turned on the gas burners on the stove and blew out the flame. Then found the pack of matches and set the living room curtains alight.
"Do you smell smoke?" Matt said, but she kept him occupied long enough to make sure there was no way the flames would go out before the big natural gas explosion.
She just laughed between panting and sighing, then rolled on her back and let Matt have a chance on top.
"So tell me," Matt said. He could see them both clearly now because he was right beside them when the flames engulfed the room in a cacophony of his music. The music was fire and everything was burning. For some reason he seemed to be the only one who could feel it.
"Um, Mary?" he knelt beside the bed, sweltering in the heat.
Mary said, "What?" with her eyes closed.
Matt asked, "What's really in that thing on your fireplace?" his body glistening in sweat.
Brian asked, "What happens now?" as the flames licked his heels. Soon he had no feet. There was no pain when the flames engulfed him and he became the song she loved. When the room exploded she pulled him inside. He fluttered on waves of electric music that rose from a spot beneath her navel and radiated throughout her.
In a moment he was her, was Matt. Where he was it was tiny and dark.
"You're in for it now," said a blue fish.
Through the darkness he heard the matress squeak and felt the motion as Matt walked into the living room. "You're really freaky," Matt said, "but I have not had sex like that since--hell--I don't think I've ever had sex like that."
He felt her get up. He heard her say, "It's my husband's ashes. He died two years ago. He was playing piano in a bar. Someone started a fire. He couldn't get out." Her voice was like music.
And then a whisper meant just for him: "I love you."
He drifted away until nothing was left inside her but his soul in her womb.