Fiction · 10/03/2018

Boléro

When I was in college I saw a movie where the protagonist collected glass figurines of goats. He was a struggling artist with a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan, a genius spurned by his peers, until a woman, another artist, appeared in his life and helped him to greatness. I wanted to be a genius, I wanted to laze my way into success and love, and I figured I needed a quirky hobby, something useless, a sign of an aesthete. I picked up a copy of Ravel’s Boléro on LP because I loved its stark red and yellow cover, the jagged parallelograms on a plain background, and it was a quarter when the university library was clearing out its vinyl stock. I decided I would collect copies of Boléro on vinyl. I didn’t even have a record player yet, but it was specific and I thought it would make me seem deep, whereas in reality I spent most of my time playing Super Nintendo stoned and failing math class. Boléro is a fine piece, its hypnotic build and the sudden bending trombones at the end, but it’s usually bad in recordings, especially with 1950s recording processes. They start the recording too loud, and either have to pull the volume down gradually, which deadens the emotion of the crescendo, or let it get distorted and red-leveled. I bought a dozen copies of Boléro, all different recordings and pressings. I tried to impress a girl once by showing her the records, but she wanted to hear one and I at that point only had a record player without an amp. We both huddled in close to the needle to listen to the music, and when I leaned to kiss her she backed away like it was poison. She left my apartment quickly and started sitting on the other side of the classroom after that. A year after I started collecting the LPs I got a ticket for the Orlando Philharmonic playing Boléro in concert. I was excited to go at first, believing that there was some type of symbolism in the concert and how it would relate to my life because of the LP obsession. I had created that obsession to artificially deepen my character, and yet I started to believe it meant something. Maybe I would meet my one true love at the concert, or maybe I would get killed in an accident on the way home. Just thinking about the concert made me sick. I wanted to ditch the ticket but it was expensive, it was a rare splurge in a life of increasingly creative ramen dishes. I went to the concert and met no one and didn’t get into any kind of accident. But maybe my stress made that happen, maybe my fake obsession made me too nervous to socialize, too attentive on the road to miss the red light that would have done me in. In life, we are the hieroglyphs tumbling down the wall. The moon’s bursting phases, smiles and frowns. The brightening star in the sky is a portent of bad poisons here, but it is just an immense explosion a thousand years in the past. That doesn’t make it less destructive, its pressure taking a different form on our fragile world.

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Glenn Shaheen is the author of the poetry collections Predatory (U of Pitt Press, 2011) and Energy Corridor (U of Pitt Press, 2016); the flash fiction chapbook Unchecked Savagery (Ricochet Editions, 2013); and the flash fiction collection Carnivalia (Gold Wake, 2018).