You meet him your second day in Charleston. More so, perhaps, you meet his violin. He’s wearing a suit you imagine cost as much as a car. As he speaks to you, he’s still holding his violin: a red piece of wood with scratch marks and a faded veneer. You wonder at the abuse the instrument has taken but soon think these are not marks of abuse but marks of love—of devotion.
You’re in a place called the Charleston Grill. Waiters scurry like albino beetles in white shirts and dark slacks. The restaurant smells of butter and fish but mostly butter.
After the jazz quintet finishes their last set, you find out his name is Graydon Kelly and he would like to take you to dinner. At first, you think you should say no. He has that look about him: the thorn on the rose, the sugared rim of a poisoned glass.
When he shows up to your date, though, you reassess. He’s in a pastel linen button-down and torn jeans. He has on boat shoes, and his curly black hair is a mess. He smells like pine.
“Rosin,” he explains. Something to do with his violin.
He takes your hand and leads you to a table in the courtyard. His left hand is callused against yours. Outside, winding, wrestling fig vines grow up the exterior wall, illuminated by white twinkle lights that mimic the stars. He pulls out your chair and sighs into his seat.
He must notice you looking at him, because he smiles. “I look different when I’m not on stage.”
You fall into conversation, and it’s not the usual, polite, getting to know you babble. Graydon Kelly says odd, irresponsible things like, “You seem like you’re running from something” or “You have an amazing mouth” or the worst, “What do you think of me exactly?”
You only respond to the last comment: a terse, “I’m not sure.”
He walks you home in a rainstorm, leaving you both soaked on the crooked front porch of the yellow plantation house you rent. He smells like rain and marinara sauce with the lingering touch of pine. He tastes like tiramisu.
Later, in your bed, you find him conversational. He makes himself at home. He is comfortable with pillow talk, even with an almost stranger. Again, you doubt your assessments.
He seemed so dangerous in his dark suit at Charleston Grill but so playful in his boat shoes with his messy hair: almost innocent. His comfort in your bed, though, is his tell, his admission. He does this all the time. He makes love to women he doesn’t know because they ask him to, because of his violin and his face and the strange questions he spouts over champagne.
When you ask about a white scar on his rib cage, he tells you his father used to beat him. One day, his father broke his ribs. One poked through the skin. In Graydon’s words, the bone looked like “a stick dipped in marmalade.”
His honesty makes you awkward. You feel a need to share something, too, so you tell him you’ve been diagnosed schizophrenic. He doesn’t know what this means, not really, so you explain to him that you see things sometimes—children in white light on sidewalks; grown men covered in red scales. You tell him things have been better since the medication.
You expect him to leave, but he doesn’t. He stays until morning. You wake with his long appendages wrapped around you, his nose in your hair.
He spends more time at your house. He brings sheet music, composes. One day, as you bring him a cup of coffee, you see your name written in pencil at the top of a page. The sound of musical scales is omnipresent.
You tell him you love him months later, and he frowns. He says, “I told you not to fall in love with me.”
Due to your newly recognized emotions, you think Graydon Kelly will stop seeing you. Instead, the sex gets even better, almost as if he seeks to fulfill your emotional needs by giving you the gift of his skin.
You stop taking your meds and end up in a hospital. You had one of your hallucinations — a child surrounded by light, then nothing. When you open your eyes, you’re in an uncomfortable bed. Machines beep around you. Your head aches, and the violin player sleeps, slumped in a chair with his hand over yours.
You wake him with your voice, and he seems panicked. His light blue eyes dart around the room. He paces. He wants to know when you last ate.
His composition is finished by Christmas. It is, in fact, your Christmas gift. He named it for you, and he plays it with his eyes closed. He plays most music with his eyes closed. He says he likes to feel the notes. He says playing music is like drowning, like when you stay underwater too long and feel light-headed, high.
You begin to wonder how much he hides.
Some nights, you stare at yourself in the mirror. You wonder why he chose you. Of all the women in Charleston, he chose to love you.
At your wedding, he plays the song he wrote for you. He pays the big bucks to get you a suite at Charleston Place for your wedding night. In your fervor to remove his suit and find him, just him, underneath, you forget the condom.
When you tell him you’re pregnant, he worries his bottom lip. You think he’s going to tell you to get rid of the child. He can’t be a father. Of course he can’t. He travels and plays late and drinks too much. As you prepare yourself, though, he leans over in bed and rests his head on your stomach.
He says, “I think I hear Bach.”
Graydon Kelly is a wonderful father, despite everyone’s expectations. He was playing a show in Columbia when you went into labor. He missed Angela’s birth by five minutes but rushed in, hair askew, sweat on his brow, and took your newborn daughter in his hands like a Stradivarius.
He gets more handsome with age, and you didn’t think that possible. He fills out a little. You enjoy the way his chest expands, the way he makes you feel smaller, smaller. There is less of you now, more of him. You love him more than you love your daughter. You would die for him, kill for him. Sometimes you think you never should have agreed to that first date.
But then, he starts composing again, and when composing, he looks like a scungy frat boy. He goes from thirty-eight-year-old celebrity violinist to backwards cap-wearing, finger-chewing, forgets-to-shower little boy. You love him the most when he’s like this. Then comes a new song, and you love him more, more.
Angela grows. Graydon decides she will learn piano. She looks just like her father. You feel as though there is none of you in her, as though his dominant features suppressed your own. Your features linger in your empty uterus.
Since they adjusted your medication, you don’t see the demons or angels anymore. There are no children showered in white light waiting in corners. There are no slinking men with red scales and yellow eyes. No more hospital visits.
You think you are happy. You watch Graydon play with Angela in your backyard. She already far surpasses her piano teacher’s expectations. The little girl has long, black hair that curls around her pale neck. She has her father’s fleeting smile, his long fingers. She has his glowing blue eyes.
When he’s on stage at the Charleston Grill, he doesn’t look at you because he enjoys the slow suffocation his violin allows. When he is at home, he stares at you, adores you. Then, he looks away. You often wonder if you’ve really stopped seeing things. Don’t you?