In bed, Doreen lay with her knees tucked up tight to her belly. Silent tears trickled down her cheeks when the music seeped through the wall. She listened to it oozing through the wallpaper as it crescendoed until it blanketed the entire room.
Mr. Peterson still played Gustav Holst’s The Planets—the entire suite—every night before bedtime.
His music had filtered through the wall of the duplex since Doreen was a child. Through the stress of midterms, the bullies and the gossipmongers, her high school graduation, the first Christmas home from college. In good times and bad times, Mr. Peterson’s music was there, as certain as the moon orbits Earth.
Her emotions always attuned to the music, as though a magician turned up the dial at just the right moment. “Mars” riled enough healthy anger and courage to break up with a sleazy boyfriend, “Venus” calmed her fighting spirit, “Jupiter” sparked her optimism. Mr. Peterson’s music had bent and molded and shaped her and set her on the right path.
Doreen’s lips quivered. She had made the hardest decision of her life and moved back home with the hollow pit of defeat lodged in her stomach.
The landlady had shut the door of the tiny apartment in the big city as Doreen’s dejected shadow shrunk along the wall of the stairwell with each step downward. The dreams she pursued for ten years rotted in the dumpster by the building. She had so much promise, so much potential; she was honest and disciplined and brave. But the city, the economy, downsizing, attrition and joblessness had beaten her little by little, a scratch here, a bruise there.
Her parents suggested she move back in with them.
“You can live here rent free while you get back on your feet,” her dad said.
Her mother piped up, “We’d love to have you with us!”
Doreen put it off until she faced eviction.
The condo, though welcoming as always, now bore the burden of promises and dreams down the drain.
Mr. Peterson’s music soaked through the wall and into her soul like a soothing balm. Tomorrow I’ll knock and see how he is, Doreen thought as her eyelids drooped and she fell into a deep slumber, perhaps the deepest in months.
Doreen woke up refreshed, still a failure, but a well-rested, clear-headed failure.
At breakfast, her mother smiled and placed her hand on her daughter’s.
“We’ve missed you,” she whispered.
Dad beamed at her over his coffee and winked.
Doreen said, “So Mr. Peterson’s still playing his music every night, huh? I thought I’d knock and say hi.”
Her parents’ faces fell. Dad looked grim and Mom confused.
“Oh honey, didn’t you know?” Dad said, “Mr. Peterson passed away last summer. His condo is empty now.”
“But,” Doreen stammered as the news sunk in, “the music, last night…”
Dad shook his head, “it’s been quiet all this time.”
Dad patted her hand and excused himself from the table.
Doreen turned to Mom.
“I heard it,” she mumbled.
“I know,” Mom whispered, “I hear it too on nights when I need a friend, on tough nights. It soothes me too.”