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The Bard's Wife
flash fiction by Rostislava Pankova-Karadjova
She’s sitting alone at the second to last row of empty chairs in the dim foyer where the poetry readings are. I wonder where I’ve seen her—is she a doctor, a nurse, one of James’s therapists? Her sneakers, like the white paws of a black cat, are the single diversion from her black jeans, black puffer jacket, the black-rimmed glasses under her yellow hair, and no makeup, not even lipstick to hide her age.
I can’t see her hands; she’s sitting on them with her shoulders hunched up as though worried she’ll be found out, while her husband, the Bard, tells us a story about how, recently, he nearly died—how many times he thought, they thought, That’s it!, and even called his children to say goodbye—and I feel her horror in the way she shifts and her face locks, my sympathy not for him but for her, because it’s her story too and he’s telling it for laughs, probably hoping we’ll buy his album that he didn’t make for the money but for the legacy, right? He talks about the full-sized mirror in their guest bedroom where he works while they fix his studio —because there’s still music in him, he explains, songs that still need to come out—so, he’s looking in the mirror wondering who’s this old man that had swallowed a whale and lost a tooth, and we finally laugh, she laughs too, and I see she’s young, so much younger than him.
He sings and his voice is rich and raspy, a Neil Diamond and Tom Waits, a midnight dark-chocolate-with-chilli voice, and I sense it, I feel why she loves him—the real him and not the memory of loving him—this Bard that’s entertaining us with tales of old fame and songs he doesn’t change the chords fast enough for, forgets the words and chuckles that he can’t even see them on the music stand without glasses but it’s not okay to peer, he’s having a concert of sorts, isn’t it. Then he calls it a rehearsal for the gigs where she’d play the keyboards and the violin, because, you see, she’s a classically trained musician—of course, that’s where I’ve seen her, the second violin at the Brahms quartet last night where I was alone, James was working late like always— and although the Bard’s just a songwriter, they’d be playing his new twenty-track album and who is crazy to release an album of that length unless he’s dying and it’s all for the legacy, right?
He checks up with her and she keeps his gaze; she hasn’t glanced at us once, because she knows it, knows what it’s like to wait for your loved one to die and he hasn’t— he’s here, singing and laughing—and she can’t quite believe it or give up the black. And as I wish James was here to see them doing it, starting again rather than live like nothing had changed, the Bard strums a song dedicated to his wife, a song that he hadn’t planned to perform and hopes she doesn’t mind to because it’s their concert, isn’t it, although just a rehearsal for the real thing, and she nods and mouths Yes, young and yellow-haired, sitting on her hands, staring just at him and probably wondering how she became the main act of the show.
Rostislava (Ronnie) Pankova-Karadjova is a bilingual writer, musicologist and choir conductor, who lives in Auckland. Her poetry book Leave Me The Miracle and a number of short stories have been published in her native Bulgarian. Since 2016, when she started writing creatively in English, her short stories have been awarded and shortlisted in the UK Writing Magazine and other competitions, with publications in MindFood and Ponder Review.
In 2021, Ronnie gained her Master of Creative Writing degree from the University of Auckland, where she was awarded the CLNZ Tertiary scholarship. Currently, she is working on her first novel, In Focus, long-listed in Flash500 Novel Opening 2022 competition judged by Headline. When she’s not writing, Ronnie is teaching music and singing with Viva Voce chamber choir.
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